Thursday, December 27, 2012

Vintage New Year

There is a fair amount of buzz surrounding the fact that the TQs will be racing this New Year’s Eve in Providence, Rhode Island, but while it might be the first time for racing on New Year’s Eve it is not the first time for racing close to the dropping of the ball in Times Square.

On December 30, 1961, just one day before New Year’s Eve some 51 years ago, Jim Lacy won the main event at the Island Garden in West Hempstead, New York. On the other side of the holiday, Sonny Sanders won in the Island Garden on January 2, 1964, less than 48 hours after ringing in the New Year.

More recently, Mike Osite won on December 29, 1984, in the first race run in the Niagara Falls Convention Center. In the photo below, Osite (right) and Bentley Warren (left) flank the Niagara Falls trophy girl.

Mike Osite became the 1985 ATQMRA champion and was twice a winner in Niagara Falls. Bentley Warren was already a supermodified champion and a man with two Indy 500s on his resume at this time, and he was every bit as serious about winning in a TQ as he was in any other kind of race car. So when Osite dusted him in the warmups at that first Niagara Falls event, Warren sought out Osite to see who this guy was. The two became fast friends almost instantly – although Warren made sure to claim his own Niagara Falls victory in the fourth race in the series.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

50 Years Ago Today

On December 15, 1962, Jim Lacy won the ATQMRA feature race indoors in the Island Garden Arena, in West Hempstead, New York.

Lacy also won the features there on November 24, December 1, 8, and 22, sweeping five of the seven events run in the arena in 1962. Only Joe Gray, who won the opener on November 17, and Jerry Wall, who won the series finale on December 29, beat Lacy indoors that year.

The Island Garden was built in 1957 and was host to 55 indoor race meets in the years 1959 through 1965. The building was demolished in 1973, although today there is a basketball new arena, also named Island Garden, located just to the south of the site of the original.

Photo courtesy of H.A.M.B member Dog427435.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bumper Crop

That's a bumper sticker from 1959, advertising that year’s eight-race series of indoor events at the Teaneck Armory.  Click the image for an enlarged view.

The Teaneck Armory was built in 1938 and still stands today, although the National Guard unit assigned to it was disbanded in 1994. ATQMRA races took place in the facility in the years 1952 through 1962.

On the dates listed on the bumper sticker, the following drivers won the feature races:

January 10 - Len Duncan
January 17 - Jim Lacy
January 24 - Len Duncan
February 14 - Roger Bailey
February 21 - Roger Bailey
February 28 - Len Duncan
March 7 - Len Duncan
March 14 - Len Duncan

Among the drivers competing in the Armory that year were Chuck Arnold - Tony Bonadies - Fred Clifton - Johnny Coy - Dick DeYoung - Jack Duffy - Gordon Eisenhower - Lou Fray - Bobby Hamilton - Sy Kaback - Al Kemp - Russ Klar - Ben Landis - Ernie McCoy - Pete Mourad - Red Mulholland - Everett Rogers - Tony Romit - Tex Ryder - Sonny Sanders - Don Stumpf - George Sweeten - Jerry Wall - Tony Zarcone - and Johnny Zeke.

The Teaneck Armory

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Garden Party

With the TQs making their first appearance in Baltimore’s First Mariner Arena this weekend, we decided to post an indoor racing photo from 40 years ago. This photo features two of the best to ever turn a wheel, and it was taken in what is likely the most famous indoor arena in the world.

The drivers are Johnny Coy, in #18, and Tony Romit, alongside in the #02. The arena is New York City’s Madison Square Garden, where the ATQMRA raced once – and only once – in 1972.

Coy was a multi-time champion in the American Racing Drivers Club by this time and later won two ATQMRA championships as well.  Romit was a top driver in both midgets and sprints before settling on TQs because his wife feared the dangers of the bigger cars. Romit won countless races in the late 1960s and the early 1970s driving the car in which he is pictured, and he too is credited with a pair of ATQMRA championships.

The Madison Square Garden race was an interesting affair. The participants were determined by time trials that took place at Pine Brook several weeks beforehand. The track was tiny and slick – and made more slick when the crew at the Garden turned on the ice-making equipment before the races were completed, so as to be ready to make ice for the next night’s hockey game. The race track was on the fifth floor of the building as compared with street level, and the Mountain Garage Jeep got a workout pushing race cars up the spiral ramp that led from the street to the arena floor.  Driver Joe Lacy and official Jim Yates had a confrontation that had the Garden staffers thinking that they might have to break out the boxing ring.

Jack Duffy, at the wheel of the Zrinski "Six Bits," won the main event.

The race made the evening television newscasts in New York and was on the back page of the New York Daily News, but New York was not and is not a racing town, and the spectator count was not enough to justify a return engagement.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Nearly Back Where it all Began

This weekend the TQ Midgets are racing for the first time in Baltimore, Maryland, indoors at the 1st Mariner Arena. This is perhaps the closest that the TQs have gotten to their roots in more than 60 years.

There is a large, run-down building next to the tracks near Union Station in Washington, D.C., 35 miles from the 1st Mariner Arena. In this building commuters park their cars in the morning and leave in the evening without pausing to take a look around. People walk by without a glance. Train passengers look out the window and think nothing of it. But it holds a signficant place in history... and in racing history.

The Uline Arena

It was called the Washington Coliseum when the Beatles performed their first U.S. concert here. Concerts, ice hockey, basketball, circuses, political rallies and much more are all a part of the history of the building that first opened as the Uline Arena in 1941. And when the Tom Thumb Midget Association, the organization that evolved to become the ATQMRA, staged its first-ever race, it did so in the Uline Arena.

It was November 20, 1950, when Tony Bonadies won the Tom Thumb Midget Association’s first race, indoors at the Uline Arena.
Tony Bonadies (Photo courtesy Ron Lauer)

The building was constructed by Miguel L. Uline for his professional ice hockey team, the Washington Lions. It was built along the tracks leading to Union Station in an area now known as NoMa (North of Massachusetts). Uline Arena was also home to the Washington Capitols of the Basketball Association of America, a team which was coached by Red Auerbach prior to his move to Boston.

But it wasn't until jewelry wholesaler Harry G. Lynn bought the arena in 1959, renamed it the Washington Coliseum, and made it a place for concerts that the place became world famous. That's because the Beatles performed their first U.S. concert there on February 11, 1964. Concerts featuring everyone from the Woody Herman Orchestra to the Royal Ballet to Bob Dylan were presented at the arena.

The Beatles perform where TQs had performed before

Newer venues later cut into the arena’s business, and by 1987 there was a planned $17.5 million renovation featuring convention space, a chapel, schools, and radio and TV studios for a faith-based organization. But these plans never same to fruition, and in 1994 the building was converted into, of all things, a trash transfer station.

Finally, following new regulations governing the handling of garbage, the building became the dismal parking garage that it is today.

The decaying interior of the Uline Arena today

Through the years there have been an remarkable array of events at the arena, including such diverse uses as an inaugural gala for President Eisenhower in 1953, and as a holding cell for many of the 12,000 people arrested during protests of the Vietnam War in 1971. But now, the only hope for the first race track on which the Tom Thumb TQ Midgets raced is yet another redevelopment plan, which currently is stalled, at best, due to today’s economic conditions.

A redevelopment concept for the Uline Arena
Perhaps one day the building will be restored to its former glory, since the neighborhood surrounding it is being redeveloped. It happened when Convention Hall in Atlantic City was renovated into Boardwalk Hall. It would be great to see the history of the Uline Arena honored and preserved while moving forward with a 21st century renovation.