For this year's 100th running of the Indy 500 we took the scenic route from New York and shot some photos documenting Indy's history along the way.
The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is upon us. Think about that for a moment. Our nation's entire history is just a bit over two hundred years old, and for a good chunk of that we've watched people speeding around the Brickyard in open wheel race cars. Indy is so embedded into the national psyche that it's hard to imagine America without it. It's just always been there.
So this year, finally, I wanted to be there, too. But not just for race day. No sir. The Indy 500 requires an all-in effort. And that means a road trip. So, Chevy provided a brand-new Camaro SS, and my dad flew into New York to help navigate. We drove the long way to Indianapolis in order to retrace some forgotten IndyCar history.
Here's the Camaro. Hyper Blue (great color), low-gloss black wheels (meh), 455 horsepower (yes), and, of course, a 6-speed stick.
Before we left Brooklyn, I managed to park the Camaro in front of my fifth-generation Mustang. I'd just like to point out that the belt line on the Chevy is so, so much higher. Cruising around like a cool guy, my elbow resting on the door frame was next to my head. Short guy quibbles, perhaps. Anyway. Let's get on the road.
Our first stop to find forgotten IndyCar history was right outside New York City, in nearby New Jersey. From 1984 to 1991,the Meadowlands Grand Prix was a CART IndyCar race that was set up in the parking lots and across the connecting roads around Giants stadium. Thanks to the nature of the temporary track, not a single shred of evidence exists today of these races. Hopefully some form of racing returns to New York someday.
Down the road, my pops and I stopped for lunch. The Indy 500 is on our minds, and that guy's newspaper. Our plan is to head into Nazareth, Pennsylvania, home of the the Andretti family, and see what we can dig up.
En route to Nazareth, we got sidetracked when we saw a place on the side of the road called . There was an R/C dirt track. We had to stop.
Solid collection of model car kits at .
But behold. The lanes. These slot car tracks are from the 1960s, and they are epic. I've never seen anything like it.
Now, this ain't a toy. The Nazareth Speedway is one of the oldest race tracks in the country, hosting races as far back as 1910. It's also one of the most significant tracks in the life of Nazareth resident Mario Andretti: in 1959 he won his very first race here. What happened to this place?
Nazareth has been closed since 2004. Despite a successful run of CART and Busch series racing here through the '80s and '90s, International Speedway Corporation took control of the track and basically shut it down, preferring to promote the racing at Watkins Glen instead. Just to make sure no racing would ever take place here again, ISC dug trenches all the way across the track in various places.
In 2016, the abandoned and long-neglected track was finally sold to local Nazareth turkey farmer and real estate businessman David Jaindl. It was Jaindl who kindly agreed to let us in for these photos.
Not much is left of the formerly great facility. The land is no longer zoned to permit any racing, so a return to racing glory is out of the question.
Victory circle at the abandoned Nazareth Speedway.
A visitor map at Nazareth Speedway.
Ticket windows at Nazareth Speedway.
Nazareth Speedway as it looks today.
Couldn't resist a little Camaro photo op in front of the access tunnel. Big thanks to Luke Jaindl for the tour of the legendary Nazareth. Rain started falling. We decided to get a move on and see if we could find any more IndyCar history in Pennsylvania before we ran out of light.
We headed towards the town of Newtown Square, not far from Philadelphia for our next stop. I'd read that Roger Penske's 1970s race shop was in the area and after a bit of internet sleuthing, figured out that it must be at this address. Don Kelley Automotive has been in this location for decades now, and over the phone Don Jr., confirmed this was previously Penske's. We learned that legendary driver Mark Donohue used to live in that little house in front while Team Penske worked on cars in the massive garage space out back.
This is still a functioning garage, and a virtual time warp. We arrived to grab a photo well after business hours, but as luck would have it, Don Jr. passed by and unlocked the place for us.
Dig the antique Coke machine in Roger Penske's former race shop.
Don Kelley's shop still does everything analog, no computers, all books, paper and pen.
The vintage appearance of the garage really helped us to envision the Penske operation building race cars in here. Super cool.
This isn't Penske's first shop, however. I'd heard there was another one somewhere in the area. Before we left, I asked Don Jr. if he heard anything about it. Turns out he knew exactly where Penske got his start, and it was right around the corner.
Behind these garage doors, Roger Penske built his first race cars. We couldn't get any closer than the fence. The building is now occupied by a lawnmower store. Pretty cool to discover this piece of racing history solely by word of mouth.
The next day, we put our detective hats and magnifying glasses away and just drove, windows down. No freeways, all back roads, all day.
The Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania is a classic, winding American two-lane. Just watch out for the occasional horse and buggy.
"Don't Bitch, Call Mitch."
OK, back to it. From 1982 to 2007 there was a CART IndyCar race right on the Cleveland waterfront. This was the view down the straightaway on the Cleveland Grand Prix track, also known as the Burke Lakefront Airport.
Burke Lakefront is a small public airport with a great view of downtown Cleveland. During the racing years, it would be shut down for the weekend to host the race. It still operated normally today, and we're grateful to Dan Psimer for "driving the track" for us (despite the active runway!) and showing us what used to be one of the fastest tracks in the country.
All the concrete wrapping around the corners of the grass was put in for the cars since the apexes would take so much abuse. There was months of planning for each race, but the crew only ever required the airport be down from Friday to Monday every race weekend. A pretty amazing feat, considering what it takes to turn an airport into a race track.