Speedrome Gone, But Not Forgotten

oct 12

7:00 PM

111 Library St NE, Grand Rapids MI 49503-3268    map

On this evening Doug Taylor will focus on the history around C.C. Comstock and his connection to the birth of the West Michigan Fairgrounds, Comstock Park and eventually the Historic Speedrome.   It was located on North Park St. between the Grand River and West River Dr. in Comstock Park, MI. Woodland Paving and US-131 Expressway occupy the property today.

Taylor will take you on a parade of chronological events as they happened in the very early years of the Historic West Michigan Fairgrounds. Along the way Doug will bring to life the days of the thundering race cars that roared around the track since 1903, with names like Barney Oldfield, Louis Chevrolet and Ralph DePalma. Then he will focus on reasons the State Fair after 45 years left for Detroit and why the grounds fell into disuse.

In 1946 after World War II ended, the nations craze turned to airplanes, because so many were involved with aircraft during the war. Visionary O. C. Hall gambled on a fifty year lease with an option to purchase the fairgrounds and built a north-south runway with a seaplane base on the river. Doug goes on to explain much of the operations of Grand Rapids Air Park that was short lived, including an Air Service owned by the famous Amway founders, that failed horribly.

In 1949 O.C. Hall rebuilt the grandstands as work was started on a multi-purpose racing facility with modern conveniences close in to Grand Rapids. Plans included building a half mile dirt racetrack with a fifth mile dirt track inside it. On May 28, 1950 the Speedrome as it was called, opened with 10,000 fans to watch midgets race on the fifth mile track. The big cars were postponed until the next Sunday, do to the Grand River flooding the half mile track.

The Speedrome went through a bunch of difficult management and lease periods through the first 5 years of operation. Doug then looks at the big power struggle enveloped between Berlin Raceway (seven miles to the west) and the Speedrome in 1951, for the cars and drivers from the area, as both tracks run on Saturday night. Speedrome had a half mile race track and brought in Nascar in 1951 and 1954 for a couple of 200 lap races.   

Moving into the late 1950s, the track was promoted by Frank Evans and Flip Kamp, who brought in Joey Chitwood Thrill Show drivers regularly, had many midget races, jalopies and on occasion would have powder-puff races and wreck-om derby's.

Halfway into 1963 season Chet Hall, (O.C. Halls son)  become the last promoter and in 1964, he paved the half mile track, put lights on it and brought in the Super Fast Modifieds, with wide open competition. As a bonus they added the fast Semi Late Model Stock Cars and the crowds grew to epic proportions, which ended in being the high point of the Speedrome, the low point being the sale of the Speedrome on August 1, 1966 to the State of Michigan for the extension of US-131 north from Grand Rapids I-96.

Come join Doug and Speedrome drivers, Johnny Benson Sr., Wayne Landon, Gail Cobb, Bob Senneker and Ralph Baker to tell their stories and share memories of that by gone era and join them in a Question & Answer secession at the end of the presentation.

Speedrome: Then & Now

Speedrome Then & Now

 

Mailing Address
Grand Rapids Historical Society
c/o Grand Rapids Public Library

111 Library St NE FL 4
Grand Rapids MI 49503-3268

(616) 439-4747 (GRHS)

grhs.local@gmail.com

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