For every thriving motorsports facility in the U.S., we all know of a few that didn’t make it. Some speedways even sit in ruins, former crowd and car noise left a hollow shell. But, at least the tracks still have one thing—people with enough appreciation for what once was to help the legacies live on.
Last week, we told the histories of a few ghost tracks in this country. In turn, you all shared a few with us. From historical to downright sad, these are your stories.
(As for last week’s featured tracks, Blondude did the great deed of pulling up their satellite images on Google Maps for us to look at: Altamont Motorsports Park, Bridgehampton Race Circuit, Meadowdale International Raceway, North Wilkesboro Speedway and lastly, Texas World Speedway, which remains open.)
We’ll begin our selection of comments with Bridgehampton Race Circuit in Southampton, New York, since that one is fresh on the minds of folks who read last week’s post. From Brandspro:
Bridgehampton was a proper circuit. Fast, flowing, lots of elevation change, a really great track. Taking the first corner flat in top was more unnerving than Eau Rouge at Spa. You’d blast along the straight for a day and a half watching that little dot of light under the bridge - which is still there as I understand - get bigger and bigger, all the while trying to settle your nerves to keep your foot down. As you got closer you’d see the tops of the trees and sky. No track, just trees and sky. And then you were at the turn-in point. Still no track, just trees and sky. You just turned the wheel and forced your trembling foot down and it wasn’t until you braked for turn three that you breathed again. The “Bridge”: it was fast, it was dangerous - oh so dangerous - and it was glorious.
It was doomed. It couldn’t fight the monied NIMBYs [“Not In My Back Yard!”]. In the years before it closed they held a soap-box derby event there. They received calls from as far away as Manhatt[a]n complaining about the noise. Soap-box derby cars have no engines. I have a dream of one day retracing the circuit in a big, stonking Cobra, giving a big one-fingered salute to all the golfers as I tear along the fairways and up over the greens pushing my trembling foot to the floor once again.
If we’re giving away writing awards here, Brandspro just won the award for best (and most kick-ass) imagery in storytelling.
Folks did call in and make noise complaints during the annual soap-box derby race in 1993—six calls in total, according to the Los Angeles Times. The LA Times also referenced the single Manhattan resident mentioned above, who made a call from over 80 miles away. Yes, 80 miles.
Another commenter told us of a track in Washington to which he claims to have some pretty close connections. It’s still in operation and held the NHRA Northwest Nationals in August, but has been referred to as a ghost track in the past. (And we’re including it because the vintage videos below are great.)
The track hasn’t had nearly as many name changes as Altamont, but it has gone by two different names in its history—Pacific Raceways and Seattle International Raceways. Here’s the story shared by solracer:
For several years now in the SCCA’s SportsCar magazine ther[e] has been an occasional Ghost Tracks section. Of the tracks they have highlighted there was one that they called a ghost track that never completely died, Pacific Raceways in Kent, WA. My father was involved in the creation of the track in the early 1960s but we sold out our share in 1969 or so. At that point the sole remaining owner leased the track which changed its name to Seattle International Raceways and began a slow spiral downhill. Thankfully the lease ran out about 10 years ago and the sons of the original owner have been gradually fixing the place up. Not as fast as they would like but things are coming along.
It was close there for a while though, like many of the other tracks neighbors complain about the traffic and noise but thankfully with the exception of our old house and a couple of others they all post-date the track so they haven’t managed to shut the track down.
I have fond memories of riding around the track in my dad’s 300SL Gullwing or the time they had drag races at an old car event that my dad won in his Packard.
To illustrate the fond memories, solracer also shared a few video links from back in the day:
The story of Lake Geneva Raceway is a frustrating one, to say the least. Ill-fated ambition mowed over the existing track infrastructure only to, well...meet an ill fate. Sounds like the area is pretty desolate now, too. From OTE_TheMissile:
Lake Geneva Raceway in Lake Geneva, WI
Motorsports complex featuring a motocross track, karting track, hosted SODA short-course offroad races in the ‘90s, all centered around a banked asphalt 1/3mi short track.
Real estate developer bought up the land next to the track and dropped a bunch of McMansions on them, and at this point I’m sure 80% of people reading this know how the rest of the story will go. Under pressure from the complaining residents the track was sold, with plans to doze the property and extend the development. ...
Plans for a new housing development got underway a couple of years before the track held its last event. In 2005, Lake Geneva Plan Commission approved the plans for the “Southland Farms” subdivision. The developer told Lake Geneva News that he wanted to build homes “with that arts and crafts feel,” which, when you’re considering land of a former racetrack, just sounds plain wrong.
... Then the US housing market fell through. ...“Sorry, nevermind, you can have your destroyed racetrack back.”
That was back in around ‘07-’08 and that’s how the area still stands to this day. A handful of massive (and I believe still empty) houses next to a perfectly racetrack-shaped ring of Volkswagen-sized asphalt chunks.
While we can’t verify if the houses are empty, Google Maps does show quite a few large residences nearby the track. On a (very determined—the speedway’s address no longer registers on Maps) mission to find a satellite view for you all, below is how the speedway looks today. If you want to make yourself really sad, go ahead and zoom in on that track surface.
That, my friends, is a true ghost track.
In a similar condition is Lakeside Speedway in Lakeside, Colorado, which closed in 1988. MisunderstoodAssassin shared a Google Maps view of the now-defunct speedway, where he said that his great uncle used to be a pit-crew member for local sprint-car races. Midget-car races began at the speedway in 1938, coming and going every few seasons until the speedway’s closure. Driver Mary Slusser told The Denver Post that during Lakeside Speedway’s heydey, “If you weren’t in the ticket line by 5 p.m., you didn’t get a seat.”
