Nov 23 2019

Memories of Roosevelt Raceway (1936-1988)

For 20 years from 1936 to 1956, the original Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury was the host for various types of racing including: two Vanderbilt Cup Races, midget car racing  and harness horse racing. Here is its history and the various configurations of the raceway.


Howard Kroplick

Roosevelt Raceway

As American economic conditions improved in 1936, Willie K. Vanderbilt Jr.’s nephew, George Washington Vanderbilt III, Boston Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, and Eddie Rickenbacker raised money to return international racing to Long Island.  1908 Vanderbilt Cup winner George Robertson was vice president and general manager, overseeing construction of the four-mile Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury.  It was adjacent to Roosevelt Flying Field, where Lucky Lindy departed for a trip to Paris in 1927.

Mark Linenthal, an architect and friend of Marshall, was hired to design the course, and famous board track huckster and compulsive gambler, Art Pillsbury, was retained as consultant.  Considering the results, and the fact Pillsbury lived in L.A, while Linenthal resided in New York, possibly, the two never communicated.  The Vanderbilt track was a four-mile course with a single 3775-foot straightaway and sixteen completely unbanked corners, ten of which are best described as “hairpin.”

Founders envisioned a world-class facility, with wide turns, well equipped garages, massive double-decked grandstands, a posh clubhouse, generous parking and thoroughfares to deal with anticipated traffic.  Like Willie K, the Roosevelt bigwigs wished to attract the east coast social set, not the dirt track fans that supported racing through the Depression. 

Never sure whether they wished to revive the Vanderbilt Cup or the Grand Prize, organizers first announced a 400-mile race, then, revised it to 300, set for Columbus Day, 1936.  A massive purse and personal clout attracted Europe’s top teams and America’s dirt and championship drivers answered the call.

1936 George Vanderbilt Cup Race

1937 George Vanderbilt Cup Race

Long Island Motor Parkway can be seen on the left


Midget Car Racing track

September 2, 1940-1956- Harness Horse Racing

1956 Messenger Stakes starts at 2:00 mark.

Roosevelt Raceway (1957-1988)

By the end of 1956, Roosevelt Raceway was moved further south to a new facility adjacent to the Meadowbrook Parkway. The last race at Roosevelt Raceway was held on June 15, 1988, over 31 years ago. Times sure does fly!


Nov 24 2019 frank femenias 2:32 PM

I remember once (‘80s-‘90s) driving on a two-way paved road eastbound through the Roosevelt Raceway field area, and seeing that last building sitting in ruins in a large field, surrounded by other fields. Driving through here I felt something significant was abandoned, which I knew nothing about. Thanks for shedding light on this area of Long Island that once exhibited these historic events.

Nov 24 2019 Howard Kroplick 8:46 PM

Sam Berliner III

The 1957 Grand Reopening film shows that famous 1946-47-48 Chrysler mobile starting gate in action at 1:15 on .  Last I knew, it sits in the Yonkers Raceway museum.  Does anyone have more specific information about the car itself?  The mobile gate was invented in the U. S. by Steve Phillips in 1937.
My older daughter was a Brownie scout when she participated in a jamboree at the grandstand, so that had to be ca. 1970.  I created a panorama of half-size whale and dolphin cutout silhouettes, plus one of a Brownie, which were draped across the inner back wall of the stands.
And then, of course, there was my (in)famous (and illicit) run around the track in my 1954 XK-120M Jag drophead immediately after the end of the 19 Jun 1960 “VCR race”.
Great memories!
Sam, III

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Nov 25 2019 Howard Kroplick 11:35 PM

Philip B. Barbaccia
In the late sixties use to sneek in and then drink cheap beers all afternoon and night - every once in awhile got a tip that would fund us for a week—

Donn Esmonde
Had lots of great times there. Won some, lost some. Herve and Carmine were often my best friends! ☺️

David Pordy
Donn Esmonde LucieNne Fontaine, George sholty and Del insko.

Steven Herbstman
We used to call him on the rail Insko for his ability to hug the inside.

Bill Reid
Used to sit in the tower dorms at Hofstra and watch the lights go up and down with each race. I think there were 9 each night, after 7 ,free park and you could walk right in ,in time for last 2

Jeffrey Rosen
No better race caller than Jack Lee!! (Fred Capposella a close second)

1985 US Pacing Championship Roosevelt Raceway harness racing

Lorraine Cammarata
Used to work there.

Francine Silva
I had no idea that was gone. I left LI in 1976

Rich Meyerson
Loved that place

Barbara Cohn McCarthy
My dad and husband worked there.


Dec 02 2019 Dave Russo 8:34 PM

I find it fascinating to look back at LI history and realize how HUGE of an impact in culture that horses had. It’s really one of the major reasons why the wealthy sought out space away from the city to have their Gold Coast space. Sure they wanted escape from NYC, gardens, and hunting space, but so many of these people had huge stables (and many of them had full size tracks!) and bred horses for horse racing and polo, which LI was really noted for.

When I look back at the old pics of Roosevelt Raceway and see the place was packed and everyone was dressed up in suits at the races. When I was growing up in the 80’s the place was no longer big, but I heard many stories about it, and just about every one of my friends fathers would often go to Belmont and talk odds and betting (the Italians especially seemed to love it the most!)

The ruins of Roosevelt existed for a long time and I wish I had the explorer bug then that I have now because there was so much to see. We used to ride our bikes past that place (the recently closed Nathans was a popular arcade spot) and take short cuts though the park, but never looked at anything. That huge Roosevelt Raceway sign hung over Merrick Ave for YEARS after it closed! That thing should be in my house right now!

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