Tag Archives: Jungle Park

The Ghosts of Jungle Park

Recently, I had a chance to read The Ghosts of Jungle Park after attending the Jungle Park Reunion on October 9th.

the-ghosts-of-jungle-park

Author Tom W. Williams does an outstanding job of sharing the story of this half-mile track on US 41 in western Indiana. The track presented interesting events from 1926 to 1960. Over 60 drivers from the Indianapolis 500 like Bill Cummings, Al Miller, Mauri Rose, and Wilbur Shaw, competed at Jungle Park during this time frame.
Earl Padgett built the track on 72-acres of land just south of Sugar Creek on US 41. Over 5,000 spectators attended the first race on July 5, 1926, with a $1,000 purse. Most of the crowd came from Terre Haute, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Danville, Illinois.

The track enjoyed much success in the late 1920’s. With the Depression in the early 1930’s, the track thrived during most of the period. In August 16, 1930, the track debuted a new lighting system to present night racing. On May 3, 1936, the Central States Racing Association began sanctioning races at the Park. This led to larger fields for the races.

With the advent of World War II, there were only two races at Jungle Park in 1942, before the U.S. government banded racing. Full-scale racing didn’t return until late 1945 when the Midwest Dirt Track Association began sanctioning races. There were 17 cars entered for the last race in 1945.

The 1950’s brought an abundance of hot rod and stock car races to Jungle Park. With CSRA now sanctioning the races there were six races in 1950. There was a good number of races from 1950 to 1953, but then interest began to wane. In 1960, there were two races sanctioned by the Car Owners Racing Association. In the last race in October, a spectator was killed, causing racing to end at Jungle Park.

In the recent years, there have been several Jungle Park Reunions were racers and spectators get together to celebrate the drivers, cars, car owners, and the track. This is how I became aware of this interesting facility.

Author Williams has done a great job researching the races, cars, and car owners. His story takes you all the way from the beginning to the end of the story. I invite you to pick up a copy of The Ghosts of Jungle Park and enjoy the saga of this track in western Indiana.

For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Back Roads to Jungle Park Racing

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.

C&L Service Sprinter at Jungle Park Reunion
C&L Service Sprinter at Jungle Park Reunion

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.