The Ransomville Speedway: Dirt Track Workers in Western New York

Click here to view the Ransomville Speedway collection at the Library of Congress

In 2020, Edward Y. Millar, Curator of Folk Arts at the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University received an Archie Green Fellowship from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress to document the occupational folklife of the Ransomville Speedway, a storied dirt track in Ransomville, New York.

Millar interviewed workers from different sectors of 'The Big R' to raise awareness of the wide breadth of occupational knowledge and practices that facilitate dirt track racing.

The full collection consists of 17 hour-long audio interviews recorded from 2020-2021; over 100 photographs by track photographer Tom Stevens; and scanned historic photographs, rosters, and meeting notes, as well as other ephemera from the early years of the track dating back to the Ransomville Slow Pokes club, courtesy of Jipp and Rick Ortiz.

Each interview covers topics that span the wide breadth of occupational knowledge and practices that facilitate dirt track racing, across almost every area of track operations: from driver slang and the oral history narratives of starters, to the techniques of concession stand workers and motivations of mechanics and crew teams.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to everyone who participated in the project: Jenn Martin, Jeff Anstett, Erick Rudolph, Tom Stevens, Mike Williams, Don Spatorico, Derek Wagner, April Matson, Dave Botsford, Rick Mooney, Jayme Stone, Dave Rinker, Dakota Miller, Ryan Plante, John Nelson, Jipp Ortiz, Rick Ortiz, and Pete Bicknell.

About the Occupational Folklife Project

The Occupational Folklife Project (OFP) is an initiative of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress that began in 2010 as a multi-year project to document the culture of contemporary American workers during an era of economic and social transition.

To date, fieldworkers across the United States have recorded more than 1300 audio and audiovisual oral history interviews with workers in scores of trades, industries, crafts, and professions. The completed interviews have been incorporated into the American Folklife Center archive at the Library of Congress.

The Occupational Folklife Project includes field documentation on selected topics created by dozens of researchers or research teams throughout the United States. To honor the memory of folklorist Archie Green (1917-2009), the Archie Green Fellowship program was established at the American Folklife Center in 2010. These fellowships have supported the fieldwork and preliminary processing of most of these Occupational Folklife Project collections. Awards were made with the understanding that the resulting documentation would be deposited in the AFC archive and made available to the public. Priority for recipients of Archie Green Fellowships has been given to fieldworkers documenting professions underrepresented in the AFC archive.

Castellani Art Museum Exhibition

In 2021, the Castellani Art Museum developed an exhibition based off fieldwork collected through the Archie Green Fellowship called The Ransomville Speedway: History, Community, and Culture.

This exhibition highlighted the major themes and topics that emerged from the interviews recorded through the project: the fondly-held memories, the importance of community, and the breadth and depth of cultural knowledge.  

The Ransomville Speedway: History, Community, and Culture featured large-format interpretive panels, a slideshow of historic photographs, historic ephemera including early scorebooks and Slow Pokes member patches, flags, door panels, excerpted quotation panels from project participants, and multimedia footage from inside a dirt modified.

Click here to view the exhibition listing