No, you're not imagining things,...
No, you're not imagining things, that's a '69Mustang late model racecar.
In some areas of the country, local short tracks are an endangeredspecies. With urban development and sprawl spreading across once-ruralareas, the large pieces of land racetracks are built on are becomingmillion-dollar prizes to be had by developers. After years of fightingfor 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 tookFirst-Place honors driving George Nelson's '34 Ford modified coupe,kicking off a 51-year legacy for the southernmost short track in theUnited States. As the old pre-war race cars gave way to '50s era racecars, Hialeah soldiered on as a hotbed of South Florida racing.
With storm clouds looming...
With storm clouds looming on the horizon, racersbegan pouring into the pit area at Hialeah for the night's racingaction. One of the fun things about racing in South Florida is dodgingthe contestant afternoon showers and thunderstorms. During the summersit's not a matter of if it rains but when.
Over the years, famous drivers from different racing organizations havetaken laps on the Hialeah oval. NASCAR legends Bobbie and Donnie Allisoncut their teeth on the 1/3-mile oval before moving on to the biggertracks and spotlight of stock car racing. Some Hialeah veterans wouldsay that Donnie learned how to fight at Hialeah, giving him the edgeover Cale Yarborough in the famous encounter between the two at Daytonain 1979.
In 1957, former Formula One champion Juan Manual Fangio of Argentinamade his only laps in an American Midget racer at Hialeah. Over theyears, well-known short-track racers such as Dick Anderson, GaryBalough, and Bobby Brack ran at Hialeah. The track has been a greatplace for racers and fans over the years. One driver mentioned: "Ilearned how to race here, drink here, and fight here!"
Through all the hard-core racing, Hialeah only had one fatality in its51-year history. In 1956, Don Campbell died of head injuries severaldays after he flipped his midget racer in a private test session.
From local racers towing open...
From local racers towing open trailers to pro-rigdriving Fastruck racers, everyone was out for the last race at Hialeah.161 cars showed up for the last night of racing, forcing some racers topark in the grass field parking lot. In recent years the track would belucky to pull in 75 cars for a normal Saturday race schedule.
This battle scarred bus race...
This battle scarred bus race veteran was parkedforlornly next to a fence at the backside of track. Part of the night'saction was a Crazy 8 bus race.
After the monsoon stopped,...
After the monsoon stopped, racers kept driving(and swimming) into the pits to find one of the few dry pit stalls leftfor racecars.
Being an anti-NASCAR organization was tough for the GMRA as it ran thetrack. In 1995, GMRA hit hard financial times and could no longer paythe nearly $100,000 property tax bill on the track. The track's landlordcame to the rescue, setting up agreements with a series of promoters tostep up and manage the racing on a weekly basis. In 2000 the track fellon hard times, opening the door for the land to be sold to developers.Plans call for demolishment of the track sometime in 2006 andconstruction of a Lowe's and a Target store shortly after.
Sprinting through a heavy...
Sprinting through a heavy downpour with lightning bolts cracking around you is never fun! My brother and I watched the monsoon from my truck for over an hour before the skies finally cleared.
The last night of racing started that afternoon with a torrentialmonsoon as racers and fans were pouring into the track. It was typicalsummer weather for South Florida, rain and lightning for half an hour,then clearing skies and sunshine. Besides being flooded with water, thepits were flooded with racers--161 cars showed up to run the variousevents that night at the speedway. Some ended up in the parking lotbecause 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 evenat 9:30 when racing was starting. The irony was not lost on the Hialeahregulars, everyone joking, "if they had a big turnout like this everySaturday, the speedway wouldn't be closing!"
Famous drag racer Darrell...
Famous drag racer Darrell Gwynn was out to seethe last night of action at Hialeah. Darrell paid for a limo to bringformer driver and first ever winner at Hialeah Herb Tillman to the trackthat night.
Famous racers Jerry and Darrell Gwynn showed up for the festivities.Known more for their exploits on the quarter-mile straight track, bothSouth Florida natives spent time racing on the Hialeah pavement. Despitebeing severely injured and incapacitated in a horrific accident whilemaking an exhibition run in England during 1990, Darrell always has asmile on his face.
The Florida Fastruck and Fastkids series visited the Hialeah oval, alongwith the usual Limited Late Model, Street Stock, Mini-Stock, and Cycloneclasses. 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 thecheckered flag, but failed post-race inspection, passing the win andlast winner honors to Ricky Thorpe. The Jeff Dufresne Memorial racewent 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 foreverin the memories and pictures of racers who made laps on its asphalt andthe fans who watched them. Long after the Lowe's and Target stores openon the property, racers will still walk the aisles and tell customersand store employees, "I used to race right here."
If you have any intersting stories about Hialeah Speedway, e-mail themto us at email@example.com.Be sure to put "Hialeah Story" in the subject line, and include yourname, where you're from, and when the story happened. If possible e-maila photo or two with the story. Watch for all the stories in a future webposting on stockcarracing.com!
One of the great things about...
One of the great things about short track racingis how up-close the action is. You can't watch this close to the fenceat a super-speedway.
Local racer John Carlson of...
Local racer John Carlson of West Palm Beach hadhis '69 Mustang out for some fun. John originally bought the car torestore, but there was too much cancerous rust. Instead, he decided toturn it into a late-model racer powered by a 351C! The first few timesJohn would race the car people would question his sanity for racing thevintage Mustang.
Through the torrential downpour,...
Through the torrential downpour, people stayedin line to get tickets for the race. Those are hardcore racing fans foryou!
Nothing beats the hard core,...
Nothing beats the hard core, door banging actionof short track racing, as evidenced by this Hialeah veteran.
The sun sets for the last...
The sun sets for the last time over a night ofracing at Hialeah. The old track, with all of its history, stories, andmemories for countless racers will soon bow to the wrecking ball in thename of urban sprawl and "progress".
Throughout its history, you...
Throughout its history, you never knew what you'dsee in the pits at Hialeah on a Saturday night. One racer told thestory, "I learned how to race here, how to drink here, and how to fighthere!"
CHECK OUT PAGE 2 FOR MORE HIALEAH PHOTOS!