Information on African-American Race Track of the 1940's

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - by Harmon Jolley

A reader asked if anyone had information on an African-American race track in the 1940's in Chattanooga.  http://www.chattanoogan.com/2014/7/13/280255/Reader-Seeks-Information-on.aspx.

Local racing historian Robert F. Richey responded with the following information.  If you would like to correspond with Mr. Richey about this or any other local racing topic, you may contact him at rasrichey@comcast.net.

I read your article about someone inquiring about  African Americans racing in Chattanooga. I remember well the two or possibly three times that this happened at the Chattanooga Speedway in Alton Park.

The first thing is to get the location correct. The reader's theory  is correct in that the speedway was the same located on Wilson Road at the rear of where Heat Tech is now located. The track could not be seen from the road as one had to turn down a dirt road running horizontal with the creek just before you crossed the bridge spanning Chattanooga Creek. We often referred to Chattanooga Speedway as The Alton Park Race Track which at times when the wind was just right put a terrible odor into the air.

On the few days that the African American's raced everything was the same as a regular race day with the exception of drivers owning their cars. The regular drivers loaned their cars to the African American drivers for those particular race days. There was one driver with the moniker of Railhead Johnson and he borrowed my dads car for one of the special races.

I have some action pictures of races at Chattanooga Speedway and in one or two of the photos you can see people in trees outside the track watching for free. Also, some of the big smokestacks of nearby industries and Lookout Mountain can be seen in the background.

Another thing your reader wrote of was The Warner Park Raceway and the Warner Park Field House. The racetrack was a half mile dirt track with virtually no banking as was customary with the shorter tracks of the time. The field house was constructed in about 1952 or '53  for a Billy Graham crusade and took the place of another smaller building that had occupied the same spot.

The grandstand, which burned to the ground sometime in the 50's was across the wide walkway from the pool fronting the front stretch and the backstretch ran along Holtzclaw Avenue. The track surrounded the Cook softball fields and Hargraves baseball field. Just a few years ago you could still see a concrete curb along where the inside of the backstretch was. I have at least one picture with the Third Street viaduct in the background taken from the infield.

The Warner Park track was originally constructed for horse racing. I was told by someone about sixty or more years ago that when open cockpit racers started racing there in the twenty's or thirty's that some chemical put on the track to keep the dust down was detrimental to the horses hooves, and that was the end of horse racing. I personally got to see stock car racing, motorcycle racing and also got to see The Joey Chitwood Daredevil show on several occasions.

 Regards

Robert F. Richey


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