Submitted by the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University
The Library of Congress recently published a collection of materials that highlight the rich stories, culture and traditions of the Ransomville Speedway, dating back to its inception in the mid-1950s as the Ransomville Slow Pokes club by Ed Ortiz, Rich Cantara and other racers, to keep local kids from racing on Ransomville streets.
“The Ransomville Speedway: Dirt Track Workers in Western New York” collection materials were gathered as part of a 2020 Archie Green Fellowship awarded to Edward Y. Millar, curator of folk arts at the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University (CAM), by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The AFC is dedicated to preserving and presenting the cultural knowledge of American workers in an array of industries via its “Occupational Folklife Project.”
From 2020-21, Millar conducted 17 audio interviews, scanned historic photographs, rosters and meeting notes, as well as early ephemera. Ransomville Speedway photographer Tom Stevens contributed and curated more than 100 fascinating images that illustrate the track’s multifaceted and passionate culture.
“It’s exciting to see our work now become fully accessible to the general public and preserved in the national archive for future generations to cherish,” Millar said. “While we did include select materials in our exhibition at the CAM last year, it’s great to be able to share the full scope of the project and this aspect of Niagara County’s cultural heritage – not only with our local community, but a global audience.”
Each interview provides a look into a different area of work and cultural expression found at the Ransomville Speedway: From the evolution of concession stand foodways to driver narratives to the techniques of track announcers and starters.
Millar said, “The collection provides a great snapshot of the breadth of motivations, skills and knowledge found in the dirt-track racing community.”