Photo ID # K01.23.14_THR_ABR_BPT_0073S_1
Car #: #many.... (58, 59, 14, 07, X15, 00, R10, 89, 312, 71)
Driver (s) : many....
Location: Bridgeport Speedway
Date: 1973
Photographer: Walter Chernokal
Photo provided by: Russ Dodge
Comments: Senior Moment From Russ Dodge:

Rambling' Random Memories

My last Senior Moment covered the background and building of Bridgeport Speedway.  Now with the basic track almost completed, it was decided to put on a "push" and get a couple shows in at the end of the 1972 racing season.  Announcing an October 22, 1972 opening, it was thought this would help establish in the racing community the fact that Bridgeport Speedway was "real" and ready to operate with a full schedule in 1973!  These Senior Moment reflections will cover to the conclusion of the first full year of operation in 1973, with Leon Manchester promoting.

Each memory I'll describe could be expanded into a "short story" on its own: 

The Grand Opener!

Arriving on the "Big Day":  I never thought we would be running because of the rain and wet weather.  The track was so wet, it made one of Lindy's wettest at Reading before warm-ups, look dry and hard!  Manchester was using a couple portable pumps to empty some of the pools of water that had formed on the surface in spots.  The clay on the oval appeared to be about a foot thick and had never had a chance to establish itself with the base gravel, for the lack of a more technical explanation!  When the cars finally were able to use the track, it was the "wildest" thing ever.  The clay was so "pliable" it started to "pump" as the cars ran over the surface.  Instead of potholes, it mostly became wavy like and ocean.  Kenny Brightbill, who dominated the opening shows, found the fastest way around by going so fast his car "skimmed" along on crests of the clay waves with his wheels never touching the track in the bottom of the wave!  Racers that were sprung hard "Rock and Rolled" all over the place showing daylight under their cars.

The Car Count?:   No one knows, not even the day of the opener!  There was only one hard wired line for communication between the Pit Shack and the announcer's both with the scorers and one separate line between the scorers and the flag stand.  No radio communication between the back gate flaggers, wreckers, etc., etc!  I recall the car count ended at about 139 when the announcement was made from the handicapper over the PA system," If you haven't been in a heat yet, come out now!"  To help understand the reason for this confusion, go back and study the aerial photo with the last Senior Moment. The pits could only hold about a third of the cars that came.  The road in from the street and from the back sign - in booth to the active pit area was about two cars wide. Most of the grounds from the camping area on around the outside of the first and second turn was under water, so race cars started to park and unload anywhere they could find a spot.   Driver George Tobolski, who several years later became Chief Steward at Bridgeport, unloaded his car somewhere near the camping area.  When he heard the announcement "All Call" for those who had not been handicapped into a heat to come out, he drove in the back pit gate, onto the track, raced and returned to his truck.  He, like several others never paid for a pit pass, signed in or anything!

The National Anthem:    Warm-ups were over and announcer Bob Everland ( a radio DJ from Millville, NJ) asked the crowd to please rise for the playing of the national anthem.  Many spectators in the first turn section of the grandstand weren't sure what they felt when they all stood up, but observers say the grandstand "swayed" at least 6 inches side-to-side!  That section had not been totally completed with more seats to be added joining that section to the main grandstand.  On Monday morning you can bet there were welders working on putting additional cross bracing in place!

Soon, Tired of tires!:    Marking and establishing the inside of the track in the turns without  guard rails was a challenge. Cars running the inside would cut the corner a tight as possible, diving lower and lower to catch the pony wheel on the inside of the track surface edge, eventually ending up with the inside of the car in the infield!  This is a "natural and expected occurrence" so promoter Manchester chose the tire half buried in the ground" solution.   The white paint on the tires made them stand out but didn't distract or prevent the racers from running over the tires or even inside the tires sometimes.  The solution: plant bigger tires!  Tires 18 wheeler size appeared to be very effective, but it wasn't until sometime later I saw why.  Walt Olsen was out for low warm-ups in the R10, I recall and he hooked one of the "Big" tires with his left front wheel and his car raised up on the inside and put the car on its two right side wheels like a thrill show stunt!  Later I found out that a few of the "big" tires were still mounted on the rimes and still inflated!  Fortunately those big inflated "humpers"  were remove shortly after.

