Promoters Duke Donaldson (left) and Jake Kedenburg (right) pose with driver Bruno Brackey
The Three Dots, Dot Henry, Dot Deitrich and Dot Grover, paraded the race cars
Among the famed names of Freeports past are the Brunnhoelzl family. Shown here, fro
Freeport was designed to house a variety of sports, including football and baseball.
Modified racing became a Freeport favorite in the 70s.
When Bill France was starting to get his racing organization together in Florida, a little 1/5-mile track on New York Citys doorstep was toying with the idea of running what some open-wheel drivers referred to as glorified taxi cabs.
Racing legend Johnny Coy remembers it well. Jake Kedenburg, the promoter at Freeport Stadium, asked Coy to ride with him to Yellow Jacket Speedway in Philadelphia.
When we got there, the place was packed and it was midweek, Coy recalls. On the way home, at the diner Jake asked me what I thought about him bringing in stock cars. I said Jake, if you do, you wont have an empty seat in the place.
And so, in 1949 Johnny Coy, Ted Tappet and several other Long Island legends found themselves cab-driving big American iron on a newly paved, very flat track at Freeport Stadium.
It was a big change for Freeport, which was known more for running Midgets. The track ran its first automobile race in 1934 with a handful of Indy Big Cars, the granddaddy of the Sprint. That race was not successful and only took in about $90. The track then scaled down to Midget racing, and that helped fill the stands for the rest of the decade.
The racing resumed after WWII, and Kedenburg noticed the attendance falling off. He decided to take action, resulting in the formation of the Allstate Racing Stock Car Club.
In Good Hands
For the first half of the 50s, the Allstate Racing Stock Car Club was the main sanctioning body on Long Island. The officers were made up mainly of drivers and car owners. Kedenburg handled the promotions.
In addition to Freeport, the club soon began holding races at Dexter Park, a baseball field in Queens, and way out on Long Island at Islip Stadium. Racing five to six nights a week, they were not as successful at either new place and scaled back again.
On the other hand, the Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night shows at Freeport drew thousands of fans from all directions. Jim Flying Farmer Malone, who would go into the record books at the yet unbuilt Riverhead Raceway, recalls his Dad taking him to Freeport as a boy from their home in Southampton.
Freeport was the training ground for a group of drivers whose names would become synonymous with stock car racing around the New York area. Anderson, DeAngelo, Brunnhoelzl, Washburn, Reinhardt, Hendrickson, Tet, Spade, Lacy, Zeke, Rocco, Cousins, Peters, Brackey and more.
Allstate started to unravel as several charter members like Axel Anderson signed on with NASCAR, which was gaining a foothold in the Northeast. The main problem seemed to be the lack of money Allstate paid out.
Though drivers ran for a gate percentage at Freeport (7,000 seats) and did OK, when Al De Angelo won a track championship at Islip in the early 50s, winning 21 of the 23 features, his championship check came to $33. A feature win at Islip then was averaging about $20. Contrast that to what Larry Mendelsohn paid at the end of the 50s, when he took over promotions at Islip and signed on with NASCAR. The purses were closer to $1,000.
By 1955, Allstate was done, but Kedenburg kept going strong with Kedenburg Racing Association and his Freeport showplace. He took on a silent partner, his track announcer Duke Donaldson, a bandleader and Indy car owner. Donaldson was just the opposite of Kedenburgvery flamboyant and had show business ties that brought people like Guy Lombardo to the track. The drivers and cars were introduced with marching majorettes. Special promotions were running all the time, keeping the turnstiles at Freeport busy.
The divisions run there seemed to be as many as you could think of. One of the earliest and largest was the Non-Ford. All 6-cylinders, it consisted mainly of late 30s Plymouths and Dodges powered with Chrysler Spitfires.
Drivers were kept busy hoping in and out of Jalopies, early Modifieds (Ford Flatheads) Sedans, Compacts (foreign cars) Powder Puffs, Claimers and Novices. The novice fields were huge. Sometimes 50 cars would line up for a feature.
