PATERSON NJ- The long dormant Hinchliffe Stadium was abuzz with activity as the 10th annual Hinchliffe Stadium Racing Expo gathered Sunday to honor the stadium’s racing legacy and its hopeful future. On hand were a variety of racecars from vintage to modern day racers that race every weekend at little tracks around the Tri-State area.
While the concrete grandstands which surround the 85 year-old facility still show some weeds poking through the rows, all of the dense foliage has been removed, the graffiti has been erased and the asphalt surface which had been pock-marked and rutted has been filled and repaired. The surface still needs to have sealer applied to make the surface smoother but the surface is drivable once more.
Paterson, New Jersey was once a powerhouse of industry and manufacturing thanks to the mighty Passaic River that runs alongside the city. As an offshoot of that industry was the original ‘Gasoline Alley’, which was located on a one-block section of East 29th street. The area started off as a series of automotive repair shops before morphing into specialty shops geared toward auto racing, especially Midget racing. The mechanical genius of the mechanics that worked out of those shops is still talked about reverently to this day.
The location of the stadium is just a stone’s throw from both Gasoline Alley and the Historic Paterson Great Falls, which once powered industrial mills in Paterson. Hinchliffe Stadium was a haven for local Midget racing from the 1920’s up until World War II and then resuming after the war until the 1960’s. This stadium was one of the more major venues for Midgets until the 1960’s when the drivers were attracted to greener pastures such as Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1963 the stadium was purchased by Paterson Public Schools and used as a high school stadium until it closed in 1996. It then fell into disrepair and became an abandoned, vandalized, overgrown facility.
Fast forward to 2017 and instead of an infield filled with Midgets there it was filled with a variety of modern day racecars as well as vintage racers. A steady stream of spectators flowed by the racecars to admire the cars and to ask questions about them. Also seen was veteran racers talking about old times and racing. On the overhead speakers the attendees could hear the great Chris Economacki, in various interviews, describe the importance of Midget auto racing in the U.S. and in this area of the country in particular. Also heard on the overhear speakers were radio play-by-play of historic races in which legends such as Bill Schindler and Doug Schaefer competed against each other.
Starting at noon, groups of racecars started doing laps around the stadium on a fifth-mile diameter racing surface much to the delight of all who watched. As each field of cars left the track’s surface to drive back to their pits, they were applauded heartily by the spectators for their efforts. In attendance were six TQs, eight Microstocks, a Slingshot, three Sportsman, the Vintage race cars of Joe Henshaw and Stan Ploski and even a 1915 Ford Model T Speedster.
Construction and restoration of the ticket booths, front gate and front façade have recently started and the future is looking bright for this facility.
Ronny Dennis, one of the promoters of Hinchliffe Stadium said, “I want to bring back the glory days of racing here at Hinchliffe. In its day this was one of the places you really wanted to run if you were a Midget racer. Hinchliffe is one of the few places in New Jersey that the State Police have given a racing license to. We are licensed just like Wall Stadium, New Egypt and Bridgeport. We are just waiting on the Paterson school board, which owns this property, to finish the paperwork so we can have the asphalt sealed and get racing back here on a regular basis.”
-By Robin Ervin, Area Auto Racing News
-Photo Credit: John John Lane