Fairgrounds track fades away in early 70s

For local fans it seemed like a rite of passage attending races on Friday Nights at the 25th Street Fairgrounds Raceway in Columbus, but ups and downs in the 1970s were cruel to the tradition.

The track survived no races in 1970, followed by a 1972 strike at Cummins which delayed the start of the season. The nationwide gas crisis of 1973 did not seem to hamper the race schedule. It was one of the busiest seasons in several years at the track with 13 race nights contested, the most since 17 races were completed in 1968.

Then came the final 1974 racing season, a late start with a mid-June opening which doomed things. The track only held one month of late model stock car racing.

June 14 was the kickoff, with John Warner of Columbus winning the feature event. Roger Absher of Franklin finished second to Warner, followed by Gene Petro of Columbus.

In September it was all over for racing at the 34-acre grounds owned by Columbus banker Francis Overstreet.

Overstreet was president of First National Bank in Columbus for nearly 40 years until he passed away in 1977. He could be seen most race nights cooking hamburgers in the concession stand.

The Bartholomew County 4-H Fair Association moved out of the 25th street location after the 1957 fair as a new county fairgrounds location on State Road 11 in Columbus became the site for the 4-H fair starting in 1958.

Overstreet tried to fill the gap with motorcycle, stock car, midget and sprint car racing and other entertainment to keep the track alive, but eventually the time came to shutter the facility. So, a track that hosted its first automobile race as early as 1915 left race fans with just the memory of their Friday Nights at a track gone forever.

At that time Columbus’ residential, industry and economic growth was happening at a rapid pace and there was ever-increasing disenchantment over curfew violations which resulted in some programs not being run to completion some nights. In some ways, the noise and dust eventually led to the demise of the track.

The land was sold after Overstreet’s death and became the Fair Oaks Mall, which opened in 1990.

One constant for fans from 1960 through 1972 was public address announcer Jerry Castor. From the late 1960s through 1974 the track was promoted by several individuals, including J.B. Branum, Ed Adair, Jack Baker and Tom Herold. Each of those promoters tried to keep the track going, but in the end it was there were too many obstacles.

Drivers in the 60s and 70s who made 25th Street home would race their V8 cars on Saturday Night at Brownstown and the V6 cars ran Twin Cities. After 25th Street closed, most drivers headed to Bloomington Speedway for a Friday Night racing fix.

On June 21, 1974, it was Columbus’ Russ Petro taking the feature victory over his brother, Gene, Wally Brown of Danville, Illinois, and Don Hobbs of Bloomington.

On June 28, 1974, the Petros again dominated the action as Russ won his second straight feature over his brother.

On July 5, 1974, Gene Petro was able to break through for the feature win. Paul Crockett of Brownstown was second followed by Jack Smith of Columbus, Carl Collins of Medora, Bob Stinnard of North Vernon and Kenny Knapp of Indianapolis.

Petro made a clean sweep of the night’s activities, winning the trophy dash and his heat race.

The July 12, 1974, race saw Gene Petro return to victory lane for the second week in a row. Crockett finished in the runner-up spot for the second race in a row.

On July 19 John Warner got back into the victory circle by winning the feature race over Gene Petro, Paul Crockett, Luther Burton of Taylorsville and Tommy Day from Madison.

Race promoter Tom Herold then announced the July 26, 1974 race would be canceled and the track would closed for remodeling. As of Aug. 25, 1974, there was only hobby stocks racing on a new quarter-mile track inside of the existing big track.

There were three more races conducted in 1974 with David Petro winning on Aug. 25 and Sept. 8. Jeff Burton took the finale on Sept. 15, 1974.

Brownstown cancelled for tonight

The Brownstown Speedway race program scheduled for tonight is cancelled. Keep up with the latest scheduling information at brownstownspeedway.com.

Stewart cancels April events for sprints

The entire April segment of the 2020 Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions presented by Mobil 1 schedule has been postponed due to the pandemic. The series is owned by Tony Stewart.

The seven events affected by the recent social distancing extension includes Attica Raceway Park’s Spring Nationals which was scheduled for this past Friday night and Saturday, the $12,000-to-win Thursday Night Thunder event at Virginia Motor Speedway on Thursday, April 16, the annual Tommy Hinnershitz Classic at Williams Grove Speedway on Friday, April 17, the fifth running of the Keith Kauffman Classic at Port Royal Speedway on Saturday, April 18, the Johnny Grum Classic at Bedford Speedway on Sunday, April 19, and the season’s first visit to Wayne County Speedway on Saturday, April 25. Series and track officials are working together to find suitable make-up dates.

“We are all in the same boat with every other sanctioning body and sports league in America right now and we want to be part of the solution and abide by state orders and federal guidelines,” said Stewart. “Originally, we were going to take a week-to-week approach, but with the stay-at-home orders in certain states and social distancing guidelines, it made sense to postpone the month of April. We aren’t going to put anyone on the road and at risk until we are given the green light by state and federal officials. Thank you to the tracks for the open lines of communication over the past few weeks. We hope to reschedule as many dates as possible once we are able to return to racing.”

This week in racing history

In 1990, at Brownstown Speedway C.J. Rayburn won the late model feature over Paul Shafer, Frank Seder, Kevin Claycomb and Kevin Weaver. Scott Patman took the street stock main over Tom Seadler, John Abel, Mark Barber and Jim Ragsdale. The bomber feature was won by Don Walp over Shannon Stewart, Jeff Wilson, Darin George and Doug Hall.

Also, from 1990 at Twin Cities there were two late-model features run. John Rhoades won the first feature over Mike Gibbs, Terry English, John Gill and Joe Rice. The second feature was taken by John Holt over Robert Brison, Jerry Rice, Mike Bechelli and Willie Sallee. Other feature winners were Mike McWilliams in the limited late models and Joe Johnson in the street stocks.