Friday, July 06, 2007

Great Race of '49

There was the rolling roar of noises one always hears when a large crowd has gathered. More than twelve hundred very excited townspeople pressed along the edges of Greylock Parkway on this 11th day of June to watch the Great Race of 1949. The road, closed by police, was temporarily re-named "Greylock Speedway" in honor of the spectacular event about to take place. At the center of attention were 20 of Belleville's elite automotive engineers and racecar drivers, between the ages of 9 and 15, who were about to test their skills in front of this huge, anxious crowd.

Each gravity powered racecar, under the contest rules, was entirely built by the young man who would drive it. Each vehicle had to pass a safety inspection by the race committee, especially the brakes and steering systems !

In addition to the prestige of being the best engineer and fastest driver in town, there were serious prizes on the line. There were two beautiful gold trophies to be awarded to the divisional champions (9-11 year old and 12-15 year old divisions). The champions also received merchandise certificates from a local sporting goods store, awarded by the Belleville BPA. Medals were awarded to first, second and third place finishers in each race. Every participant received a racecar driver pin. In addition, four young lads, selected on the basis of good sportsmanship, would be escorted to a Yankees - Tigers game at Yankee Stadium.

It was now 1:00 pm, time to start. Races started on a raised ramp ensuring that maximum speed was reached as soon as possible. A pair of entrants were poised on the starting ramp, tense, eyes straight ahead. The green flag dropped ... go! They're off ! The crowd was silent, only the sound of chattering wheels and wind sweeping over the hand-made chassis' could be heard as they rushed by at a screaming 20 mph. The checkered flag dropped, and the winner is ...

At the end of the day, it was young Master Keller, whose ole Number 14, crossing the finish line at a sizzling 24 mph, who was declared champion of the 9-11 year olds. Young Mr. Greulich, driving his big Number 5, "Silver Bullet", was named the older division champion. During the day, a hotly contested event between two lads had brought the checkered flags down simultaneously. The race was repeated. The flags dropped simultaneously again. The race was finally decided in heats against the clock. Racing is not without its hazards. One driver lost a wheel half-way through the course. He bailed out. His car careened into the crowd. No spectators were injured but the driver came away with a skinned knee.

Indianapolis may have its "Indy 500", but on this day, Belleville was the proud home of the "Greylock Two-Tenths". Two-tenths of a mile, that was the length of the raceway set out on perfectly hilly Greylock Parkway. The event was organized primarily by the Belleville Times - News however, many town businesses and citizens contributed to its success. It was a wonderful event. It was just one of the many reasons why post-war Belleville was such a really good place in which to grow-up.

A Note To Readers:

The new book, "A Dutch Christmas in Old Second River 1697" has finally arrived from the printer and is now available. Learn about holiday customs and traditions as they were practiced in our town more that 300 years ago. You can find a slideshow of sample pages and a description by clicking this link -