The late Hal Lord of Pottsville after a heat race victory at the track many fans simply referred to as Schoentown.
Of all the tracks covered by Coal Region Racing, Anthracite may be the most popular among them. There was just something special about "going to Schoentown". Ask anyone who attended, raced, or worked there. They all have the same common sentiment, they loved being there.
Coal Region Racing is a group of local race fans dedicated to the historical preservation of the history of Schuylkill County, PA's dirt track racing past. Of the 13 dirt tracks that once existed in Schuylkill County, only 1 remains in operation today. It is our desire to document the history of not only these facilities but the people who made the history and memories possible.
These are the 13 dirt tracks that hosted automobile racing in Schuylkill County history and their years of operation: Schuylkill County Fairgrounds - 1918 - 1941 Brandonville - 1920's - 1960's Shenandoah - 1930's Ringtown - Exact years of operation unknown Mahanoy City - 1947 - 1952 Gold Mine - 1950 - 1953, 1962 - 1968 Fort Lebanon - 1955 Branchdale - 1955 Circle M Ranch - 1955 - 1958 Sparky's - 1950's Mount Carbon - 1956 - 1964 Anthracite - 1966 - 1975 Big Diamond - 1972 - Present
The further back in time one looks, the more difficult it becomes to uncover the history of a subject. These race tracks are no different. The earliest tracks have little or no documentation on the events that took place. This endeavor is to try and discover and document as much as possible about them as well as the more recent race tracks. Many of the participants are no longer with us, their stories lost for all time. That is why it is so important to document these events. So they don't become lost for all time.
In the beginning of motorsports history in Schuylkill County, there were no facilities built for automobiles. The first time the roar of engines in competition against each other was heard in this area of the Anthracite coal region, tracks that were built for horse racing was the only logical choice. Those early racing machines were not designed with driver comfort or safety in mind. That only three drivers lost their lives in on-track racing accidents makes it that much more remarkable.
While not being very powerful, they could still attain speeds only matched or surpassed by the steam locomotives of that same era. As progress continued on the internal combustion engine and the design of the cars advanced, so did the speed and excitement level.
This new and wonderful sport captured the hearts and minds of many who witnessed the feats these brave souls who were willing to risk everything for to go faster...to compete against other drivers who were just as addicted to speed as they were and to achieve the ultimate goal...VICTORY! Many would dedicate their lives to having one more chance to climb into a racing machine in a relentless pursuit of the checkered flag. Some would achieve that goal. Others would never be able to grasp that "brass ring".
The further back in time one travels to research their histories, the more difficult it becomes to find the answers to the county's racing infancy. Many of those involved from this by-gone era are no longer with us. Photographs, home movies, videos and artifacts are lost, tucked away in attics and basements or sometimes just non-existent. A few of those early tracks have been covered up and overgrown with tress and brush or built over erasing any footprint they once made.
Many European engine designs from the turn of the 20th century lead to American ingenuity and improved or ground breaking ideas for newer and better internal combustion engines. From the Miller's and Offenhauser's developed in the early 1900's through the flathead and 6 cylinders of the 1920's through the 1950's to the high horse power V8 motors, progress in making power evolved through the years before many of our residents eyes.
This is our attempt to briefly document the evolution of auto racing in Schuylkill County at all the known facilities that hosted the various forms of motorsports. From a track built nearly a century and a half earlier for horses; to a track that would sacrifice it's ground so it could serve a higher purpose; to a track shrouded in mystery; to a track that would open and close multiple times before being silenced forever; to a track that would only survive one year; to a track that would be resurrected once a year; to a track that would attain legendary status; to a track that would defy the odds through multiple management changes.
The path that Schuylkill County racing took through time was as long and winding as the roads that led to those very same race tracks. A few of those racers who would venture along these very roads would in time become legends themselves, their names being synonymous with greatness. Others would be lost in the shifting sands of time, their names only remembered by those old enough to remember them. The journey begins here.....
Schuylkill County Fairgrounds 1918-1941
The first known facility to host an automobile race in Schuylkill County was held here. It has also been called the Pottsville Fairgrounds even though it was located between the boroughs of Schuylkill Haven and Cressona, PA. In the beginning, the NMRA and then AAA sanctioned races were the first known class of racers to turn laps on the half mile track originally designed for horse racing. These machines were the same basic type of racers that competed at tracks like the now famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the Indy 500 races are held.
It is ironic that internal combustion engines began to roar to life here. Only a few hundred yards away across the west branch of the Little Schuylkill River in the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Mine Hill and West Cressona yards, steam engines plied their trade in moving the largest commodity the county was known for in this era, anthracite coal. In just over 30 years, internal combustion engines would begin replacing those "Iron Horses" that billowed steam and smoke by burning a very different fossil fuel. This change in fuels would have a very drastic effect on the local Anthracite coal industry in the years to follow.
