The Racing Report is a five-part photo essay shot at short tracks in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania that will run in Farm and Dairy through the summer. Each month we will bring you a different theme to ponder from a different track.

For the second installment, photojournalist Matthew Chasney visited Norton Raceway Park on May 25 for its first race in two years.

Norton Raceway Park née Barberton Speedway in southwestern Summit County, Ohio must have nine lives. In 2022, the track’s owner Greg Punty died. The future of the track was uncertain. Punty’s business partner, Dennis Knox, went through a lengthy probate fight, followed by a zoning controversy. Amid those challenges were more mundane hassles including a plumbing nightmare and no fewer than three rainouts leading up to the eventual, highly anticipated opening race.

Barberton (I’m sorry, but I’ll always call it that) opened in 1948. Appalachians drawn to work in the rubber industry in nearby Akron brought short-track Saturday nights north with them. Throughout the 1950s, the quarter-mile asphalt track drew the NASCAR Sportsman Series but since the 60s it has been home to regional and local racing.

This has given the track a distinctly local flavor. It’s a hidden gem that flies below the radar of the national racing attention but occupies a special place in the hearts of locals. Step inside the gates and it’s easy to see why. The grandstand is built into the hillside and the track buildings exude the accidentally cool, vintage patina of an old minor league ballpark. The short length ensures that drivers are never far from one another’s quarter panels.

As the 20th century progressed, development encroached. Roaring V8s and quiet suburban homes make for strange bedfellows. Additionally, running a race track is unimaginably hard work. Often it’s easier and more profitable for owners to sell the land for development and call it a day. It happens everywhere, but it didn’t happen here.

Ask a fan about their connection to the track and you’ll hear stories like that of a woman who films every race and uploads the footage to YouTube until the wee hours, or a man whose father worked 80 hours a week and connected with his kids at the track on Saturday nights. It was this community that showed up to the Norton Zoning Board hearing on a chilly March evening earlier this year to support the reopening. It was the fans who kept the speedway alive through all of its ups and downs for 76 years. This track is special because the community is special and the community is special because of this track.

On May 25, after a brief shower in the afternoon, Barberton/Norton finally reopened.

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  1. My dad took me to this track in the 50’s as a youngster, and that got my heartbeat into racing. I have been following all kinds of racing ever since. We also went to the road that runs along the Rubber Bowl, in Akron, to watch the Drag Racing fun there.
    Since then, I’ve been to many race tracks around the countryside to watch all kinds of racing. I have always had a feel for doing Road racing on every road that I drive on. I can’t wait to get to the Norton Raceway Park this weekend 🤗!!!!


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