The Windy City occupies a special niche in drag racing history. Home base to the Granatelli Brothers, Chris "The Greek" Karamesines, Arnie "The Farmer" Beswick, Don Schumacher and the Ramchargers of Mr. Norm's Grand-Spaulding Dodge, Chicago bows to no city when it comes to the hot rod obsession. But let's face it: Chicago gets cold. Holy freakin' Ditka, it gets cold. When those razorblade February winds blow in from Iowa, and the asphalt strips of US30 and Union Grove and Byron are covered in five foot drifts, even the hardiest ChiTown street racers know it's hibernation season.
Back in '62, though, a dedicated group of Chicagolanders found a way to keep the rubber burning between November and spring pothole patching. Instead of going outside to the strip, they brought the strip inside. The announcement came in a press release from USAC, trumpeting it as the "first INDOOR DRAG RACES ever held, anywhere" on Sunday, December 30, featuring "the fastest drag racing machines in the MIDWEST AREA."
The venue: the venerable International Amphitheater at 42nd and Halsted, amid the Southside projects and just a stone's throw from the old Chicago Stockyards where all that famous hog butchering was done. Originally built as a livestock exhibition building in 1934, the cavernous Amphitheater saw its share of bad craziness before it was demolished in 1999; professional wrasslin', Roller Derby, the Beatles. In '68 it played host to the Democratic National Convention that spurred three days of bloody antiwar riots. But nothing like the mayhem of the midwinter drags.
USAC's press release outlined the dimensions: a 440 foot track, lanes 60 feet wide, steel guardrails, a 660 foot shutdown area. What it failed to mention was that the shutdown lane was beyond a pair of pinned-open gym doors, and the low traction surface meant plenty of puckered butts as competitors struggled to keep their cars straight through them. Hundreds of cars entered that first '62 meet, with Richard Myracle of Melrose Park recording best ET of 5.68 in his U/SA '62 Plymouth. Richard Stroening of Wheaton took top speed of 76.26 in a '58 Pontiac.
The next Chicago Indoor Drags took place on January 5, 1964, attracting top area racers like the aforementioned Arnie Beswick and Mr. Norm, who pushed 100 mph in between the Amphitheater's concrete pylons. Unfortunately it would also be the last. Was it because of insurance? Chicago mobsters? Nobody seems to know, but a few photos remain to chronicle the crazy. Enjoy.
Cross-posted at Bolus. This article originally appeared in Garage Magazine, with photos courtesy of the HAMB.