In its glory days, Jungle Park lived up to its image. Spectators came to see who could survive the call of the jungle on this treacherously dangerous race track. Closed for racing since 1955, nature has since taken back its domain. Today, the area is a tranquil, shady setting next to Sugar Creek near Turkey Run State Park.
Usually the spot is closed to the public. But periodically since 2003, race fans and a few survivors of the track gather here for a day to reminiscent, view a few restored race cars and replicas and swap stories.
One story we overheard while walking around the car show was about the time one driver flew over the embankment, was tossed from the car and landed near the bank of Sugar Creek. Most of the track didn’t have an outside retainer wall, so cars careening over the embankment were fairly common. High-banked turn also created high speeds, often up to 100 mph.
Jungle Park opened in 1926 at a time when auto racing was just beginning. In 1927, the reports tallied the deaths of one race official, a spectator, and one driver. Within the next four years, another three drivers died. Eventually the track lost its popularity, but not its reputation. The last race was marred by another major catastrophe. Driver Arlis Marcum swerved to avoid another car and hit a hole. The result caused the car to become airborne, fly over the fence and into the crowd.
A number of Jungle Park veterans went on to win the Indianapolis 500, including one of Indy’s all-time greats, Wilbur Shaw, who won the 500 in 1937, 1939 and 1940.
Yet, today, the tragedies are hard to imagine in this heavily wooded area. Now trees shade the track’s interior, and the buzzing roar of the cars is gone. It’s difficult to imagine such a peaceful place in the country as anything other than a nice picnicking area. But if you look closely, dig a toe into the dirt to find the track, and follow the oval pathway, you can imagine the racing legends and stories that occurred here.
If you want more information on Jungle Park during its heyday, check out the book by Tom W. Williams The Ghosts of Jungle Park: History, Myth and Legend – The story of a place like no other. Check it out on Amazon here.
For more information on our automotive heritage, follow this link.