The Track Travelling Tourist

by Ed Meyer

posted on January 4, 2016 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

Wouldn’t it be the best life to just travel around and see the ovals? – The ones that were marquee places and the quaint little joints that harkened back to another time. I’ve been pretty lucky getting around a bit, but I surely won’t be Johnny Cash singing “ I’ve been Everywhere, Man.” – But there was a guy I knew a long time a ago in a land far away who did get around a bit.


Mr. Perry was a lifelong educator. He was that guy in high school that did have to walk uphill in both directions in all types of weather. – He liked being called Mr. Perry. I guess it was his name, and lived at home when he started drawing Social Security. – Back in the day he was a mild mannered school teacher, and at night he was a groups sales director at local Latonia Race Course (now Turfway Park). He would teach all day; oversaw new and incoming teachers from the universities, and still found time to hold down the race track job. He never had any children or married, but considered all of his students from the decades of teaching to be one of his own.


An interesting sort, and one who could always be counted on for a story complete with pictures. He would regale track workers on how it was in the old days, and what we were doing wrong. – He came from the time of build and they will come era. Tracks would advertise in local newspapers, and send racing dates to the Daily Racing Form. That’s all it took, and the powers that be would disseminate the information and share with other tracks. Oh, the glory days. There was no real competition, and if you wanted to wager on casino games you would jump in a plane and fly 2,000 miles to Las Vegas. – Tracks in the state had a “100 mile rule.” – No tracks could run at the same time in this range. It kept each other special, and there was no stepping on toes. If you wanted to get your bet on you would have to drive to get there, or have a local book maker. Tracks were packed to the gills, and if you wanted to beat the traffic you would surely leave a bet and head to the car before the traffic would get thick.


Bill had the summer off as a teacher as the track was a fall-winter oval. Each year he would save all of his money as he lived at home with aging parents, and make plans with friends to travel around and see race tracks during the summer. – They would start our west and head back east. Once the Saratoga meet was winding up, it was time to head back to the school house to prepare for the upcoming year. Not to worry, Mr. Perry would be the first one back in the doors with his markers in his pocket protector. He kept them for disciplinary purposes, and boy you didn’t want your name to have a green mark by the side.


He was getting up in years, and had retired from both. His parents passed on, and he spent his days walking around the track talking about the old days. The days of making the track treks were a memory. It didn’t keep him from making the local drive to Keeneland or Churchill, but the long distance trips were over. – I had some time one day waiting for a call, and asked him his favorite little oval. The one where there was no marquee race and the local folks would gather for a day at the races. – His face lit up and he sat back and crossed his legs. ” Let me think, Ed. There are so many, and I don’t want to miss any good ones. I guess thinking it over, my favorite little oval was Beulah Park in Columbus, Ohio.”


Grove City, Ohio was a quaint little town. In the early days there were a few small diners, and if you wanted night life you would have to drive thirty minutes to Columbus. It was Mayberry with a race track. It seemed the entire town would have a job at the track, or a family member who was involved. Mainly a farming community that would serve the needs of the entire town. – Around 10:30 am, the cars would start filing down the two lane road to Beulah. The lots would be packed by noon and the first post would be 1:00 pm. – Small time claimers mostly going 6f. Beulah must have drawn the short straw with Thistledown in Cleveland with winter time dates. – The cold would whistle over the hills, and you had to hunker in the glass enclosed grandstand to stay out of the elements.  – “Man, everywhere you looked patrons would have a cup of coffee in hand.” – This was not typical race track food, and you could count on making a trip to the lower level cafeteria for a home-cooked meal served by some of the same folks who ran the few local greasy spoons. – “Good stuff, and my favorite was the Hill Billy Cheeseburger. A thick slice of garlic bologna covered with grilled onions and pepper jack cheese. If you didn’t like that, you were a hard customer to please.


He spoke of new riders breaking into the game. Young men who left home to try their hand at racing, and the older colony of riders going the other way down the ladder still trying to turn a living. – The place would be packed, and the announcer would always harken the fans to bet early as to not be shut out. – Great times, and stories from the day would always make for good talk for the 1 1/2 hours drive home. Once in a awhile, if we did good at the races, we would stop in Lebanon, Ohio for a night of harness action. – Same story, small time fairgrounds oval. Place packed to the rafters, and farmers and local provisional drivers plying their trade for small time purses. – Good food, and the place was always filled with the smoke of home rolled cigarettes. The best was the 1 pound roast beef sandwich for 50-cents. You could eat half and offer your pal the other. – The tote board was a small item that was lucky to have electric for the payouts. One time I had the entire pool in an exacta. – It paid a whopping $2,000. Big money back in the day.


He talked about the drive, the people, and who was the best at the time. – One would get bored if you didn’t love the game, but it just so happened he had me from the first word. – When my phone rang and I saw it was my call, he reached over to shake my hand and walked out the doors into the cold. I didn’t know if he was going to make a bet, or just walk around and look for a familiar face. – I didn’t see him for about a week when I heard the news. Mr. Perry had passed away and his services were private. There was not much in the way of family, and I’m sure most were old students over the years. Mr. Perry was a throwback to the good old days of full parking lots packed with 30 or more busses, filled with groups from everywhere to see the night races. . He had pictures to prove, and stories to keep your attention. – He ventures into my thoughts from time-to-time and I think back fondly to the man who kept the game moving. Thanks, Mr. Perry. I sure enjoyed the stories and advice over the years.