Speedway EXPO honors Riverside Park's legacy

Date: 2/23/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WEST SPRINGFIELD -- From 1948 to 1999, stockcar racers put the pedal to the floor, entertaining thousands at Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam.

For the first time, Speedway Illustrated Magazine will reunite the ones who brought Riverside Park Speedway to life at their EXPO at Eastern States Exposition this weekend.

The reunion on Feb. 27 will feature former racer and Agawam native Ken Meisenhelder and 35-year Speedway announcer Rollie Jacobs, among many others. The EXPO will also highlight Jacobs' and Meisenhelder's DVD, "Riverside Park Speedway Memories," a compilation of video chronicling the Speedway's 50 years of exhilarating racing.

During an interview with Reminder Publications, Dick Berggren, editor of Speedway Illustrated Magazine, explained that the publication chose to honor Riverside Park Speedway because 2009 marks the tenth anniversary of the track's closure.

"During its operation, it was the strongest racetrack in the Northeast, with some of the greatest races and drama," he said. "I saw hundreds of races at Riverside. It was very exciting. The drama [of the races] was just breathtaking."

Berggren explained that he asked Meisenhelder and Jacobs to create a DVD to allow those attending the EXPO to comprehend the magnitude of Riverside Park Speedway's 50-year history.

"[Riverside Park] Speedway was so popular it became the Saturday destination," Jacobs explained. "[People] went on rides during the day and [attended] racing at night. If the weather was good, you could count on a full house of 7,200 people."

Meisenhelder, who is the producer of "Riverside Park Speedway Memories," explained that he has a prodigious collection of race footage dating back to 1948, in addition to interviews with track owners, promoters and announcers such as Mike Joy, now the lead announcer of NASCAR on Fox.

"It's too bad that place is gone 'cause it was a great place," Meisenhelder said. "You didn't have to like racing to go there [because] there was so much to see and do. It was unique because there was a track within an amusement park."

"Riverside Park Speedway Memories" will debut at the reunion at 5:30 p.m. DVDs will also be available throughout the EXPO from Feb. 27 to March 1.

The EXPO will also feature racing seminars, driver demonstrations, iRacing and autograph sessions with Ricky Craven, Steve Park, Vaughn Gittin Jr., Matt Kobyluck, Ted Christopher, Dave Dion, Ren e Dupuis, Chris Castagna and Mike Stefanik.

The EXPO will take place Feb. 27 from 5 to 9 p.m.; Feb. 28 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and March 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For the complete list of EXPO events visit www.speedwayexpo.com.

For more information about "Riverside Park Speedway Memories" or to buy a copy, visit www.kgmvideo.com.