One of a Kind, Art Beardsley By Dan Hall
In 1959, Alaska and Hawaii became part of the United States. The movie, “Some like it hot” was the picture of the year. A vocal group called the Chipmunks made their recording debut. This year was also when the construction of Perry Raceway began. The raceway was a dream of one man, Art Beardsley. He wanted to make his dream a reality. Art’s stepson, Bob Schiltz remembers, “My dad was a big fan of racing. He and my mom went to Angelica Raceway and Hunt Raceway often. Art wanted to be a part of racing and purchased twenty five acres from his father. The family started building the raceway in 1959.”
In the fifties, Art Beardsley had served in the Air Force. Upon the completion of his service, Art returned to Perry. He began working for a Batavia construction firm. Bob Schiltz said, “Once Dad bought the property, he got Joe Lowindowsky, a fellow construction worker, to bulldoze the land. He also bought a grader from the town of Hunt. We all were kept busy that year.” In 1960, the racing began on Sunday afternoons. Those drivers who Art use to watch from the stands were now competing on his track. The first year was very successful. In 1961, more competitors and spectators made Perry Raceway the place to be on Sunday. The beginning of the 1962 season brought about a new event called “Snap the whip”. The last car on each lap was eliminated until there was only one car. This brought about some fast and furious racing. One of the most successful drivers who competed at Perry was Dean Layfield. Dean entered a “Snap the whip” race in a borrowed car. He was coming out of the fourth turn when a stone struck him in the head. The car veered and went straight over the first turn bank. Bob Schiltz remembers, “He came out of the fourth turn and the car swerved. Dean drove right over the first turn bank. He just missed the ticket stand and the car did a couple of circles. We thought he was just showing off. Unfortunately, he wasn’t.” A few days later, Dean passed away. This tragedy was devastating to Art. Bob continued, “Dad became good friends with all the drivers. He and Dean were very good friends. The week before the accident, Art and mom had visited Dean at his home. My dad never got over this accident. This took all the fun out of his dream.” A few weeks later, Art sold the track to Roger Paddock, Don Butler, and Jerry Houghton. Art’s sister, Shirley McLaughlin said, “Art really loved racing. The accident that killed Dean took all the joy away. I don’t believe my brother ever got over that. A few weeks later he sold the track.” Art’s good friend and next door neighbor, Fred Bauer remembers, “We all helped Art at the track. In the beginning, we had a lot of good times. Everybody liked Art because he was so much fun. The death of Dean Layfield was the beginning of the end. Art was really upset and he sold the track.” One of the trio that bought the track was Roger Paddock. Roger remembers, “We stayed up most of the night to work out the deal for the Raceway. I know the accident had a lot to do with the sale. Art is a great guy.”
The realization of a dream sometimes has unexpected results. Art learned this the first year of raceway operations. Bob Schiltz said, “Dad learned business skills, soil management, and fortune telling that first year.” Bob went on to explain, “The clay surface of the track needed to be watered down before the race and at intermission. Art started experimenting with brine water from Morton Salt. He discovered that worked the best.” Another discovery Art made was about insurance. Lloyds of London was the only carrier who offered coverage. The insurance was not cheap. Once again, Bob remembers, “The insurance was five hundred dollars a week. That was a lot of money in 1960. If you canceled the race due to rain, you had to phone Lloyds and the coverage would be carried over till the next week. The call had to be made before noon on Sunday. One Sunday the skies were threatening and the forecast was for heavy rain. Art canceled the races and phoned Lloyds. I was coming back from work and heading for the track. The skies had cleared up and the sun was out. There were a huge number of cars on Oatka road. I stopped and asked what was going on. One guy told me they cancelled the races. I headed home and asked my mom where dad was. She told me he was on the couch and don’t bother him. Well, he took a lot of flack but that was part of the business. One thing for sure, there was never a dull moment with Art. Art will be my hero till the day I die.”
The life of Art Beardsley touched a lot of people. Art passed away on October 6, 2001. He was remembered by so many people at the wake. They all had funny stories to tell about Art. He took his dream and made it a reality. In the process, he provided a lot of humor and friendship. Art was inducted into the Wyoming County International Speedway “Wall of Fame” for his passion for racing and people. Art is the founder of Perry Raceway. He was also a father, a good friend to all, and a man who had a unique sense of humor. Art Beardsley is one of a kind.