About a Buck More:    A $4.00 admission was charged for everyone, except for kids 12 and under, it was a dollar. That was about 50 cents or a  dollar more than was being charged at other short tracks at the time for an adult.  It was felt that the racing with 30 cars starting the feature with a 3 abreast line-up plus the "grandeur" of the new facility warranted they extra cost.  $1,500 was paid to win the 30 lap modified feature and $500 for the 20 lap sportsman main.  Remember this was 42 years ago!

Equal Rights!:    Bridgeport was one of the first to allow women to be in the pits.  This broke a barrier that had been in place since the early beginnings of stock car racing.  "More T-ts In The Pits" was the t-shirt of the new day. It was interesting to note that the State of New Jersey MV's assigned to the track focused on whether the women wore long leg pants and not shorts plus in addition open sandals were also against the law, both for fire safety concerns!

Go-With-The-Flow:    To save construction time, pre-fab rest rooms were utilized.  One section for men with urinals and few booths along with a separate women's trailer unit with all booths.  They had paneled walls and sinks but were designed more for a job site than the massive crowd of a sporting event.  As the program progressed it became very apparent that a minimum of 4 times the amount of rest rooms provided would be needed for the future!  The lines got longer and longer however the men's room naturally moved a little quicker making it a little shorter for men.  Thus, the co-ed rest room with women getting in line and sharing the booths in the men's room was born.  In the pits a trailer split into two units was installed, I recall.  But usually the additional rest room space needed for the men was provided by the "bulrushes" provided by nature along the back edge of the pits!

Kenny the Racer:    I'll end my recollections before I over stay my welcome with this on Brightbill. The early years of the speedway were handicapped a little in that the Commodore Barry Bridge was not completed and the Reading area cars had to take the Chester-Bridgeport Ferry boat to get to New Jersey. Particularly on our mid-week Modified show, we would often get a call "we are on the way".  The ferry never ran on time which made it interesting for us.  As a result Kenny and others would make it there after the heats were completed.  We allowed cars that arrived then to run the consi, starting at the back.  Most tracks at the time wouldn't allow you to run a consi unless you ran in a heat or were there at least when the heats were run.  When Kenny arrived he would come to the pit shack window and he would be told, "start at the rear of the consi"  Never a word, away he would go to get ready.  I always felt we could say you're starting in the parking lot and he would go without saying complaining a bit! However I must add, at Bridgeport his control of his "loud pedal" spoke for him!

Walt Chernokal handled the PR work for the speedway the opening years.  He also managed time for photos.  Please take time to check Walter's photo of a 3wide line-up.  Old timers, how many can you identify?  On a side note, Walt loved Bridgeport because of his early connection to the track and its close proximity to his home in Aston, PA .  I felt bad when he passed but always thought he wouldn't have liked to pass any other way than as he did, while covering a race at a Bridgeport.

Thanks for Listening.

Senior Moment by Russ Dodge

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01.25.14 Bill Skinner I was there for the opening of Bridgeport Speedway along with my 18 year old fiancée. It was the first stock car race she had ever seen and only the second I had seen in South Jersey since my beloved Alcyon closed down in 1960.

I remember buying a hot dog that day and covering it with mustard. Then, when I went to eat it, I squeezed the roll, and the mustard squirted down onto the top of one of my sneakers! It was a glorious day for the long-starved South Jersey dirt track racing fans.

As I look back on the last 40 years at Bridgeport Speedway, I fondly remember "Cemetery Jim" Murrow and I arriving at the track a little early one night in June for a mid-week show. There near the finish line and just a row or two from the bottom of the stands was Walt Chernokal. We sat next to him, and I had and took the opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated all of his hard work in covering all of those races over the past 50 years. He traveled across that ferry into NJ for 3 or 4 races per week and wrote just the most beautiful articles for Illustrated Speedway News in the early 50's. He listed the top three to five finishers in each heat and perhaps the top 10 in the feature. His articles were just the absolute best for that time and many years to come! That was the night Walt passed away as he was walking back out to his car in the parking lot.

Thanks for the wonderful memories, Russ! Early Bridgeport, Jim Murrow, and Walt Chernokal.