This weekend, NASCAR will be heading to Bridgeport, Connecticut for the 118th Annual Halloween-themed Bridgeport International Speedway. Before you think about heading down to the banks of the Connecticut River to catch some motorsport action, let’s take a quick trip back in time to see how long is Bridgeport Speedway?
Origins Of The Track
There are six different eras and forty-nine different events that make up the history of the Connecticut River Speedway (now known as Bridgeport International Speedway). The first three decades of the track’s existence were dedicated to racing and had some pretty amazing moments, including the 1932 season, when a field of thirteen cars finished a whole lap together. That’s right, thirteen cars completed a lap side-by-side. One thing is for sure, the fans who were there had a good laugh.
The first official NASCAR race in North America was held at the old Connecticut River Speedway in 1939. During that time, the track was also known as the Mattress Motor Racing Circuit. The nickname came from a legendary driver named Mattress McBride, who was known to sleep in the car. McBride won six out of eight races that he competed in at the old track. Unfortunately, the U.S. entry in the 1940 Grand Prix de l’Aire crashed at the end of the final lap, causing several injuries and ending McBride’s season. The accident also led to the demise of the old track.
World War II & Post-War Era
With the start of World War II, many of the old bridges that spanned the Connecticut River were closed off, preventing any more laps at the track. The remaining residents of the area were encouraged to use the track for military vehicle testing. The asphalt surface of the track was also ripped up several times during those years to make way for trenches and military vehicles. Unfortunately, even with the decreased track activity during the war, racial tensions were flaring up. In June 1944, a riot broke out at the track after a black driver named Arthur Watts crashed a war-surplus vehicle. The following Monday, a mob attacked and burned down the homes of several black families who still resided in the area.
After the war, the track fell into a steep decline. The last NASCAR race there was held in 1949. The track was sold and dismantled piece by piece over the next several years. In 1960, a group of investors from New York City purchased the track and began reviving it. The track became a semi-weekly event that consisted of two NASCAR races and two USAC sprint car series events. The USAC sprint car races were later dropped and became a weekly feature. Today, Bridgeport International Speedway is a 4.9-mile road course that hosts weekly NASCAR races and a Monster Warehouse Car & Truck Pull.
In 1969, the track introduced the idea of combining motorsport with entertainment by hosting an open-wheel race that was open to the public. The New York Times said at the time that the race would highlight the “spectacle of sports and entertainment.” With a grandstand that was three-quarters of a mile long and seating for up to 25,000 spectators, the track drew huge crowds every week. Unfortunately, this race was also met with tragedy. During the inaugural Funny Car race, a fireball erupted near the grandstand, killing one person and injuring several others. The track would not hold another sporting event until 1974. In the interim, the track continued to thrive as a cultural hub, hosting concerts, fashion shows, and other types of entertainment. In November 1973, the National Park Service designated the track as one of the ten most historic sports venues in America.
In the early 1990s, the track was purchased by Roger Penske, who also owns the nearby New York City waterfront track, the Holland Tunnel. Since then, the track has undergone a brand new look. The old wooden grandstand was torn down and replaced with a multi-tiered, all-weather, enclosed dirt grandstand. In 2013, the entire infield was resurfaced and converted into a state-of-the-art, mid-packet racing facility.
Now, after taking a quick trip back in time to see how long is Bridgeport Speedway? We know it’s been a while, but maybe it’s time for a reunion. On Saturday, the temperatures might be rising, but it’s time to put your feet up, throw back the curtains, and cheer on your favorite team.