The Boyertown Area Times
Historical Society’s event celebrates former dirt oval
Racing Reunion and Car Show held at Classic Auto Mall, Morgantown
It was opening day 1972 at the Reading Fairgrounds Speedway when Bobby Braxton had one of those close calls so familiar to racecar drivers.
“I went out of the third turn upside down,” he said. “The throttle stuck.”
The modified stock car Braxton was hired to drive flipped onto its roof.
“When all four wheels are off the ground and you’re upside down, there’s not much you can
do but hang on,” he said.
Braxton, 79, of Wayne, Delaware County, was one of several former Fairgrounds drivers who greeted fans and signed autographs Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Reading Racing Reunion and Car Show.
The event featured displays of memorabilia, photographs and some of the stock, sprint and other cars that raced the oval, nicknamed “Home of the Champions.”
Held at the Classic Auto Mall, Morgantown, it was hosted by the Reading Fairgrounds Racing Historical Society.
The organization was founded in 2004 to preserve and promote the memories and history of the former speedway in Muhlenberg Township.
Opened for horse racing in 1915, the one-half mile dirt track hosted auto races from 1924 through 1979.
Braxton’s best night came in the middle of June 1975 when he won a feature.
Fans Al and Debbie D’Ercole of Wernersville were there for that win, cheering on their longtime friend.
The couple recalled driving from their former home in Wayne to the Fairgrounds for the weekly races, held from March through September.
Jamming into the grandstand packed with 10,000 to 15,000
other fans, they’d root for Braxton, who grew up with Al.
The Friday race nights were date nights for the couple before their marriage, and family outings later after they wed and had two daughters.
Debbie remembers the fun and excitement, and the way the cars would fling mud into the stands as they slid into the fourth turn.
“You would be covered in dirt,” she said.
The surety of getting dirty did nothing to dissuade race fan Maryjane Lubbeke. She regularly attended the seasonal races, and, under her maiden name, Coyle, and previous married name, Young, drove for two years in the so-called Powder Puff women’s races.
Lubbeke of Cumru Township attended the reunion with her older son, Scott Young, 61.
Young’s late father, Gerald “Dutch” Young, known in racing circles as “The Flying Dutchman” also raced at the Fairgrounds.
“He wouldn’t car,” Scott said.
Another driver, Chris Skias, offered Lubbeke the use of his car.
When Dutch later crashed, disabling his car, Lubbeke said, he asked borrow Skias’. The latter refused, saying “No, your wife is driving it.”
“Ha,” she said with a snort of satisfaction.
Not all the memories shared were good ones.
Arlene Ditizio of Muhlenberg Township was in the grandstand June 11, 1966, the night her much older brother William James “Red” Riegel crashed during a USAC sprint car feature race.
The night of the crash, he and USAC point leader Jud Larson were running side by side between the first and second turns on the second lap when their cars made contact.
Ditizio and her father watched as both flipped over the three-foot concrete retaining wall and rolled end-over-end on the high bank.
let her use his
Both drivers were taken to local hospitals, where they were pronounced dead of their injuries.
“We had to go home that night and tell my mother,” Ditizio said. “She couldn’t, she wouldn’t believe it.”
Riegel and Larson are two of the 15 drivers who were killed or died from injuries sustained on the Fairgrounds track. They were remembered Sunday, along with the other drivers, living and dead.
The event also celebrated fans, excitement and comradery once experienced at the famous oval.
“It was absolutely the best racing in this area, hands down,” Braxton said.
Part of what made it the best, he said, was the purse, the prize money, paid to the winning drivers. The worthwhile prize drew the best drivers, he said, some of whom came from as far as California.
“And when you get the best drivers,” Braxton said, “You get lots of fans.”