By Bill Ladabouche



        If one is watching one's favorite NFL team, the term “encroachment” can either be a positive thing or the opposite. If your team has the ball and the referee charges encroachment – it means your beloved footballers did not false start or do anything else wrong – the defense did . The opposite is true if you're on defense. In criminal proceedings, encroachment usually means something like breaking and entering or trespassing. In racing, it has come to mean development, creeping in on the fringes of an established race track [and it ain't good !].

        The poster child for the problem of encroachment today in my region is the Albany – Saratoga Speedway, on US Route 9 in the town of Malta. Built in 1965, the same time as Catamount Stadium to the north, the track was created as an asphalt track that was to belong to the same general group as Utica – Rome Speedway [then paved], Islip, Stafford Springs, and even its fellow newborn, Catamount. It sat north of the little town that came to be identified [much like Milton, VT] with its race track.

Ladabouche Collection

This former Charland superspeedway car atop the sign was a curious way to establish a track identity. Ironically, Rene had his infamous “French
Barbeque” car fire at Malta – a defining track moment. Below – An early [maybe pre-Pemberton] Dunster's ad in the Ballston Spa Daily Journal.

From the Ballston Spa Daily Journal via FultonHistory.Com

        Malta featured some families that would go on to notoriety far beyond the track. A popular Saturday eatery and watering hole called Dunster's was run by the Pemberton family, that would produce famed announcers and crew chiefs in the big leagues of racing. Then, too, there was the little speed shop started by Lennie Bosley and Roland Bellinger – L&R Speed Shop. Lennie stayed with the business, which – with help from son, Steve Bosley – certainly made a name for itself. Despite separating from the shop, Bellinger's 302 cars were always memorable and successful.

        Albany – Saratoga Speedway [asphalt edition] reached its golden era during the time span of the long – defunct All Star Stock Car Racing League [1968-1973]. Everyone who was anyone in pavement modified racing would have run Malta at one time or another. The track also featured some NASCAR Grand National shows back in the day. Finally, in the '70's, the track seemed to lose momentum and – much to the surprise of many – ended up being purchased by dirt track promoter C.J. Richards [whose own track Devil's Bowl had certainly been through as many downs as it had ups ]. Richards bet the farm on this deal, buying Malta at a time when he really didn't have a ton of finances to fall back upon.

Ladabouche Collection
Lennie Bosley, the L in L&R, working on the shop's signature Don MacTavish car. Below – The Roland
Bellinger 302 [the R in L&R] with Paul Hamel at the wheel.

John Grady Photo

        Around 1986, Richards held that same track in strong consideration when he made his historic decision to ditch the big blocks in favor of the 358's – a move that pundits predicted would be his downfall as a promoter. The smaller engine eventually became almost the norm in modified racing and Richards' tracks went well for years. Later, in 2000's, with the fortunes of race tracks fluctuating all over, the family made the decision to pave both of their tracks. It didn't turn out well and they eventually made moves to have others take over the two facilities.

        In the case of the Malta track, Lebanon Valley promoter Howie Commander leased it, and returned it to dirt. The dirt has, since then, enjoyed arguably the most success of any in the region. This returns us to the topic of encroachment. For years now, Malta has been developing at a good pace – right up to the property lines of Albany -Saratoga Speedway. The extreme success of the track there should make it, in my opinion, well worth Commander's actually buying it and waging war against those who would force it to close.

Ladabouche Collection
C.J. Richards' moniker, The Great Race Place, along with his 1980's Yosemite Sam in a modified
stuck with Malta for years. Below-  NASCAR has been the sanction twice – but hasn't stayed on.

Ladabouche Collection


        Since the initial spate of stock car tracks in the early 1950's, the number of race tracks has decreased, the rate of which has depended on the economy. I would estimate that, by 1959, easily 45% of the existing tracks from the beginning of the decade were gone. The 1960's saw a revival in track construction, resulting in the likes of the quality tracks in Malta, NY; Milton, VT; West Haven, VT; Barre, VT; and in somewhat more rustic facilities like the one in Bradford, VT. Existing tracks like Oxford Plains, in Maine and Claremont, NH experienced rebirths and expansions in importance.

