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Montpelier Motor Speedway:
The History & Legend of One of America Oldest Racing's
1903 - The Grand
Opening of One of America's Oldest Racing Facilities.
Montpelier Evening Herald Ad from September 28, 1906 describing
the successful races.
August 12, 1906 ad advertising the best races on the fastest
August 14, 1907 in the Montpelier Evening Herald advertised four
big days of fair races.
A September 7, 1906 Ad
advertising the upcoming fair and races along with a grand
display of electricity.
The Montpelier track was
nationally-known for its fast speeds, colorful drivers, and its
equally colorful spectators, and the history of one of
America's oldest racing facility is filled with triumph, despair,
success, and great loss that generations of families and race fans
have experienced together.
During the mid 1890's in Montpelier, Indiana crude oil was
discovered and money began to flow freely creating a "Gas Boom
Town". As a result the town's population swelled to
nearly 6,000 citizens looking to work and capitalize on the natural
gas and crude oil fields. At the end of the day, the gas boom
citizens were looking for much needed entertainment. In
stepped local business man, Adolphus H. Bonham and his son Carl.
The Bonham's owned several local businesses including a shoe store
along with a harness and horse supply store. In 1903, Adolphus
and Carl opened the "Montpelier Track" with plans to not only race
horses and host a yearly fair, but also to increase the necessity of
their horse tack business.
1/2 mile track was constructed at its present site along with horse barns
and a complete
the Montpelier Evening Herald advertising one of several
businesses that original track builders Adolphus & Carl Bonham
grandstands. The railroad on the west edge of the property
provided not only the necessary transportation for needed building
materials and Kentucky clay for track construction, but the railway
also served as a means of transportation for horses on race days.
With the automobile still in its infancy, the railway
frequently delivered packed train cars of thousands of race patrons
on the doorstep of the racing facility while other patrons traveled
by horse and wagon to take in the day's races. The result was
a huge success as tickets sales soared for the horse races nearly
into the 7,000 mark while estimates were closer to 10,000-12,000 for
actual race attendance.
11-14, 1905 races were surrounded by controversy while hiring legal
and licensed bookmakers to handle gambling on the races, Governor
Henley of Indiana, insisted that the track would not be
allowed to host the race. The speedway threatened to host the
race against the governor's request, and the governor went as far to
write a letter to the county sheriff demanding the race and gambling
be stopped. The speedway threatened to go ahead with the race
along with allowing gambling, however, in the end, the races
were held but without any type of gambling. Many newspapers
remarked that lack of gambling would end racing; however, it really
had no effect on the growth of the Montpelier events.
By 1908, the
crowd and interest in horse racing had outgrown the facility and
makeshift tents were added to accommodate more race horses and the
fair races swelled to four times the number of usual vendors and
exhibits. The races and fair included entertaining exhibits
such as a wild west show, trained animals, and the grand invention
of electricity which marveled race fans.
The Montpelier Track was quickly
recognized as the "fastest half mile clay track in the country"
which is an honor that it held for many years in the harness racing
community. The Montpelier track for four years held the
world record for 4 1/4 for Pacers and 2.5 for Trotters on a 1/2 mile
track. The Pacers connection lent its name to the Montpelier's
high school basketball team, and eventually was adopted by the NBA
franchise Indiana Pacers.
thrived until 1913 when disaster struck as a tornado ripped through
much of the property. The track was closed until it was
rebuilt in 1915 by local businessmen
view of the "Montpelier Track" and grandstands in the early
1900's from turn 1 during a horse race.
formed a new racing corporation. Following the rebuilt
speedway, the first automobile race was scheduled at the Montpelier
track on a Wednesday afternoon, May 4, 1915 by William Dowty and
Charles Suddeth. The race featured motorcycles and automobile
race that were timed and 5 to 10 miles in distance.
