The year was 1922—almost 70 years ago. In a small town in New York, a young man named William ‘Red’ Freeman assembled a group of friends and went for a spin on the town’s only dirt track. The next day, the Daily News ran a front-page story about the ‘dirt track in the snow’. Although tracks had been laid down on dirt before, this particular track wasn’t built for racing; it was constructed inside of a skating rink. The name ‘Dorsey’ is derived from the family that owned the rink where the track was built.
How Did Dorsey Speedway Become a Rink?
In the early 20th century, before there was any talk of making ice hockey an Olympic sport, Philadelphia’s Rink Hockey Club was the chief rival of the Toronto Hockey Club for the Stanley Cup. It was at Rink Hockey Club facilities that the concept of an indoor ice rink was first introduced. The game played there was called ‘Indoor Hockey’. After watching the game, fans would go out for a walk on the nearby streets and catch some fresh air. These activities were bad for lung health, so the Pennsylvania Railroad station built nearby, named Dunfermline after a town in Scotland, was designed to alleviate this issue. It was in Dunfermline that the concept of an indoor sports arena was brought to life.
How Did Dorsey Become a Track?
The story of William ‘Red’ Freeman is interesting in itself. Born and raised in the town of Rockaway, New York, he moved to Philadelphia at the age of 19 to begin his career. Soon after arriving, he obtained employment as a track worker at the Philadelphia Zoo. One day, while inspecting a tiger’s cage, he slipped and fell into the cage, fusing both his legs and foot badly. He required surgery and had to take time off, which prevented him from working at the zoo. While recuperating at home, he read about the opening of the newly constructed Chicago Stadium (later named after Abraham Lincoln) and decided to try his luck there. He was employed by the Chicago Board of Trade to set up a group of card tables on the 50th floor for their employees to play poker on layovers. When Prohibition came into force, he made a large amount of money from bootlegging and became extremely rich. He bought a controlling interest in the Philadelphia Falcons and, in partnership with Enrico Caruso, built the arena that bears his name. During this time, he also became interested in horse racing, and invested heavily in thoroughbreds. In 1929, when the stock market crashed, he lost a large sum of money. This forced him to sell off many of his assets, including his share in the Philadelphia Falcons. The following year, the stock market rebounded and he was able to purchase the Buffalo Bisons of the American Football League. He renamed the team the ‘Redskins’, after the Scottish surname of a business partner, and the team went on to enjoy great success on the field. In 1931, he sold the team to a group of investors. The same year, he married Broadway actress Dorothy Donnelly, with whom he had four children. One of his daughters, Louise, would go on to found the International Dorsey Girls’ School, an independent, co-ed day school in Philadelphia.
When Was Dorsey Speedway Closed?
For much of the 20th century, with the exception of the years immediately after World War II, the only dirt track that remained open was Hersheypark’s Speedway, named after the town’s most famous son, William ‘Red’ Freeman. It was during this time that the American love of speed grew with the introduction of the automobile. The Indianapolis 500 was founded in 1911 and became one of the country’s most popular sporting events as a result. Many racers made their name at the 500, including Louis Meyer, who went on to found the International Motorcycle Company, and Louis Hirshemansky, who raced his maroon and gold #3 car with white stars to three straight victories between 1924 and 1926. The most successful driver of the era was arguably Johnny Aitken. He won the Indianapolis 500 five times between the years of 1922 and 1930, and an estimated 300 races in all. The Indianapolis Board of Control eventually chose to ban automobiles at the track for safety reasons. This decision was made in the 1950s and the ‘500′ was converted into a ‘Dragstrip’ in 1960. Since then, all of the track’s motorized vehicles have been banned. Today, the only motors allowed at the track are those used by bike enthusiasts to recreate some of the greats’ racing battles from the past. Unfortunately, the venue is no longer open to the public and no longer offers any kind of racing. The lone survivor of the dirt-track era is a roller skating rink in downtown Indianapolis called the Rink at the Market. It is a virtual mecca for speed skaters and is home to many famous skaters the world over.
When Was Dorsey Arena Opened?
In 1952, almost a decade after the closure of the dirt track, William ‘Red’ Freeman’s younger son, Bill Jr., began looking for a way to bring back some of the excitement that his father’s death had prevented from occurring. In 1946, the elder Freeman had purchased the Buffalo Bisons and started the process of converting the stadium into an indoor arena, which opened its doors for business in January 1948. The son, who had previously worked with his father in the auto industry, named the venue after his mother’s maiden name, with the hopes that it would be a lasting legacy for his family.
The name ‘Dorsey’ is still associated with speed in modern society. The most recognizable version of the name is the New York Cosmos soccer club, which was founded in the 1960s and is currently playing in the NASL. The club is named after a family that owned a chain of coffee shops and a beer distributor in upstate New York in the early 20th century. It was in the town of Corning that Richard ‘Ric’ Dunfield, one of the club’s original team owners, resided. A coffee shop and soda fountain were both named after members of the Dunfield family, and the Ric’s Bar-B-Que is still a local institution even today. The team’s colors are red, white, and blue, and its crest is a flying football, which is a reference to the family’s old sporting interest, football.
The Indianapolis 500, the Super Bowl, and the Kentucky Derby are some of the biggest sporting events in the United States. It is not difficult to see why racing is so popular in this country. There is something about getting behind the wheel of a car, or a motorcycle, and giving it your all that makes people feel alive. Of course, today’s technology has made it much safer to participate in motorsport than it was in the early 20th century. The technology of that time period would have been impossible to recreate, as computing power has increased by many orders of magnitude since then. It would also be interesting to speculate how much different this story would have been if a woman had been behind the wheel in the early years of the automobile. In fact, until the year 1919, women were not allowed to even study or work in engineering, and it wasn’t until several decades after that they were allowed to have a say in matters of transportation. The tide slowly began to turn in the mid-20th century, but it wasn’t until the year 1983 that women were truly given the equality that they deserve in the world of motorsport. In that year, California became the first state to allow women to legally race cars, a tradition that has now spread across the entire country. However, although women have been fighting for the right to race cars for decades, the sport has always been dominated by men. This year marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States, and it is time for them to finally start sharing the limelight with the guys.