Irvington NJ (Storch Report) — The second and North turn of the Tri-City Stadium race track in Irvington NJ was not visible because of a fence, but I could see the rest of the track from the bedroom of the apartment in which I grew-up as an only child.
I vividly remember the day my parents looked at this apartment as a rental, I was with them. They had looked at the rooms of the one-bedroom apartment they were about to rent, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, a hallway with a bathroom off of it and my bedroom — a railroad apartment.
I sat looking out the bedroom window which was to be mine, mesmerize by the race track which would be my view, while my parents looked at the basement storage area and the furnace from which it would be heated.
The year was 1939 and I was 5, a depression baby. I was still sitting looking out my bedroom window when my parents re-found me.
They rented that apartment for $40 a month and they had to pay for the heat and electricity. We burned coke in those days in a furnace to heat our apartment.
There were only four houses on the street in which I lived called Mill Road, off of which you would enter the Tri-City stadium after the last house, and each had four apartments. My house was the second as you went up the hill, and across from my house was Union Place and empty land upon which cows would graze.
It was called the Tri-City Stadium because one lap around the track would put you in three different townships, Hillside, Union and Irvington. I lived in Irvington, and in those days we were known as the Camptowner’s. It was farm country.
Imagine growing up in a bedroom overlooking a Midget auto racing race track as a child.
There was no TV then, but my bedroom window provided more than a child could ask for in those radio days.
My parents converted the dining room into their bedroom, so guests had to walk through their bedroom to enter the living room. And if you were entering the house from the front of the building, you walked into my parents bedroom.
Times were different, most of their friends came through the back door unannounced, entered the hallway and then visited in the Kitchen.
The four houses on Mill Road were owned by Cohen, I don’t remember his first name because that’s the only way my father addressed him.
Yes, he was a Jewish entrepreneur and I’ll never forget when his wife spoke when he thought she shouldn’t, he said, ‘shut up woman.’
My father used to fix his 1939 Pontiac, a junk of a car, that he mistreated converting the trunk into spare used parts from the apartments.
The race track was a pleasure, albeit for a short period of time.
The track opened in 1933, and to put things in perspective, I was born in 1934. At that time it was a 1/5-mile cinder oval track until 1939.
In 1940 it became a 1/5 -mile paved oval track and races might have run until 1942, but that may be questionable because World War II broke out in 1941 and gas was rationed.
The track shut down thereafter and never reopened and subsequently became my playground.
But there were memories in that short period of time.
My favorite driver was Johnny Ritter, he drove a yellow midget racing car at the Tri City stadium with the number 3 and was inducted into the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.
He was a mite of midget racing, just barely five feet tall. He was born in Austria and his career ended at Medford, Massachusetts in 1948 when he was fatally injured by an out of control race car while fixing a tire on his own car in the infield pit areas. He was 38.
My other favorite driver was Johnny Pierson who was the 1941 AAA track champion and also drove at the Tri-City stadium in a maroon colored car.
It was a period of time when the Offenhauser engine was powering many of the Midget racing cars of the day.
I can still smell the fuel as the fumes from the engines, mixed with castor oil,would drift into my bedroom.
During an intermission from racing on special days of celebration, like 4th of July, the track would bring in attractions such as Ken Butlers’ Daredevils who would crash into cars, drive through flaming buildings and jump off a ramp over several cars, it was a circus type of atmosphere.
Butler lost his leg in racing, but produced daredevil acts across the country and at Tri-City Stadium that enthralled the crowds.
I will never forget the building of a major wooden house at the start line of the Tri-City track in which he set it on fire and then drove a car through the flaming building.
Racing in those days was a Barnum & Baily act.
Because these houses were so close to the track, the owners would put courtesy tickets in the mail boxes of the renters, to keep them from complaining about the noise, smell and crowds. Kids would come by and steal the tickets by putting chewing gum on the end of a straw and stick it down through the slot in the mail box. It didn’t matter to me, I had the best seat in the house from my bedroom window. In fact I didn’t go into the stadium until it closed.
World War II came along and I was now 7 and the window on my world of the Tri-City race track came to an end.
It became my playground, I rode my bike on the track where Johnny Ritter made history, where Johnny Pierson became a track champion and where Ken Butler performed daredevil acts.
It was a wooden stadium in farm country. To the South of the stadium there was Tuscan Dairy and cows overtook the lands while the Tri-City stadium was deteriorating.
The configuration of the stadium was bowl shape with a depression in the ground and this was eventually filled with ash and other recyclables of the day and in 1958 they built a bowling ally on the tract of land.
I believe that sometime before it became a dump, I invented what is known today as baseball’s T Ball.
I asked my Dad to make a wooden platform from which a pipe would be attached that would project upwards around the strike zone of a kid, attach a radiator hose from a car with a clamp to the top upon which I could put a baseball. He did what I asked and I hit taped baseballs into the Tri-City stadium all through High School.
I loved growing up in Irvington. And the Tri-City stadium was more than a race track to me, it became my playground.