Auto racing’s roots go back almost as far as the invention of the automobile.
It should then come as no surprise that man, through his intensely competitive nature, has used the sport as a means of testing himself against his fellow man.
Due in large part to the popularity of the sport, many local communities can boast to having had a race track located in their town at one time or another. But of all those tracks, perhaps none was as widely known in the 1950s and 60s as Olean Raceway. Olean’s track was different than most.
While many track fell victim to the highly competitive racing game, Olen Raceway saw its end come as the result of progress in the form of a new highway.
A one-third mile clay oval, the track enjoyed a large turnout of cars every week and excellent attendance.
Racers came to the oval from Elmira, Binghamton, Buffalo, Jamestown, southern Ontario and northwestern Pennsylvania to compete against some of the top names around.
Olean’s Joe Tomes, Doc Hoctor of Buffalo, Dean Layfield, Fran Pezzimenti of Allegany, Olean’s Bud Johnson and Merv Treichler of Buffalo were but a few of the leading drivers.
Built in 1956 by Dave Rosen the racetrack featured a three-class program of Jalopies, Stocks and Modifieds every Saturday at 8 p.m.
Comparing those early divisions to the cars run today isn’t hard.
The Street Stocks that run area ovals today are similar to the Jalopies and Stocks of yesterday.
The Modifieds are much like those that run today at Woodhull and Genesee Fair Raceway in Batavia. They featured center steering, quick change rear ends and six cylinder engines.
In 1958, the raceway became the first area track to introduce demolition derbies, running them as a special attraction. The races proved to be so popular that they became an annual attraction.
The track closed following the 1960 season and didn’t reopen until April of 1964 when Charles Ivory leased the track from Rosen.
Signing a 10-year lease, Ivory made a number of improvements at the track, including putting a top layer of clay on the track, remodeling and repainting the grandstand seating and installing caution and emergency lights across the track (overhead) going into the first and third turns as a safety measure.
A change was also made in the classes of cars running at the track, with the switch to Super B Modifieds and Amateurs.
Dave Rosen died in October of 1964 and Ivory left the track shortly after the start of the 1965 season, leaving Rosen’s son, Art, to take over operation of the track.
When the younger Rosen took over he again switched classes running Hooligans and New Cars which were similar to the Street Stocks and Late Models that run now.
In 1969, Pete Parker, Dick Orcutt and Bob Little took over the operational duties running the raceway for Rosen.
Racing came to an end at the Olean Raceway following the 1969 season.
Progress in the form of the Southern Tier Expressway spelled the end for the track as Honky Tonk Construction, builders of the highway, bought the gravel from the raceway’s parking lot for use on the new road.
When the expressway was completed, all that was left of the raceway were the number one and two turns – still visible if you look to the right as you exit from the westbound lane at Exit 26 in the city of Olean.
While the track is no longer usable, its memory continues to exist through the numerous drivers who ran there, many of still who are still involved with the sport.
In addition, there was at least one area high school that benefited from the closing of the track. Hinsdale was the recipient of the track’s seating.