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It was 1955.

It was more than six decades ago when the new year was welcomed with a New Year's Day racing program at a long-gone York County track. The event would become an integral part of area dirt-track lore.

Before we reflect on that memorable day, however, a little background is required.

In those days, there were a large number of tracks in this area and Chevrolet had just introduced its now iconic small-block V-8 engine. Weekly race cars around the region were still full-bodied production cars, mainly from the 1930s and 1940s. 

Race cars locally were different from those to the south. Most racers here removed the fenders and often the hoods from their cars. The engine of choice for weekly stock-car racers around the nation was still the venerable “flathead” Ford V-8, although some used other engines, such as the “straight-8" Buick. The new Chevy engine had yet to make its way into local auto racing at that time.

Older local tracks included places such as Mason-Dixon in Oxford, Lancaster, Reedsville, Port Royal, Selinsgrove and Williams Grove in Pennsylvania. There were also nearby Maryland tracks in Taneytown and Condon. Closer to home, Lincoln had opened in 1953, while Susquehanna and Silver Spring joined the fun in 1954.

Angry driver opens Bowling Green: One other track had opened late in the 1953 season. It was a high-banked oval in southern York County near Jefferson. The track was known as Bowling Green Speedway. It would have a short but colorful life span.

Rumor has it that track owner/promoter Clyde Bowlen, a race driver himself, was at Lincoln for its opener in early July of 1953, but wasn’t allowed to race because his car didn’t meet the specifications of the PennMar group that sanctioned Lincoln that season.

Bowlen left that day vowing to build his own track to compete with Lincoln and PennMar. He did just that and Bowling Green opened in September of 1953. It would last only until the end of the 1956 racing season, when disgruntled racers quit racing there. Along the way was the day when the racers burned the grandstand to the ground when they didn’t get paid.

New Year's Day race: As the year 1955 rolled around, however, Bowling Green was in its heyday, and things were looking good for the speedway. So good, in fact, that Bowlen went out on a limb and scheduled a race for New Year’s Day. Remember this is Pennsylvania and New Year’s Day falls in the middle of winter. Still, if the memories of those around that day can be believed, things went very well.

There were plenty of the area’s top racers on hand and the crowd was reported at 3,000. The cars in competition were known then as Class A stock cars.

Banks the winner: The 25-lap feature that day was won by Jerry Banks, who was a well-known driver on the local circuit. Banks was a winner at Williams Grove (two victories), Lincoln (two), Susquehanna (five) and Taneytown (three), as well as Bowling Green (two) during his career.

Later he would wind down his career in the area’s second division, now known as the super sportsmen. When Banks drove those cars they were pretty much the older cars from the era when he was winning in the area’s top class. He won twice at Susquehanna in the second class.

For much of his career, Banks was noted as the driver of his own full-sized, white-trimmed-in-blue, sedan-bodied No. 21 racer. Smaller in stature himself, Banks' race car dwarfed him in photos from that era. Again, relying on the memories of those who were there that day, Banks' own racer was not race ready for action in mid-winter and he drove a “borrowed” race car to the win that day.

Other top finishers: The second-place finisher at Bowling Green on New Year’s Day in 1955 was Bernie Adams. Adams and his No. 72 coupe were a fixture on the local ovals during the 1950s. While never a big winner, Adams was always a consistent performer. Keeping in mind that my records from the 1950s are incomplete, but still extensive, I have Adams with three career wins — one each at Williams Grove, Lincoln and Bowling Green.

The third-place finisher that day was Buzzy Wilson, who was active in the area in the 1950s and eventually even tried the "new-car” trend, that took him to several NASCAR races. My records show Wilson with wins in the “flatheads” at Bowling Green (six), Williams Grove (three), Lincoln (three), Susquehanna (two) and Reading (one). He also won three “flathead” races at Lancaster, where he was also a winner in a “new-car” race.

Newspaper reports in those days listed the top four finishers in each race and the fourth-place finisher on New Year’s Day 1955 at Bowling Green was Marylander Jimmy Findley. who was a frequent visitor to this area in the stock-car era. Like Wilson, Findley would try the “new-car” circuit later on and then raced with the late models in Maryland and locally.

This weekend: The indoor races at Allentown take place on Friday and Saturday this weekend, with the three-quarter midgets headlining.

The champ karts and slingshots also race. The event is held in the PPL Center in downtown Allentown.

The York County Racing Club also hosts its annual Hall of Fame Banquet this Saturday at the Wyndham Garden York. Erin Crocker Evernham is the guest speaker.

Bryan Householder writes about dirt-track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@yorkdispatch.com.

 

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