This community scrapbook has ample evidence to assert that a significant dimension of Mansfield’s identity—from both inside and outside the city—has been centered in speed and racing for 100 years.
Even before that—back to before the Civil War—the town was well-known as a horse racing center, so speed and racing were encoded in Mansfield’s DNA from the start.
But in 1910 it became a place for motorcycle racing, and in 1912 it entered the era of auto racing.
How Loud is Loud?
It always was about noise. Even in 1919, when the Mansfield Ministerial association tried to have Sunday races shut down, their argument had no particularly moral implications: they said quite plainly that people sitting in church downtown could hear the tumultuous growling of engines in the distance and wanted to leave early. It was “contributing to the delinquency of society.”
So what is the noise factor? When you’re in the middle of it—right next to the track where it is roaring like a thousand thundering cyclones—the noise fills your head and there is no room left in there for troubling thoughts, worries, or debilitating memories—there is only raw noise filling your skull and, quite simply, in the absence of bad thoughts you gotta feel good.
It feels like unbridled energy racing through your synapses.
The Airport Drag Strip
When the municipal airport was built north of Mansfield it displaced a segment of State Route 13 that had to curve out and around the runways. This left an odd bit of unused, straight, highway-grade pavement. To racing enthusiasts in the city it looked exactly like a drag strip.
So, they formed a car club called The Gents, and with sanction of the National Hot Rod Association they started racing there in 1954.
Their track was 1/5 of a mile, each car paid an entry fee of $2, and general admission was 50¢. The track record stood at 102.27 MPH.
From the Scrapbook of Shirley Thompson:
Drag Strip Racing necessarily had its limitations, and local motor fans were eager to expand their race cards, so in 1959 an oval dirt track for stock cars was built on Crall Road called Mansfield Raceway.
The 3/8 mile track had bleachers to seat 3,000 fans.
Dart Kart Speedway
In the early 1960s, for thousands of Karting fans across the U.S., Mansfield was the racing heart of the nation
Rupp Manufacturing was turning out thousands of racing machines that set the pace for Kart racing, and built a track near the airport that attracted the best in the sport.
The 1950s saw a new brand of motorsports locally that was competitive but not oriented toward speed. These were drivers of little foreign sports cars who gathered on weekends for what was called a Rally.
The local enthusiasts officially organized in 1955 to call themselves the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Club. While the fad lasted they could be seen all over the county in Rallies, Hill-Climb events, and other precision driving competitions.
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
Exactly 50 years after the first auto races in Richland County, the local concept of motorsports made a quantum leap into the consciousness of the global racing universe by inaugurating a world-class motor track rated among the best in America.
On a 200-acre farm outside Lexington the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was given the blessing of the Sports Car Club of America to open in 1962, and in abundant validation of the dream fully 10,000 race fans and 200 drivers showed up the first time they opened the gates.
The further proof of Mid-Ohio’s stature in the estimation of the racing world is found in the records of American racing itself: for 12 years, the SCCA National Championship was held here—close enough to Mansfield that even downtown they could hear the noise.
Want to take a lap around Mid-Ohio in a car with a view? Hang on.
NASCAR in Mansfield:
A Defining Passion of Mansfield
If you want to gauge how much auto racing identifies this city, all you have to do is see how Mansfield was defined by a Broadway play in the 1970s. John Bishop, the New York playwright and Hollywood screenplay author who was born in Mansfield, had a play on Broadway that actually takes place in Mansfield.
The main character, upon whom the entire drama focuses, is a stock car race driver.
During the decades when Bishop was growing up on Arlington Avenue, and particularly when he was at Senior High, auto racing was an integral part of teenage social aspiration. The sports heroes from local teams included racers who drove stock cars at the Fairgrounds.
It means something that the city was presented on the cultural stage of our nation through the eyes and values of motorsports.
Images, information, and inspiration for this article came from Shirley and Joe Thompson, Cleo Redd Fisher Museum, Bob Carter, the Mark Hertzler Collection, North Central Ohio Industrial Museum, Jeff Sprang, Lisa Bishop, Peter Cary Peterson, Will Harmon, and Chris McKinniss.