Auto racing has a long tradition in Chautauqua County.
Jay Young, a Post-Journal sports reporter, detailed some of that tradition in the paper's June 20 edition. Before the advent of NASCAR and televised car racing, there were small tracks in most of the towns and villages across Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, criss-crossing the region like a spider web with tracks in places like Frewsburg, Panama, Sherman, near Findley Lake, Dunkirk, Fredonia, Arkwright and Jamestown.
That all began to change with the 1956 construction of Stateline Speedway. As Ford Easton, author of "Stock Car Racing In The '50s," told Young recently, the smaller rural tracks began drying up as racers flocked to Stateline, which had better payouts and newer race cars. And, drivers wanted to try their hand against the best of the best.
Stateline Speedway is the last link Chautauqua County residents have to the county's golden age of auto racing. It is the one place where racers from all walks of life and all experience levels can show off the results of their hard work, matching wits and equipment with people who share their interest in cars and mechanics. Racing tends to be a family activity - pit crews are full of fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers, all with their children and grandchildren, tinkering with the car before a race or spending hours together in the garage with a wrench in their hand. It would have been a shame if the speedway didn't open this year - something that was a distinct possibility after the death of Frances Seamens, longtime Stateline owner.
Give credit, then, to Bill Catania Jr. and his wife, Lynne, owners of Short Track Management. The Catanias are leasing Stateline and plan to open on Saturday, July 5, with a full slate of racing. Before welcoming fans back to Stateline, however, the Catanias have been pouring time and money into the venerable old race track. The track surface has been rehabilitated, there is a new PA system, upgrades to the concession stands, driveways, buildings, press tower, grandstands and eventually a new playground for children.
Some things are worth holding on to. The county's auto racing heritage is one of them.