In 1916, the track was operated by the Montpelier
Fair and Driving board and horse racing resumed at the speedway. Unbelievably in 1917, a second
tornado hit the speedway destroying fencing, seating, the
first automobile race at the Montpelier Speedway was held on May
5, 1915. The races featured two classes: automobiles and
motorcycles, and was 5 to 10 miles in length.
and essentially every building. Ironically, the second tornado
hit the speedway three years to the day of the first tornado.
This time the damage proved to be too great and the track sat
dormant being used as farmland for planting corn.
March 29, 1916 article announcing tornado damage that would shut
down the speedway . Unbelievably the tornado occurred three
years to the day of a first tornado that also destroyed
speedway grounds. Promoting racing has always been a trying
In the fall of
1923, H.L. Kelley and John Martz acquired track ownership from a
receiver's sale and began to build three grandstands along with
restoring the 1/2 mile track for horse racing.
spring of 1924, the track was again set to host racing.
In 1931, Harry Kelly, now the town mayor, and TC Peterson, the town
lawyer, found themselves arrested on a national warrant when
alcohol was discovered on the speedway's grounds and concession
areas during the national prohibition era. After posting
a $7,500 bond and appearing in front of the United States
Commissioner, racing at the speedway continued this time without
alcohol. Unfortunately, only a few years after the
reopening of the track the "gas boom" was over and the town's
population began to dwindle. Next, followed by the Great
Depression followed by World War 2 which essentially brought racing
to a standstill across America. Kelly and family soldiered on
through the difficulties and operated the speedway until 1944.
This August 11, 1923 Indy
Star article announced the reconstruction of the Montpelier
1940's and 1950's -
Auto Racing Comes to the Montpelier Speedway 1/2 Mile
An August 1, 1956 Ad
advertising the open competition hard top races. The
drivers listed were all regional legends at many different
legend, Audie Swartz found great success at the Montpelier
Speedway in the "Modified Stock" division in the 1950's.
Holloway was a winner at every regional track and his success at
Montpelier was no different in the 1950's.
May 1, 1955 Ad in the Anderson Herald Bulletin advertising "Big
With World War
2 coming to a close, young GI's returned to America with mechanical
knowledge and skill and the result was the birth of hot rodding and
the rise of grass roots auto racing across America. In 1944,
the Montpelier Racing Company was formed and began operation of the
track, now known as the "Montpelier Speedway". The
company followed national trends in the mid 1940's and began to host
automobile races and thus Montpelier's connection to stock car
racing on dirt was born. Typical Montpelier classes were "Big
Cars" or essentially Sprint Car/Midgets hosted by the United
Speedway Association, Hard Top Races with Hoosier Hardtop
sanctioning along with unsanctioned events, and Modified Stocks.
Cost to take in the spectacle of auto racing on 1/2 mile was $1.50
including tax for adults while children could attend for $0.50.
Car" race sits pit side on the front stretch in front of the
main grandstand in the late 1940's.
itself still featured the wooden grandstand that was often filled to
capacity with 3,000-5,000 fans on race day. An announcer,
scoring, and flagman was placed in the infield and a tree near turn
1 was used to mount the speedway's speaker system. The
speed of the cars on the 1/2 mile thrilled spectators, but for
racers the track was not for the faint of heart as the tree line on
the south side of the speedway and throughout both turns sat
dangerously close to the race track and at times proved to be fatal.
Also, adding to the excitement was a track surface that was
often maintained with oil. The speed of the cars on the 1/2
mile thrilled spectators and the drivers that competed became
legendary in the racing community.
numerous legendary drivers that competed at the Montpelier Speedway.
Popular and legendary hardtop racers Audie Swartz, Don Hewitt, Bill
Holloway, Bob Pratt, and Dick Pratt all found success at Montpelier
while Wilbur Robinson, Ray Duckworth, Bill Earl, George Renfro, and
Bill Quigly were big names in the Big Car division. With
racing often being held on Sunday and even on Wednesday's, it all
but guaranteed the areas best racers would be on the Montpelier 1/2
mile for competition.