In the 23 year history of racing at the fairgrounds only 2 fatalities were recorded there. On July 4, 1935, 23 year old Wayne Schollenberger from Palmerton would lose his life from an accident on that day. Exactly one month later on August 4th, Dave Hawkins died from injuries received from an on track racing accident. Remarkably, these were only 2 of the 3 racing fatalities from on-track incidents in Schuylkill County's racing history. Fatalities in those incredibly hazardous early years of racing were not uncommon.
An interesting fact is that a Berks County resident from the farming community of Oley would be the winningest driver in the tracks' too brief history. Early sprint car racer and National Sprint Car Hall of Fame member, the legendary Tommy Hinnershitz, would capture the most feature race wins.
As the world was approaching the next great struggle against global domination by tyrannical foreign powers, the fairgrounds was demolished in the early 1940's to make way for a building large enough for the Federal government to process munitions. Ammunition was desperately needed in vast quantities for the impending war effort which would soon thrust the United States of America into the Second World War. With the local work force and the means to transport the incredible amounts of raw materials required and finished products to where they were needed, this site was deemed to be ideal. It was considered such a great threat to the Axis Powers that Nazi Germany's leader, Adolf Hitler, wanted it to be sabotaged and destroyed!
In 1946, the Aluminum Company of America, Alcoa, would take over and operate the facility as the Cressona Works until 1977 when it closed the facility due to labor disputes which, again, would have devastating effects on the local economy. The facility would reopen in 1979 as the Cressona Aluminum Company until being acquired in 1996 by Alumax Semi-Fabricated Products Group and was renamed as Alumax Extrusions. Alcoa acquired Alumax in 1998 and renamed the site Facility Alcoa Extrusions. Alcoa merged with Sapa in 2007 resulting in its current name.
Today, Sapa Extrusions occupies the massive building and nearly 100 acres that was once the site of the genesis of auto racing in Schuylkill County.
Present day image of the Schuylkill County Fairgrounds site
Brandonville - O'Hara Anthracite Speedway Late 1920's to the early 1930's 9/8/1935, 1950's, 1960's
Originally built prior to 1875 as a trotting track for horses, this track was of the typical length of a half mile that was popular around that time for such purposes. It may have been the creation of Nelson Brandon who was the founder of the little village based on his name. Little could he have imagined what would become of this track.
It was also the first Schuylkill County track to have Anthracite in its name.
Located in the mountainous region south west of Hazelton, this track apparently was not immune to the auto racing fever that was sweeping across the country. That would lead it to evolving from horses to racing equipment that was of the common type of racers of the day. It was said to have hosted a variety of classes including "big cars" or early sprint cars, midgets and even early forms of go-karts. A few color photographs of early sprint cars in action on its big, sweeping turns are known to exist. Finding information on it's exact first year of auto racing and what class of race vehicles competed on that date has not been forthcoming. These details continue to elude researchers.
With the popularity of drive-in movie theaters that were becoming all the rage from coast to coast, the owners constructed a projection booth/concession stand and the large metal movie screen in the infield. It was built in the mid 1950's as apparently the popularity of the speedway was beginning to wane. It would be another form of income for the owners. No doubt this was done to bolster declining profits as the early forms of automobile racers were becoming increasingly more costly to build and maintain. All the while, other forms of entertainment and possibly its location were cutting into the viability of using the race track for that exclusive purpose.
One source indicates that loosely organized go-kart races were held there in the mid to late 1960's, possibly on a smaller inner oval that may have used part of the drive-in movie theater area.
Sometime in the late 1960's is when all forms of racing ended, An exact year has yet to be found. It isn't known at this time when the drive-in movie theater ceased to operate as well.
Today, from aerial photos, the second turn outline can still be seen. The contour of the drive-in movie theater and the remainder of the race track are barely evident. From ground level, the area is almost completely flat with only a few mounds of dirt in what was the infield and small, thin trees growing on and among them. Time, man, and progress are quickly erasing most signs of the former activities that once occurred there.
Present day image of the Brandonville race track site.
Finding information on this 1/2 mile dirt track that would eventually be called Shenandoah Speedway is difficult if not impossible to obtain. There are few if any photographs, racing results, articles, or artifacts from the track's years of operation. The exact years of operation are unclear. Even this tracks location has been cause for speculation. One noted racing historian believes it was situated in the north-west corner of the borough under the present day athletic field of the local high school. Another feels it was located in the opposite corner of the borough in the south-east section along present day Route 54. This location is the most likely site as it appears to be supported by an aerial photograph.
One source indicates that this was originally a horse trotting track much like Brandonville which was located over the mountain 3 1/2 miles north-east of Shenandoah.
