Auto racing inside Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City first began in 1938 when a series of Midget car races was held during the fall of that year. The following autumn, the Midget car racing events took place once again.
With the specter of World War II hanging over the nation, many auto races were first voluntarily and later legislatively cancelled to aid in the war effort and Boardwalk Hall racing was such a casualty.
Auto racing enjoyed a tremendous post-World War II boom throughout the nation but Boardwalk Hall, while an active and thriving entertainment venue, remained silent to the roar of racing engines.
It was not until January of 1965 that Pleasantville. NJ businessman George Stockinger began the first of fifty five indoor racing events that would stretch over the course of the next fifteen winters. The featured attraction were the Three-Quarter (TQ) Midgets, a smaller, more nimble version of the Midget car that had been action back in 1938-1939.
Because of the scheduling of these races in the dead of winter, the Atlantic City Indoor Races received widespread publicity among the auto racing media. The frenzy peaked in 1973 when six events were held, though through 1981 at least three events took place each year. The series ended as Atlantic City was in the midst of its transformation from a fabled shore town to a worldwide gaming mecca.
Big TQ winners in the “Stockinger Era” included Doug Craig, Levittown, PA; Jack Bertling, Caldwell, NJ; Bob Cicconi, Prospect Park, PA; Nick Fornoro Jr. Rockaway, NJ; Tony Romit, Cliffside Park, NJ; and Lenny Boyd, Farmingdale, NJ.
Twenty two years later, in 2003, Len Sammons, publisher of Trenton, NJ-based Area Auto Racing News, perceived a need for and a value in resurrecting the Atlantic City Indoor racing traditions. On January 18, 2003, a packed house thrilled to TQ-Midget racing as Andy Mackereth from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada won the “Gambler’s Classic” main event. The auto racing success was spectacular, and continues today! In fact, the fields of cars are so huge that two days of qualifying are needed to provide each entrant a fair chance to earn an opportunity to compete for the biggest prize.
Of interest, drivers from a variety of racing divisions compete in the Boardwalk Hall events. There are not only TQ-Midget regulars; but also racers from Supermodifieds; pavement and dirt Modifieds, Sprint Cars, Micro-Sprints and Midgets. Indeed, top drivers and teams from many states invade Boardwalk Hall each year with the goal of taking home the large and prestigious “Gambler’s Classic” trophy!
After Mackereth’s 2003 victory, the Gambler’s Classic winners have included Joey Payne (2004 and 2007), Jeff Heotzler (2005), “Liquid Lou” Cicconi (2006 and 2010), Mike Tidaback (2008), Ted “TC” Christopher (2009 and 2011), Erick Rudolph (2012 and 2015) and Anthony Sesely (2013 and 2014).
Since 2003, various “support” divisions have been on the program with the TQ-Midgets. Most-recently, the large crowds have enjoyed watching Slingshot and Champ Kart events during the Friday-Saturday meets. In January 2015, Jason Hartman (Slingshot) and Donnie Nall (Champ Kart) proudly added their names to the long list of racers who have triumphed in Boardwalk Hall.
The grand tradition of winter auto racing in Atlantic City will continue in 2016, as the 71st event of the modern era that began in 1965!