Let’s Get Airborne

Inside Plattsburgh’s Historic Racetrack

It has the noise, the competition and the speed. The smell of burning fuel and hot sausage sandwiches collide in the air. It’s a county fair vibe running at 360 horsepower.

Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, New York, a family-run track that started as a hidden gem, has become one of the premier places in the region for racing fans looking for a good time. The tall metal bleachers that ring the half-mile oval dirt track have been filled with crowds since 1954. 

A high-speed night on the racetrack.

On race days, when the gates first open at 3:30 p.m. for the pit crews and racers, the sights and sounds commence. Racing trailers arrive loaded with cars and gear, and the afternoon events begin.

Everyone’s laid-back attitude changes to one of focus when, at 7 p.m., the gates open to the public. Local fans trade jokes and share laughs with a mix of traveling New Englanders, Canadians and visitors from across New York. 

“You have the smell of fuel from the race cars — that’s a unique smell,” said Mike Perotte, legendary racer and current event race director. “It’s just exciting.”

The days of the asphalt track.

The track runs deep with history, which can be seen in the classic ticket booth, concession stand and the towering press box. Maurice Broderick had the vision to open Airborne in 1954 as a dirt racing track. It transitioned from dirt to asphalt multiple times in its existence, but has settled on the cracked brown earth that gives it a real North Country feel. Throughout the track’s heyday in the​ ’70s and ’80s, close to 3,000 spectators would pack the bleachers on race days.

“What made it was actually the drivers — there were good guys, there were bad guys,” said Bruce Jarvis, a local fan. As a child, he remembers the contention while watching his father race. 

“The rivalries were like two high schools on opposite sides of the county … it made for a real exciting night.” 

The racers have always delivered a great performance to their fans. Whether it was the days of junkyard-scrap cars or powerful sport-modified cars, Airborne racers have always brought the speed. Facilities Manager Rich Walker likes watching drivers use their skill to fight for the lead position, making for thrilling side-by-side racing action.

Beyond car racing, the speedway has raced motorcycles, ATVs and held ice-racing events in the cold Plattsburgh winters. In 2008, a world record was set at Airborne when Chris Morena jumped a Dodge pickup 196 feet over two flatbed trucks and 12 cars. The track has hosted monster truck events, demolition derbies and an annual Dozer Day, where kids can ride in bulldozers and front-end loaders.

The Speedway family tries to provide as much as it can for its patrons, according to Walker. Their goal has always been to make people want to come back each Saturday night for a great time. 

Whether the Airborne family is working with local sponsors organizing events or raising money for charity, the Speedway is making a true impact on the surrounding community. At backpack night, they handed out 250 backpacks filled with school supplies. However, it’s the feeling of being at the races that keeps people coming.

Story and photos by Drew Wemple

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