After fifty years or so, racing has officially come back to the Allentown Fairgrounds in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Bill Rowe Jr. and E.J. Kowalski have teamed up to bring vintage cars and motorcycles back to the Lehigh Valley city to once again race past the historic grandstands.
The races are old school short track, flag-start drags that see the racers running side by side, at around sixty miles per hour, down the packed cinder track surface. With the bikes getting a little squirrelly at times, the proximity of the fans to the track meant that the excitement was felt by all, both on and off the track.
Throughout the day, speaking of the bikes, everything from vintage Harley Davidson Flatheads (Many of which you would have recently seen racing on the beach in Wildwood, NJ at the Race of Gentlemen) to 70's and 80's era flat track style American, European and Japanese bikes ran against each other in a series of bracket races.
As we often see, one of the driving forces behind the success of events like this seems to be the camaraderie between racers and the support they lend to each other. While racing is, by definition, a highly competitive endeavor in which beating your competition is the end goal; the vibe in the pits at the Allentown Vintage Drags was one of communal support and encouragement. I watched racers help competing racers fix and tune their bikes and overheard others giving out launch advice or tips to newer racers on getting down the track quicker.
It is no secret that today, we live in an overly-cautious, safety-first society, where everyone is afraid of anyone else getting hurt on their watch (and getting sued). This kind of event, one that brings back the simplicity and inherent danger of flag start drag racing on a loose surface, along with the camaraderie and support mentioned earlier, is more than just a welcomed thing, it's a necessity. Its small town, roots-racing events like the Allentown Vintage Drags that will keep the fire burning in the old school racers and spark a new fire within the hearts of future racers and enthusiasts.
(Many thanks to Bill and E.J, along with everyone else involved in making this event a reality. It sure was a good one!)
Story + Photos by Chris Lacour