By the 1960's,
horse racing again returned to the Montpelier Speedway along with
auto racing on a
Hardtop races lined up on the front stretch heading into turn 1
on the Montpelier 1/2 Mile.
infrequent basis. Portland, Indiana mayor Ted Montgomery
brought the speedway back to its large crowds with horse racing.
Unbelievably, a 1969 storm destroyed the covered wooden grandstands
for a third time in the track's history and was never rebuilt.
1970 saw the last horse racing event, and the track, now in disuse,
started to fall into a neglected state making the return to racing
September, 1967 Ad in the Kokomo Tribune adverting racing at
the Montpelier Speedway.
1980-1990's - Auto
Racing Returns To Montpelier Speedway 26 Years Later on New 1/4 Mile
During 1985 an
important group of business men formed a corporation and began plans
to reopen the Montpelier Speedway in 1986. The group was
successful in getting horses back into the barns to use the 1/2 mile
for training. A 1/4 mile race track was formed inside of the
old Montpelier 1/2 mile,
"Montpelier Lion's Speedway" was set to reopen. Spectators
walked across the Montpelier 1/2 Miles still being used for training
horses to the 1/4 mile track. Several of the original horse
barns still stood while concrete five tier grandstands replaced the
once luxurious wooden covered grandstand.
boasted fan favorites of Late Models, Hobby Stocks, and Pure Stocks.
Racing returned to Montpelier initially on Sunday afternoons with an
eventual switch to Saturday night's. The speedway again began
to fill with good crowds and car counts. Eventually with Late
Model cost rising and car count declining, the introduction of
a newer and more economical class, the UMP Modifieds replaced Late
Model racing at the speedway and has since been a track staple along
with the stock cars..
reopening of the speedway in the mid 1980's, the speedway has seen
many famous visitors including Jeff Gordon (Sprints) and Tony
Stewart (UMRA TQ Midgets) who both have competed at the speedway.
Proud fathers Parnelli Jones (Indy 500 Winner) and John Andretti
have both visited the speedway watching their sons compete while Al
Unser Sr. has also visited the speedway.
group of Late Models, Hobby Stocks, and Pure Stocks sit on the
straightaway of the old Montpelier 1/2 Mile.
2000's saw the sale of the track to new ownership and soon followed
5 different promoters in a 10 year period. The speedway
classes varied as well through the different promoters. UMP
Modifieds and stock car classes remained a staple for the speedway,
but Late Models (2002), Non-Wing Sprint Cars (2003), and touring
sanctioning bodies featuring 410 Winged Sprint Cars, TQ Midgets,
Mini-Sprints and Crate Late Models all found time on the Montpelier
Harold and Lori Hunter stepped in as the next set of track
promoters, and in 2011 became the
owners and the next chapter of the speedway's history was set to
begin. Soon speedway improvements began to restore the
facility back to its former glory. Patrons could now find the
addition of larger seating, a new restroom, track drainage, track
reconfiguration, flag stand, souvenir stand, and finally the cars
began to return to the speedway.
In 2012, a
strong damaged the speedway's equipment, fencing, building, and
lighting system making this the fourth occasion a storm or tornado
had caused major damage to the speedway. This time rebuilding
took approximately three weeks and racing was restored at the
Montpelier Motor Speedway.
celebrated its 110th year of racing during the 2013 season, and
thanks to the support of the racing community racing at one of
America's oldest racing facilities continues to thrive while the
tradition of the historic speedway is legendary, heartbreaking, but
most important ongoing every Saturday night!
satellite image of the current Montpelier Motor Speedway.
You can still see the see the outline of the historic half mile
while at the property you can still see a tiny strip of
the original 1/2 mile turn 2.
View Additional Historic Articles/Photos
Do you have old photos, newspaper clipping, etc... that would add to
the history of the speedway?
Originals are not
needed but nice pictures, copies, or scans would be appreciated!