Makin Tracks: There Won’t Be Another Day at the Fairgrounds – DTD Exclusive


Walking past Casey Shuman’s Silver Crown car I noticed “Ascot” t-shirts hanging there for sale.

Growing up a national poll said the top three short tracks in America were Ascot Park, Williams Grove and Oswego. As a kid I dreamed of seeing Ascot Park, but California was so far away that there was no way I was ever going to get there. By the time I was able to afford it, Ascot was gone.

During the past weekend I ran, wrote, watched and enjoyed, but I never had a chance to reflect.

I have watched the death of three tracks I had the chance to attend and there will never be another Reading Fairgrounds, Trenton or Manzanita. They’re gone and irreplaceable.

Now I have added the Syracuse Moody Mile to the list that I certainly don’t enjoy seeing getting longer.

Okay so the racing always wasn’t the most exciting, but there were lasting memories created.

The Fairgrounds for me started back in the 60’s when my parents let a 13-year-old do something no one would let a 13-year-old do today. On Labor Day morning I would board a Syracuse-Oswego bus for the ride to the Fairgrounds. The race was usually sold out so my buddy and I would stake claim to ground outside turn one concession stands. We would lock our hands on the fence so no one could move us and for the next few hours we would be covered with dirt. It was worth it to see Cliff Kotary win. We then would head to a rest room and use paper towels to clean up before boarding the bus and heading home.

Years later I would take my teenager girlfriend(who has been my best friend and wife for the past 39 years) to see the USAC Champ Cars as we could afford to sit in the stands and watch the likes of Al Unser and Mario Andretti battle. We also witnessed the horrible crash that dramatically changed the career of Gary Bettenhausen as he flpped wildly down the front stretch and ended up hanging on the concession stand where I stood when was 13.

One Sunday in 1972 I said to my friend that there was a special race at Syracuse so we hopped in my Thunderbird and attended the Schaefer 100. The only time I have ever saw Buzzie win were these two Sunday’s in consecutive years here at Syracuse.

I remember calling a race for a Syracuse radio station the night Kevin Fleming was killed in the backstretch. Knowing how bad it was and needing to continue the broadcast was one of the most difficult things I have had to do announcing.

I retired over a year ago and didn’t know what I was going to do. Mike Mallett asked if I would help DTD cover Syracuse. I had been getting bored and wondered what use I could be. Well, the DTD team reinvigorated me to a point where I felt I was contributing again. So Syracuse left me with a feeling that I can still do something I’ve done for nearly 45 years….write about racing.

The people at Syracuse are amazing, the drivers and owners know that they can’t realistically make money, but they are here. The fans live through climatic changes and in the old days they were basically all in tents (some were this year). It never mattered how much it cost them as for many fans this was there vacation, this was their Disney World, their Myrtle Beach, their Daytona and many kept coming back every year since 1972.

Driver had a love-hate relationship. One told me he hated the track, but loved the ceremonies, fans and tremendous atmosphere.

I had hoped that DIRTcar would do it right. I hoped they would recognize the past and they did with the past champion jacket presentation. I had hoped some of the legendary cars would be on hand. They were from Buzzie, to Toby to the Batmobile.

They allowed the critically ill Jack Johnson to hear an audio explosion as he was on the phone and the fans showed their appreciation for Jumpin’ Jack.

When it was over fans stripped the speedway of any momento they could have as they would never be back here again. Guys from DTD including Adam Ross and his 11 year old son Connor played cornhole on the front stretch. Some folks climbed the starter’s tower for one final time (I was one of them).

I watched as passenger cars and pick up trucks along with four-wheelers toured the mile and once set of teenagers had one of them sitting in a Hoosier being pulled along.

As I reached my car, I looked back and knew this scene would never be there again except for in my memory. Fortunately I knew this was the last as I didn’t have the opportunity to be there for the finals at Reading, Trenton and Manzanita.

I understand how New Jersey and Pennsylvania fans feel after they lost Flemington and Nazareth.

Stewart Friesen noted that dirt racers will keep racing.

There will be Super Dirt Week again. It will be what it is. It won’t be Syracuse.

The only thing I missed that would have made my weekend was a voice…not insult meant to Joe Marotta, but to me the “Voice of Syracuse” will always be Jack Burgess. It would have been great if they could have uncovered an old audio of the voice of not only Syracuse and Oswego. I grew up listening to him and he was the driving force to becoming a race announcer.

I have missed Jacks’ voice over the years and he was synonymous with Syracuse. Now they are both gone, but I will not forget either.