This was another dirt track that held AAA sanctioned Big Car events. It was also said to have hosted midget sprint cars as well. These racing activities ceased in the years preceding the outbreak of World War II. They would have been deemed unnecessary to the war effort. Also, it's location, much like that of Brandonville, may have played a part in the track's demise.
What is known is that one of the best of his era, Ted Nyquist of Lebanon, PA, raced and won at least one race held there. An article from an unknown newspaper reported he won there on October 12, 1935, just 3 years prior to the only known aerial photograph.
Sometime before 1938, the northern and eastern turns were obliterated due in part to a strip mine operation nearby.
Today, any visible signs of this track's existence is impossible to find. From comparing the 1938 aerial photograph to a recent one shows that motorists are actually driving over one set of turns on Rt. 54. The remainder of the track is buried under millions of tons of dirt, rock, and now trees as decades of dumping the over-burden from a nearby strip mine operation covers the site.
Present day image of the Shenandoah race track site.
Ringtown Years of operation unknown
Trying to find any information on this track is extremely difficult to find as there is very little to uncover. Aerial photographs show the track did not exist before 1938 but was built prior to 1958. With the United States entering World War II in December 1941, it appears the track wasn't built until after the war ended in 1945 when restrictions on events like auto racing were lifted. It also appears on a 1971 aerial photograph with every indication as an active racing facility.
The size of the track seems to indicate it was approximately a 1/4 mile oval, perfect for midget sprint cars. The track that appears on aerial photographs today is located right next to it but appears to be about a half mile in length. The new, bigger track doesn't seem to have replaced it but merely was built right next to it to be used for a different reason, possibly for training race horses. There are numerous stables located on the hill above the original, smaller oval.
A closer examination of different angles of the current day aerial photographs shows a very discernable outline in multiple places were the track actually was. To the north side of the track is a small hillside that may have been used to aid in viewing the cars on the track and may have had a small grandstand above it while one of the eastern turns is outlined by a split rail fence. In both the 1958 and 1971 aerial photographs, there appeared to have been a curved set of bleachers along the western end of the track on the outside of these turns. Eight corrals, seven square and one round, now occupy the racing surface and infield.
The new, bigger track has a large pond in its eastern end that appears to have been the result of natural drainage. It is completely surrounded by a split rail fence that conforms to the natural landscape and possibly property lines.
When automobile racing began and ended for whatever classes competed there is uncertain at this time.
Present day image of the Ringtown race track site
Mahanoy City 1947 - 1952
This facility was located on the west end of the borough of Mahanoy City at the bottom of the Mahanoy Valley. This valley was noted for rich coal deposits with numerous coal breakers and many miles of railroad tracks. This stadium had multiple aliases along with multiple uses including the 1/4 mile dirt track. It was also known as the West End Stadium, Mahanoy Stadium, Mahanoy City Speedway, Township Stadium and Mahanoy Township Speedway.
This stadium of many names would even be known to host early Joie Chitwood automobile thrill shows as well as Charlie Williamson's "death defying" roll-over shows. It was also where some local racing legends began their racing careers such as Charlie Bubeck, Hal and Bill Lord and Lauden Potts.
It was originally built for sporting events such as football and baseball games along with track and field events. Exhibition baseball games included such legendary players as Connie Mack and Babe Ruth. During one of these exhibition games on October 26th, 1923, Ruth hit four home runs over the center field fence! Track star and 1936 Berlin Olympic Silver Medalist, Glenn Cunningham, also made an appearance. The athletic track that ringed the grassy field would become the narrow racing surface that the race cars would navigate before the large concrete grandstand. There were even reports that ARDC midgets were promoted by Frackville native Charlie Williamson. In all likelihood these racing machines created a fair amount of dust!
When the midget racing began in 1947, the events took place on Thursday nights at 8:30 P.M. under the lights. Admission was $1.40 which included tax and free parking. At this time, the track was known as Mahanoy Township Speedway. Many of the biggest names in midget racing made the journey to compete here. Red Redmond, Steve Yannigan, George Marshman, Wally Campbell, John Favinger, Jimmy Forte, and Charlie Miller are just a few of the best of their era to compete here.
The third known on-track racing fatality in Schuylkill County would occur here. On July 24, 1947, the midget driven by Philadelphia native Steve Jars was struck by another midget driven by Wally Campbell of Trenton, New Jersey. Jars passed away early the next morning at Locust Mountain Hospital in Shenandoah. The accident occurred in front of the main grandstand during their 20 lap feature event at the end of the evening.