Today, the speedway sits vacant on a cleared-out lot. But get this—zoom out of the Google Maps view below and you’ll see Lakeside Amusement Park right next to it. The park long outlived its neighboring facility, opening in 1908 and remaining in operation today.
If an abandoned racetrack isn’t an eerie sight to see from the top of a roller coaster, we don’t know what is.
If you currently have a bit of spare time that you’re looking to fill, go ahead and enjoy the link shared by brm128 below. It’s the broadcast from a 1978 USAC Champ Car Series race won by Mario Andretti in Roger Penske No. 7 car, the Machinist Union 150 at Trenton Speedway in New Jersey.
Trenton Speedway also hosted NASCAR’s top series, now referred to as the Sprint Cup Series, for eight races. Richard Petty won three of those, and other winners at the track include Bobby Allison, Fireball Roberts and David Pearson.
Here’s the USAC video:
Next comes Nazareth Speedway in Pennsylvania. The track never hosted a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, but hosted both IndyCar races and lower NASCAR divisions including the Xfinity Series, Camping World Truck Series and K&N Pro Series East. The facility closed in 2004 and now sits abandoned and overgrown.
I was recently driving around the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania and came across the remains of Nazareth Speedway. Much of the infrastructure remains but most of what it makes it recognizable from public view is gone.
The track surface and concrete walls are intact but overgrown with weeds, but the catch fencing and grandstands are removed (they became the new stands at Watkins Glen). I believe the medical building also still stands, although that appears to be the only building visible. The signs for most of the access gates also remain next to the streets. The entire facility is fenced off so there’s no way to actually enter the remains of the track.
The main access tunnel under Turn 3/4 is there, but the road leading up to it has been removed and is now farm field.
In true Jalopnik fashion, Connor Kennard asked how easily a well-working Jalop could deal with the fencing.
We’ll end the stories pretty far south, with a few comments on the track from my hometown—Texas World Speedway. As noted last week, the circuit remains open for the time being and people still have the chance to experience a bit of its history if they make a trip down.
Very much like my visits to the track, these commenters describe the melancholy atmosphere surrounding such a massive facility—yet its fantastic inner road course that still operates—and its aging state.
From IShouldProbablyBeWorking (Note: It’s OK, the “probably should be working” thing happens to the best of us.):
I moved to CS a little over a year ago and was looking at buying a house directly across HWY 6 from TWS. I heard that people were fighting for the track to stay open and initially found it pretty silly. I was glad that area was going to developed for my own selfish reasons (future resale value) but then one Saturday I drove over to the track just to watch some of the club races and the performance driving school.
I was greeted by their awesome gate attendant who gushed about the history of the track and had a lot of interesting and cool information.. He was convinced the track was going nowhere. I probably spent an hour there just watching people do laps. It was mesmerizing and it was cool to see the mix of domestic and foreign auto, both performance and run of the mill too. I wanted to stay until closing. I have to say that even with no real attachment to the track, it makes me sad to see it go after that experience.
The gate attendant’s passion for TWS can be found in a lot of the people who work at the facility. Another employee who mans the gate, Rosa Tirado, grew up there—it’s where her dad worked (and did still work, as of February 2015), along with where she had birthday parties and learned to ride a bike.
If we’re making bets, hearing the pure emotion in her voice as she spoke about the track and what it meant to her family could probably make even the most disconnected community member want to support the speedway.
Still on the topic of TWS, from JackMcCauley:
It’s so tough to watch what’s happening to this track.
The track itself is fantastic. The layout is great, it’s fun to drive, fun to race, and just the right amount of challenging and “oh shit, better nut up or shut up.”
But the facilities were never upgraded from the 1970’s specifications and not only are they lacking now, they’re crumbling and falling apart. It’s beautiful decay, but the grandstands are unsafe and the north tunnel is trying to fall in, which is why you can’t run the full oval anymore.
It just costs too much to fix it all and it’s located in a terrible spot. ...
As nostalgic and sad as the topic of abandoned racetracks can be, we did get a few good suggestions on easy ways to fix all of this (OK—easy with a few constraints, maybe). Here’s an idea from JayQC:
Perfect tracks for rally-cross events.
Think outside the box.
I’m always down for a rallycross event. Sounds like a plan, JayQC. A good one.
And from nixonshead:
These tracks can be used for many, many, many other activities other than racing. I can’t believe they are able to sit this long without any interest.
On days when racing isn’t going on, shows/festivals/concerts/conventions/comic-cons could be taking place there to further sustain the facilities. The basic structures and bones are already there, so it boggles my mind how these just lay to waste.
Colin Cowherd’s Dad Was an Absentee Drunk made the good point that location matters when considering facility usage. But hey, if we’re going to build houses on some of these plots of land, the locations can’t be all that remote. (Unless you’re just the type who doesn’t like to drive, which is another reason why Jalopnik readers rock—driving is cool to you all.)
It gets more creative from there. Perhaps the most insightful comment of them all (not sarcastic) comes from ReillyDiefenbach, who had a really great idea for anyone with a bit of extra pocket change:
I can’t believe some billionaire car enthusiast doesn’t buy one of these old tracks and just use it for their own amusement. Get hammered and raise hell!
Photo credit: Action Sports Photography/Shutterstock.com
Story credits: All of our awesome commenters. Seriously, keep doing you. And visiting ghost tracks.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.