HISTORY OF NIAGARA DRAG STRIP

 

SUNDAY NIAGARA

November 13th 2008, I was at the Apple Store at the Gallerina Mall taking my weekly class to try to enter the electronic age [computer 101]. At the end of the lesson, there was about 10 minutes left before quitting time. To use the last few minutes up, I asked the instructor how to locate different things via the computer. She told me to suggest something and I said SUNDAY NIAGARA. I was surprised at all of the information available. She was impressed that I had been involved in something listed on the computer. I told her that I had planned to write some of the history of the track. She asked when I would be starting. So here I am finally starting.


1961

I was working at the Niagara Power Project when I got Haman and my father togather to try to get a dragstrip going. I think at that point, my father figured that I was going to get killed if I kept doing what I was doing. Anyway, things progressed, I got drafted, and sent to Ft Leonard Wood in Missouri for two years.


My father bought 2 parcels of property on the north side of the Niagara Falls Airport. There were 197 acres in total.


My grandfather had a construction company, so my father asked for the largest dozer that he had and had it delivered to the soon to be drag strip. I remember the dozer operator asking where the track was going to be located and my father walked back to Tuscarora Road and said from where he was standing, to a bush at the far west end of the property 4,000 feet away. Thats where the track went.


When the top soil was removed and the stone was in place, it rained. It rained so hard and so long that the track had to be restoned. It rained more and the track had to be restoned again. The ground was so wet that the paving machine had to be pulled by a dozer because the wheels on the paver kept getting stuck. Once the binder was in place the equipment could be run on it.


The first race was run right after that paving, July 16,1961. The spinning tires pulled the starting line pavement up. It was paved again and we sprinkled cement on the track, sprinkled water on that, and broomed it in. It not only held the pavement in place, but it had great traction.


The 1st year, the track was run by Jerry Hamam.


Niagara was the only NHRA track in Western New York at that time. General admission was $1.00 for the car and driver! Top eliminator paid $100.00, Middle eliminator$50.00, Little eliminator $50.00, Street eliminator  $50.00, Stock eliminator#1 $40.00, Stock eliminator #2 $20.00, Stock eliminator #3 $20.00, and Stock eliminator #4 paid $20.00. Most of the "BIG" cars were flat towed to the race track, the rear tires changed and you were ready to race. Somewhere, I have a picture of all the tow bars leaning against the fence. If I can find it, I will add it to the photos. There were four exhibition cars brought in the first year, Bob Sullivan, Conrad Kallita, Jack Christman, and KS Pittman. Bob ran 8.2/ 189, Jack ran 8.8/ 175.45, there was no speed or ET listed for Kallita, and KS' 40 willies with a 475 cu in olds turned 10.5/ at 140 MPH. I believe that there were 3,000 spectators and 244 cars at the first race.


November 1961 I was drafted. I had been working at the Niagara Power Project as a concrete inspector with Uhl, Hall, and Rich.

I spent my entire two years in the service at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri.


While there, I used to go to different drag races in that area. When I was at a race track near Kansas City, I became friends with Bob and Shirley Sullivan. Bob drove a top fuel dragster. I believe that at that time he held the record with AHRA at 8.31. Shirley and I used to write each other and I have one of her letters that I will include.


This three page result package is the only printed information that I have about the '61 season. It is not dated, but, I believe that it is from 1961.


























































1962


Niagara was run by Hamam again in 1962. There were some problems with the Town of Niagara town board re noise and traffic. The problems would get worse in '63 and '64. My father and Hamam were also having problems. Jerry ran the track thru 1962.


Some of the cars that won TE that year were Del Clark 10.48 at 133.13, Price Turner from Utica a 10.60 at 151.26,  and Ward Grundy a 9.94 at 148.30. Jim Zakia set the C/G record at 12.67 and 110.75. "Wild" Rose Genusso's vette turned 12.75 at 110.89.


I have some '62 race result news letters. I will include the front covers from these slingers and the results from the back pages.


In 1963, Dick Schihl, now of Lime Lake, John Geisen currently in Tenn., and Jack Kaefer, from the Duces Wild car club ran the track.

I have no literature or information form that year. If you have anything, get it to me and I will add it in.


I came home from the service November 27, 1963, a couple days after President Kennedy was assinated.


