29 April 2020

Start Your Engines - Racing Comes to Hillsborough

In October of 1937, all of Belle Mead was buzzing about a massive fairgrounds and entertainment project planned for 359 acres of Hillsborough Township farmland. Besides an annual two-week extravaganza that would rival the state fair in Trenton, the sports center would also host premier harness racing events and an international auto race each August.

24 October 1937 New Brunswick Home News

These events - and many others utilizing the facilities throughout the year - would have been expected to draw between 25,000 and 50,000 spectators each. Newspaper accounts trumpeted the imminent construction of the 1/2 mile horse track, 1 1/2 mile macadam and asphalt automobile track, grandstands, golf links, tennis courts, clubhouse, bridle paths, and general park facilities. US Senator John McPherson's former mansion would be remodeled as offices for the enterprise.

25 July 1946 Courier News

Despite the backing of several prominent businessmen who had constructed similar facilities in other parts of the country, it appears the enterprise never received the financial backing to turn even one shovel.

That same year, however, another enterprise began - the Dawn Patrol Motorcycle Club. Formed in central New Jersey in 1937 for camaraderie and to promote safe biking, the club from its inception was interested in charitable causes - a commitment that continues to this day.

5 June 1950 Courier News

In the 1940s the club co-sponsored many "motorcycle rodeos" in our area. These included both serious races and fun events such as the barrel rolling contest, and the hat-busting contest - a sort of free-for-all jousting event involving swinging a padded ladies' stocking at the paper hats perched on the heads of your opponents.

Location of Fireman's Field Track

In 1950 the club brought motorcycle racing to Hillsborough. They teamed up with Hillsborough Volunteer Fire Company Number Two to build a quarter-mile dirt track on land owned by the fire company on Route 206. The track was basically an oval with a wiggle in the middle of the backstretch - to conform with American Motorcycle Association rules -  and was slightly banked on the curves.

9 October 1950 Courier News
The first races, which were benefits for the fire company, were held on June 4, 1950. Races were divided into Novice, Amateur, and Expert classes and attracted professional and amateur riders from all over New Jersey and surrounding states. Rivalries were not only between riders, but also between motorcycles - namely between British and American bikes. About 3,000 spectators came out for the first day of racing, braving the dust from the dirt track (this was alleviated at future events by extensively oiling the surface).

4 June 1951 Courier News
Races were held on three additional days in the fall of 1950 and in the spring and fall of 1951. Then, as quickly as motorcycle racing appeared in Hillsborough, it disappeared in a cloud of dust.

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