History of the West Park
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio
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Rockport Race Track -- Horses and Automobiles!
One of the first things a West Park historian discovers is that we were once home to a horse-racing track called the "Rockport Hamlet Driving Park." The half-mile oval track and grandstand covered the area along the north side of Lorain Avenue from W. 165th Street to Rocky River Drive. It operated from 1891 to 1921 and drew harness racing fans from all over the county and beyond. We've recently learned cars also raced there! In the early 1900s, at the dawn of the automobile age, the track hosted a unique auto race.
On August 23, 1902, the Cleveland Automobile Club held their first "matinee" at the Rockport Track. The Plain Dealer reported that never "before in Cleveland or vicinity were so many automobiles gathered together." Six events were held including driver-versus-driver races and individual runs against the clock. The competition featured "racing machines" built by the Peerless, Winton, Oldsmobile, and Locomobile Companies. The drivers practiced on the track for a week before the contest and pronounced it "an admirable one for fast work."
A race between Charles Shanks, driving his Winton, and E. Shriver Reece, behind the wheel of his Locomobile, saw Shanks pull ahead on the first turn and win an easy victory. Two Oldsmobiles were pitted against each other, one driven by Ralph Owens and another by James Moore. Owens held the lead until the last round when Moore pulled ahead in a sudden burst of speed to win the race. In an unusual contest William Harkness competed against Mr. Lovejoy, of San Francisco, each driving a huge Peerless touring car carrying four persons. Lovejoy won by thirty yards.
The highlight of the day was the record-breaking performance by Alexander Winton of Lakewood, Ohio. Fifteen-hundred cheering spectators watched Winton pilot his famous auto "The Bullet" as he roared around the track to cover a mile in only one-minute, twenty-six-and-a-half seconds, beating the previous record by almost ten seconds! Reportedly auto fans agreed the trip way out to West Park, so far from the City of Cleveland, was worth the journey.
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