        But, as time will have it, the new tracks, the old tracks, the minor tracks, the major tracks, the dirt tracks, and the paved tracks all experienced increasing pressure from those who, knowing full well they were buying property next to an existing, operating race track, would wage campaigns to rid themselves of these tracks. At first, Albany – Saratoga was not one of these. Rather, Catamount Stadium, Norwood Arena, and others like them felt the pressure. Later, after Catamount and Norwood had both disappeared from the scene, the brunt was borne by Albany – Saratoga, Bear Ridge, and dozens more.

Historic Aerials.Com
This 1964 aerial photo of the Albany – Saratoga site [lower right hand corner] is just before it was built. The aerial shows just empty fields and woods, with a Y – shaped road going nowhere. Below - The same general shot, in 2009. Note the many neighborhoods. Global Foundries would be
about a half mile to the lower and to the right.

Historic Aerials.Com


        Catamount was a prime example of early problems . Built in 1965, its arrangement called for Ken Squier or some other track official to – each year - attend the Milton town meeting and re-secure permission to run their shows. This was not, at first, met with anything but delighted support. Then, people began building homes across Interstate 89, on the Mayo Road. Many of these invaders immediately started raising hue and cry about the terrible noise they had endure every Saturday night. Mind, you, they built next to a race track.

        This complaining went on for the rest of the life of Catamount. In the end, it was the last neighbor, The Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, which sort of did the track in. Squier, Tom Curley, and the rest of the Catamount management team decided that – while racing seemed to be in a downturn, they would sell the land under the track, securing a five-year lease. When things began looking up, GBIC would not hear of renewing the lease and – a week after the track's last show, GBIC had the pavement torn up. It was so swift, it was like they feared something would rise from the dead over there.

Ladabouche Collection
Catamount, just before opening in 1965, was surrounded only by empty fields and the home of the farmer who sold the land
to the track. Below – The remains of Catamount show industrial encroachment. Some of these  buildings were already in place during
the final race programs. Furthest Below - This aerial shot of Catamount during its final show, shows the encroachment then.

Historic Aerials.Com

Courtesy of Leonard Parent and Mike Cain

        You could see the end coming, one year at a time. While Curley and Squier managed to withstand serious challenges from their forced separation with NASCAR after the 1985 season, they persevered through that and the loss of several of their big stars to the Busch Grand National North series NASCAR put against them in 1987. But, the industrial buildings were springing up all around, as were the roads, the hydrants, the power poles, and other infrastructure. By the final season, 1987, entering the grounds of Catamount would seem alien to anyone who had been gone for a few years.

Courtesy of Andy Boright
This shot of Greg Lyman leading a New Flying Tiger race at Catamount shows buildings in the background.
That is the GBIC encroachment right outside the track fences by 1987.

         I am not familiar with stories like what happened to Norwood Arena. What I do know is that no other state in our region lost tracks faster and more completely than did Massachusetts. Today, only Seekonk still operates, and that is almost in Rhode Island. It appears, from aerial photos, that Norwood Arena sat, virtually isolated, in busy Norwood, MA in 1957, having been around since 1948. The track history from the excellent Norwood site has not reached the end of the track yet; but, it would appear that – like Catamount – industrial development may have squeezed it out. The two tracks had much in common in the early '70's as dozens of Norwood regulars began running also at Catamount.

        An effective and popular track that prospered in the '50's only to run over by industrial development was Empire Rasceway, in Menands, NY. A paved track in an early era of mostly dirt, Empire was run by the aggressive Tr- City Racing Association that also had their hands in places like North Bennington, VT's Stateline Speedway and , briefly, Pico Raceway near Rutland, VT. The group may have run the Pine Bowl Speedway in New York, too. At any rate, the popular and well – drawing Empire, located in a highly congested and industrially – zoned area, eventually became the site of a department store and is now apparently a vacant commercial site. As is true with Norwood, there is not a trace of the track left.

