Friday, March 4, 2011

1962 Southside Winter Nationals Indoor Drags

Fellow blog follower Jon Guilmet, passed these images on to me. He had never heard of these races, nor had I, but it seems that the weather was not going to stop drag racing.

Before McCormick Place was built in Chicago, there was the International Amphitheater, built in 1934 by the owner of the stockyards across the street. It had a long history prior to its demolition in the late 1990′s.

The Amphitheater was intended to host the International Live Stock Exhibition, but also became the venue for the Ringling Circus, the Chicago Auto Show, music concerts including Elvis in 1957 and the Beatles in 1964. The most unlikely event to be held there, was the 1962 Southside Winter Nationals. Oh yeah, who could forget the 1968 Democratic Convention…

It seems, racing promoter Bill Schade, well known at the time for hosting NASCAR races at Soldier Field until 1964, came up with the plan. Working in conjunction with the United States Auto Club (USAC), he wanted to bring drag racing inside through the winter months in the Windy City.

With USAC sanctioning the event, the first-ever indoor drag races took place on December 30, 1962. The “track” was a 440-foot stretch of the Amphitheater, with each lane being 60-feet wide and bordered by steel Armco guard rail. The temporary stripes were put down with lime on the surface. According to accounts from the event, several hundred cars showed up to race, finding the concrete slab floor “like racing on ice.”

Adding to the racers’ excitement was the 660-foot shutdown area that required them to exit the building, still at high speed, through a set of roll-up truck doors. As you’ll see in photos from the event, not everyone made it unscathed.

You can also see in the photos that this was a popular event, by the number of cars in the staging lanes, and the number of spectators at the sides in the stands.

There was a second event held on January 5, 1964. The first event’s success drew top name local racers such as Mr. Norm from Grand-Spaulding Dodge, and famed Pontiac racer, Arnie Beswick. However, despite the A-list turnout, it would be the last indoor drag race at the International Amphitheater. Bill Schade and his co-promoter of the Soldier Field stock car races, Carl Bledsoe, called it quits that same year. via

Spectators and racers waiting to get in. -Wayne Bryant, Omega-Photo

Staging lanes inside the Amphitheater. -Wayne Bryant, Omega-Photo
A relatively new Ford Falcon heads for the finish. -Wayne Bryant, Omega-Photo

Ford vs Chevy Battle...classic. -Wayne Bryant, Omega-Photo

Notice the push limer in the foreground. -Wayne Bryant, Omega-Photo

Corvette vs. Austin Healey Sprite on a slick surface. -Wayne Bryant, Omega-Photo

Not all finished unscathed. -Wayne Bryant, Omega-Photo

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  1. Very cool, I'll link to this Monday! ;-)

  2. What about the exhaust fumes?

  3. Several buddies and I were there!. Saw a Corvette lock up rear wheels when he got off going through the doors, fiberglass everywhere. Amazing noise, Choking exhaust atmosphere.

  4. Where is Wayne now ? Need some photos from Chicago indoor drags .
    thanks Herbie ( son of HERBO the pickup ) in Fl.

  5. I recall attending some of the races there as a spectator. I had forgot about these events, happen to stumble across this blog lookin for something else. I recall some days it was sure cold and snow on certain days. Bring's back memories