Discovery in Indiana Attic Sheds New Light on Construction of Winchester Speedway

Turn Four Banking at Winchester Speedway in 1928

By Stephen Cox
Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions

Reprint with Permission Only

Winchester Speedway's web site advertises the track as the "world's fastest half mile." And now we know why. The recent discovery of a handwritten 1922 letter offers a few small clues as to how builder Frank Funk constructed a facility that still holds the world record for half mile tracks more than a century later.

Frank Funk was a successful farmer who owned a home and a large tract of land just west of Winchester, Indiana on State Road 32. Part of this land was used to build Winchester Speedway in 1914. Funk's home still stands there today, although now it is owned by local race fan Nathan Peed.

"We were re-doing one of the rooms upstairs and I had to climb into the attic to repair some wiring up there," Peed recalled. "The upstairs has never been touched since the house was built. It had no heat or nothing like that. I thought, 'I'm gonna run new wires to the ceiling fan.'"

Buried under a pile of insulation in the attic, Peed ran across a "box with a bunch of papers in it," including a receipt book from the 1920's, several canceled checks, entry forms from the 1922 racing season and a handwritten letter to Frank Funk from a man named F. E. Clemons.

Frederick Earl "Skinny" Clemons was one of the Midwest's premier short track racers in the early 20th century. After placing fifth at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend 1910, he went on to make a name for himself as both a driver and car builder. Over the next decade Clemons competed in multiple 500-mile events and won the 25-lap feature at the Indiana State Fairgrounds' "Indy mile" on July 5, 1920.

Peed was amazed at his discovery. "I thought, 'Is this really what I'm reading?' I knew that Funk had built the race track and he initially built my house. I just couldn't believe that I was finding papers that were in decent shape from 1922."

Dated July 11, 1922, the letter reveals that Funk wanted Winchester Speedway to be faster, especially in the turns, so he wrote to Clemons requesting that he provide a blueprint to improve the track layout. Today's Winchester Speedway is paved, but in 1922 the track was dirt and could still be altered for additional speed.

Clemons replied that it wasn't the corners that needed changing. "You won't need to do anything but bank the straightaways a little," Clemons suggested, "so the cars will go into the turns on an angle. When the cars can run all the way around the track at the same angle, there won't need to be any shutting off on the turns, and we can sure show some speed."

Clemons concluded his letter by recommending that Funk eliminate the bigger displacement cars from the upcoming 1922 Labor Day event at Winchester because they were "clumsy, and get in the way of those who can travel."

Winchester saw huge crowds throughout the 1920's. The speedway continued to evolve under Funk's supervision. He began oiling the clay before each event to minimize dust. On Clemons' advice, the banking continually increased until the top of the turns reached an incredible 25 feet in height. The track was paved by the early 1930's with seating for 6,000 fans.

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