What city wouldn’t want a classic car park near their attractions? Even the most historic of cities, like New York, would love to have a spot where antique vehicles can gather, get some air-conditioning and give the crowd of spectators a piece of nostalgia.
But where is this magical land of vintage automobiles? You may ask as you stroll through the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois. You’ll have to search diligently for the answer, as there doesn’t seem to be any signs indicating the presence of a speedway anywhere in the area. Even the locals don’t seem to know what it is.
How did this unique sports and entertainment venue stay a secret all these years? Why is it that even today, if you ask the average person on the street about Lincoln Park Speedway, they will have no idea what you’re talking about?
The History Of Lincoln Park Speedway
Lincoln Park Speedway was first established in 1922. Back then, a quarter mile dirt track stood in the park, named after President Abraham Lincoln. Before the paved streets of the 20th century ran through the area, the main road at that time was Lake Shore Drive. The construction of Lake Shore Drive disrupted the original track, which was never rebuilt. In 1927, the area was turned into a municipal park and the original quarter-mile dirt track was enclosed within the 4.3-acre parcel of land.
In the decades that followed, the park was home to athletic games and meetings, picnics and barbecues. However, it was mostly used for community events and celebrations. For example, in 1944 the Chicago Tribune ran a short article about the speedway, proclaiming that ‘[i]f you’re looking for something different, you’ve found it.’ In the same article, it was stated that the average car in use at the time was around 8 years old, with the most popular model being the Ford Model A. The average price of a ticket was $1.00, which was then equivalent to $11.00 in present-day money.
In the 1960s, the park was closed to vehicle traffic and converted into a recreational area for the community to enjoy. Today, the old quarter-mile track at Lincoln Park Speedway has been turned into a recreational field with football goals, a soccer field and a baseball diamond. The rest of the land has been completely redeveloped with new parks and pathways, making it one of the most heavily used and most accessible parks in the area.
Where Are The Gates?
As you walk through the gates of Lincoln Park Speedway, you’ll see a sight that’ll make your heart stop. There, in front of you, is a row of classic cars. The first thing that’ll come to mind is that this is a place for car enthusiasts to come together, socialize and share their passion for vintage automobiles. But the truth is a little bit more complicated. If you ask the average person on the street, they may not even know what a car speedway is, much less where one is located. So how does one find their way to this little piece of automotive heaven?
To start, you must traverse the neighborhood of Lincoln Park in Chicago, heading towards the lakefront. Once you reach the intersection of Clark and Maplewood, you’ll see a set of traffic lights. Look towards the left; you’ll see a small parking lot sandwiched between two houses. The pavement beyond the parking lot leads to a grassy knoll, which is bordered to the right by a grove of trees. You can’t miss the sign that indicates the entrance to the parking lot, as it’s the only one among the trees.
When you park in this lot, you’ll see a set of traffic gates that protect the vintage automobiles from vandals, as well as the occasional ball or Frisbee thrower.
A short walk from the parking lot takes you to the center of Lincoln Park. Here, you’ll find another set of gates that lead to the main road. However, these gates are much narrower than the ones at the entryway. They’re meant to keep people with limited mobility accessible to the historic park. You can’t drive a car through these gates, but you can walk, rollerskate or take the bus. At the end of the road is a T-intersection. Make a right turn, heading towards the lake. Walk through the archway and you’ll be in a great spot to catch a baseball game, parade or festival.
Why Is This Spot Special?
If you ask the average person on the street about Lincoln Park Speedway, they’ll have no idea where it is or what it is. But put a vintage car lover in a room with a map of Chicago and you’ll quickly get a picture in their head of what the place looks like. The moment they see those gates, they’ll know what this is and they’ll want to go there, whether it’s to see a specific car or to just roam around the area, looking for classic vehicles.
Lincoln Park Speedway is certainly not the only vintage car park in Chicago. There are actually several others, including Grant Park, Harry Hines and Rosemont. However, this one has the best view of the lake and feels the most welcoming, with its wide open spaces and green grass. It is also the closest to the northern part of the city, where the summer temperatures can be scorching. This makes it the most popular of the bunch, serving as a testament to the allure of the vintage automobile.
But why is this particular area of the city noteworthy for its automotive heritage? The first thing that’ll come to mind is that it used to be the place where drivers could come together, socialize and share their love for cars. In the 1920s and 1930s, many car enthusiasts, called ‘garage queens’ or ‘garagistas,’ would come together to socialize and show off their beautiful cars. They’d bring their rods, customizing them with stylish paint jobs and adding accessories like blasters, fins, studs and even entire stripped-down vehicles, which were known as ‘custom cars.’ In the winter, the entire area would be filled with smoke as attendees fired up their cars and took them out for short drives to see how the temperature affected engine performance. In the summer, the bonfires would be lit and families would come together to cook and socialize as cars were passed around.
Today, it’s still a magical place to be, as there are plenty of antique cars and old motorcycles that could be found here. But it has been greatly changed from its heyday. The last few years have seen a resurgence in the interest in vintage automobiles, which has inspired a new generation of car enthusiasts to come together and build their collections. In the winter, you’ll frequently find people skiing and snowboarding nearby, as well as in the area, while in the summer, there are often street races, festivals and parades. People come from all over the world to see these events and congregate in the area.
As you’ve probably guessed, finding information about Lincoln Park Speedway is not easy. The best strategy is to start by searching for it on social media, as many enthusiasts have used platforms like Twitter and Instagram to document their adventures there. You can also look for online forums, like the popular Facebook group ‘Vintage Car Craze,’ for more tips and clues. But ultimately, the best way to find out about this special place is by going there yourself.