Olentangy Valley News

History today

Powell visitors felt need for speed

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In the years I have been involved with the Powell Liberty Historical Society, there often has been interest in the Powell Speedway.

People are surprised to learn that the speedway land formerly was the site of the Delaware County Fairgrounds from 1909-37. Some folks remember attending races at the speedway when Powell was primarily known for passing through on the way to the Columbus Zoo.

The racetrack was located just west of the railroad crossing on the south side of Powell Road.

Murphy Parkway is named for the family who put Powell on the map in June 1946 with motorcycles, Offenhauser-powered Sprint cars and midget race cars. After Chuck Murphy returned from World War II, he and his father, Shy, cleared brush, removed buildings and created a banked half-mile dirt track on the former horse track.

Daredevil and thrill shows and famous Indianapolis drivers all took part in the venture. There were motorcycle stunts, too. There were thousands and thousands of spectators. The track was paved for modified stock cars less than a decade later. A quarter-mile track was built inside the half-mile oval. Commercial racing ceased in the early 1960s. Later, sports-car clubs enjoyed using the track for gymkhana races.

Picnics and catering at the lone building remaining from the fair soon became the focus of the Murphy family and continued for many years.

In April 2001, Columbus Dispatch columnist Mike Harden said "goodbye" to the speedway when it was announced that the 100 acres would be sold to a developer. Harden had fond memories of summer nights in the 1950s traveling north from the west side of Columbus in an old Kaiser, and he wrote, "I could hear Powell Speedway from a half-mile away before I could see it." He continued, "The throaty, unmufflered roar of modified stock cars straining at warm-up laps would drift over the high corn ... "

In the future, you'll have an opportunity to read much more about the Powell Speedway when Mike Garrepy completes a book he is planning to write for Arcadia Publishing Co. Garrepy has so much material on local car racing that he first will feature the Columbus Motor Speedway in a book.

Garrepy contacted the historical society last month to see what material we have in our files. During his visits, we have learned a variety of things from this auto racing historian. The society is fortunate to add to its collection of Powell Speedway photos because of what he has acquired and is willing to share. I learned a death at the track resulted in its closing in 1962.

Garrepy recently brought a visitor, Bobbie Moosmiller, to the historical society. She has special memories of coming to the track with her parents on Saturday nights in the early 1950s. Bobbie's father, Bob Otto, was general manager of the Powell Speedway, beginning in 1952.

Garrepy was very familiar with Bob Otto's name as he had been researching area auto racing for some years. In a circuitous fashion, Garrepy tracked down Otto's daughter, and he tells me "a couple of quick phone calls put me in touch with her. I think she was quite surprised as Mr. Otto died in 1980 and no one had asked about his promotion days since his passing. I have been able to uncover quite a bit about him that will make an interesting piece in each book."

Moosmiller said her father wanted his family with him when he went to work. She remembers that the elder Murphys, Shy and Anna, lived in several train cars on their property, something that intrigued her as a young child. Moosmiller wonders if there is anyone who also recalls this.

A stop at Jerry's Drive-in on High Street at Morse Road was a highlight of those days when the family enjoyed hamburgers, fries and milkshakes at midnight or 1 a.m. after they left Powell.

Please contact me at info@powellhistory.org if you have information to share about the Powell Speedway.

Carole Wilhelm is a member of the Powell-Liberty Historical Society.

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