Last Call at Madison Sq Garden
From Issue 83 • Words by Brett Horton, image from the Horton Collection
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The optimism and artistic zaniness of mid-20th century art comes through loud and clear in this six-day race poster. Upbeat graphics and lettering style along with tag lines like “Fabulous!” and “Fascinating!” made it all but a sure thing that the fans were in for six days of fun and off-the-hook entertainment. The 1961 New York Six, held as always at the venerable Madison Square Garden, left its mark on six-day history. The first race dates back to 1893, and the two-man team format was ushered in at the Garden in 1899—creating the name Madison for the two-man race now held at world track championships. While many other cities were lucky to have one sixday per year, the popularity of the New York edition was insured for many years by hosting two annual events. And in 1920 the race was held three times!
For decades, the New York Six was considered the pinnacle event on the circuit. However, after World War II, American interest began to rapidly wane. Many cities outside of New York had already scratched six-day races from their calendar. But New York didn’t have its last event until 1961. That year’s race director, James Proscia, left his post before the race started, but not before the posters had been printed. When you look at this poster, you will see Sports International, Inc., with a bold blue line beneath. Upon closer examination, one can see Proscia’s name overprinted to both wipe away his name as race director while at the same time avoiding the cost of a complete reprint.
On the racing front, Switzerland’s Oscar Plattner and Armin Von Buren obliterated the field and finished with 1,224 points, with a margin of 443 ahead of the second-place team, Leandro Faggin and Ferdinando Terruzzi of Italy, who’d won the previous New York Six in 1959. Interestingly, 1961 was the first time in 73 editions of the race that didn’t include a single American rider. With shifting tastes in sport, 1961 would also prove to be the race’s swansong.
In the perspective of nearly 60 years since the final six-day at Madison Square Garden, the race is still looked upon as the birthplace of the modern six. Many current fans across the globe would love to see New York rejoin the list of current sixes. While unlikely, it is nevertheless a romantic idea. Americans, and particularly New Yorkers, have every right to take great pride in the contribution this great city and its race has made to this fan-favorite style of bike racing!
This story originally appeared in issue 83