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Harmony Historical Society dedicates ‘Roll-O-Bowl’ historical marker

October 5, 2016
By Gavin Paterniti - , Westfield Republican

ASHVILLE - Where once stood a quarter-mile dirt racing track in the back roads of Ashville now stands a new historical marker memorializing it.

The Harmony Historical Society held a brief dedication ceremony Sunday afternoon, recognizing the installation of the new marker - which was provided by the William C. Pomeroy Foundation - and providing attendees with a bit of history on the former Roll-O-Bowl race track.

The ceremony was attended by members and supporters of the historical society, as well as a handful of men, and their families, who actually raced on the Roll-O-Bowl track during its 1956-60 run. According to Pam Brown, village of Panama and town of Harmony historian, Sunday's event was a culmination of an eight-year process that began with the creation of the "Roll-O-Bowl" documentary that was filmed in 2008 and featured interviews with many former racers and the original owners of the race track.

Article Photos

Photo by Gavin Paterniti
Members and supporters of the Harmony Historical Society are pictured with former drivers and owners of the Roll-O-Bowl race track, formerly located at 5759 Button Valley Road in Ashville from 1956-60. An historical marker was dedicated at the site in a brief ceremony Sunday afternoon.

"This is a huge honor for us to have this marker here because it kind of culminates all the events we've held over the years to recognize (the track), and having all of these former racers show up is very special," Brown said.

The origins of the Roll-O-Bowl race track extend back to 1955, when brothers Harold and Don McNitt began its construction on their farm property on Button Valley Road in Ashville; hoping to generate income that would help their grandmother, Mabel, pay taxes on the farm. Patterning their new track on the Satan's Bowl of Death race track on Big Tree-Sugar Grove Road in Busti, the brothers contracted with Leon James for the bulldozing of trees and grading work.

"I didn't have any money (at the time) to do it all on my own, but Leon and his son, Don, came up and did the track and I paid them weekly," said Don McNitt, the original track owner. "My grandmother's husband died and she wasn't getting any insurance money, so my dad was giving her money every week. She was nice enough to let me build the track and once it got started I gave her $25 a week for as long as the track was running."

The track did very well in its first three seasons between 1956 and 1958, with the number of spectators ranging from 75 to as many as 800 for each race. The spectators would park their vehicles at the top of the bank that rose above the track's front stretch, and were charged $1.25 admission.

Due to a number of reasons, the track began to fall on financial hardship during its fourth season in 1959. In 1960, the track was leased to Blinky Litzinger and Dick Pangborn, who, despite their best efforts, were unable to keep the venture financially solvent.

The last race held at Roll-O-Bowl took place on July 31, 1960. Four years later, a revival effort was spearheaded by Karl Halpainy, but this effort was stymied by insurance issues.

Though it was short-lived, the Roll-O-Bowl did have a positive impact on the area. Aside from the many good memories it provided for drivers and spectators alike, it also helped to launch the careers of late model stars Skip Furlow, Ron Blackmer, Johnny Whitehead, Jim Scott, Marty Rater and Stan Stevens.

The newly installed historical marker now stands on the site of the former track, which is now largely overgrown by trees and brush, at 5759 Button Valley Road in Ashville. The property is currently owned by Bob Leonard, whom the Harmony Historical Society wishes to thank for his consent in having the marker installed.

For more information on the former Roll-O-Bowl race track, contact the Harmony Historical Society at 782-3074, or via its Facebook page. The 2008 "Roll-O-Bowl" documentary is also for sale through the historical society.



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