As the decade of the 1940's was ending, so was the midget craze as this form of auto racing was out-pricing itself. This would lead to less expensive classes of racing equipment like flathead powered stock cars gaining in popularity. These easy to find and build race cars would become very popular and could be found at any race track in every part of the country. Many returning World War II veterans needed something to try and take the place of the adrenaline rush of combat and the camaraderie of fellow soldiers. Racing quickly filled that void. So did the mechanical skills that many had acquired before and during the war. These mechanics would be the pioneers of creating speed long before speed shops and catalogs made buying speed the norm. Mahanoy Speedway may be considered the beginning of racing as we now know it in Schuylkill County. That would eventually lead to where we are today.
By 1951, The track changed names again. It would now be known as Township Speedway by the new race promoters, Schuylkill Racing, Inc., and change race nights to Tuesday evenings. Gone were the midgets, now replaced by the much less expensive and easier to build stock car classes that were becoming popular. After switching nights to Sundays and losing a few races to rain, the track closed after 12 scheduled events. Enter Buster Keller. He switched nights again, this time to Friday and changed the name to Mahanoy City Speedway and operated under Keller Racing Inc. with the August 31st event run by the Penn Eastern Stock Car Racing Association.
The following year of 1952 saw another change. The Valley Race Drivers Association promoted by Maurice Hoffman and the Penn State Racing Enterprises took over the operation of the track. After 3 of the 6 events were lost to rain, the races were cancelled due to a lack of cars. Jack Maeder would then take over promoting with events run by the Twin Valley Racing Association. After at least one scheduled race, the remainder of the season was cancelled, due to all things, Jack Maeder being drafted into the U. S. Army. This was during the Korean Conflict. Auto racing would never return to the Mahanoy Valley.
Throughout it's tenure hosting automobile racing, multiple racing organizations sanctioned races at this structure at the west end of Mahanoy City. The Reading Stock Car Racing Association, Schuylkill Racing Enterprises and the Penn Eastern Stock Car Racing Association of Bloomsburg are a few of the racing organizations that brought automobile racing to the Mahanoy Valley.
During this era of racing, oil, not water was used to keep the dust under control. From automobiles to electrical transformers, this was the most popular way to try and keep the surface from becoming a nuisance to the drivers, fans, and especially the neighbors! It was also reported that the auto racing was creating problems for the athletic events also held here, especially the track events.
The stadium was demolished in the mid to late 1970's to make way for the present day high school complex.
Today, all traces of the stadium are completely gone as it now is the site of the Mahanoy Area High School.
Present day image of Mahanoy Township Speedway.
Gold Mine 1950 - 1953, 1962 - 1968
Hidden in the woods on a back road on the outskirts of Tower City lies the remains of a track that opened and closed on multiple occasions, with two different sets of promoters and slightly different names. It was originally named Gold Mine Raceway and operated on Sunday afternoons. First opened by Fuzz Watkins, Bob Weaver, Charles Raudenbush and Sam Cox in 1950, the track was built on adjoining pieces of farm land owned by both Fuzz Watkins and Sam Cox. They would chose the Sportsman class of racers which were very prominent at that time. These cars were easy to find, convert to race vehicles, and relatively inexpensive to own and operate. The track would remain operational until 1953 when this promotional team decided to close the track down. The reason for this decision is open for speculation as varying stories have circulated over the years.
The track would sit idle until 1962. That year, after making some improvements, the track reopened under Bumper Warlow, Jack Murray and Jim & Bob Watkins who were the sons of Fuzz Watkins. Racing would resume on Sunday afternoons with the return of the Sportsman along with the Hobby Stock division. It would also receive a slight name change. It became known by its most familiar name, Gold Mine Speedway. At the end of 1966 the track would close down but this would only be temporary.
By 1968, the track would reopen again with a slight change in operators. The track would eventually enter into an alliance with a pair of other tracks. In 1968 it would also begin to host 30 x 90 "Bugs", an early form of sprint car. This would create a 3 night circuit with Fredericksburg racing on Friday nights, Silver Spring on Saturday night with Gold Mine on Sunday afternoon. It would close for the final time at the end of 1968 due to declining car counts and attendance.
In early photos, some might think the 1/4 mile dirt track was a bit primitive as logs and tree trunks were used for guardrails long before they were replaced with steel guardrails when it reopened the second time. A drain pipe was also visible in the infield which drained outside of turn 3. A look at the grandstands shows what was very common for the times, cinder blocks standing on end with planks laid on top of them for seats. It did have a modern appearing announcers tower and concession stand lining the top of the small hill used for viewing the action. There were also small wooden structures used as ticket booths. There were some whispers that some of the locals "borrowed" some of those cinder blocks for their housing projects.
Flathead powered sportsman stock cars were the division of choice for both sets of promoters and drew many of the top talents of those eras paying one of the best purses anywhere.
At one point, the track attempted to put up lights for night racing. There are stories that debris was dumped into the fuel tanks of the generators powering the lights to sabotage any attempts at night racing.
