Cincinnati's Motor Racing History

May 24, 2018

Cincinnati's Motor Racing History

Cincinnati is recognized as a baseball town that also loves football, basketball, and now soccer. Our neighbors to the northwest, Indianapolis, are known as a racing town primarily because of the two big auto races held there each year.

The Indianapolis 500 is probably the most famous race in the world rivaled only by the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. Both feature Formula One, or open-wheel, race cars. This form of auto racing is very popular in Europe whereas, in North America, stock car racing is preferred. To that end, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted the Brickyard 400 stock car every summer since 1994. The Queen City, though, also has a racing tradition, one briefly tied to Indianapolis albeit loosely.

In 1911, the first Indianapolis 500 was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1916, the Cincinnati Motor Speedway opened in Sharonville on land that today sits immediately north of I-275, between Sharon and Mosteller Roads, though closer to the latter.

Unlike the track in Indy, which was originally constructed of graded and packed soil covered by gravel and limestone, topped with taroid (a mixture of tar and oil) and crushed stone chips, the Cincinnati Motor Speedway had a wooden track.

A 1917 poster from the Cincinnati Motor Speedway

The connection between the two tracks comes in the form of the 1917 Indianapolis 500, which was canceled that year. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was being used as an aircraft repair facility for World War I and could not hold the race. The Cincinnati Motor Speedway contacted the American Automobile Association and secured the open date for a 250-mile race to be held here.

The race was called the Sharonville Sweepstakes and was one by Swiss driver Louis Chevrolet, who just 6 years earlier had founded the car brand that still bears his name.

The track closed and was dismantled in 1919, with all of the lumber going to Chillicothe, Ohio to expand Camp  Sherman which is still in operation. However, racing on the site wasn’t finished.

In 1928, the Coney Island Motor Speedway opened on the same spot, operating until 1935. Races there mostly involved so-called midget cars which were essentially smaller versions of the types of cars raced on tracks like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Cincinnati-Hamilton Speedway, 5 miles south of Hamilton, also opened in 1928 and hosted races, mostly midgets, as well, until 1941. From 1948 to 1958, the Cincinnati Race Bowl operated in Evendale. It was located at the southwest corner of Glendale-Milford and Reading Roads and was considered to be one of the fastest tracks in the country.

In 1968, the Tri-County Speedway opened in West Chester on Cincinnati-Dayton Road, next to what is now a GE Aviation facility. It was sold in 1972, renamed the Queen City Speedway, and had its dirt track paved. It hosted not only local races but national semi-pro races as well. It closed in 1988. The track was used by a truck driving school until 2007 when the land was sold and the track removed.

Today, auto racing lives on in the Tristate at the Florence Speedway, Lawrenceburg Speedway, and of course the Kentucky Speedway in nearby Sparta.

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