Monday, February 13, 2012

Nazareth Speedway -- Time Marches On

Kind of strange that after writing about what I believe is a make or break effort to keep the Milwaukee race alive, I come across a Facebook page dedicated to saving Nazareth Speedway.

Doing some reading, I found that racing began on the site where the current track stands in 1910. After being purchased by Roger Penske in 1986 it was renovated and became a stop on the CART (1987-2001) and then IRL (2002-04) series and was also used for NASCAR Nationwide (then Busch) Series racing, as well as trucks and IROC competitions.
The flat, .946-mile track was home to fast speeds and great racing, and features an impressive list of winners such as Emerson Fittipaldi, who won there a record three times, and others such hometown hero Michael Andretti, Danny Sullivan, Arie Luyendyk, Paul Tracy and Juan Pablo Montoya.

Dan Wheldon won the final race held there in 2004, after which the track was closed.

The speedway has since sadly fallen into a state of disrepair, looking much like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway did during the World War II years. The Facebook page I referenced above has an entire gallery of photos that show the demise of the track.

It's always sad to see time pass something like a stadium or racetrack by. I have great memories of old Comiskey Park in Chicago, Tiger Stadium in Detroit or even the RCA Dome and Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. So much history reduced to rubble. Some places just outlive their usefulness, or we decide we want something bigger and better.

Turn 2/Save Nazareth Speeway Facebook Page
While I applaud the effort of the people who have put together this page (I "liked" it as well), it is probably too little, too late. It would take millions upon millions of dollars to bring the facility back to life, and in the eight years it has sat silent, several tracks have been built in its place.

Time goes on, but still, seeing these photos makes me kind of sad. Walking through the gates at Indy, I can look around and see 100 years of racing in my mind's eye, just like I can when I walk through my historic neighborhood of century-old homes.

When something is still standing, you can see it, you can still feel it. But when it is gone, that fades away. When I go to U.S Cellular Field I cross the street and find the home plate in the concrete where Comiskey Park used to stand. As the years go on, I find the vision of what once stood there fading from my mind. Ty Cobb played there, so did Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and hundreds of other stars. I was fortunate to see several Hall of Famers like Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Reggie Jackson play there. But each time I go back the vision I have of my time spent there is replaced by SUVs and tailgaters playing bags.

Yeah, I know that is progress, but I don't always have to like it. The Cell is a great place to watch a game, and I love the amenities and not having to worry about getting water on me from leaky pipes. But it isn't the same, and while I always try to look forward, every once in a while I want to look back, but when the keys to your memories are gone, it isn't so easy.

Time marches on, and tracks come and go. Seeing something like this, though, makes me appreciate the time, money and especially care the people at the Speedway put into keeping the facility vibrant and alive, a living, breathing place of history. Sure, as long as the 500 is around we never have to worry about the Speedway, which is a good thing, because there are so many memories of that place that I know hundreds of thousands of people want to keep alive for as long as possible.


  1. One chapter of the story not mentioned is the sale of the Penske Speeday properties to ISC in 99. Roger sold Michigan, Fontana, Nazareth and Phoenix to ISC, the Parent company of nascar. ISC certainly wanted the other three tracks given the metro markets they were in and took Nazareth because it came in the deal. At that time ISC was about getting racing venues into major media markets and Nazareth was in their eyes a second tier track outside the rotting old steel town of Allentown. Much like the rural southern venues they were leaving behind at the time, it was not a place they wanted to be. They did however want the stands, so those were disassembled and moved to another track they were investing in.

    That the speedway grounds is still with us is a by product of the real estate crash and recession. Without those two happening, chances are the grounds would be a strip mall or housing development today.

    I fly to New York on a consistent basis and about half the time when sitting on the left hand side of the plane, I see nazareth on the approach. I wish I had had the chance to see an Andretti race in their hometown...

    1. I wonder if the proximity to Pocono Raceway had something to do with it, too. I would have thought that being so close to New York and Philly would have been a good selling point, but with Pocono so close and even Watkins Glen only a couple hours away maybe ISC decided that the racing market here was more or less saturated.

  2. Good stuff JP. Thanks for the additional info.