Some of the biggest auto racing legends of the 1950s and 1960s once roared their hot rods around Meadowdale International Raceways in Dundee Township, near Carpentersville.
The track’s history and some of the racers’ antics are captured in “The Midwest Motorsport Legend — Meadowdale Raceways,” the latest book by local author Phil Aleo, who lives in Sleepy Hollow.
Aleo, a historian who also has a passion for photography, writes about the people who made the race possible, the structure itself and some of the people who raced there. He even devotes a chapter to photographs of the old track and also includes photographs of what it looks like now as a forest preserve.
Aleo’s goal is to help residents understand the hidden gem in their community.
“There’s hundreds of people that walk the track every month and so many people have no idea what they’re walking on,” Aleo said. “If history is not preserved, no one knows about it.”
The track, once billed as the Mecca for sports car fans all over the country, was dangerous, with sharp turns that required expertise. It had the steepest turn in the world with a 45 degree incline and boasted a 4,000-foot straightaway, then the longest in the world.
The track was the brainchild of Leonard Besinger Sr., a Carpentersville developer who built the Meadowdale Apartments. Besinger, who passed away earlier this month, visited famous tracks in the United States and Europe, including the Monza in Italy.
He used elements from those tracks to build the Meadowdale track in Dundee Township.
It opened with great fanfare in September 1958, attracting about 150,000 spectators. Through the years, it was not uncommon to see high-caliber racers making their way around the 3.27 mile course, including Rodger Ward, who would go on to win the Indy 500 twice.
Private clubs, like the Chicago Corvette Club, would rent the raceways so its members could see how fast their cars could really go, without police scrutiny. But according to Aleo, the track was doomed from its first day.
A 40-mph wind storm kicked up the dust and blew it everywhere, angering spectators and making visibility difficult. Moreover, a racer named Robert Walker was killed in the fourth race of the day during a rollover accident.
“This death on the track’s opening day brought the track a series of safety complaints and a ‘killer’ reputation that never left it,” Aleo writes.
The track closed 12 years later in 1970, due to poor attendance.
It is now part of the Raceway Woods Kane County Forest Preserve and the only unblemished ghost racetrack in the country, Aleo said.
Aleo was raised in Carpentersville and only went to Meadowdale Raceways once while it was open — and that was for a Fourth of July fireworks display circa 1964.
The concept for the book came in 2006, when a community movement was under way to save the nearby silo in Raceway Woods from the wrecking ball.
Aleo was involved in those efforts, as were some students and staff from Dundee-Crown High School. One day while at the silo, Aleo met Gary Swick, then an environmental teacher at the school. Swick had about a half dozen photographs of the old track with him that he let Aleo borrow.
“That’s when I decided I wanted to do a book on the racetrack,” Aleo said.
Aleo produced the coffee-table-sized book through his own publishing company and the hardcover tome of 205 pages is the result of more than 300 photographs and interviews with about 25 people.
Linda Daro, president of Meadowdale International Raceways Preservation Association, has read half of the book and calls it “a very interesting glimpse into the history and past of the raceways, which was very important in developing the community.”
“Our organization feels it’s very important to … promote and preserve the history of the track and it’s important to the community, as well as the motor sports enthusiasts.”
The book is available for $37.95 on www.amazon.com and www.aleopublications.com.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7, Aleo will give a free slide show presentation of the book at Dundee Township Library in East Dundee. A book signing and release party follow. For information about Aleo’s books — he also wrote “Dundee Township: Moments Frozen in Time” — or his appearances, visit www. aleopublications.com.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.