The first midget race was held June 4, 1933, at the Loyola High School stadium in Los Angeles. A midget car is a very small single-seater car with a lot of power. In general, the small car weighed about 700 pounds and had a wheelbase between 65 and 75 inches. This means that it can drive really fast. However, the combination of its lightweight and high speeds means that a midget car can be quite dangerous. They are very prone to rolling over. Many drivers built their own cars using engines that included Harley, Indian V-twins, and the Ford V-8/60 among others. With solid axles front and rear, the front engine drove the rear wheels through an in-and-out box. Midget cars had to be pushed or towed to start, and sometimes it took a few trips around the oval to fire them up. Modern midget cars are usually built with a roll bar, to protect the driver.
After the first race in California, midget car racing caught on fast. The popularity of the sport led to the formation of the Midget Auto Racing Association later that same year. The first midget car races in Hinchliffe Stadium took place in August 1934. Many famous racers rounded the track at Hinchliffe, including Ted Horn, Bill (Bronco Bill) Schindler, Roscoe “Pappy” Hough, and Rex Records. Midget car racing was not the only motor sport at Hinchliffe. Almost as soon as the stadium opened, racing was on the schedule. This can be attributed, in large part, to the vision of Ed Otto. He approached the stadium commissioners with a proposition to rent the stadium for motor races. He and his partner, John (Jack) Kochman, paid $150 a night to rent the stadium for their races. The first race in the Stadium was a motorcycle meet, which took place on June 5, 1934. They raced for a sold out crowd. Every one of the 10,000 seats in the stadium was occupied as spectators watched the motorcycles whiz by on the cinder track. By the time midget car racing was added to the schedule later that summer, Otto and Kochman had an established audience and a growing reputation for entertainment.
A grassroots sport, midget car racing came with a lot of problems. Many of the less experienced drivers had difficulty handling their light weight vehicles. The public quickly began to lose interest in the sloppy shows, as the Paterson newspapers recounted. Midget car racing was almost completely removed from the racing schedule at Hinchliffe due to this growing disinterest. Then the drivers discovered Gasoline Alley. Located on East 29th Street, between 17th and 18th Avenues, Gasoline Alley is a grouping of auto repair shops that had established themselves in the neighborhood in the 1920s. This became the go-to place for the drivers, as they worked to refine and perfect their cars. Several cars built at Gasoline Alley went on to become famous on the national racing circuit.
The last midget car race in Hinchliffe Stadium took place in 1950. Motor sports were completely discontinued at the Stadium after 1952. Racing returned to the stadium in 2014, in the form of the Racing Expo, a car show with racing demonstrations. The expo would continue in Hinchliffe through 2018, after which it was discontinued due to safety concerns related to the state of the stadium structure.
Midget auto cars are souped-up dune buggies capable of 150 miles an hour. Midget cars races simply refer to the smallest cars in the six USAC divisions: midget, super modified, sprint, dirt car, late-model stock and Indy car.
Many racers including Ted Horn and Roscoe "Pappy" Hough were regulars on the alley. Horn, partnering with Dick Simonek, opened his own machine shop, which supplied engines rarely found on the East Coast. Roscoe “Pappy” Hough built the “Five Little Pigs” on the alley. Jerry Willetts' No. 31, Sugar Blues, was also among the famous cars to be built here.
Today, midget car racing takes place on asphalt tracks. In the early days, midget cars were often driven on tracks built of wooden planks. This style was cheap to construct, but expensive to maintain. Spectators and drivers were exposed to flying pieces of sharp wood.
Racing promoter Edward Otto was instrumental in introducing motor sports to Hinchliffe in the 1930s. He would go on to become one of the original founders of NASCAR in 1949.
Ed Otto and John Kochman paid $150 per racing event to rent the Stadium. In 1940, a ticket for the Grand Stand at Hinchliffe cost $0.75. The Stadium seated 10,000 and tickets to the races often sold out.
When midget car racing started in 1933, it was, at its heart, a hobby. Many of the drivers who rounded the track at Hinchliffe a year or two later were therefore relatively new to racing. The amateur drivers, just learning how to handle and modify their tiny vehicles, did not thrill audiences. Hinchliffe’s 10,000 seats were often filled at the start of a race, but as the Paterson Evening News reported in 1934, many spectators left unimpressed after the first few heats.
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