Historic Aerials. Com
This 1957 aerial photo of Norwood Arena, already 10 years into its life span, shows mostly empty space around the facility.
Below – The same shot in 1971 shows increasing development nearby. A few years later, the track was obliterated.

Historic Aerials. Com

         As a contrast to the Norwoods, Catamounts. Bear Ridges, and Albany – Saratogas of the world, some tracks were fortunate enough to have locations for which it was difficult for the encroachment of development or where there weren't pain – in – the – ass neighbors who wanted to complain. Fonda Speedway was and is one such place. Firstly, the town seemed to always love the track and the business it generated. Second, with the fairgrounds and the Mohawk barge Canal as its bordering neighbors, the track didn't have much area that developers could even access. Saturday nights at Fonda, now as much as 1953 when it opened, are special times in the small town of Fonda. It doesn't hurt either that the Fonda fair is still held there annually.

Historic Aerials. Com

This shot of Fonda, well into the 21st century, shows nothing but fairgrounds buildings near it [and, of course the ever present canal lurking nearby].
Below – Arundel Speedway, near Kennebunk and Ogunquit in Maine, closed as housing began to build up to its gates. This shot is from 2007, after the track was cleaned off for a reunion [with neighbor permission, of course].

Historic Aerials. Com


         Devil's Bowl Speedway's location was chosen partly because C.J. Richards had been driven out of Fair Haven by the continual carping and complaining of the very town which benefited from his staging racing shows. There were constant complaints of dust, noise, and traffic. That same traffic would – by the way - stop by local stores and gas stations to buy supplies for the race show; but that didn't seem to matter. So, Richards chose family land way out on Route 22A, in the farming town of West Haven.

         Ironically, the biggest neighbor problems C.J. Had occurred in the first year or two of operation. Angry relatives who did not want their kin selling farm property to their whippersnapper nephew would make difficult on race days, spreading manure and leaving dead cows by the fenceTo this day, almost fifty years later, there still isn't any significant development near the track to bother now – promoter Mike Bruno.

Courtesy of Shawn Byrne
This shot of Jim Byrne climbing from a mangled dare devil car shows how close the Richards farm was to the pit
 area of early Devil's Bowl. Unlike most tracks, the Bowl has had private property actual shrink back from their property boundaries.


         A year or so after Richards built the Bowl, George Barber, a famous car owner of winning flathead Ford stock cars, built a tiny fifth – mile dirt track on top of a mountain near Bradford, VT as a final haven for his beloved flathead cars, which had virtually been driven out of every track in the region. Named for the fact that bears roamed the property in the early years, Bear Ridge operated virtually alone until people began buying up property on the roads leading to the rustic track. Then the complaining began.

         The worst burr under the saddle of Bear Ridge is this one jackass – former government man, who bought near the track and since made life as miserable for promoter Butch Elms as possible. He hasn't succeeded in stopping Elms yet, and attenders delight in making as much noise as possible when near the guy's house. In fact, after some lean years with very small fields of cars, the Ridge is on a very definite upswing in the past couple of seasons.

Courtesy of Cho Lee
This view of a Bear Ridge Victory Lane with Ralph Stygles shows the rustic setting of the track. Yet, development is now encroaching.
Below – Weissglass Speedway,in a Depression era stadium on Staten Island, was hemmed in before it was finished. They
had to use the next door Chrysler dealership for their “good pits”. I recently talked to an elderly woman who used to live on
Staten Island. She said the Islanders were happy to have the race track there, even if many didn't attend. Try that today !

Historic Aerials.Com


         While it has not been forced to close, Malta, NY's Albany – Saratoga Speedway, forever dubbed “The Great Race Place” by C.J. Richards, has seen itself go from a reasonably secluded spot outside Malta to a property almost completely surrounded by development of both the industrial and residential nature.

