Plaque to celebrate Heidelberg Raceway
Cars pile up at Heidelberg Raceway in 1952.
A crowd fills the stands at Heidelberg Raceway on July 5, 1953.
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In the 1950s and '60s, thousands flocked to the Heidelberg Raceway and Sports Arena, which could hold 15,000 fans, to watch stock car racing on a track that today is the site of Raceway Plaza shopping center on Route 50.
Even those who couldn't go to the races experienced some of the excitement.
On hot summer nights, residents in neighboring Scott, Carnegie and Collier could hear the roar of the engines as drivers competed to become champions of the oval track. It was a sound that kids growing up then will never forget.
One of those champions was Herb Scott of Wexford, who won 10 season championships at Heidelberg Raceway, more than any other driver.
Other familiar names who won at the track include Lee Petty, who won his first NASCAR race there in 1949. Lee Petty and his son, Richard Petty, raced together in the track's final NASCAR race in 1960. Lee Petty finished first that day, and his son finished second.
In the 1949 race that Lee Petty won, Sara Christian finished fifth, setting the record for the best finish by a woman driver at the highest level of NASCAR racing, a record that still stands today.
Those champions and all of the people who raced and who loved the sport will be remembered at 2 p.m. Sunday when the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission dedicates a state historical marker commemorating the Heidelberg Raceway and Sports Arena, which operated from 1948 to 1973.
The dedication ceremony will be held at 2055 Washington Pike on the border of Heidelberg and Scott between Walgreens and King's restaurant.
Light refreshments will be served and vintage race cars will be on display in the Walgreens lot, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Circle Track Club.
Among the speakers will be David Kohler of the Pittsburgh Circle Track Club; Andrew Masich, chairman of the museum commission; and federal, state and local elected officials.
"I came up with the idea for the marker, and [Heidelberg borough manager] Joe Kauer ran with it," said Heidelberg Councilman Robert DeBar, who also heads the Heidelberg Historical Society.
As Mr. Kauer researched the history of the raceway, he came up with an event that caught the attention of the museum commission. It wasn't about racing, but it held national significance.
On July 16, 1956, Heidelberg Raceway was the final stop of the "Greatest Show on Earth" -- the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus under the Big Top.
That show would be the last under the "Big Top," a network of tents erected for each show that moved from town to town. The circus survived after that date but performed only in arenas and concert buildings from then on.
Mr. Kauer said he enjoyed digging into the history of Heidelberg Raceway.
"Everyone I talked to had a story about the racetrack. It took people back to memories of their childhood," he said.
The borough needed to raise $1,800 to pay for the marker, but Mr. Kauer said the money was raised in only two weeks.
He said the hardest part of the project was coming up with the right 80 words for the marker.
"It was a monumental task. There was a significant amount of history to cover, but I think we covered all the bases."
First Published July 12, 2012 12:00 am