An auto racing fan who became one of the sport’s major promoters, Paul Kuhl (May 8, 1927 – July 22, 2014) was a prominent businessman in the poultry equipment industry who really loved the Modified stock cars and during his long tenure at the old Flemington (N.J.) Fair Speedway he did everything that he could to see that the track, the fans and the headline-division Modifieds were all well-served.
Kuhl was the president of the Flemington Fair’s board of directors in 1970 when the Tri-State Modified & Sportsman Car Owners Organization was formed by a group of prominent drivers and car owners who were seeking to get unified car-building rules and more purse money. And, as a result of this, the speedway found itself in a bit of trouble.
In an effort to get things back to where they should be, Kuhl began promoting the races that were taking place on the facility’s then-half-mile dirt track in 1971 and those efforts included making sure that Flemington lived up to its billing as “Modified Country U.S.A.”
Prior to Flemington’s Kuhl era, there was certainly nothing wrong with the Modified races that were held there from the late 1950s throughout the 1960s as they were headlined by such track champions as EMPA Hall of Famers Al Tasnady (1958-1961 & 1963-1966), Jackie McLaughlin (1956, 1957 and 1962) and Frankie Schneider (1969).
But Kuhl made a special attempt to highlight and promote Flemington and the Modifieds to the fullest and in that regard he immediately made the track’s official color purple and used a purple 1971 Dodge Challenger convertible as the pace car. And while that might seem to have been just a simple public-relations move, they are two of the most remembered and recognizable things about the Kuhl years at Flemington.
Kuhl enlarged the track to a 5/8-mile layout in 1972 and the first high-rise bleachers were added to the seating facilities in 1975. Then, after the kidney-shaped 1.5-mile-asphalt Trenton International Speedway at the old New Jersey State Fairgrounds closed due to bankruptcy in 1978, he purchased all of the aluminum bleachers and used them to virtually surround the track. And in 1987 he replaced the infamous wooden guardrail that surrounded “The Square” – the track’s nickname because of its roughly square shape – with a new steel barrier.
Flemington’s covered grandstand along the front straightaway and the midway atmosphere of its fairgrounds location added a great deal to the excitement of its events, and the annual National Dirt Track Championship 200 (1972-1990) was one of the most popular and most competitive events on the Modified circuit.
The track was also considered one of the top venues in dirt-track Modified stock-car racing and it roster of drivers included such EMPA Hall of Famers as Stan Ploski Jr., Billy Osmun, Glenn Fitzcharles, Joe Kelly and Gerald Chamberlain, as well as Billy Pauch Sr., Sammy Beavers, Kenny Brightbill, Ken Brenn Jr. and Jimmy Horton.
But the dirt track’s unique square-shape also led to its downfall as it was located right next to a very busy and developing Route 31 and it was hard to control the dust that was churned up as the cars ran sideways for much of their circuit around the racing surface. So, due to community pressures, Kuhl was forced to pave his speedway for the 1991 season.
Now the focus was on asphalt racing and Kuhl did his best to provide a top-quality weekly show of DIRT/Asphalt Modifieds, NASCAR Tour-style Modifieds and Late Models. Plus, he also brought in the then-new NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series when much of its schedule was run on local short tracks.
Unfortunately, though, things just weren’t the same at Flemington, its land was eventually sold for commercial development and the historic old speedway closed after the 2000 season.
Kuhl also purchased the Bridgeport (N.J.) Speedway in 1989 and he ran Flemington (full member) and Bridgeport (associate member) under DIRT sanction. But he divested himself of the South Jersey 5/8-mile dirt track after the 1992 season and concentrated his efforts on running the Flemington Fair Speedway until the end.