If there is one track that can rightfully be called a “Modified Mecca,” it has to be the old half-mile Reading (Pa.) Fairgrounds and Lindy Vicari was responsible for its renowned success.
When Vicari took over Reading’s operation in 1955 it was over a million dollars in debt and he began weekly racing for the first time with his old Reading Stock Car Association (RSCA) of flathead-powered 1930s coupe racing. But in 1963 – after a pair of special, Modified events in 1961 & 1962 – Modified-only programs (with no support divisions) became the regular offering for the next 16 years until the track was closed to build a shopping mall.
Reading averaged 44 Modified dates a year, which included a period of Friday and Sunday night racing. The efficiently-run racing programs started on time and warm-ups, four heats, a consolation event and the feature race were more than likely completed in three hours. And during the annual Reading Fair or at other times USAC Sprint Cars, URC Sprint Cars, AMA Motorcycles and ARDC Midgets were frequent attractions.
USAC Sprint Cars competed at Reading some five times per season, including its first-ever nighttime event in 1965. In all, they raced there 59 times and in 1975 USAC agreed to a double-header program with the Modifieds and that “special” was repeated two times.
When Vicari began his Modified shows in 1963, he offered a princely $500 to win. By 1970, Reading’s weekly purse was $15,000 and he became the first promoter to pay $1,000 for a weekly feature-race victory, then $1,500 and finally $2,000 by the time that the track closed.
In addition to taking care of his regular roster of 40-45 top-notch drivers – such as Kenny Brightbill and EMPA Hall of Famers Gerald Chamberlain, Dick Tobias, Al Tasnady, Bobby Gerhart, Frankie Schneider and Budd Olsen – Vicari also looked out for his fans. When the Fairgrounds gates opened, the track was ready for business and it was not unusual to see Vicari selling or collecting tickets, working in the concession stand or climbing aboard the track’s large grader and grooming Reading’s exceptional clay racing surface before the feature event.
Vicari’s other Reading Fairground’s innovations include: the 3-minute clock to time pit stop repairs; stringing yellow and red lights across the race track at key locations to immediately indicate “caution” or “stop” conditions; a program of four 25-lap features in one day; two-way radio communication among all track officials; his proprietary “Formula-L” liquid-chemical track additive which kept dust down to a minimum; laps counters; season-point handicapping; a set of rules and car specifications that were agreed to prior to the start of each season through a meeting of the promoter and his competitors; the “wave lap”; engine cubic-inch limitations; the adoption of late-model bodies; and, the development of the 2x4 Modified chassis.
Once Reading closed, Vicari promoted events at the old half-mile East Windsor (N.J.) Speedway and at the old one-mile Nazareth (Pa.) National Motor Speedway. And prior to this he had also taken his RSCA brand of racing to Pennsylvania’s old Allentown, Hatfield and Penn National Speedways and New Jersey’s Bridgeport Speedway and old Harmony Speedway.
When Vicari took over the old 1-1/8-mile Nazareth National Motor Speedway in 1981 it had been shuttered for 10 years and he refurbished it and shortened the layout to one mile. His idea was to host a series of high-paying special events for USAC’s Championship Dirt Cars and the Modifieds and the races that he staged there drew big crowds, big fields and much acclaim.
But running NNMS was a tough nut to crack and Brightbill’s $50,000 victory in a 125-mile Modified contest on October 9, 1983, was the last race that was run there under Vicari’s direction.
Lindy Vicari died on September 3, 2003, at age 84.