From 1953 until 1972 stock car races were held weekly from May until October at the 1/5th mile asphalt racetrack here on Staten Island. The local dairy, owned by the Weissglass family, gave Promoater Gabe Rispoli $700 to make some needed improvements to the existing sporting facility and that was why it was named Weissglass Stadium. At the time new stock car tracks were being built all over the country to fuel the demand for Stock Car racing hungry fans. Track owners were faced with a situation of having a track but no cars to race on it and no attraction for paying spectators. This forced track owners to go with a NASCAR sanction who in turn provided the operators with a guaranteed field of cars and drivers. Of course the operators had to pay a weekly NASCAR sanction fee, pay into the NASCAR point fund and employ NASCAR officials at all of the events held at the track. Operators found themselves with a business partner so to speak. During this period, no NASCAR driver was allowed to compete at a non NASCAR sanctioned track. This forced many drivers to race under different names at the non sanctioned tracks.
One well known example of this is Bruno Brackey who raced under the name of Johnny Frank (his two brothers names) at Weissglass and Roosevelt Stadiums, using his real name at Freeport Stadium and elsewhere. Racing was very lucrative for talented drivers then and many drivers raced 7 nights a week earning alot more that what their jobs paid them. Bruno was eventually caught and suspended for life from NASCAR. This suspension was lifted in te seventies when he was allowed to compete at Islip. The first three years of operation were NASCAR sanctioned and beginning in 1956 the races were held under promoter Gabe Rispoli's own Hollywood style stock car racing club when Gabe as able to secure enough local cars and drivers for the show. Weissglass wa unique in the fact that it had no real straightaways and was one constant sweeping turn. It became nicknamed 'The Flying Saucer' by some of the early drivers because of this.
The first announcer was Chris Economaki who would later go on to gain national fame on ABC's Wide World of Sports. Chris also MC'd the tracks yearly award banquets held at the Plaza Casino well into the sixties. The track's first champion in 1953 was Frankie Schneider. Other drivers who achieved notariety at the track included Howie Brown, Jake Goodski, Bruno Brackey, John Bate, Johnny Cabral, Vic Strunk, Johnny Kronyak, Tiny Milano, Red Hammersly, Sonny Mims, George Kaufman, Earl Elzer, Norman Tryde, Dennis Dibrizzi, Buddy Laureno, Jerry Dunklemen, Al Lucky, Jack Duffy, Jack Zakian, Jim Long, Johnny Popick, Johnny Lee, Doggie Hewitt, Cliff Ryerson, Lou Bonin, Joe Urciuoli, Bobby Doyle, Dick Hirsh, Les Carajat and a host of other local stars.
Under the NASCAR sanction, which were drivers from New Jersey, promoter Rispoli started a Staten Island Division to build local interest and held a special NASCAR vs Staten Island drivers race at the end of the night, which was very popular with Staten Islanders and led to developing a local field of cars. The track enjoyed packed grandstands and quality cars and frivers in to the early sixties. As the cars became more expensive to build and maintain, the drivers felt that they should be paid higher purses. Freeport Stadium, Long Island and Old Bridge Speedway, New Jersey had driver strikes in the mid sixties and Weissglass was to have it's own strike also. In 1965 the top division drivers loaded up their cars just before the night's racing card was about to begin, towed them around the track in front of the packed grandstands and left. The promoter moved up one o the lower divisions to fill the void for the remainder of the season but it just wasn't quite the same without the tracks backyard of stars that the fans had come to see year after year.
George Kaufman is the all time feature winner with 45 feature wins. Howie Brown is second with 20. Every kid's favorite had to be Tiny Milano with his sharp looking cas and whitewall tires that always were spotless at the beginning of the night. During the intermission when the cars were lined up for the main event, young admiring fans got to go out on the track and present their favorite driver with a model that had built and get a picture taken with him next to the car. I think Tiny Milano had the record for the most models!
Pit crews competed for best uniforms also in those days with probably Doggie Hewitt's crew being the most unique as they all wore derbys and had matching red shirts. One of the most spectacular addicents in the history of the track had to be the time that Dick Hirsch flipped his 40 Ford sedan, #227, over the guard rail and into the catch fence, nearly getting into the grandstands. He was awarded a trophy at the dinner dance that year for 'The Most Spectacular Spill' (the only such trophy that I know to exist) His car was left there for the remainder of the night's show and removed the following morning with a crane.
