The Newark Velodrome 1907 – 1930
The old racing bikes in our museum share a number of things in common.
A lot of them have wooden rims, sure. Pop Brennan or Willy Apelhans may have built a number of them, sure. Nearly every one of them has sat above the bar at the Harbour Pub, but that’s not what we’re getting at.
We figure that most of the track bikes that we have were raced on the East Coast (that’s where most Americans lived in the first half of the last century). Of those bikes that were campaigned before WWII we guess that almost all were raced at one time or another on the Newark or Nutley New Jersey velodromes.
The Newark Velodrome was a wooden bicycle track and grandstands located on South Orange Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. Today most velodromes that are built for Olympic-level events measure 250 meters in length. The Newark track was six laps to the mile (about 300 meters).
The Newark track was built in 1907, and would be the premier racing venue for two decades. In 1912, the world championships were held in Newark.
The 1912 event, like many of the weekly races, was over capacity drawing 20,000 fans even though the seating capacity of the venue was just 12,500. Some fans would get standing-room only infield tickets or hang out by the railings. According to Carmine Bilotti, part of the management team, the venue drew 17,000 fans twice a week during the season. In fact, the bike races outdrew the baseball games at Ruppert stadium where the Newark Bears played. The fans who couldn’t get into the bike races spilled over and went to the Wilson Avenue stadium to watch baseball.
All of the cycling stars of the era raced in Newark. Frank Kramer, Alf Goullet, Frank Bartell, Bill Honeman and Reggie McNamara drew big crowds to the track with their exploits.
The Newark Velodrome was fast. World records fell repeatedly on the Newark boards over the years. Australian cyclist Reggie McNamara set five world records from one to 25 miles at the velodrome in 1915, 1916 and 1917.
If you look back at old racing programs, you’ll notice a warning that seems a little weird to us today. Patrons at old sporting events were constantly reminded to step on all matches, cigars and cigarettes after discarding them. For good reason. In 1926 the wooden grandstands and part of the Newark track was damaged by a fire. Repairs were made, and the races continued for a few more years until 1930 when the lease expired.
Located on some pretty prime real estate, The aging Newark track was demolished in 1930 and replaced by an apartment building. Bike racing was still a big draw in the early ‘30’s, and work began on a replacement for the Newark track, the Nutley velodrome, the following year.
The Nutley Velodrome 1933 – 1940
Located about ten miles north of the Newark track site, The Nutley velodrome took up where the Newark venue left off. The over-capacity crowds, the most prestigious races and the marquee names were all there at Nutley.
The Nutley track, nicknamed “The Saucer”, was pretty close in size to a modern Olympic venue. At seven laps to the mile the velodrome boasted the steep sides, constant turns and fast action that we see with today’s 250 meter ovals.
The first races at Nutley were held in June of 1933.
The velodrome filled to its 12,000 seat capacity for weekly bike races. There are a lot of bikes from the shop walls that (with their respective riders) thrilled the crowds. Bill Honeman, Frank Turano, Mickey Franciose, Tino Reboli, Cecil Walker, Alf LeTourner, Norman Hill, and Frank Bartell all raced on Nutley’s boards.
The show didn’t last beyond the 1930’s.
When the Nutley venue closed for the season in the fall of 1940, it was the end of an era. America was attacked at Pearl Harbor a few weeks later, and for the next four years, young American athletes joined the Army or the Navy, not the local cycling club. After The war, American sports fans moved on to new entertainment, and big league bike racing on New Jersey’s tracks became a relic of an earlier era.
A big thanks to Jeff for all of the photos in this section. Click to enlarge them and see some great historical shots. Please do not re-post or use any of the pictures without asking permission.