Dirt Track Memories - Bob Deneen

6/30/2024
Bob Deneen
Raceway Park was located at 127th and Western in Blue Island, IL. It was a 1/4 mile asphalt track, and the really dominant driver I remember was Bud Kohler in his Nash. Features of this track included a full liquor bar in the pits (remember this was in the ‘50s) and several racecar shops located across the street so if you crashed your racer, you could easily have it fixed for the following weekend. This track was closed in the early ‘60s and was replaced by a Super Mart...........
 
After the 1955 season, the owners of the 87th Street Speedway moved to some land near the new Chicago airport called O’Hare Field. A 1/4 mile asphalt track was constructed and named O’Hare Stadium.
 
 
My Dad was a foreman for an asphalt paving company at the time. The company lost out on the banked turns, but they did get the contract for paving the sidewalk between the stands, concession stands, and washrooms. The policy of the track owners was every vendor/contractor had to buy an ad in the program and a feature trophy. My dad’s boss wanted no part of that, so my dad was drafted to give away the feature trophy. The picture of the that presentation is one of my most prized possessions. The track closed in 1967 and was replaced by warehouses.
 
The most famous “graduate” of O’Hare stadium was Fred Lorenzen who went down south after winning the track championship in 1960. Some of the other drivers went on to race at USAC in Milwaukee. Among them was Gene Marmer, Whitey Gerkin, and Sal Torella.
 
The last track is by far the oldest. It started in 1895 when people from Chicago would travel by train to see horse racing and stay to have lunch in the nearby picnic grove. The track changed to cars in the 1950s and had stock cars Friday-Sunday nights with motorcycle races on Wednesday nights. It was a 1/4 mile clay track. The radio slogan on W.L.S. was “Sante Fe: The Action Track of Clay” with a bigger 1/2 mile track available for “special events.” An “inspector” would appear at the flagstand, pop the hood of the winning car, and wave to the crowd while shouting “It’s legal!” No winner ever flunked his inspection.
 
Racers, you may have heard that Dick Nelson, Earl J. Hubert, Dennis Erb, and Don Heckennast are still racing to this day in the Lucas Oil dirt Car Series.
 
Bob Deneen.........Elk Grove Vlg, IL
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