Cars from Freeport Stadium invaded quite regularly and ran very well, sometimes winning the feature. Freeport regulars included Bruno Brackey, Cliff Ryerson, Lou Campa and on one occasionk Ronnie Schwendenmann, who won the main event handily. There were two special 75 lap extra distance races held every season up until around 1967. The first of these races was referred to as the 'Mid-Season Championship', unless a local business sponsored the race by paying for the trophy. In this case the race was referred to as the 'Gold Seal 75', (Weissglass Dairies Brandname for their milk), or the 'Bardahl Sweepstakes', (Bardahl Oil Additive was a major sponsor of the track), or the 'Parrish Cup', (Monte Parrish owned a big hardware store near the track). The other long distance event was the 75 lap Langhorne qualifier. Every October there was a 100 lap race held at mile long Langhorne Speedway in Langhaone Pennsylvania called the 'Race of Champions'. The starting field was made up of winners of these qualifying races throughout tracks in the north and southeast. This was a prestigious event and Weissglass Speedway was represented by such drivers as Howie Brown, Jake Goodski, Al Lucky, LouBonin and several others. Eventually, the extra distance reces were reduced to 50 lap and finally 35 lap as the cars were unable to complete the extra distance. Upon Howie Brown's untimely demise in 1967, promoter Rispoli hald a memorial race for him every season until the track closed. Carl 'Pop' Calrson, a local engine builder, also had a memorial race in his honor when he passed away. Promoter Rispoli tried to limit the cars to flathead V-8's and 6 cylinders as long as he could but finally in 1965 he allowed overhead valve V-8 engines in the cars. This change made the cars almost too fast for the tiny track and with the wider tires needed, side by side racing became more difficult. Track records for a 10 lap heat and a 25 lap main event were established by Jake Goodski in the 1960 & 61 seasons and were never broken. One reason for this is that non-stop caution free races became non-existant after the 1964 season. A non-stop 25 lap feature was over in about 5 1/2 minutes indicating an average speed of about 65 miles per hour.
Starting with the 1960 season, promoter Rispoli added a new division to the night's racing cars. This class of cars were simply referred to as 'Jalopies'. This class was composed of very abundant and inexpensive late forties and early fifties cars. They offered drivers very low cost entry level racing as they were bone stock, no roll bars, no racing modifications permitted, full fendered and ran their own 15 lap main event at the conclusion of the nights 25 lap stock car feature. There were so many cars in the race that the last row was only a few feet ahead of the first and second place starting cars. They went around the whole track! There were no cautions unless the track was blocked and the fans loved it. A point system was maintained for the Jalopies and at the end of the season the winner was crowned 'The Jalopy King'. Drivers such as Art Lucky, John (The Baron) Vonichinsky and others enjoyed this title. The idea of the Jalopy class was to groom new drivers to eventually move up to the faster stock car division. A few did make the move but mot drivers were content to stay in the Jalopies. These cars were also used once a month for the very populat 'Powder Puff Race' which featured the wives and girlfriencs and even mothers of the drivers in this race. Stand outs of the female drivers were Dolly Sigel and Lois Hirsch, (Dick's mother).
Starting with the 1963 season promoter Rispoli added yet another division to the racing card in a further attempt to make novice drivers move up and bolster the top division. This class was called "Class B". These cars were allowed reversed wheels, locked rears, "one" slick racing tire, engine modifications, trimmed fenders, and proved to be popular with the Jalopy drivers who wanted to advance to a little faster race car without spending alot of money. Ultimately, the Class B cars were to become the top division two years later when the Stock Cars (top division) went on strike and left.
Another popular event was the monthly demolition derby. The rules were very simple, the last car still running under it's own power was the winner. Anything went. Head on collisions, trying to flip the other car, and whatever it took to disable the other driver's car. Many of the stock car and jalopy drivers also participated in the demolition derby. One stand out in the demo derbys was Billy Edkins. His cars were still able to move even after the most horrific crash. I found out why many years later. (multiple bulldozer batteries in the trunk so he could ride the starter!!). All in all the fans got a full night of entertainment from the zaney to the hard driving, wheel to wheel racing in the top division for $1.50.
The site where the racetrack was is now Staten Island Industrial Park, with several large buildings having been erected on the former speedways location. Despite some claims that the asphalt surface was buried under the dirt, it was not. The entire track was scraped up and hauled away. I watched it being done and I saved a big chunk of the pavement.
Having grown up in the shadows of the speedway, I took an early interest and followed the activities intensely and raced there myself the last four years. I've amassed a large collection of memoribilia, photos, helmets, trophies and stock cars. I have a reunion party every year on the second Sunday of June. I sell photos, T-shirts, stickers and other souveniers if anyone is looking for a memento. Call welcome at 718-727-6126, emails at email@example.com. All photos courtesy of the late Dave Innes Sr., the official track photographer. Thanks for selling me your negatives and photos for less than I offered you Dave.
I would like to thank everyone who has donated memorabilia for display in my museum. I am always looking for anything pertaining to Weissglass Stadium, vintage stock cars and parts, photos, helmets, trophies, etc.. All donations gratefully accepted.
Toward the end of the 1972 season, promoter Gabe Rispoli called a meeting in the pits. He knew the lease was up on the property that year and there had been a poor showing of cars and spectators for the last two seasons. I'm certain that the business end of running the track had been unprofitable for some time. Gabe announced that this was the last year for the track. His next word were, "Don't sell your cars. I'm going to open a new track for you guys to race at". I think we all knew it was over for racing on Staten Island. There were a couple of attempts to go partners with local land owners but none were successful. At least Gabe made an effort to keep it going. With the closing of Weissglass my racing days were over until 1994 when I returned to the track in a Legends Race Car. I competed at Lowes Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina, The RCA Dome in Indianapolis and numerous other tracks in the tri-state area for 6 years until the age of 54. When I stopped racing, my efforts returned to the vintage stock cars and the museum.
On Thursday, April 6th, 2006, one month short of his 85th birthday, Gabe Rispoli died in the Miami Heart Institute. He was devoted to Staten Island and wa a great sports enthusiast and promoter. Thanks Gabe