Midget racing, both outdoors and indoors, was the rage in Chicagoland from the mid 1930s until the outbreak of World War II with its popularity still at great heights when racing resumed in this country after the War was over in 1945.
Soldier Field and Raceway Park were probably the two most popular venues with midget racing at Soldier Field dating back to 1935 and Raceway Park’s action beginning when the track opened in 1938. At the time, no one probably had even thought of weekly, short track, stock car racing.
In 1939, a special, high-banked wooden, 30-degree banked, quarter-mile board track was built inside the mammoth Soldier Field for a special, five night, midget racing series. Drivers came from all over the country to compete. Midget race cars were even flown in from California for a big Soldier Field midget race in 1947.
Raceway Park saw the midgets race from 1938 until WWII stopped all racing in this country in 1942. The old four-cornered speedway possibly was the first track in the country to resume racing after the War in August of 1945. The Jenin Brothers, Nick and Pete, took over the ownership of the speed plant in 1947, remodeled it and promoted the midgets on a weekly basis.
Midgets were the popular “draw” at the track until their popularity began to wane and stock cars began racing there weekly in 1949. Midget racing was on a downward spiral from coast to coast.
Most of the old Chicago area midget tracks are long forgotten — places like Riverview Stadium, Torrence Speedway, Evanston’s Chicago Midget Speedway, Wolf Lake Speedway in Indiana, Hanson Park and Gill Stadium are among some of them.
Indoor racing took place inside several facilities with racing at the 124th Field Artillery Armory and at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago being the most popular. The old Armory on Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago still stands to this day. The Mazon Speed Bowl, along with places like Rockford Speedway, Santa Fe Speedway, Mance Park and O’Hare Stadium, also hosted midget racing.
From 1952 through 1986, pretty much on a regular Saturday night basis, Joliet Memorial Stadium was the scene of weekly midget racing. The old United Auto Racing Ass’n called the Joliet oval “home” for many seasons with the World of Outlaw Midgets taking over in later years. The track was the scene of its final racing program — “The Last Stand” in 2009 as a complete stadium renovation saw the track removed.
Midget racing is in “full bloom” this weekend in the area. Hopefully, open-wheel fans will take advantage of it.
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