Johnny Mackison, top point winner at the Bowling Green Speedway in 1954.
Johnny Mackison, top point winner at the Bowling Green Speedway in 1954.

Most old timers in the area of Codorus Township, outside Glen Rock, remember Bowling Green Speedway.

Joe Heisler told the story of the raceway during the recent meeting of the Glen Rock Historic Preservation Society. His presentation, complete with grainy old black-and-white home movies and photos, was the highlight of the meeting.

The speedway was built by Clyde Bolen and was in operation from 1953 to 1956. Stock car racing was big at the time and the speedway was the place to be on a weekend or holiday.

One Friday night, Bolen towed his Sportsman stock car to Lincoln Speedway but was not allowed to compete. He argued with the promoter and threatened to build his own speedway, Heisler said.

"He said 'I'll build my own speedway.' A lot of people made the same threat but Clyde Bolen made good on his," he said.

Bolen built his half-mile track on the family-owned farm. There was a judge's stand, space for vendors and a terraced hillside with wooden benches for seating.

"The track was about the same size as Lincoln Speedway but the straightaways were longer," Heisler said.

The red clay track, build by Maitland Brothers, featured 27-degree banking on the turns and 12 degrees on the straightaways and was graded so that stormwater drained into a holding pond that in turn provided a water source for the track and dust conditions.

"People built their own stock cars, most of them were Fords, and many of them were coupes. They souped them up, removed the fenders and glass and they were ready to go. Some drove them to the track and others flat towed them," Heisler said.

The girls raced, too, or at least it appears that they did.

"Betty Fisher won at least one powder puff race that we know of," Heisler said.

The track opened on September 27, 1953, with somewhere between 60 and 70 race cars. The pace car, a 1951 Chevrolet, was followed by a Jaguar and an MG, he said.

"There were actually three cars pacing the field that day. As many as 130 cars signed up on any Saturday night," Heisler said.

There were accidents, with cars running into one another and rolling over but the race continued. Most of the time the cars were rolled back up on their wheels or turned to head in the right direction and the driver resumed racing.

That same year the Nov. 6 race was canceled due to a snowstorm, but racing resumed the following week. The season ended on Thanksgiving Day, 1953.

The fun came to an end in the fall of 1955 with prize money missing and bill collectors at the door, but the memories remain.

"It was a nice facility for the time. It was a family-oriented place, a nice place to see friends and people brought picnic lunches. They had crowds of 8,000 people and Clyde had special programs like Joey Chitwood on the Fourth of July and fireworks on Memorial Day," said Helen Wilhelm.

Her late husband, Mike Wilhelm, raced there from the second week of racing in 1953 until the last week of 1955 and was the champion that same year.

Other champions were Jack Lauterback in 1953 and Johnny Mackinson in 1954.

"The local people wanted to get to Bowling Green on a Saturday or Sunday night and the local boys wanted to race their cars. The drivers all dreamed of making that lap around the race track waving the checkered flag," Helen Wilhelm said.

The announcer went by the name of Sam Sunday but he was really Nelson Sears, but he had to use a "stage name" because he worked for a York radio station. He later became president of WGAL-TV in Lancaster, she said.

People in the audience shared stories and memories.

For example, admission was $1.50 for adults and kids got in free. One man, very short for his age, got in free because he passed for a child, until the night he walked in smoking a cigar and the jig was up.

There was the story of another young man who bragged about hitchhiking to the speedway and sneaking in free. One night a man offered him a ride and the young man bragged to him about how he always got in free.

"Well, young man," the driver said, "the next time don't accept a ride from the owner of the track." We can assume his "get in free card" expired.

Some said locals complained about the noise of the race cars.

Wilhelm said Bolen promised the neighbors free season passes. They received a pass for the first race but Bolen never followed up on the rest of his promise.

"My dad used to say that the noise was so loud that the chickens didn't lay for three days after a race," Laverne Gladfelter of Glen Rock said.

Check it out

Memorabilia from the Bowling Green Speedway is on display at the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing at Latimore Valley Fairgrounds, York Springs, Adams County.

Parts of the old Bowling Green Speedway, located along Shaffer's Church Road, near the intersection with Messersmith Road, are still visible. The Bowling Green Auto Racing Association has placed a memorial near the road to mark the location of the old track.

The site is private property but owners will allow people to visit, provided they are respectful and ask permission first, Joe Heisler said.

"The track is still there. It is grown up but you can go out and walk it today and still see the banks and the track," he said.

Frank sent this note with the story :

      If you go to Google Maps and look for Glen Rock, Pa.,
then scan a little northeast, you'll find the
intersection of the two roads mentioned in the story,
and you can see the outline of the track still there.