WEEKLY COLUMN/BLOG PAGE
BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
THERE IS NOTHING MUCH SADDER THAN AN ABANDONED RACE TRACK
I guess the first time I was really made aware of the feelings that viewing an abandoned race track an give someone like me is when STOCK CAR RACING magazine published an article on such a track, Armscamp Speedway, somewhere in the Midwest. The article showed photos while the track was in operation and similar views from after it had been closed for years.
From the Ovalmeister Web Site
Huston Bundy sits in a sprinter at Alexandria, Indiana’s Armscamp Speedway.
Below – Not much is left of the site, but it remains visible and in the minds of local racing folk
Google Earth Photo
Originally started by two men whose names were Armstrong and Campbell, the Alexandria, Indiana track was an important cog in that amazing open wheel racing machine that was the Midwest in the 1940’s. From what I can remember of the magazine article, the track did – towards the end of its run – feature stock car racing programs, usually attracting around 20 entrants. But, the majority of race fans in the region were, at that time, into open wheel cars. When stars like Mel Kenyon would perform there, why watch unknown local stock car teams ? It died in the 1950’s after two grandstand fires.
The track lay neglected, just off Route 18, for years. Below – Northeastern sort of returned from the dead, thanks to the efforts of Paul Bellefeuille and his committee of dedicated helpers.
Paul Bellefeuille Photo
People have felt that way for years about the long – dormant Northeastern Speedway, near Littleton, NH – in Lower Waterford, Vermont. The apparently – very – well – paved fifth mile survived decades, sitting out in what started out as a field and what ended up to be woods. When I found it around 1977, it still was easy to make out, with rotting bleachers still sitting behind a clear front stretch wall. By the time former driver Johnny Gammell led a walking tour in 2008, it was barely recognizable; but, still the surface was there, under the leaves.
The track had been created with an unusually well – designed organization called the United Racing Club, originating from a group of men from the large Ralston – Purina plant in nearby St.Johnsbury, Vermont. The effectiveness of the track inspired young track announcer Ken Squier to open his own track in Barre, Vermont; and that, ironically put Northeastern out of business. The reverence with which the old track is held caused eventual landowner, Paul Bellefeuille, to clear off the property, put up a small ticket booth, and fly three flags off poles in the restored infield. One reunion was held there in 2010.
From Pascal Cote’s Website
Only restless spirits fly by the fully intact spectator structures at the former Autodrome St. – Damien, somewhere in Quebec.
The most compelling photo of a dead track is Autodrome St – Damien, in Quebec. I know absolutely nothing about the track, but its “vestiges” photos on Pascal Cote’s huge and impressive website show a mummy of a track, suspended in time almost in its entirety – just bleaching away in the Quebec sun [what little they get]. After talking to a number of Quebec vintage racing enthusiasts, we agreed that the best thing to call that location is a “ghost”.
One of the most successful tracks to ever run in the Northeast [despite a comparatively short life] was Milton, Vermont’s Catamount Stadium. At its height [which was ironically not long ahead of its demise] Catamount could boast of several regular participants ending up being very active in the upper echelons of NASCAR such as the then – named Busch Grand Nationals, the Winston / Sprint Cup, and the series that today is called the K & N Series.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
A fair – sized field of sportsman coupes takes the green for an early feature at the newly – built Catamount Stadium in 1965. Fans sat on stands that came from the inauguration of Lyndon B, Johnson. Below – One of the goofier ideas was ”NASCAT” an old, tired wildcat bought from the Catskill Game Farm. Here DuBrul and pals are hauling it into Thunder Road for a Thursday night showing.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
Catamount was flashy, from day one. Its founding committee included nationally famous announcer Ken Squier, as well as the dashing Burlington entrepreneur and former racer, Black Jack DuBrul. The track, which was pretty much thrown up in a month, was a state – of – art facility in a state where most tracks were very rustic. Using its name and track color scheme from the nearby University of Vermont, the track successfully appealed to not only the rank and file stock car racing fan, but to some Vermont versions of “the beautiful people”, as well.
Although the track did have some pretty hair – brained ideas at the outset like a wild cat mascot and a racing division that ran in the dark with headlights, it was largely a brilliant promotion that, at one point in the early seventies, was siphoning off the best late model talent in the entire region. In the 1980’s Catamount could say that it had hosted the likes of Ricky Craven, Jean – Paul Cabana, Junior Hanley, the LeTarte family, Randy LaJoie, and more. It had often attracted protracted visits from prominent Southerners like Tiny Lund and Butch Lindley. Although it was located nowhere near the heart of the program, Catamount often had a team in the All – Star League.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
Then – rookie sensation, Randy LaJoie, interviewed by Dave Moody after a NASCAR North feature
win at Thompson. Little did he think then about a huge racing seat business in his future.
It is not necessary to get into what lost us the track. Suffice it to say, scant days after its lease was renewed in 1987, the +&%holes who had acquired the land had its surface torn up and – not long after – all the infrastructure was razed or burned. Today, as one drives through the Catamount Industrial Park, on Catamount Drive, one goes right through the grandstand area and through the track [whose terrain and contouring are clearly visible in the grassy field]. All else that remains is the pit ramp, a concrete loading platform, and the well pump house.
This aerial view, taken days before Catamount opened, shows the amazing venue thrown up in only a month. Likely, they still hadn’t struck water. They eventually used a dowser, only scant days before the fans poured in. Below – The well house
is one of the few surviving vestiges of the track.
People cannot seem to get over losing Catamount nor can they let go. I cannot go through the immediate area without driving through the grounds. Often, I will pass by a guy in another car to pickup, just sitting there remembering how it was. It is almost fortunate that the building did not get left up, to sit there and rot to the ground like what happened 45 minutes down US Route 7, at the old Otter Creek Speedway. There, the announcer’s stand, which was once visible in the distance on a hill, lies rotting in sumac woods.
Although it more true in business – hostile Vermont than anywhere else, once we lose a particular track, it usually stays lost. Sometimes, they are immediately devoured by the buyers, like Catamount Stadium and a sort of nearby predecessor, Colchester – Bayview Speedway in Colchester. Sometimes, the tracks just lie there, neglected, until they decompose into oblivion. Or, continual agricultural plowing causes them to be undetectable, even from satellite photos. The one that just lie there rotting are the saddest.
Courtesy of Steve Pecor
It didn’t the GBIC take more than a week to accomplish this and more.
Below – This is what is still visible of the once – elaborate layout.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org . For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.
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