My father and I talked about running Niagara starting the '64 season. I knew a fair bit about drag racing, but very little about running a track. We decided that I should go to California, talk to track operators, NHRA people, Chrondek timing, racers, and anybody associated with drag racing.


I had been told that a NHRA sanction went with the operators. Wally Parks and I talked and I found out that there was no problem getting a sanction if we met their requirements. NO PROBLEM!!!!


There were races going on most evenings in California at that time and the track operators gave me free reign at the different tracks.

One night I was at Lions for a big race. It seemed that there were at least one hundred dragsters there. As far as I could tell, everybody paid. I liked that part. There was a big rush to finish because the fog was starting to roll in. I think that the final was the Snake vs the Mongoose.





1964


I got married to Nancy Major In January 64, We had dated while I was in the service.


I was really fortunate putting the Niagara track crew togather. Over the years I received a ton of compliments on how well I ran the track. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hiring the people to run the track and especially Don Thomson for the hot car tech and running the eliminations solved most of the problems. 


If there was a problem, I just sent them to Don. Problem solved. Most ot the time Don had a cigar stub stuck in his mouth. If the stub pointed level or down, things were running smoothly. If the cigar pointer up, STAY AWAY!


One of the greatest things to happen to me was when John and Kathy Darnell gave me their dog, Court. That dog solved most of the other problems that arose. I'd be in my office and hear someone stomping up the steel stairway and then the foot steps would stop and someone in a very nice voice would ask if they could talk to me about a problem. Court liked to sleep at the top of the stairway because there was always a nice breeze there. Easy to talk to someone about something wrong when we wern't shouting at each other. Then I'd send them to Don. What a deal.


Origionally, Paul Schneider and Ray Jones were the announcers. Paul was great, but after the big cars had run he would announce," OK lets jingle the junk". I used to plead with him not to do it. It didn't matter.


Paul had a great eye for any good looking girl anywhere on the property, especially if their outfits were on the skimpy side, and he would give the exact location of the victim for all to locate. That also never changed. On the plus side, he did have good taste.


When Ray was announcing, I did not have those problems. Ray was steady and very good.


If I remember correctly, here is a list of the crew in '64; Dennis Frey, Skip Kazmark, Sharon Fink, Sharon Favorite, Racer Rich Wroblewski, Gov Hamilton, Ed Brundadge, Don Thomson, Ray Jones, Paul Schnieder, Nancy Stafford, and Bob Korpinski.


My mother was in charge of handling the gate money.


Normally Sharon Fink would start at the entry gates and then work at the track. Irv and Bill Helwig were regulars at the gates. Origionaly, Don Sullivan headed out police force. Later, Jim Curtis took the lead. At one time or another, I had most of the Niagara Falls police force working at the track plus many of the sheriff personal, especially the mounted division on the larger races. I suspect that that is the reason that I did not receive any "awards" as I toured the local highways during the years that Niagara existed.


My father was free to float to wherever the chaos was worst. It was easy to find Taylor, all you had to do was find the place where nobody else was and  there he was. The reason that he was left alone so much, was his dog, Blitz. Wherever the dog was, you didn't want to be. He was an equal opportunity biter. He didn't care whose side you were on. Taylor was his and you did not want to get close to him.


The gates would open at 10 and racing began at 1pm. We were supposed to be done racing by dark. Not a big deal as we had no lights at that time anyway.


Racer Rich Wroblewski ran the starting line most of the time. I'm sure he got tired of me hollering at him to "RUN "EM!!!!! I don't care if the track isn't clear."

The racers soon found out that the bottom end of the track was not a good place to hang around.


Sharon Fink and I used to date even before I went into the service. She used to send me polariod pictures of the goings on while I was in Missouri. Sheri used to work at the ticket booths and come over to hand out ET tickets.


When Niagara Raceway Park opened in 1964 there was exactly 0 fuel dragsters the first race. I couldn't believe it! The lack of top fuel dragsters would change over time, but dragsters were never a strong suit here.


On March 1,1964, it was announced that a "Yesterday U.S.A. would be built on part of the drag strip property. The concept was designed by my Father and Nat Winecoff, who was from Los Angeles and had done the original concept for Walt Disney World.


The Niagara Town Board thought that it was a great idea. They said to go ahead and they would tell them what the restrictions would be after it was constructed.


Nat left and said that he would never come back to this area again. I will not repeat what he said about the board. Needless to say, that was the end of Yesterday U.S.A.


TO BE CONTINUED..............