Today, the outline of the track is still there as are many of the cinder blocks used for seating. The cinder block base for the flag stand is in ruins as is its concrete floor. The infield resembles a small forest with many pine trees reaching skyward. If you look closely you may see an occasional railroad tie poking up from the outside of the turns, some with a small piece of metal guardrail still attached. Some of the tires that were half buried to mark the inside of the turns can still be found. Since 1968, the track has remained silent with the exception of a curious fan or two and sometimes an occasional four wheeler...
Present day image of Gold Mine Speedway
Fort Lebanon 1955
Approximately one mile from Route 895 on the outskirts of Auburn was built a 1/4 mile dirt track that only operated for one year.
Built by Doc Reichert and Joe Hendricks, construction began in 1954 and over the course of its brief existence, the property was transformed from an open field into a highly competitive facility with a sturdy scoring tower built from railroad ties and a very modern concession stand even by the standards of the day. The flagman would start the racers from the track surface and run for cover as the coupes, coaches, and sedans would rumble toward him! Although it lacked grandstands, the only known video of the racing action shows very large crowds of spectators sitting on the gently sloping grassy hillside behind the flag stand or sitting on their vehicles overlooking the track. Some events may have been held before the end of 1954 but this has not yet been confirmed.
The first feature race was won by co-owner and co-builder Joe Hendricks's son Earl who would race using the name Drick. His own long and successful racing career that would garner him legions of loyal fans would begin here. His racing exploits would make him a local legend. Fort Lebanon would also be the first track where another racing legend, Russ Smith, would begin his racing career at the age of 19 and win it's very first and only point championship.
Competition from nearby Circle M Ranch, Mount Carbon, and the Berks County oval of Berne Township Speedway in Hamburg, which incidentally also only operated in 1955, would lead to it's demise. Despite large crowds, the track had difficulty drawing enough cars to continue operating and never made a profit! The track would close at the end of 1955. The ground that once reverberated with the rumble of flat head motors would go silent and become fallow, eventually be reclaimed by nature and overgrown with trees. Auto racing would never return. With the exception of the families who built it, the locals walking through the woods or the local kids riding bicycles and later motorcycles, snowmobiles and eventually all-terrain vehicles on its surface, the track would slowly fade from memory.
Today, nearly every clue that a race track once covered this piece of property is gone. With the exception of the very slight banking in the turns, the built up banking supporting the outside of the turns and a few decaying pieces of railroad ties sticking up from the ground, one would never know what took place here. The property is now owned by a gun club, ironically from Lebanon, for the sole purpose of hunting for its members only and is heavily posted as such.
Present day image of Fort Lebanon Speedway
Branchdale C. 1955
Perhaps this is the most mysterious track to ever exist in the county. This local track that virtually all state and national racing historians have never even heard of has been difficult to obtain information about. Located approximately a half mile from Route 209 in the tiny village of Branchdale, most information on this racing facility is now only in the minds of the locals who frequented the track. It's exact location is somewhat of a mystery. Many hours of research indicates it was situated near the end of the dirt covered and overgrown Cherry Lane in close proximity to a large barn. A known aerial photograph shows it's approximate location and that it may have been close to the standard 1/4 mile oval that was typical of that era.
Following the end of World War II until the years just before the Viet Nam Conflict, many race tracks opened and operated from a few years to just a single event. These racing facilities were constructed in various types from farm fields to county fairgrounds. Those circumstances is what makes finding information on them difficult because in many cases it is non-existent or lost forever.
What is known is that Branchdale native, racer, and car owner, the late Fran Purcell, Sr., began his racing career here. As legend has it, Fran was racing around a farmers field when the farmer stopped him to ask if he liked doing that. When Fran said he did, the farmer told him to come back in a week. When he did, the farmer had cut out the outline of the race track.
A few other local racers are said to have started their racing careers here which have yet to be confirmed with any degree of certainty.
While photographs and records may be difficult to find, it is still remembered by some of the local and nearby residents. There has also been some discussion if it was ever open to the public, had any type of facilities, or if more than one car raced on it at a time.
Today, after more than 60 years, the current land owner appears to have the area well kept. One aerial photo shows what might have been the outline of the track. Please keep in mind that this is private property and to respect the wishes of the property owner by not trespassing.
Present day image of Branchdale Speedway
Circle M Ranch 1955-1958
Driving through the borough of Auburn heading west on Route 895, situated between two hillsides, was the creation of Eddie Mates, owner of Circle M Construction Company. Mr. Mates wanted to build "one of the finest dirt tracks in Pennsylvania". It was the only county track to be built for cars first before being used by horses for rodeos.
Not many tracks could boast they had seats from an old movie theater but Circle M could. With a perfect, unobstructed view with an almost amphitheater type of setting, the hillside grandstands were frequently packed as the flathead powered sportsman racers powered around the 1/4 mile oval.
