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Monday, October 27, 2014

Delaware Valley Harness Memories ...

by Peter Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor

Brandywine Raceway, located on Naamans Road in Wilmington, Delaware, and Liberty Bell Park, situated at the intersection of Knights and Woodhaven roads in Northeast Philadelphia, were once a strong sister-track circuit in what's called the Delaware Valley region.

Both tracks are long-gone now.

I saw more of Liberty Bell than Brandywine, having worked in the Bell's publicity department in 1980, but I have a few recollections of Brandywine, too.

Brandywine Raceway from the Backstretch (Photo credit unknown)

This photo of Brandywine appeared on my Facebook feed a few days ago, so I decided to tack a few comments onto it, and pass it along.

It may not have always been such, but I recall Brandywine as having the nicer summer race dates, while Liberty Bell had the autumn through spring dates.

The Bell may've been classy in its younger days in the 1960s and '70s, but it was pretty seedy when I worked there. In retrospect, ownership may have already planned its sale and was bailing out, essentially running the place into the ground. A shopping center called the Franklin Mills Mall - renamed the Philadelphia Mills Mall as of last month - stands there now.

(Similarly, many folks remember the former Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island as a palace, and it was, for a long time, but its own ownership ran it into the ground as well, and it, too, was a dump at the end, in 1988. But that's a whole other story.)

Brandywine was a jewel during most of its existence. I never knew a fellow named "Colonel" Dave Herman, the track's one-time PR director, but I did (and do) know Marv Bachrad, who was the PR guy there 'til the end, and he's a jewel himself. He operated out of a freestanding building near the grandstand, which I think was known as the hospitality cabin, and it was a great place for the press - and owners, I think - to get their respective racing evenings started and finished.

(Marv is the public relations chief at Dover Downs in Delaware now, and has been for many years.)
Brandywine also had a state-of-the-art in-house TV patrol system, and you could count on seeing interviews and such, from the paddock and such, during the course of the night's races.

Following that background introduction, here are three other vivid memories I still have of Brandywine ...
One, I've seen day/night stakes races at different tracks on the same day - Freehold and Yonkers, Freehold and Roosevelt, Freehold and Meadowlands, for instance - but one night, a Sunday many years ago, I was nutty enough to see them at two different venues on the same night. I started at Freestate Raceway in Maryland, watched several divisions of, maybe, the Hanover Stake (might've been something else), which were right at the start of the card, then scooted up to Brandywine for the Battle of the Brandywine eliminations, which were late on the card up there.

(Oh, another day/night "degenerate double," a two-breed stakes double, I did was in 1985, the Preakness at Pimlico, and an early-season start for Nihilator at Freestate.)

Two, I've owned a few standardbreds in my time (none lately), and one was a stakes-winner, a B.G.'s Bunny pacing filly named Tri State's Baby, co-owned with my folks, my long-time friend Rob Goldstein, and several other people. She won any number of New Jersey Sire Stakes, including several at the Meadowlands, which was a big thrill, plus a Grand Circuit-type event, the Pocahontas, at, you guessed it, Brandywine, in 1984.

That was really cool.

And lastly, I don't remember the year Brandywine was knocked down, but whenever it was, I happened to be nearby, visiting relatives, and I stopped by the shuttered track, only to discover that it had already been demolished. I wish I still had the photo I took of what I saw that day, but I can describe it.
As seen from the lower turn, the top levels of the former grandstand (or technically, the clubhouse, I guess) pancaked straight down on the lower levels, as you might expect. But something I didn't expect to see was also the case.

The press box windows were still completely intact, not shattered, or even cracked. Same with several of the giant finish-line spotlights. It was almost as though the old lady didn't want to go down without a fight.

But I assume the demolition crew probably returned in a day or two and completed the job with sledgehammers or something.

Oh, well.


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