In some areas of the country, local short tracks are an endangered species. With urban development and sprawl spreading across once-rural areas, the large pieces of land racetracks are built on are becoming million-dollar prizes to be had by developers. After years of fighting for survival, Hialeah Speedway has become the latest victim. August 13, 2005, marked the last time race cars would run on the historic oval.

The track, located on US 27 just east of Palmetto Expressway in Hialeah, was built in 1953-'54 by the Greater Miami Racing Association (GMRA), hosting its first event in July 1954. Local driver Herb Tillman took First-Place honors driving George Nelson's '34 Ford modified coupe, kicking off a 51-year legacy for the southernmost short track in the United States. As the old pre-war race cars gave way to '50s era race cars, Hialeah soldiered on as a hotbed of South Florida racing.

Over the years, famous drivers from different racing organizations have taken laps on the Hialeah oval. NASCAR legends Bobbie and Donnie Allison cut their teeth on the 1/3-mile oval before moving on to the bigger tracks and spotlight of stock car racing. Some Hialeah veterans would say that Donnie learned how to fight at Hialeah, giving him the edge over Cale Yarborough in the famous encounter between the two at Daytona in 1979.

In 1957, former Formula One champion Juan Manual Fangio of Argentina made his only laps in an American Midget racer at Hialeah. Over the years, well-known short-track racers such as Dick Anderson, Gary Balough, and Bobby Brack ran at Hialeah. The track has been a great place for racers and fans over the years. One driver mentioned: "I learned how to race here, drink here, and fight here!"

Through all the hard-core racing, Hialeah only had one fatality in its 51-year history. In 1956, Don Campbell died of head injuries several days after he flipped his midget racer in a private test session.

Being an anti-NASCAR organization was tough for the GMRA as it ran the track. In 1995, GMRA hit hard financial times and could no longer pay the nearly $100,000 property tax bill on the track. The track's landlord came to the rescue, setting up agreements with a series of promoters to step up and manage the racing on a weekly basis. In 2000 the track fell on hard times, opening the door for the land to be sold to developers. Plans call for demolishment of the track sometime in 2006 and construction of a Lowe's and a Target store shortly after.

The last night of racing started that afternoon with a torrential monsoon as racers and fans were pouring into the track. It was typical summer weather for South Florida, rain and lightning for half an hour, then clearing skies and sunshine. Besides being flooded with water, the pits were flooded with racers--161 cars showed up to run the various events that night at the speedway. Some ended up in the parking lot because no pit stalls were left.

Adding to the racer turnout was the massive crowd. Over 5,000 fans, former racers, and locals showed up, with a huge line at both gates even at 9:30 when racing was starting. The irony was not lost on the Hialeah regulars, everyone joking, "if they had a big turnout like this every Saturday, the speedway wouldn't be closing!"

Famous racers Jerry and Darrell Gwynn showed up for the festivities. Known more for their exploits on the quarter-mile straight track, both South Florida natives spent time racing on the Hialeah pavement. Despite being severely injured and incapacitated in a horrific accident while making an exhibition run in England during 1990, Darrell always has a smile on his face.

The Florida Fastruck and Fastkids series visited the Hialeah oval, along with the usual Limited Late Model, Street Stock, Mini-Stock, and Cyclone classes. The crowd wasn't disappointed, with tons of door-slamming, paint-swapping action in the various classes. In the Mini-Stock class, Hialeah veteran and multi-time track champion S.C. Klinger took the checkered flag, but failed post-race inspection, passing the win and last winner honors to Ricky Thorpe. The Jeff Dufresne Memorial race went to Joe Winchell, who was greeted in Victory Lane by Herb Tillman, the first winner at Hialeah 51 years ago.

Here's the list of winners for the last night of racing at Hialeah:

Fastruck: Tommy King
Limited Late Model: Joe Winchell
Street Stock: Corey Crisafulli
Mini Stock: Ricky Thorpe
Cyclone: Victor Leo
Fastkids: Patrick Starpoli
School Bus Figure-8: Steve Godlewski
Demolition Derby: Drew Ogden

Even though the track will be gone soon, its history will live forever in the memories and pictures of racers who made laps on its asphalt and the fans who watched them. Long after the Lowe's and Target stores open on the property, racers will still walk the aisles and tell customers and store employees, "I used to race right here."

If you have any intersting stories about Hialeah Speedway, e-mail them to us at Be sure to put "Hialeah Story" in the subject line, and include your name, where you're from, and when the story happened. If possible e-mail a photo or two with the story. Watch for all the stories in a future web posting on!

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