Circuit type: Permanent oval course
In its final form, Trenton Speedway was one of the most unusual oval circuits in the world, it's unique dogleg-kinked back straight a necessary by-product of an intransigent landowner. The kidney-shaped track, while the most memorable, actually represents one of the shortest periods of the track's long life.
Automobile racing actually began here at the turn of the last century, when a dirt oval was set up in the grounds of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds. Half mile in length, first race at the Fairgrounds was held on September 24, 1900. Motorised vehicles were still a rarity, so the event must have been as novel as any of the other usual attractions at the fair. It took until 1907 for the next race to be held but it wasn't until 1912 that things got into full swing.
Over the next few years the circuit developed, with grandstands being erected as the facility became an established part of the State Fair. Expansion was on the cards in 1946, when the entire course was replaced by a new one-mile dirt oval. The new course was on a slightly different alignment to the old, leaving the grandstands a larger than usual distance from the track and with a slightly odd viewing angle, particularly the curved Turn One grandstand, which continued to trace the route of the old circuit.
After interruptions in racing caused by World War Two, the facility continued to host dirt oval racing until 1957, when the decision was taken to pave over the racing surface. In this guise, the track began to flourish. Among its biggest races was the annual visit of the USAC Championship cars (who had previously held one event on the old dirt surface in 1949). Drivers such as Rodger Ward, Eddie Sachs and Tony Bettenhausen tasted victory here, but it was A.J. Foyt who was the undisputed king of the USAC era, taking 12 wins – including five straight between 1963 and '64.
In 1957 Trenton hosted its first NASCAR Grand National event, as the sport sought to expand from its southern routes. The Chevrolet of Fireball Roberts won the race with a good margin over another star of the era, Junior Johnson in a Ford. Unusually polesitter Frank Schneider never started the race, having asked for a greater amount of starting money following his qualifying money. When nothing additional was forthcoming from the promoters, he packed up his car and went home. It didn't go down well with NASCAR officials, who suspended Schneider, who would never again compete in a Grand National race.
The following year saw victory go to Tim Pistone, a Chicago native and one of the few northern drivers on the NASCAR circuit at that time. NASCAR's Grand National series didn't return again until 1967, when Richard Petty took his famous sky blue Plymouth to victory circle.
When the NASCAR circus returned the following year, the drivers were confronted with a much-modified circuit. The Fair Park wanted to create a 1.5 mile long course, but was presented with a major headache when an elderly woman whose property they needed to buy behind the back straight refused to sell. The solution was to divert the backstretch into the infield to bypass the offending property, creating the rather unique situation of having a right-hand turn on an oval course. This signature quirk was to be the bane of race engineers over the years as they struggled to find setups that would allow tyres to last.
While it was this configuration which captured the imagination, it didn't necessarily bring the crowds flocking. NASCAR continued through until 1972, with the final race won by Bobby Allison. Trenton was in fact on the 1973 schedule and the racers duly practised and qualified, but heavy rain forced the cancellation on race day and the event was never rescheduled. USAC races continued on through the 1970s and by the end of the decade, Trenton was part of the upstart CART series. Indeed, there were three Indycar events that year, twin races in June won by the Penske of Bobby Unser and a further event in August, won by fellow Penske racer Rick Mears.
For 1980, Trenton was dropped from the Indycar schedule and the writing was thus on the wall. The final race run at Trenton was for the asphalt Modified stock cars, in June, 1980. That scheduled 134-lap event, which was called official after 79 circuits due to rain, was won by Geoff Bodine. Many time NASCAR Modified champion Richie Evans finished close behind with N.J.'s John Blewett Jr. third.
Dwindling profits meant that interest by the owner of the property turned from entertainment to development. In 1980 the land was sold and the New Jersey State Fair was held for the last time on this site. Trenton Speedway was no more, with the land auctioned off for development and demolition coming a short time later. Today the site houses a UPS shipping facility, a housing development known as 'Hamilton Lakes' and the New Jersey Grounds for Sculpture. The area referred to as the "sculpture pad" was originally the foundation for the grandstand extension, but there is little else to suggest that there was ever one of the world's most unique oval courses there.
Nothing now remains of Trenton Speedway, though the Grounds for Sculpture on part of the site is open year round and does at least allow you to explore the now scenic grounds. The sculpture garden is located in the north-eastern suburbs of Trenton, between I-295 and the Trenton Freeway.
From I-295 North, exit at 65B/Sloan Avenue West. After exit stay in right traffic lane for 2/10ths of a mile, following signs for Grounds For Sculpture. Take the crossover turning onto Klockner Road and at the next traffic light turn right onto East State St. Extension. After and make second left turn onto Sculptors Way. Go 2/10ths of a mile and turn left into the main entrance of Grounds For Sculpture.
You can also reach the Grounds for Sculpture by train. From New York (Penn Station), take NJ Transit to the Hamilton stop (stop closest to Grounds For Sculpture). From Philadelphia, take SEPTA to Trenton Train Station. From there, take NJ Transit one stop to Hamilton. Taxi ride is five minutes to Grounds For Sculpture. Travel time is approximately the same as by car. You may also choose to take NJ Transit bus #608 from the Hamilton Train Station. Check http://www.njtransit.com for up-to-date schedules.