An amazing amount of big name drivers ran at the tiny place, especially those from the world of Indy, which was still the leading racing sport at the time. Bill Holland, Sam Hanks, Eddie Sachs, Bill Schindler, Duke Nalon and others all ran there. Dan Gurney once proclaimed it my favorite track in the country.
One of the most celebrated names to race at Freeport was Bruno Brackeyaka the Flying Mailman (his day job). No one knows how many stock car features he won jumping in and out of all divisions, but it was well over 400.
Brackey once befriended a young immigrant driver from his native area of the Italian Alps. He was none other than Mario Andretti. Brackey helped Andretti learn English and showed him the quickest way around the track.
In 1959 track photographer Ed Apoldt placed a movie camera in a wooden box and strapped it to Brackeys roll cage. It was perhaps the first in-car camera. But with the turns coming up as quickly as they did, you couldnt watch for long without getting dizzy.
Many of the drivers at Freeport were related. Brothers, fathers and sons, mothers and sons, husbands and wives raced there.
Take the Brunnhoelzls, for example. Ma Brunnhoelzl had six boys and all were involved in racing. She attended races weekly from 1949 on. On Mothers Day in 1959, the track gave her a special day. Her sons Ed and George were Freeport champions and mainstays for years. Well, into the late 70s she was still in the stands, watching her grandsons Eddie, Charlie and George Jr. race.
George Jr. built the famed Brunnhoelzl jack used by many NASCAR Winston Cup teams today. Charlie is in North Carolina fabricating race car bodies. Ed Sr. is 76 years old and still works with his sons Modified crew at Riverhead.
Maybe defending family honor contributed to some of the fights that often broke out at Freeport. The old saying We went to the fights and a race broke out certainly applied to the stadiumespecially in the 50s.
Axel Anderson, who was a track champ and as tough as they come, seemed to get into more than his fair share of fights. One night, as Anderson was climbing in his coupe window, a guy tried to attack him with a knife. One of Andersons crewmen saw it and knocked the guy cold with his fist.
Many times a wrench or tire iron was used for something other than its intended purpose. Racing historian Marty Himes has said there were three things you always checked for before you left for Freeport: your gas can, jack and baseball bat. The Louisville Slugger was sometimes used for more than propping up the hood.
In October 1959, while bringing another season to a close, Kedenburg suffered a fatal heart attack. This left the track in the hands of his widow, Billie, and Duke Donaldson.
Many felt Freeports decline started with Kedenburgs passing. Donaldson was a smooth operator and shrewd businessman but some felt he was a little too smooth. Fancy suits and driving a Rolls Royce did nothing to dispel that image.
Drivers were still racing for a percentage of the gate. Some competitors so distrusted Donaldsons head counts that they placed their own people in the stands to count fans. It all came to a head in 1965 when the drivers went on strike.
For many years, Donaldson would open his microphone to kick off the show and announce, Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to Freeport Stadium, the oldest continuously-run racetrack in the United States.
Little did he know then that the government that created the place would be instrumental in taking that distinction away. Built in 1929 and finished in 31 with government money, Freeport Municipal Stadium was designed to house all types of sporting and civic events including baseball and football.
By the end of the 60s, Donaldson and Billie Kedenburg decided not to renew their lease with the Village of Freeport. In the years that passed, various promoters ran the stadium with mixed results.
Don Campi took over the track and renamed it Freeport Speedway. In the late 70s, Modified drivers like Richie Evans, Jerry Cook, Charlie Jarzombek, Gary Winters, Fred Harbach and the Brunnhoelzls competed there. Jim Hendrickson won the last big Modified race, a 200-lapper, in 1977.
Campi died in a highway accident and surviving family members took over. They scaled back racing to just one night a week, which violated the lease. In 1983 after 50 years of continuous operation, the track shut down.
Supporters lobbied for the tracks future, but were unsuccessful. The town decided to demolish the property to make way for a department store. The store opened in 1993, and closed in 1998. The property now sits vacant.