Ira Vail was a driver, owner and promoter who successfully bridged the gap between the early barnstorming years and the post WWI era of dirt track racing.
Ira Vail raced motorcycles for Bill Pickens at the Brighton Beach Bowl near New York City in 1910 but switched to cars in 1911 winning is first car race at Hohokus, New Jersey. He was soon competing on the pro circuit against the likes of Barney Oldfield, Ralph DePalma, Ralph Mulford and Louis Chevrolet. These were the early barnstorming days when auto racing toured America in a series of shows and exhibitions.
On of these tours arraged by Bill Pickens was to Cuba. Barney Oldfied was part of the circus but he had to return early after getting drunk and insulting a local official.
By 1916 Vail had become a works driver for the Hudson Motor Car Company, twice finishing third on the Sheepshead Bay board track in 1916.
Skilled on board tracks his best results came on the dirt ovals. A keen businessman Vail was also one of the first drivers to endorse products for money and when Hudson pulled out of racing in 1917 he took his race car to Europe where he could get more money for it.
When racing resumed after World War I in 1919, Ira drove his Philbrin-Duesenberg Special to victory in the 5-mile feature race at Allentown. He won there again in 1920, twice in 1923, 1924, twice again in 1925 and again in 1926.
Vail also persuaded Tommy Milton to buy an engine from Harry A. Miller at the same time as him on the basis that it would be cheaper for Miller to build two motors at thus save money. Vail used his new Miller to win $5000 at Fort Worth and $4500 in Dallas on successive days.
Val could win anywhere but he was most successful at the Flemington, New Jersey and Mineola, New York, Fairgrounds.
By 1920, a year after finishing eigth in the Indy 500, Vail was helping to pack the grandstands year after year at dirt tracks like Middletown and Syracuse.
Ira also continued to do well at Indy: 7th in 1921, 8th in 1922, 8th again in 1924 and 20th in 1925.
In 1925, he was asked by the New York State Fair board to take over the promotion of the annual national championship even in Syracuse. He remained as promoter through the 1960s at the mile dirt facility, first with AAA and then with the United States Auto Club (USAC). In addition to Syracuse, he promoted races at other East Coast venues, such as Mineola, Rhinebeck and Essex Junction.