Today, such races are barred by Ohio law, but the annual Put-in-Bay Road Races Reunion strives to preserve their energy and character.
"The drivers are getting old, the cars are getting old," Bob Williams, the event coordinator, said. "A lot of the history's being lost because it has never been recorded."
The third annual reunion started Monday and ends Wednesday. It features car shows, films of early races, picnics, roundtable discussions, and a vintage car parade. New this year were a one-car-at-a-time speed trial event at the Put-in-Bay airport Monday and a dry run of a full-race course Tuesday. Celebrations of the races culminated in a parade of vintage sports cars Tuesday, when drivers made three laps around the original course.
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The 2011 reunion welcomed back 1950s racing pioneers who attended the event -- some as speakers.
Mr. Williams said the races were significant to the island's economy during the 1950s. Races took place from 1952 to 1959, and tourists flocked in on the weekends to watch them, often staying overnight.
The races were halted in 1959, however, when a new law prohibited racing on public roads in Ohio.
After gaining permission from the state, Put-in-Bay held one last race in 1963, but after that, the cars became too fast and were dangerous to race, Mr. Williams said.
"The cars went 100 mph. Some went 140," he said. "People just stood on the grass on the sides and watched."
Stone markers were placed on the original course this year to help preserve the race's history.
Most of the old race cars present were European -- particularly from Great Britain and Germany, because many were brought back by men who were abroad during World War II.
Soldiers enjoyed driving the small, fast cars while they were in Europe, so they brought them back to America and raced them on public roads.
Jack Woehrle, like Mr. Williams a member of the Sports Car Club of America and a founder of the reunion, was present at Put-in-Bay's last race in 1963.
Along with other event organizers, he hopes to re-create a vintage road race.
Speed trials of cars at the airport Tuesday tested the feasibility of a vintage race during the 2012 reunion, Mr. Woehrle said. Organizers hope to hold a full-scale race at Put-in-Bay airport by next year.
"We'd love the opportunity to put on a vintage race with cars that were typical of the day," said Manley Ford, public relations director.
Mr. Ford owns a vintage race car and has participated in numerous vintage-car races across the country. He said the reunion has grown significantly since 2009; people attended this year from across the country.
Bill Shehan, from Delmar, Md., was visiting family in Ohio when he stumbled upon the reunion. "This has been a blast. It's been dynamite," he said. "I would definitely come back next year."
John Corbin from Congress, Ohio, owns a vintage sports car, but didn't bring it to this year's festivities.
"I may bring my car next year," he said. "It's a vintage 1960 Morris Minor 1000. I would definitely come back next year if they have a race."
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