The Beginning

This article is from the 1976 Program for the 22nd Annual Iron City Cumberland National Championship Sports Car Road Races.


Road racing was first offered in this area in 1952 when Put-in-Bay lsland in Lake Erie, off
Sandusky was the site of road races’ Those events, limited to cars with capacities of 2 liters {120 cubic inches} or less continued till 1959.  After that, their legality was questionable, due to an Ohio law passed to stop impromptu drag races on Cleveland’s shoreway aecess roads.   During that same period, there were also 2 events held on a course laid out on runways at the Akron airport.

By 1960, area enthusiasts had to travel to airport races at Dunkirk, New York, or Watkins
Glen, New York or Cumberland, Maryland to spectate or participate. (Curiously, Dunkirk & Cumberland events are now part of the Nelson Ledges schedule.)

That was the climate which fostered purchase of the initial area which has since grown into the Nelson Ledges Road Course’ By 1961 work was under way for a 1.8 mile dirt time trials course, with hopes of paving it in later seasons’ By summer 1962, bulldozers had done their work and the 1.8 mile course was used for a solo event for sports cars. lt proved to be very “Mickey Mouse”, hard on the machinery and was never used again. lts remains though are still used as some of the infield access roads on the present course.

After a quick change of owners, the 1.1 mile paved Nelson “short course” was  constructed and opened in i9&3. First ever event was time trials by Corvette Cleveland, who have been strong supporters at Nelson ever since.  Later that same year, Steel Cities Region of the Sports Car Club of America held its first road race on the course. They too have continued as staunch Nelson supporters. Nelson Ledges Road Course circa 1963 had no control tower, no electricity, no water, no rest rooms, no fencing, no communication system, and consequently very few spectators.

During the period from 1963 to 1967, places were SCCA could put on Regional and National races diminished and even though facilities at Nelson were very limited, there were up to 6 SCCA races per year there. During this same period other types of racing also took place at the Nelson Ledges course. Motorcyclists from Canada began using the course, setting the stage for the 24 Hour Cycle Races which are still held at Nelson. Go-carts, popular in the mid 1960’s also ran with regularity at Nelson.  There was even an abortive attempt to bring NASCAR stock car style racing to Nelson. Sedan racers
from local quarter mile ovals were scheduled for an event. They found that road racing was a bit too strenuous for the turn left only machinery and never returned again.

ln 1966, renamed Steel Cities lnternational Raceway, the track acquired outside financial
support to extend its length to the present 2.0 miles, so that it could qualify for SCCA National races. That expansion was completed in 1967.  However, during the next three years, maintainance cost increases, poor weather on race dates, lack of spectator attendance and other factors brought activity at the track to a virtual standstill.

During the dramatic month of May, 1970, Mahoning Valley Motorsports, present lease
holders and operators of Nelson Ledges Road Course was organized, the dormant track was started on the road to revitalization and a first race under the new management was held. All that took place within one month.  Renamed Nelson Ledges Road Course and
with present manager John McGill as leader, lots of activity began taking place at the track. The activity continues at a staggering pace even today.

Since 1970, using borrowed funds, volunteer workers, loaned equipment and the efforts of hundreds of dedicated workers an impressive list of track improvements have been accomplished.  lncluded have been complete resurfacing of the track, (in some places the asphalt is two feet thick), paddock improvements, infield roads, a communication system with donated wire and phones, trucks, fire engines,-miles of guard rail, even a road grader and a bulldozer.

Today with the exclusive Nelson Tirewall, new drive over and walkover bridges Nelson Ledges Road Course is into a new phase of its existance. Spectator events, perhaps even pro races are now realities. For the first time in almost 15 years, the future for Nelson Ledges Road Course and local motorsports enthusiasts is truly bright.