I was pleased to read Nigel Roebuck’s tribute to Bob Sweikert and Salem Speedway in the August issue. I am a fan of the high-banked short ovals that once dotted the USA landscape. While safety concerns thinned their ranks in the 1970 s and ‘ 80 s, many still live on — including the ‘twin sisters’ of Salem and Winchester. The drivers who tried to tame them must have had balls the size of Montana.
At 43, I’m too young to have seen Sweikert in action, but you didn’t have to watch the man race to know him well, as stories of his exploits at Salem, Nazareth and Williams Grove et al have become the stuff of legend. From all that I’ve read and heard, Mr Roebuck is right: Sweikert was among the best.
An interesting footnote to the story: Ed Elisian was killed in a fiery crash in the 1959 Milwaukee 200 Champcar race. His car was later rebuilt and took Jim Hurtubise to fastest qualifier and Rookie of the Year honours at the 1960 Indy 500.
Jungle Park was another typical Indiana dirt track of the era upon which Sweikert cut his teeth. As with Salem, Winchester and many other speedways, this bullring wasn’t so much designed as unearthed. Many are the stories of drivers who were thrown into trees or pitched into the rocky, shallow water of nearby Sugar Creek during the main feature. It finally closed in the early 1960s and, as with Reims, the eerie rotting skeleton of Jungle Park can still be seen from the side of the road.
It was, truly, a different era. In those days, drivers weren’t about to let a little thing like death stand in their way of enjoying life. I’m sure Jenks would have approved.
I am, Yours etc,