Herb Harvey Made Junkyard Into His Own Dirt Track

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HERB'S PLACE: Mike Colsten was among the regular competitors at Pennsylvania's Herb Harvey Speedway. (Photo Courtesy Program Dynamics)
HERB'S PLACE: Mike Colsten was among the regular competitors at Pennsylvania's Herb Harvey Speedway. (Photo Courtesy Program Dynamics)

Junkyard owner Herb Harvey built a dirt track next to a swamp in Lemon Township, north of Tunkhannock, Pa., and having no false modesty, named it after himself.

Opening in 1972, Herb Harvey Speedway ran on Sunday nights to attract modified and late-model competitors from Friday’s Penn-Can Speedway show to the north and various Saturday facilities, notably Moc-A-Tek, to the southeast.

Penn-Can is still a Friday night stalwart today, while Moc-A-Tek closed a few years ago due to environmental issues.

Herb’s Place, as it was commonly known, can only be described as primitive. It had a third-mile dirt surface, a field for the pits, planks on the hillside for spectators, lights and a P.A. system of sorts. There was a concession stand, although no one today admits to having eaten at the track, and the less said about the sanitary facilities the better.

Most of all, the place had mosquitoes.

The swamp next door was a fertile breeding ground for the blood-sucking critters. Swarming around the lights, they sounded like a fleet of B-52s and looked almost as big. On one hot, muggy night in June 1976, there was a power failure and the mosquitoes headed for the crowd. It’s rumored that a large number of Red Cross Gold Cards for blood donation were earned at Herb’s Place that night

Mike Colsten, who’s still winning modified features, accounted for six-straight late-model victories in 1973 with his ’56 Ford.

“Herb was after me to come down because he had one guy winning all the races,” Colsten recalled recently. “They had unlimited motors and I just had a little 302, but we were faster.”

Colsten also learned a pit crew needed to be prepared to defend its territory as much as it needed to work on the chassis. One night he bought a tire for the right front from the tire truck in the pits. The new shoe self-destructed and he headed for the truck to return the carcass and get his money back.

As Colsten put it, “About 20 lumberjacks came out of that truck, and none of them had a shirt on.”

He had a couple of big guys on his side, but the numbers were against them, so they returned the destroyed tire and backed off.

Ironically, given the surroundings, the most iconic modified at Herb’s Place was one of the most elegant pre-war bodied cars ever, Ed Strada’s maroon No. 1 ’32 Ford sedan. Records are scarce, but it’s safe to say Strada was the leading modified winner at the track.

Aside from Colsten, late-model top dogs included Garth Tonkin and Ed Forsch.

The closing of Herb’s Place after the 1977 season remains somewhat mysterious. It certainly didn’t fall victim to urban sprawl. In 2000, the official population of Lemon Township was 1,189. The site along Route 29 where Herb’s Place once stood has reverted to its original status as a junkyard. Somehow, it seems fitting.