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Thursday, October 16, 2014

1950 - Kokomo Pioneered Auto Racing, Too

Kokomo, Ind. (October 16, 1950) - Just as Kokomo was one of the pioneers in the automobile field, this city also was one of the early cities to play host to automobile races.

The first big organized auto race was held here August 18, 1903, at the old Kokomo Driving park, the local all-sports center at the turn of the century.

The feature race, run over the half-mile dirt track that had been installed in 1890 for horse racing, brought together Barney Oldfield and Tom Cooper, even then headliners in the still new sport of auto racing.
The two former stars of the bicycle-racing world were on an exhibition were giving thrilling speed exhibitions in their new-fangled, high-powered racing machines.
The city of Kokomo “closed up shop’ on the day of the big race and went out to the driving park, where it saw part of the show stolen from Oldfield and Cooper.
Drivers gave a number of special events with cars from the Haynes and Apperson factories. Their performances were only a little less spectacular than that offered by the professionals.
That was six years before the now-famous Indianapolis Speedway track was built in 1903 there were no tracks built especially for auto racing. A year after the big race at the Driving Park, Indianapolis got into the racing picture with events at the State Fairgrounds. Three Apperson cars were entered in the events run on June 13, 1904. Elmer Apperson won the handicap race while Nelson McLain took runner-up honors in the touring car division with another Apperson car.
Thanks to the Haynes and Apperson influence, auto racing continued to hold interest here. But many events were road races instead of regular track events. During the years, a number of tracks have been constructed in various parts of the county but few of them gained an established reputation.
The present Kokomo speedway, scene of some of the Midwest's best midget auto racing, is not the first by that name. In the mid-1928, Earl Richardson was manager of the Kokomo Speedway, the name given to a track on a 40-acre plot 2.5 miles north and west of Kokomo.
One of the big events of that era was held July 4, 1925, when Dutch Bauman of Indianapolis set three new records for the Kokomo Speedway track. He made the one-lap qualification run in 32.2 seconds and then set records for 15 miles, averaging 58.79 miles an hour, and for 20 miles, averaging 58.51 miles, an hour.
The current auto-racing period started in 1947, when Albert R. Miller and John Rose formed the Kokomo Speedway Corporation and built the quarter-mile track and stands north of Kokomo on U.S. 35.
The undertaking was a success practically from the start. The second year the present big grandstand was constructed and on June 21, 1948, the attendance record was boosted to 12,856 spectators.
Now well known in the midget auto-racing world, the Kokomo Speedway attracts some of the finest drivers in the country, including many of the “big name” drivers who take part in the famous 500-mile Memorial Day race in Indianapolis.
Among the better known drivers that local fans have had the opportunity to watch are Johnny Parson, winner of the abbreviated ‘500’ this year and 1949 AAA champion, Tony Bettenhausen, the late Rex Mays, Mel Hanson, Troy Ruttman, Jimmy Davies, Johnny McDowell, Duke Dinsmore and Sam Hanks.

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