Local racing pioneer Bob Miller recently moved three racetrack archives from the “Old Presence” to the “Old” area of his historical database.
The somewhat symbolic exchange was a bittersweet moment for Miller, from Canandaigua. Sliding Rolling Wheels Raceway, Five Mile Point and some remaining Syracuse data are tucked away in Vintage Rows, where Miller stores advertisements and documents on closed highways.
Miller is a self-taught historian of racing in the area, and adopts the historian’s label. He’s spent parts of five decades working in motorsports, with the centerpiece being Canandaigua Speedway – now Land of Legends Raceway.
His time racing as a cheerleader began in the 1970s, which led him to work as a filler truck driver to get into Canandaigua in the 1980s. Miller bought a camera to document the growth of his young children through home videos, then used the same camera to document the races at the Ontario Provincial Fairgrounds.
“I had fun doing it, so I kept doing it. I taught myself how to shoot video,” Miller said. “There was a time when I was shooting 130, 135 races a year. And I did that for 10 years.”
His passion for video opened a lot of doors, starting with This Week on Dirt where he featured videos from Canandaigua. At the time, the show was hosted by Doug Logan and Andy Fusco. He has worked on ESPN Productions, Dirt Track Digest, FLX RaceFlx, Thomas Video, and currently Land of Legends TV.
His passion for motorsports and the video production side seems to be dwarfed by his passion for the history of the sport. At this time of year when we ask for thanks, Miller honors the tracks and highways of the past—and their talented drivers—and expresses his gratitude for the sport’s history by preserving the memories and legacies of ovals past.
“I’ve been to 145 trails, active trails. I’m about to get close to that many indoors, now, too,” Miller said. “Though it bothers me, no one cared about street stocks from back in the day.”
His love for racing emerged in the 1970s, in a physical education class at the then Canandaigua Academy. Little did Miller know, that the ballpark he was playing in—now a football and lacrosse field at Canandaigua Middle School—was formerly a race track.
“There was a baseball diamond going on and I was daydreaming, playing baseball outside, this would be a good place for a racetrack,” said Miller. “When I got into racing history, I found out that the place I went to in high school was the site of the old Canandaigua Fairgrounds—and they had a racetrack there, and they had auto races there.”
This was in 1978 or 1979 at the time, and it was discovered after some time researching the race tracks in the area. The mistake was classified early, as track announcer Joe Marotta’s words made an impact on the young Miller.
“My first night in Canandaigua, 1972. Joe Marotta was talking about the good old days. It was the ’50s. This was 1972. He was talking about races in the ’50s, he wasn’t even 20 [before]. He kind of planted the bug in my ear. “I was always into history after that,” Miller said.
With no classical training in the craft, it was a hobby motivated by interest alone. Over time, Miller has accumulated several hard drives of content. His group is not entirely public, but he does share ads and photos on his Facebook page. There are a number of unique ones, revealing data about highways that might have been completely forgotten with time if not for the lead chance.
“I’ve found things no one knew about. I have a toolbox and utilities for finding things, websites, and old maps. This is my personal stash. I’ve found things and saved these links,” Miller said.
The search revealed previously unknown content. Mark Southcott associated with Miller, and rediscovered a trail in Seneca Falls. Pewe Southcote, Mark’s grandfather, was racing among the dwarfs there as a galloping driver in the 1930s. He was active at another track, called Dewey Barnes Speedway in Albion, New York. Miller supports that its discovery in February 2014 was the first documentation of the track in the current era.
Another globe trail is found south of Brockport. With the help of the Sweeting family (James Sweeting raced at the Land of Legends race track) and maps, Miller was able to get photos old enough to still have the West Sweden Speedbowl blueprint. The track was previously located on Sweden Road.
“I wanted to know what property was out there on that racetrack. They came up with a picture of the cars on the track there, and they were able to tell me where the track was. It was easy to find, and there was a cemetery across the street and a stand of pine trees — The pine trees were in the picture.”
The documented aerial shot matches current maps of the area, but the route outline is now somewhat missing. However, cars were racing there in the 1940s, and his photo with the cars in action may be the only photo in existence documenting the cars turning.
“I really like finding old ads,” said Miller. “You don’t advertise a race on a track that doesn’t exist. It proves that the tracks did exist.”
He was recently contacted for information regarding Brian Shipman, a racer from Canandaigua, Weedsport, and Rolling Wheels. Most of the notes were ignored, but he was able to spot a win that belonged to Shipman in Land of Legends. Regarding spinning wheels, details are scarce; A series of ownership changes have broken some historical records. Much of the information was notes handed to me by Gary Sppaid and Tom Skibinski, and also shared with Auto Racing Research Associates (ARRA) President Fred Voorhees, a history website based in New Jersey. He also interviewed Tom Schmeih, former curator of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum, about historical documents.
“Alan Johnson is my favorite driver, but two of my favorite races have been won by Danny Johnson,” Miller recounted.
The first is Danny Johnson’s last-to-first run in a Bill Trout-owned modification at Rolling Wheels. Later, Danny Johnson passed Jimmy Horton along the wall at the Syracuse Mile, Johnson’s last fairground track win.
With all the tracks and finishes, there are still bucket-list ovals that will never be checked.
Miller plans to go to Riverside Park, in Agawam, Massachusetts. The track was hosting the last event but Miller didn’t show up as planned with Paul Szamal. The track property is now under Six Flags New England. Another was the Danbury Fair Arena, which is now the Wilmoret Mall in Danbury, Connecticut.
The real elusive example is Flemington, the tricky square facility in New Jersey. Miller attempted three times to hit the track in the dirt formation. Each time, the trip resulted in rain.
“I was lucky, the job I worked at allowed you to take two or four hours off at a time. I’d leave early or take a half day off. I’d work a race and then put down the video stuff at Weedsport at 5:45 a.m., take a shower and get back to work for the day.” Next,” Miller said. “I went to Flemington on three different occasions, and left at 3am or 4am to get there. There was no such thing as a weather channel or GPS and cell phones to know they were useless. I drove all the way there.
“It was a long trip to buy a hamburger.”
Miller was too young to go to a race at the Reading Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania, which is now a trading post. Among the most missed tracks are The Mile at the New York State Fairgrounds, Rolling Wheels and their ultimate race with cars on the track—the facility has welcomed flat-track motorcycles ever since—and the old configuration of the Cayuga County Fair Speedway (now Weedsport Speedway). ).
Miller also stopped to salute the work of the track’s photographers. Often, trail photographers submit content to trade papers and act as rare historians. The further we creep into the digital age, the fewer paper copies of print ads and images we have, and the more rare and difficult it is to document the current age.
But the ultimate goal is not clear. Miller acknowledges the work of Tom Trinsky who runs the Fulton Dating Site, the others already named and countless others. He looks to Alan E. Brown and Lynn Casper, authors of Motor Racing History in America and Spencer Legends, 1957-1977, respectively.
“They know I have these things, they’re writing books, shouldn’t they call me?” Explanations of historical race books are often self-published, Miller said with a great laugh, and he did not have such means at the time.
“I would say I could write a book. I have two hard disks, and I’ve invested 20 years in this. That’s what I do,” Miller said. “I will help anyone.”
If nothing else, this is the hallmark of his work, and he remarried on purpose: to honor and show gratitude to those who came before him and to save history for those to come. His modesty in the hunting game, in addition to passion and striving, is of great value. And of all historians, it is for Bob we have to be most thankful.