In the 1930s Midget racing cars were run on a quarter-mile clay track off Cooper Lake Road in Bearsville. The sign for Racetrack Road is still there, but the track is long overgrown with trees. It was known as the Woodstock Legion Speedway.
Recently, Richard Rydant gave me a set of photos he made from Andre Neher’s negatives of races at the Bearsville track around 1939. Following several leads I found myself with Raecine Shurter in her home on the Samsonville Road looking at scrapbooks about her father Larry Shurter’s long career in Midget and stock car racing. Raecine had a 1939 program from the Woodstock Legion Speedway and we were able to identify some of the drivers in Rydant’s photos. The season included two races per month from May to October.
Larry Shurter was one of the founders of the Onteora Speedway off Route 213 in Olivebridge. This was a new half-mile clay surface banked oval which opened in 1960 and attracted crowds of thousands of spectators during its run into the mid-1960s. Modified stock cars ran at Onteora. Today the site is totally overgrown with tall trees and brush. The old photos show open fields where forests grow today.
Helping me along with research was Jim Glass, of Jim Glass Corvettes, Raecine Shurter’s cousin. Jim’s dad, Bud Glass, was a Midget racer. Also helping was Arthur Vogel at Willow Automotive. Arthur told me that one of Andre Neher’s midget race cars was in a shed at Woodstock Building Supply, Neher’s business, and that the car had been built in Vogel’s Willow shop by Ken Van Wagoner.
Midget racers were light and simple, agile and sporty. The drivers stuck out over the cowling and there was no roll bar. A hand brake lever went to the left rear wheel, applying it would draw the car into the left turn of the oval course; there were no front brakes. Leaf springs and solid axles and two frame rails made the chassis. A favorite engine was a Willys, used in jeeps later. The racing was close to the crowd and flips and crashes were part of the sport. There were fatalities, the Shurter’s lost friends; that was racing.
Identified in the old photos were: #6: Ralph Palmer, Albany, Willys 77. #9: Don Jackson, Woodstock, Willys 77. #12: Bay Lovely, Waban, MA. #25: Len Fanelli, New Rochelle. #77: Roy Sykes, Long Island City, Willys 77. #49: Donald Le Clear, Brookline. MA. Also running was #8: Nelson Shultis.
Photos provided by Richard Rydant from Andre Neher’s negatives.