MANZANITA SPEEDWAY HISTORY
A.J. Foyt has raced here. He has also won here. Ditto, Mario Andretti. Gary Bettenhausen won here three times. Mel Kenyon. Bill Cheesbourg. Hank Arnold. Wayne Weiler. Billy Boat. J.J. Yeley. If you are to measure a track by the company it keeps, Manzanita Speedway has set the bar at a level few can match – despite its most humble beginnings as a dog track on the southeast corner of 35th Avenue and Broadway. Credit the venerable Arizona Jalopy Racing Association and its search for a permanent home for the creation of Manzanita Speedway. It was local racing favorites like Avery Doyle, Gene Gunn, Lou Cromer, Jack Holloway and others – unhappy with management decisions at South Mountain Speedway – who convinced Rudy Everett and Lawrence Meskimens to convert their struggling Manzanita Park greyhound track (losing in a battle to the more popular Greyhound Park) into a quarter-mile dirt track. The lights went on and the gates opened to auto racing for the first time on the night of August 25, 1951. Roe Mounts earned his place in Arizona's history when he scored the only main event win of his career on opening night in front of an announced crowd of 3,923 fans. Avery Doyle won the track’s first championship in 1951, and Phoenix policeman Roy Creach was the 1952 champion. Hall of Fame member Bill Cheesbourg was runner up in 1952 and then used a Manzanita championship three years later to earn a ride in the Indy cars where he competed successfully for over 10 years. Wayne Weiler, the 1957 Manzanita champion, joined Cheesbourg at Indy and then welcomed 1953 track champion Don Davis after he won the 1959 California Racing Association championship. Tucson's Roger McCluskey also carried the Manzanita banner at the Brickyard and won two USAC sprint car titles, a national Indy Car title and a USAC stock car driving championship. Two-time Indy 500 winner (1992, 1994) Al Unser, Jr., raced here, using phone books as a booster seat so he could see out of the cockpit. He also won 1990 and 1994 Indy car (CART) championships. Manzy race winner Billy Boat sat on the pole for the 1998 Indianapolis 500 and won a 500-mile Indy Racing League race at Texas Motor Speedway. J.J. Yeley, a Manzy open-wheel favorite, placed ninth in the 1998 Indy 500 and set the USAC world afire in 2003 when he won the sanctioning organization’s “Triple Crown” – championships in National Sprints, Silver Crown champ dirt cars and National Midgets. There were drivers who could have traveled afar to race for greater acclaim, but their ties to Manzy and their Arizona communities kept them closer to home. Count legends Gene Brown, Lealand McSpadden, the Shuman brothers, Carl Trimmer, Terry Belcher, Mark Passerrelli and Ricky Johnson as among those who made a name for themselves on the quarrelsome third-mile and half-mile ovals at 35th Avenue and Broadway. Manzanita added the half-mile track in 1954 and hosted a 25-hour marathon race to initiate Al Unser, Jr. won the Western World sprint car consy at Manzy on the track. The jalopy stock car test was won by the team of Cheesbourg and Davis. Today, the names that are heard most often in the Manzanita Speedway winner’s circle are the likes of Anthony Madrid, Jeremy Sherman, Bobby Taylor, Kenny Gill, Jason Noll, Charles Davis, Jr., and 15-year-old Chad Boat. While serving as a home track of sorts for so many greats from yesterday and today, Manzanita Speedway also has earned a reputation as the site of some of grass-roots racing’s greatest events, including the “Western World Championships.” Unveiled in 1968, the event boasted an unheard-of $10,000 sprint car purse and attracted 86 drivers from around the country. Bob Cleburg of Tucson was the inaugural 50-lap main event winner. Today, the “Western” offers a $200,000 purse and features USAC National and CRA Sprints and the Western All-Stars super dirt late models. It is included in what has become the "Triple Crown" of sprint car racing, joining the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals and the Pacific Coast Nationals (Gardena, Calif.). Hoping to join the Western in the annals of Manzy events is the “Copper on Dirt,” introduced in 2007 and featuring USAC Silver Crown cars, National and CRA Sprints and National Midgets. Other big-time Manzy cards include the annual visit of the World of Outlaws, the “Wayne Weiler Salute to Indy,” “Hank Arnold Memorial,” “Lealand Legacy” and “Firecracker 40.” It is safe to say that no other track in the country offers the variety of racing that is found at 35th Avenue and Broadway. Racing on two different tracks, as many as 18 divisions will be featured at Manzanita Speedway in 2008, including the World of Outlaws and USAC open-wheel series (National and CRA Sprints, National and Western States Midgets, Silver Crown). Tentatively, 39 race weekends have been scheduled during the February-to-November calendar, including 79 nights of racing. Today the track is owned by Phoenix business and community leader Mel Martin and Bobby Martin, while former open-wheel racer Steve Dunn serves Manzanita Speedway as general manager. Awaiting race fans in 2008 are a number of aggressive track improvements, including modernized concession stands, new grandstands along the front straightaway and more. Manzanita Speedway, “The Track that Action Built.” It also has been constructed of great racing, skilled and daring drivers, loyal and enthusiastic fans, and a history that is second to none.
The above piece was written by Windy McDonald (reprinted from manzanitaspeedway.us and abcmotorsports.com)