Part of a fading history, racing in Hammond is part of automobile racing’s past.
It was the site for three tracks before World War II.
Roby Speedway, Hammond Raceway and the Wolf Lake Speedway are almost totally forgotten by most, except for some elderly race fans and a few racing historians. But in their day, these tracks were all local centers of racing.
Roby Speedway is probably the best known of the tracks. Located between 108th Street and 112th Street, just west of Indianapolis Boulevard, the 1-mile dirt speedway hosted automobile races from 1920 through 1936. The track was the sole survivor of three horse racing tracks that were built in the late 1800s in the Hammond/Whiting area.
After a grand opening motorcycle racing event, the first automobile race was held at Roby on Aug. 29, 1920. Early track promoter George St. John attracted spectators for an October racing event by advertising that three new 1920 Fords would be given away to some lucky fans.
Many of the early race cars were nothing more than stripped-down street machines with a few performance modifications. Later, the cars became strictly-for-racing, open-wheel, bobtail-racing creations.
The track was taken over by promoter Jack Leech of Hammond in 1922 with a reported $10,000 worth of improvements made to the facility. Northern Indiana racer Edward Brink became the track’s first reported fatality as he was injured in a wreck on Aug. 13, 1922. He passed away the next day.
The American Automobile Association, the same organization that sanctioned the racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, began officiating events at Roby in the late 1920s. California’s “Stubby” Stubblefield won the only AAA-sanctioned National Championship event ever held at Roby, winning a 100 miler on June 19, 1932.
Sometimes referred to as the Chicago-Roby Motor Speedway, the track saw early stock car events held in the 1920s and '30s. Chicago area businessman Carl Stockholm took over the track for the final two years of racing. California’s Rex Mays won three of the final four main events held during the 1936 racing season, including the last race ever held, Sept. 20, 1936.
Several more events were scheduled for later in 1936, but were canceled for one reason or another. There was talk that the track was going to open again in 1937, but the track property was condemned and the grandstands were soon torn down. A good part of the property still sits undeveloped west of the Chicago Skyway/Indiana Toll Road between 108th and 112th streets.
The new Hammond Raceway, described as the Chicago district’s only 5/8-mile banked track, was located at about 128th Street, between Calumet and Sheffield avenues. The main entrance to the speedway was located on Sheffield with the back straightaway running parallel to Calumet with more than 2/3 of the track south of what in now the intersection of 129th Street and Calumet.
The dirt track opened on Sept. 12, 1937 with “big car” racing on tap. Big cars were open wheel, open cockpit, racing machinery, powered by various engines and provided little safety protection for the driver, who sat straight up, well above the highest part of the car’s body.
The speedway was built on a dump site with no guard rails around the turns. Errant drivers could end up outside the track, either in the swamp or in the dump. The track would hold its last racing event during the summer of 1942 with the Hammond 41 Outdoor Theatre occupying some of the property in later years.
The mile Wolf Lake Speedway opened on July 16, 1933 and was completely surrounded by the water of Wolf Lake. "Clean, Cool. Comfortable! No Dust! No Dirt!" was part of the track’s promotion. Very little racing was ever held at the speedway, which was located west of the small island that still exists in Wolf Lake at about 122nd Street.
The Wolf Lake area also was home of a 1/5 mile dirt and oil surface midget auto racing track, which was located in the vicinity of today’s Wolf Lake Festival Pavilion. Midget auto racing, which would grow into one of the most popular sports in the country before WWII, took place there in 1935 and 1936.