"The Drome" - Part 1 - by: Dick Lee
The original intent at the Drome was to run AAA midgets weekly on the quarter-mile and periodically Sunday afternoon big car programs on the half-mile track. The big cars were sanctioned by Interstate Big Car Racing Circuit which also ran at Playland Park in South Bend, Shererville Speedway near Gary, Indiana and Jackson Speedway in southeast Michigan. The open top roadsters of that day ran some races but did not catch on with the spectators. The jalopy stock car races were going to be used as a filler part of the program with a very minor role and a low status.
1950 was a turning point in racing history however, this was the year that racing fans got tired of the midgets for many reasons and were looking for something new on the racing scene. The something new were the old 1930s vintage stock cars.
4,000 fans showed up for the opening stock car race, which saw "Wild" Bill Wiltse win the feature coming from 18th position in a 1932 Ford coupe owned by Chuck Frieburg. The stock car races were on their way and by Labor Day reached a peak for that opening year of 8,000 fans.
To give credit to those who helped initiate the Drome and helped usher in stock car racing into West Michigan here is a partial list of participants for the Drome in 1950: "Wild" Bill Wiltse, Don Green, Johnny Purwin, Jack Cummiford, Gene Farber, Bob Bockeim, Dick Peoples, Bob Knight, Rod Black, Burr Krupp, Willie Wik, Harvey Gibson, Gordon VanderLaan, Jack Sanborn, Duke Melinn, Eddie Olmstead, Howard Newland, Kenny Knoll, Sherm Shimmel, Eddie Anible, Johnny Johnson, Don Nickleson, Speedy Eichorn, Wally Sanders, Glen Rocky, Tommy Lane, Willie Spielmaker, Leon Bocheim, Dick Stoddard, Bill Sherman, Al Witt, Harry Dromela, and Jack Beduhn. We must also make mention of the AAA midgets that ran for awhile, simply because of the stature of the drivers who ran there, such as Neil Carter, Bernie Jacobson, Art Cross, Frank Armi, Vic Carter, Bill Vukivich, Sr., Sam Hanks, Eddie Johnson, Jimmy Davies, Ralph Pratt, Roy Sherman, Joe Sostillio, and Potsy Goacher. Even the AAA flagmen were big names, Bill Mitchell from Detroit and Bill Vanderwater, who also flagged the Indianapolis 500.
1951 was the year that NASCAR came north and ran a 200 lap Sunday afternoon race on the dirt half-mile of the Speedrome. This Grand National race which was the forerunner of the Winston Cup and now Nextel Cup series had all of the top name competitors of that day including Fonty and Tim Flock in the Oldsmobile 88s and Marshall Teague in his famous Hudson Hornet. Lee Petty had his Plymouth coupe there also. Dick Rathmann, who was to later win the Indianapolis 500, finished second. Marshall Teague won the 100 miler easily. Teague was to lose his life at the Daytona International Speedway in an Indy Car in 1959 while practicing for an Indy Car race there. Tommy Lane, from Muskegon, MI, drove his street Buick Roadmaster to the track and put a number on it, strapped the doors shut and qualified fifth and finished tenth. Lane tells the story of how Lee Petty came up to him before the start of the race and said to him, "Hey boy, I got just this little Plymouth coupe and you got this big Buick. Now dont run over me when the green flag drops." Tommy said that when the green flag dropped, he couldnt even find Petty much less run him over.