Hal Lord, who was one of the best drivers in county history in the flathead days, won the very first feature at Circle M while Schuylkill Haven's Charlie Bubeck would win the most feature races in the track's brief history.
In 1958, Fred and Ken Hurley would lease the track. No one could know this would be the track's final season, sitting idle and overgrown with trees and brush for the next 5 decades.
After the track closed at the conclusion of the 1958 season, it would sit silently for 50 years until a fateful decision was made. Following an exhibition event in 2008, the Mates family decided to clear the overgrowth and reopen the track for a once a year event.
Today, to the delight of many race fans young and old, this event continues to grow in popularity each year and has become a must-see for racing enthusiasts.
Present day image of Circle M Ranch Speedway
Sparky's C. 1950's - 1960's
Information on the existence of this dirt track has recently been discovered. The owner of this track was said to named "Sparky" Yorty and facility's exact name isn't known at this time.
This track was said to have hosted micro midgets or go-karts in the 1950's and '60's. The exact years of operation have yet to be discovered but the property was sold in the late 1060's to very early 1970's. It is unknown when any type of racing ceased.
The property would eventually be purchased by the late Mickey Pritz for the used car dealership and car wash he would build on this site. in the mid 1970's, he would become a Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth dealership known locally as Pritz Dodge.
One of the turns was actually the road that went around to the back of the car wash alongside the auto body shop that was also established here. Hillcrest Hall, which is owned by St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Minersville, parallels one of the straight-a-ways. Exact turn numbers have not yet been identified as of this time making the start-finish line difficult to locate.
A look at an aerial view shows what appears to be the distinct footprint of the track. The borough of Minersville is to the right side of the photograph with Minersville/Llewellyn highway running directly in front of it. To the north-east, this road leads into Minersville where it is called Third St.
Additional information about this lost speedway is pending at this time.
Today, Mike Watcher's Used Auto Sales car lot is located at this site.
Present day image of Sparky's Speedway
Mount Carbon 1956 - 1964
Situated along the edge of a hillside overlooking the Schuylkill River and two of the major railroads in the area, bordered by a cemetery behind it with its namesake borough beside it, was the 1/3 mile Mount Carbon Speedway. At one point in it's existence, the track could be seen from Route 122, now known as Route 61. There are also some references that called it Pottsville Speedway.
This dirt track, that overlooked a highway that helped bring about the demise of those two railroads, was operated by at least two individuals. Bob Leininger and Irv Yeich, who leased the property and constructed the race track, were 2 of the known principle operators. According to one source, a woman named Ora Kulp helped finance this operation. This same source can only remember the property owners surname, Hess.
This may have been the first county track to have a small oval built inside it's infield for what would be considered micro sprints today.
Another first according to some sources, it was the first track in Schuylkill County to host a night race which was held on a Friday evening. This was made possible by bringing temporary lighting in from Fort Indiantown Gap. According to this same source, the individuals responsible for this was S & Y Paints owner and co-promoter Irv Yeich, co-promoter Bob Leininger and Harvey Moyer who many have also been part of the promotional group.
Many of the top local drivers of this era turned laps on this dirt track. As legend has it, if you weren't sure where the track was, just look for the dust cloud hovering above it! It also survived challenges from other dirt tracks that operated during it's tenure but ultimately couldn't draw enough cars to continue to operate.
Some drivers who would become legends in the sport turned laps here. Legendary Lebanon residents Dick "Toby" Tobias, and Bobby Gerhart, Sr. raced here as well as another legend, "The Reading Rocket" Russ Smith.
1964 would be the final year for this hillside race track with an impressive view.
Today, like many other doomed race tracks, all visible signs of Mount Carbon are gone. It is now buried under a housing development known as Forest Hills.
Present day composite image showing location of Mount Carbon Speedway
Anthracite 1966 - 1975
Schoentown. Merely saying the name evokes an almost magical response from the fans who once attended the events there. Located in the hilly section above Port Carbon, this small 1/3 mile oval has attained legendary status. The faithful who spent countless hours competing there or watching from the hillside grandstands enjoyed being part of what many consider to be part of their extended family, their racing friends. The attraction this track had on Schuylkill County residents was rare and is basically unheard of anymore.
Ask any driver who turned laps there about their experience of racing at Anthracite and all say the same thing. They were treated well and fairly by the promoters and enjoyed themselves. Many of these retired racers have stayed friends with each other, the promoters and the fans from their time spent at Schoentown. Some of their fondest memories in racing were created here.
Built by the late Joe Sidella, Joe Kuperavage and his late brother Bernie Kuperavage, this track has passed into local racing legend and made heroes of the drivers that once competed there. Never has one single track become such a part of folklore of an area or a generation as did Anthracite.
