The track as it appears in a photo taken this week. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union
The track as it appears in a photo taken this week. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union

While cars were still tearing around the dirt track at the Warsaw Speedway, Robert Fuson was driving a 1912 American La France fire truck cross-country in the Great American Race.

Fuson competed in the race, which started in New York and ended in Los Angeles (or vice versa), from 1983 through 1992.

Fuson, a Warsaw resident, liked races. He just didn't like them on Saturday nights at the Warsaw Speedway on the Kosciusko County Fairgrounds.

"I felt bad in a way about wanting to close the track," he said, "because I spent a lot of time racing across the country in an old fire truck."

Fuson has now lived on Winona Lake for 25 years. He was one of the nine Winona Lake property owners who sought to close the Warsaw Speedway through litigation. The nine property owners - Fuson, James Cummins, Michael G. Hall, R. John Handel, George Haymond, J. Joseph Shellabarger, Frederic Stephens, Kenneth Truman and H. Rex Wildman - filed their suit to close the track against the Kosciusko County Fair Association on June 27, 1989. All owned property within 1/2-mile of the dirt track that featured sprint car, street stock and late model racing.

Among their reasons was that "noise, dust and air pollution ... produced by the ... racing ... interferes ... with the plaintiffs' quiet and reasonable use of their homes."

The decision to close the track was made in an out-of-court settlement on July 18, 1990, between the county fair board and the nine Winona Lake residents. While the plaintiffs originally sought $500,000 in damages, the fair board did not have to pay any damages.

More than 4,000 fans piled into the Warsaw Speedway stands to watch the last race on Aug. 11, 1990. The track had hosted races for more than 45 years.

That it's been 10 years since the track closed surprised a few of the former plaintiffs. Of those contacted, none realized today was the 10-year anniversary of the track closing. Two of the nine - Shellabarger and Stephens - are deceased. All but Michael G. Hall, who now lives in Indianapolis, still own property on Winona Lake.

"How long's it been?" said one who asked to remain nameless.

"Has it been only 10 years?" Fuson asked incredulously. "It seems like it's been 20."

Said Haymond, who's lived on Winona Lake for 40 years, "No, I didn't realize it. If you would have asked me, I would have said it's been seven or eight years."

The nine men were not all necessarily fast friends then or today, but they were acquaintances who supported a common cause. Those contacted could not immediately recall all nine names involved in shutting down the track.

Haymond felt closing the track became necessary when the area around the lake began changing.

"When the track started, it was out in the country," he said. "Then this became a residential area. They started out racing midgets, but when midgets gave way to bigger cars, it became louder and louder out here.

"As the area around the lake became more populated, people got tired of the races and all the darn noise."

One who agreed to an interview but asked to remain nameless has now lived on Winona Lake for 33 years. He remembers what Saturday race nights used to be like.

He does not miss them.

"We would just plan on being away on Saturday night," he said. "We couldn't enjoy a Saturday night. If we were home, we'd just close up our house, turn on the air conditioning and try to block out as much of the noise as we could. But it was impossible to block out all of the noise. We couldn't invite anybody here, and we couldn't eat outside.

"We couldn't sit out on our lawn and hear each other. The track was supposed to shut down at 11 p.m., but they would still be on the loudspeaker past 11. It was like they were kids playing with it. They were using the loudspeaker when they didn't need to be."

Truman, who has lived on Winona Lake since 1959, agreed.

"It's been a lot quieter. We've been able to enjoy our home on a Saturday night. Even with the windows shut, the dust would sift through."

Annoying Haymond were the times the races continued past 11 p.m., the time they were supposed to shut down. One time he called and woke up then Warsaw Mayor Dale Tucker at 1 a.m. Another time, he called and complained to then Warsaw Mayor Jeff Plank.

"They'd run, run, run, several times until 12:30 or 1 o'clock in the morning," Haymond said. ""Back then I was talking to someone on the fair board, and they said they did not shut the races off at 11 like they were supposed to.

"They abused their privileges."

Said Fuson: "It was a tough thing to do, but the best thing for Warsaw seemed to be to reduce the noise and pollution. I felt (the track) had become a nuisance to our community. I felt somebody had to stick his neck out and say, 'This has to stop.' I was willing to do that."

Like Fuson, an unnamed member of the nine held no hatred toward racing, as he attended some races. While the group successfully closed down the track, this man would do things differently now than he did then.

"If I had to do it over, I would have never gotten involved," he said. "It would have happened anyway without me being involved. A lot of my neighbors supported the track closing, and they never got involved.

"It was quite hectic. Of course you had the legal end of it, and we had a lot of opposition. Part of what forced it were the attitudes of some of the people involved. They were gonna show us people on the lake what we could and couldn't do.

"Even in our own group, some of the guys I felt didn't have the right attitude. It's something I'd rather forget. It left a lot of people unhappy."

But Truman, when asked if he would have done anything differently, said: "No. I don't know what else could have been done. A lot of good-faith negotiations had gone on. Mufflers were proposed to quiet down the cars, but they gave that lip service and nothing else."

The plaintiffs tried to help the fair association with other options, but they were rebuffed.

"A number of the nine offered to buy property south of town so it could continue and not be such a nuisance," Fuson said, "but the track people did not want to leave. You couldn't blame them."

The racing ended.

For some, it ended to their chagrin.

For others like the nine plaintiffs, it ended to their delight.

"Now it's much more nice and peaceful on the lake," Haymond said.

"The quality of life for the nearby community became less noisy and dusty," Fuson said. "I endured it for 15 years. I only wish the group had gotten together earlier and done something about it earlier."