         It was one thing when the track was in one of its asphalt phases, but the current [and most successful] phase involves good ol' fashioned clay. Whereas Richards had his clay laid on top of the old paved track, I think Commander has put it on from the ground up. And, with almost unbelievable fields of cars and with great crowds every Friday night, Howie isn't about to cave in any time soon.

         Aerial photos do not give an accurate picture of how Malta is being beseiged on all sides by development. The most famous factor is the huge Global Foundries plant, located nearby, which manufactures computer chips. So big is Global, they recently bought out IBM's chip – making operation in Essex Junction, VT. Not much is known about how much dust actually reaches Global properties, but I imagine it is a hot topic.

Ladabouche Collection
Albany – Saratoga Speedway [one year old in this shot] caused no objections with its secluded location and paved track.
 Below – Now, between the dust and close proximity to neighbors – it's not so easy for Howie Commander.

CVRA Photo

         I have been told that people on the grounds of the track can see residential development blossoming right up to the track property, One man told me he could see streets laid out, with fire hydrants in place and the whole ten yards. This might be more problematic. Malta has run its cars with mufflers for years, a practice started in Massachusetts to try and keep places like Norwood going. There are as many tracks now as not installing the use of mufflers as part of their engine technology.

         As recently as two seasons ago, it was almost a given that the recently – paved, rapidly fading Albany – Saratoga operation would be sold off, in deference to the fact it was surrounded [and not doing well]. Rumor had it that Bruce Richards had considered the factor of a paved track 1.) being more acceptable to neighbors and 2.) being easier to sell, given the fact that few people either know how to – or want to – prepare a dirt surface any more. Ironically, when Commander stepped forward to take up the challenge, it was pre-ordained that it would go back to dirt. And it really has ! Sometimes it seems like Malta is outdoing the parent track, Lebanon Valley.

Steve Kennedy Photo via Dave Dykes
This 1970's shot shows Johnny Richmond leading Dick Hansen at Lakeville Speedway running mufflers. Southern New England tracks had to use them earlier than in other areas. It din't save Lakeville or most of the others. Below – This shot of the infamous Batmobile at Syracuse shows mufflers – right in front of Bob McCreadie's knee.

Stock Car Racing Magazine


         Since the beginning of stock car racing, there has been a war waged to stop it. In the 1950's, both New York and Vermont police made efforts to use archaic Sunday Blue Laws to target racing. In New York, where it was successful, the goal was to eliminate the unsafe roadster – type racing. They pretty much left roofed cars alone. In Vermont, they tried to stop racing period – and that didn't pan out. At one point in 1951, Vermont had 22 tracks operating at once. I'm not sure any made it through to 1960, but it wasn't due to the overzealous authorities.

         Encroachment is a far more dangerous enemy to our stock car tracks [particularly noisy, dusty ones] because there is the potential for big money involved and developers carry a lot of influence in state legislatures. It doesn't hurt that Vermont's Lt. Governor, Phil Scott, is a successful Thunder Road driver or that his minority leader, Don Turner, Jr. is descended from an avid racing family. The greatest danger to most tracks right now – from Plattsburgh, NY to southern New England, through Vermont, and over to Maine and New Hampshire is tracks dying due to diminishing fields of cars and small crowds. Encroachment, while very unpopular with all of us – just adds to the problem.

From Beltsville Site
Beltsville Speedway not only tried mufflers, but they constructed a “sound wall” to buffer encroaching neighborhoods from the noise. Below – This shot of the Beltsville site in 2002 shows that nothing worked. Aerial views of the town show so many developments that it looks like the terrain has paisley patterns all over.

Historic Aerials.Com

 Please email me if you have any photos to lend me or information and corrections  could benefit from. Please do not submit anything you are not willing to allow me to use on my website - and thanks. Email is: . For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.


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