The track name says it all as coal was such an integral piece of its existence. Many of its racers worked in the mining occupation of this natural resource as well the Kuperavage brothers. Even some race car numbers had their origins in this industry that is unique to just three regions of Pennsylvania.
One of the distinct features was the back stretch hill. Many a driver tried to use that banking to gain momentum as they approached turn three. Most of the time their efforts were unsuccessful with at least one racer making it all the way up the bank and into the trees!
When Hurricane Agnes cut a swath of destruction up the east coast, Anthracite was inundated which the turned the infield into a pond.
One of the myths surrounding Anthracite's closure was a driver's strike. This simply isn't true. In actuality, Joe Sidella was beginning to loose his eyesight. Bernie Kuperavage wanted to get out of race promoting because of interests outside of racing. Joe Kuperavage wanted to continue promoting which led him to joining the promoters at Big Diamond in 1974. At the conclusion of the 1975 season, the track closed forever.
Today, the track remains basically as it was left after the last race was held with the exception of a few pieces of equipment being moved off the property. It is also very overgrown. Many of the structures have fallen down over time or were knocked down. It is also private property which means DO NOT, under any circumstance, try to visit what remains!
Present day image of Anthracite Raceway
Big Diamond 1972 - Present
The only track remaining in Schuylkill County is also the one with the longest tenure and the last new track to be built. It's story began in 1971 when race car owners and coal mining operators D. B. Muscara and Fritz Roehrig decided to build a track for the their '57 Chevys numbered 15-A and 88-B to practice on. Designed to fit the surrounding landscape much like its future sister track of Anthracite Raceway, the 1/3 mile track was completed in 1972. Thus was the birth of Big Diamond Raceway.
The first feature races were held on August 27th, 1972 with two local drivers being the first to enter its record books. Drick Hendricks won the sportsman feature while Doc Miller captured the hobby car checkered.
From its humble beginnings, the track continued to grow and in 1974, Joe Kuperavage joined the promotional team. It was 1983 that problems arose with Cass Township over a proposed amusement tax of 10% that prompted the decision to close the track early that year before the season's end. This situation would rear its ugly head again in the future. Still, this trio would guide the Forestville oval together until 1984 when D. B. Muscara left to pursue other interests at the conclusion of that season. Joe Kuperavage would not return as the co-promoter following the 1986 season leaving Fritz and Joann Roehrig as the sole operators of the track.
Another change took place in 1994. A planned expansion was moved ahead by 3 months to enlarge the track to a 3/8th mile. The project began the very next day after the July 8th program was completed. Work continued on this major endeavor that involved moving the 3rd and 4th turn along with the back straightaway outward. Just days before the reopening on August 28th, the new 3rd and 4th turn guardrails still weren't installed yet. Somehow, though, the track was ready for that Friday night's activity.
Many local fan favorites and a few high profile drivers would compete at the track that's just a few miles from Minersville. Many of them would attain legendary status, not just with the local fan base but with racing historians as well.
As with any business, Big Diamond went through prosperous years as well as lean ones. Beginning in the early 1980's, soring car counts and some big name drivers helped the bottom line through the 1990's But with ever escalating costs in racing and the downturn in the economy in the early to mid 2000's, racers and fans began to dwindle to the point where a drastic decision was made.
Before the racing season was completed in 2005, Fritz made the decision to close the track down following the Friday night, August 19th event, just weeks before the big year ending event, The Coal Cracker. This decision caused many negative feelings among race fans.
But that wasn't the end of this track. Enter another trio of businessmen who wanted to give race track promotion a try. Buddy Beiver, Barry Bashore and Dave Dissinger leased the track and began a major remodeling of the aging facility that December and continued right up until the first race of 2006.
This group would operate the rural dirt track until a mutual decision among all parties involved was made to end their lease one year early at the end of the 2010 season.
When the gates swung open in 2011, a familiar face was once again at the helm of Big Diamond. After many rounds of litigation, Fritz Roehrig would begin his second stint as track operator but with a slight name change. Gone was the word Raceway. The track would now be known as Big Diamond Speedway.
The year 2011 saw the return of another issue, the Cass Township amusement tax. After nearly 4 years of legal wrangling, the amount agreed upon at 5% that was grandfathered back in 1983, was put back in place, apparently settling this dispute once and for all.
But there was yet one more change on the horizon for the future of this track. When the 2012 racing season dawned, yet another promotional change would take place. Jake Smully, Fritz's step-son, former racer and track employee, and his wife Jasmine would become the new promoters.
Today, Big Diamond Speedway appears to be stabilized. This only remaining, sole surviving dirt track has, over the years, hosted a variety of special shows and divisions of dirt track race cars. Most of these special built machines can trace their roots back to the very beginning of auto racing. Their mechanical ancestors once turned laps at the tracks in this county which no longer exist. Only Big Diamond Speedway remains......
