Special Days In Put-In-Bay

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Story by Tim Suddard • Photos as Credited

About halfway between Toledo and Cleveland lies an oasis that bills itself as the Key West of the Midwest. Welcome to the tiny Lake Erie island community of Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Since the Prohibition days, when liquor could be easily imported from nearby Ontario, this picturesque little town has been known as a drinking and partying epicenter. In late August, the island becomes a race track, hosting an event like no other we’ve ever attended.

When organized road racing on public streets became immensely popular, the newly formed Cleveland Sport Car Club wanted in on the action. Members approached the leaders of Put-in-Bay about hosting a race.

They replied favorably, and each year from 1952 through 1959, the town’s roads opened to small-bore race cars. Toledo and Detroit racers tried the idea one more time in 1963, but it was just a one-time event.


In 2012, longtime vintage racers Manley Ford, Jack Woehrle, Rich Hahn, Kurt Niemeyer, and Bob and Linda Williams rekindled the concept. Would the city be interested in hosting a revival at the local airport?

Town officials, eager to expand the village’s appeal beyond binge-drinking students and summer-vacationing families, said yes.

The island itself presents the perfect backdrop for the event. Picture the charm of Michigan’s Mackinac Island combined with the sweeping views of Cape Cod–or merge the 1000 Islands area with the laid-back feel of Key West.


At Put-in-Bay, small-bore drivers remain the stars of the show. Event organizers urge entrants to leave their egos–and their transporters–at home and enjoy racing the way it used to be. Among the nearly 150 entrants at this past summer’s event, we saw just one semi.

But that’s not the only thing that makes this event unique. The action takes place during the week: registration on Sunday, racing on Monday and Tuesday, and a car show Wednesday morning. Plus, in addition to wheel-to-wheel vintage racing, the schedule features an exhibition-class competition for less experienced drivers.


While the racing takes place at the airport, the event also includes an organized, spirited drive around the original 3.1-mile street course. As a nod to the island’s past, that original course is now identified by permanent commemorative stone markers. The schedule isn’t just about the on-track activities. On Saturday night, American Modern Insurance presented a gathering called Recollections Roundtable. During a wine and cheese reception, drivers who ran at Put-in-Bay back in the ’50s shared their stories.

Past and present, Put-in-Bay is a near-perfect mix of socializing and sports cars. It delivers the romance that attracted so many of us to this hobby. We’ll be back.

The next Put-in-Bay Sports Car Races will be returning Monday, September 23rd through Thursday, September 26th for 2019.


A quick ferry ride across Lake Erie brings you to South Bass Island, home to the town of Put-in-Bay. This popular summer and party spot still takes time to celebrate its history.


Small-bore racers were celebrated in several ways at PIB. The marquee event was the racing on the island’s airport runways, which had a “way it used to be” feel thanks to an abundance of hay bales and an absence of big money. Entrants also got a chance to show off their cars in both rolling and static exhibitions.


The original Put-in-Bay races welcomed small-bore race cars to the town’s streets. That’s not a Cobra ; it’s an AC Bristol, and thanks to Carl Goodwin’s book, “The Put-in-Bay Road Races, 1952-1963,” we have a driver’s name: W. Abbott. Chuck Dietrich drove the Arnolt-Bristol, Ralph Durbin ran the Sprite, and Ralph Ziegler entered the Dorretti.





More history attributed to Carl Goodwin’s book: Brothers Lorrain and Manny Holder campaigned this Porsche 550 RS Spyder, with Manny setting the never-broken track record in 1958.

This article is from a past issue of the magazine. Like stories like this? You’ll see every article as soon as it's published, and get access to our full digital archive, by subscribing to Classic Motorsports. Subscribe now.

Special thanks to the Put-in-Bay Visitors & Convention Bureau.

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View comments on the CMS forums
12/14/18 12:20 p.m.

I love 'em all but there is a huge selection of ALFA Romeo's that most Americans haven't seen. Go for it, they're beautiful

Patrick MegaDork
12/15/18 7:41 a.m.

I intend to do the event when the Devin Panhard is restored, i’m going to have to get over my fear of putting an irreplaceable car on a ferry first though.

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