Before McCormick Place was built in Chicago, there was the International Amphitheater which had a long history prior to its demolition in the late 1990’s. Located at the corner of 42nd and Halsted Street, it was built in 1934 by the owner of the stockyards across the street.
Intended to host the International Live Stock Exhibition, the Amphitheater grew to become the venue of choice for the Ringling Circus, the Chicago Auto Show, music concerts including Elvis in 1957 and the Beatles in 1964. Many other events were held there, but it is likely that none were more unusual than the 1962 Southside WinterNationals. Well, there was the 1968 Democratic Convention…
Anyway, racing promoter Bill Schade, was well known at the time for hosting NASCAR races at Soldier Field until 1964. Working in conjunction with the United States Auto Club (USAC), he hatched a plan to bring drag racing inside through the winter months in the Windy City.
With USAC sanctioning the event, the first-ever indoor drag races took place on December 30, 1962. The “track” was a 440-foot stretch of the Amphitheater, with each lane being 60-feet wide and bordered by steel Armco guard rail. According to accounts from the event, several hundred cars showed up to race, finding the concrete slab floor “like racing on ice.”
Adding to the racers’ excitement was the 660-foot shutdown area that required them to exit the building, still at speed, through a set of roll-up truck doors. As you’ll see in photos from the event, not everyone made it unscathed. In the end, the event’s Top E.T. of 5.68 was hit by Richard Myracle, from Melrose Park, IL, driving a 1962 Plymouth. The Top Speed crown went home to Wheaton, IL, with Richard Stroening and his 1958 Pontiac.
A second event was held on January 5, 1964. The first event’s success drew top name local racers, such as Mr. Norm from Grand-Spaulding Dodge, and famed Pontiac racer, Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick. Despite the A-list turnout, it would be the last indoor drag race at the International Amphitheater. No solid explanation was ever given, but Bill Schade and his co-promoter of the Soldier Field stock car races, Carl Bledsoe, called it quits that same year.
Photos Courtesy of ‘kwhizz’ at The Camaro Site