By Bill Ladabouche

The Great Ice Races

            In 1958 someone [probably Maurice Broderick] got the flash of inspiration to stage "The First World Championship Ice Race" at the Airborne Park Speedway. The track, only then concluding its fourth season of operation, was still dirt likely looking for any way possible to promote itself and keep itself in the consciousness of the surrounding region.

Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of Bucko Branham
A field takes off in the inaugural 1958 program. It doesn’t seem like  this is the entire field, but it might be.
Eventual winner, George Bridges is the middle, with the car G1.

            Considering how dirt roads can ice over and freeze up where I live, the idea may not have been that hard to prepare for. Broderick attracted a small field of hardy souls to compete and there is photographic evidence that a few brave fans sat out the spectacle in the stands - no doubt fortified with various hot thermos and alcohol - based refreshment.

Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock
Starter Art Prairie looks over a field of cars in 1958. The background shows a few of the
hardy souls who came out to support neighbors and loved ones.

            Apparently, from the photos supplied by the Bridges family, at least one race in that first year was won by George Bridges, in his G1 coupe. You can also recognize Dick Nephew's car, Charlie Trombley’s 99, and maybe one that used to be driven by Shorty Carmichael. The rest seem kind of difficult to make out. The event seems to have met the expectations of the Airborne management, as they would stage it two more times.
            It is difficult to tell for sure, and none of the old hands at the track today can speak authoritatively on the subject, but it looks as if those races were staged in 1958, 1959, and 1960. The first year, the one touted as the world championship, it appeared that most of the cars were the same as those which ran in the summer; but, in the subsequent years, several of the Airborne regulars shunned their coupes in favor of later model, almost – demo derby – looking rides.

Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock
Bill Guynup receives his  trophy at the conclusion of the  1959 ice races. The other men appear
to be waiting for other high finishers in the event to come forward.


            Very few photographs are available of the 1959 version of the World Championships of Ice Racing. Apparently one of the principal winners was Bill Guynup, patriarch of the Guynup family that has supplied owners, drivers, and ace mechanics to Airborne racing for decades. One thing that is apparent is that most of the Airborne regulars decided to leave their regular cars in mothballs [or the snowbank] and built special, more late model, cars for the second year event. Guynup had such a car, as did Bob Bruno and several others. It was almost heartbreaking to see a Packard Patrician on the pole of one of the races.          

Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock
Paul Harvey towers over his Airborne hostesses and is still clean, prior to trying his hand at driving.

            1960, what appears to be the final year, was the one in which the track management went all out to stage an extravaganza. World famous radio personality and new man, Paul Harvey was brought in to act as honorary flagger and a Grand Marshal of sorts. The tall, Harvey, who was famous for his radio comment “and THAT’S the REST of the story !”, appeared in a spotless white snow parka that looked like it may have been fur. 
            Towering over Mrs. Broderick and the track photographer’s wife, his hostesses, Harvey displayed the green flag to start the big race - but not before he decided he would take a crack at driving one of what appeared mini sprint cars that were also competing that day. According to observers, the cars kicked up rooster tails of muddy slush, and Harvey’s beautiful coat had a brown racing stripe up the back by that final flagging chore of the afternoon.

Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock
Harvey supposedly tried one of these little cars and earned his racing stripe.

            This was a time in Airborne history when not only did the track have a close relationship with the main U.S. Olympic bobsled team, but the driver – Bill Hickey – actually drove Rod Ritchie’s cars in some of the regular races. Sadly, this modest participation cost Hickey his sled. The autocratic and unyielding Olympic Committee decided that the stock car fling had constituted “professional sports” for Hickey, and he was canned. It is likely that the some part of the bobsledding contingent would have been on hand for these ice races.

Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock
Bill Hickey is apparently still on the team in this photo of  the U.S. #1 bobsled. Below – Hickey with his Ritchie ride.

Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock

            From what I can, the 1960 winner was Wilmington, New York’s Rod Ritchie, the guy whose cars Hickey used to get himself in trouble. It is also evident that Dick Nephew ran well, and he kept his regular car for the event – the yellow former George Palmetier car. Nephew, Palmetier’s last driver, had bought the 6 7/8, and removed the fraction to keep the number 6, which would be his trademark. The ice racing in all three years had compelled most of the runners to apply chains to their tires.

Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock
Dick Nephew and his regular yellow Ford fly along in mid pack in the 1960 race. Below – Rod Ritchie’s Packard
and Bob Bruno’s Ford get a jump in the start of the race.

Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock

            Perhaps, Airborne began to worry about the safety ramifications of these potentially – deadly chain missiles flying around on speeding cars. Especially, seeing as vision could not have been good in those races, there was a lot of chance for someone to really be hurt. At any rate, there is no evidence that any more winter races were ever held at Airborne. But it can lay claim to the championship of ice racing – at least for stock cars.

Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock
Henry Jarvis’ crew fits chains on his Hudson before the 1960 feature event.

Please email me if you have any photos to lend me or information and corrections I could benefit from. Please do not submit anything you are not willing to allow me to use on my website - and thanks. Email is: . For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.


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