Present day image of Big Diamond Speedway
Then Until Now...
In less than 100 years, automobile racing has developed from the early , almost primitive gasoline engines, many of which had their basic designs from European manufacturers, to the American ingenuity and creativity of the high performance engines in use today.
None of this could be possible without the early pioneers of the sport. Not in their wildest dreams could they ever have imagined how the sport has changed. This rough and tumble county in the Anthracite coal region produced many of those pioneering local racers with those very same attributes.
In the earliest years, the cars lacked even the basics in safety equipment. Short sleeved shirts and coveralls have been replaced by double and triple layer fire suits. Goggles and early leather football type helmets and engineer caps have been replaced by the latest Snell approved helmets with clear tear off plastic sheets over the lens to aid in visibility, many with ventilation and fresh air systems. Wooden boards and baker truck seats were replaced by aluminum full containment seats. From no restraining types of any kind to bull rope, to army surplus "submarine belts" that evolved into 5 point nylon seat belts and even arm restraints. Specialty built cars, like those made by builders such as Kurtis Kraft for midget and "Big Car" racing, were replaced by home-built Detroit production framed vehicles with heavy coupe, coach, and sedan bodies. These bodies gave way to Mustang, Pinto, Chevette, Gremlin, and other production line bodies until sheet metal creations replaced them to the point where we are today. All the chassis, steering, suspension and body components today are specially made which can be considered a throwback of sorts to the very beginning of the sport. In between these eras, all manner of these parts were salvaged from junk yards to be used and even "re-engineered" into whatever the creators of the race cars needed them to be. The average street vehicles used for some form of racing, which are rapidly dwindling, will eventually be replaced by some type of purpose built equipment for competition.
Racing has changed dramatically through the years and will continue to change...at a cost. While the sport has been made safer then ever, the cost to build, buy and maintain mostly every form of race vehicle continues to climb. That is the biggest reason for declining car counts everywhere as the average person just cannot afford this hobby. Hopefully, changes can be made to correct this before it's too late.
For the fans, there have been improvements also. While some will say those improvements haven't kept pace with race car development, conditions are still better than they had been in the past. That too, will take time to upgrade which in the end depends on a track's success.
As for Schuylkill County, the coal mining that was at one time the leading source of employment and wealth have caused, in places, an almost foreign landscape that bares the scars of decades of both deep, underground mining and open pit surface mining commonly known as strip mining. This pursuit of hard coal has changed this area and left some places barren. In some locations, permanently. It obliterated one race track completely. Ironically, it also helped to create jobs that many local fans and racers relied upon to pursue their love of this sport.
Today, Schuylkill County has only one race track remaining that was actually built by a group of local coal miners with a love of dirt track racing. The mining of coal encircled the entire area surrounding this sole survivor. In the 1970's and '80's fans attending the races on Friday nights actually saw the strip mining process take place all around them. Even just beyond the 3rd and 4th turns of this track. The Forestville track of Big Diamond has seen many transitions through the years but has defied all odds and continues on, keeping the racing tradition alive for the next generation of race fans.
Tracks That May Have Existed Or Hosted Auto Racing
As with any research project involving the past, there are always questions that evade answers. In the case of Schuylkill County's racing past, there are questions about at least 4 different locations that may or may not have hosted automobile races or if they even existed at all.
The original Schuylkill County Fairgrounds was located in Orwigsburg which at one time was in consideration for being the county seat. An aerial photo from 1938 shows the remains of a large oval track the may have been a mile in distance. Facilities like this built in the late 1800's and after the turn of the 20th century were used for horse racing. No evidence of any auto racing taking place there has been found.
A place called Carson's Park was said to have hosted auto racing. It's location was listed as being 2 mile south of Pottsville with a date of 1935. This puts it approximately in the same general area of the Schuylkill County Fairgrounds in the same time frame. No evidence of a race track existing in this area has been found or that there was even a place called Carson's Park. The possibility that it was another name for the Fairgrounds is the most logical conclusion.
Lakewood Amusement Park in Barnesville was listed as having a dirt oval operating in the 1930' and 1940's where the competitors raced around hay bales. Lakewood Park was an extremely popular destination for many years with patrons arriving by train in the early years of it's existence. It also hosted many local ethnic events and was well known for it's lake and ballroom where many famous bands performed through the years. The amusement park itself closed in 1984 and nothing remains of it today. Reportedly it is now a pond next to Route 54. No evidence of any race track or reports of any types of racing has been found.
Another story has circulated about a dirt track in West Penn Township that supposedly operated in the 1950's and 1960's. Research has turned up no information about a racing facility in this area. There was, however, a 1/8th mile drag strip called Kel-Reca operated northwest of Hometown in an area known as Still Creek that began operating in 1964 into the early 1970's. This endeavor only covers the oval tracks in Schuylkill County.