Speedway - 1970
...the field is set...
Ace Lane Sr. takes a photo as the field rolls out...
Ploski in the Big Donkey leads Chamberlain in the Bullock #76...
Now Gerry has the advantage down the backstretch as lap traffic becomes a factor...
...and has they head down the backstretch on the final lap....
The Story Behind the Diorama...
This diorama represents a modified stock car racing scene from the East Windsor Speedway (EWS) East Windsor, New Jersey from the Spring of 1970. My Father would take me every Friday night starting in 1969. While nearly 40 years ago, many of the images and memories of these cars and events still remain vivid with me to this day.
I choose to have a diorama made of the East Windsor Speedway backstretch from this time period because both cars and drivers had so much character and diversity. Each car from the frame up was so unique - there were certainly no carbon-copies. While the setting is specifically a scene from EWS, with slight modifications it easily can represent racing at Flemington, Nazareth, Harmony, Orange-County or Reading as many if not most of the same cars ran at these tracks as well
I had Stew Stratton of Greensboro, North Carolina do my builds. Stew grew up in Shillington, Pa - just a few miles from Reading Fairgrounds. He was an avid race fan, racing car artist and car model builder from 1965 until the Reading track closed in the late 1970s. Stew not only posses the modeling skills to build these cars, he also has the technical knowledge to understand the mechanical and set up features of these cars subsequently capturing this detail in the model. Most importantly, Stew has an intense passion for the old time modifieds and as a youth spent many hours in the pits studying these cars and asking questions directly to the legends of that time.
I wanted to do a diorama that was representative of a typical field that might have raced at East Windsor in 1969 or early 1970. It is important to have a field not only of top 'All-Star' names, but one that represents the 'little guy' as well. I went through archives of 1969-1970 Area Auto Racing newspapers and pictorials to joggle my memory as to who ran East Windsor and what was the car used at that point in time. Using our memories, pictures from my photo collection, those on the 3_Wide web site and if we still couldn't find a picture - from the Russ Dodge collection (thanks to Russ who so often came through within hours), enabled Stew to recreate these cars as accurately as possible. We did not stop there. We actually contacted former drivers as well. The late Len Martin, Phil Gememdan, and Ray Neary were very helpful and informative. Researching the individual car is a large part of the work and fun it takes to model it. Reminiscing with driver Len Martin on his May 1970 victory over Stan Ploski was certainly a high-point. Discussing the 33 degree rear suspension set-up with Ray Neary on the Munschner #21 was another.
After the races were completed, I can remember waiting for the gate to open and running across the track to the pits. That was a special experience for many fans - young and old - the opportunity of getting close to your favorite cars and drivers. Who can forget the unique smell of fuel and hearing the throaty sound of an engine being fired up right next to you? Because of this experience, the pits had to be captured as part of the diorama. Doing the East Windsor pits also afforded the opportunity to display Stew's skills as a scratch builder of race-car haulers. Most of these haulers are replica builds of actual haulers used then and are very detailed from the frame/under-carriage to the engine compartment. From a model building perspective, some of the cab shells used on these haulers are not readily available and required buying model kits molded 30-40 years ago. The 1963 2-tone pickup was built from an old AMT kit from that year. The Chamberlain/Bullock car hauler was 'kit-bashed' built from an old AMT kit from the late 1960s. The '66 ambulance Cadillac was from a vintage JoHan 1960's kit. Even the 1940's pace jeep is from a Italarei kit from the 1980s. Finding these old kits was another adventure of the project.
While the cars are the stars here, there is so many other activities going on. The field is paced by an old WW-II converted jeep. This was the official pace car used by the speedway among many other jobs. The infield has track photographer Ace Lane Sr. snapping a shot as the cars are lining up. Finally, an old 1960's Cadillac ambulance from the East Windsor rescue squad is moving into position inside the infield ready if is should be needed. The California Speed Shop tire truck often present in the pits selling its M&H tires and D&A oil products is included. The truck advertising side panels are all hand-painted by Stew.
Modeling the buildings of the East Windsor pits also afforded me something to do. The 'checker-flagged roof' pit house and grandstand are made out of balsa and bass wood.
The track itself , is composed of actual rolled clay. The guard rail, is two planked as was the actual track. It is buffered by sand piles made from ballast coated paper-mache, a twisted wire cable, and a weathered wire fence.
The track has actual working lights mounted on poles connected to a DC transformer. A working stop light is present. A working flashing arc-welding torch oscillating white/blue light is attached to a circuit (one of my memories is an image from across the track the blue light from an arc-weld torch brighten up the dark trees behind the pits).
While most of the diorama are models that are for the most part custom/scratch builds, there are a couple of 'fill in' die cast pieces used. I included a nice Spec-Cast die-cast B-60 Mack dump truck to symbolize one of the vehicles used for track maintenance. EWS, owner Don Jones, had many of his company trucks work around the speedway. Most of these trucks were Mack trucks painted dark green. From sanding, to watering the track to the garbage trucks used as wreckers, these were a familiar sight around the track in 1970.
If was only after several of these cars were built, that I decided to do a diorama about 1 year back. While having these cars displayed in a glass case is nice, having them in a realistic almost 'life-like' setting is even more enjoyable. Building all the models took about 18 months in total for Stew. The interesting thing is I have never met Stew in person (we do speak often and long on the phone). I would specify the car I wanted built, providing pictures and he would take car of the rest mailing me the model once completed. The base of the diorama is approximately 10 feet long by 6 feet wide (not including the backdrop).
I hope that this diorama triggers those long forgotten fond memories of those of us who were lucky enough to be there. For those who weren't, maybe they will now better understand the passion that us old-timers have for this era. It was done for all to enjoy.
East Windsor 1970 Diorama
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