A year and a half after Hinchliffe Stadium opened, a new sport was introduced to the Paterson landscape. A man by the name of Ed Otto, appeared before the Stadium Commissioners to pitch an idea. He wanted to stage motorcycle meets and midget car races, offering $150 a night for the guaranteed rental (approximately $2,910 in today’s money). Years later, Otto would become one of the founders of NASCAR.
On June 5, 1934, motorsports made its debut on Hinchliffe Stadium’s cinder track. The first motorsport event was a motorcycle race featuring a 17-event program that crowned Canadian champion Crocky Rawding as champion. Goldie Restall, the 1932 Motorcycle Speed Racing Champion of the Eastern United States, also appeared in the first race and did four laps in one minute and 18 seconds.
A mere two months later, Otto and his partner John Kotchman, introduced midget car racing to Hinchliffe’s roster of events. While the motorcycle races were immediately successful drawing crowds of as many as 11,000 patrons, the infancy of midget car racing had a few false starts.
The early days of midget car racing was a bit sloppy at Hinchliffe as the sport was new to drivers on the east coast.
The Paterson Evening News described Hinchliffe’s first midget car season as “a veritable parade of popping and buzzing autos piloted by men who helplessly revealed their inability to manhandle the automotive industry’s latest contributions on the speedway. The 10,000 spectators who paid money to see the new sport didn’t wait to watch the finish, they left in disgust after the first few heats.”
Regardless of their struggles with midget car racing, Otto and Kotchman continued to press forward. Motorcycle racing continued to strive in 1935, but midget cars still seemed to be struggling. In late June of 1935, after losing money for the fourth consecutive time, it was decided to discontinue midget car races. According to the Paterson Evening News: “With a big overhead weekly, the midget races did not draw sufficiently to keep the promoters interested.”
Perhaps due to it being a new sport or because the cars “constituted an assemblage of the most obsolete mechanical monstrosities gathered on a big league track,” midget car racing was not successful.
Otto and Kotchman still had a successful motorcycle operation and by 1937, they were able to book motorcycle races at Yankee Stadium. Still, both men felt that midget car racing could be successful so they persevered.
Paterson’s Gasoline Alley came to the rescue. Located on East 29th Street between 17 and 18th Avenues, Gasoline Alley began as a series of auto repair shops in the 1920s, but with the advent of racing at Hinchliffe Stadium, it became a mecca for professional drivers to refine their race cars. Legendary racers such as Roscoe “Pappy” Hough and Ted Horn were regulars at Gasoline Alley. Hough built his famed “five little pigs” team of cars at Gasoline Alley and Horn is a three-time AAA National Championship winner (1946-48).
Hinchliffe Stadium, along with Gasoline Alley, put Paterson on the midget car racing map. Other motorsports would find a home at Hinchliffe Stadium as well. Ed Otto continued to work his magic and was an integral part in showcasing stock car racing at Hinchliffe.
After that, John Kotchman brought his own brand of automotive entertainment using the name “Jack Kotchman’s Hell Drivers.” Kotchman’s Hell Drivers drew well at Hinchliffe as thrilling stunts and death-defying acts were the norm.
From motorcycle racing to the Hell Drivers, Hinchliffe has had its fair share of motorsports thrills. Hinchliffe’s racing history also has a national component as motorsports events often featured East Coast vs. West Coast competitions.“Bronco” Bill Schindler and Art Cross top the list with most victories in Hinchliffe Stadium history (Schindler 52 wins, Cross 47); both are members of the National Midget Racing Hall of Fame.