Winnebago County, Illinois
Some News Concerning the History of the Rockford Speedway
ERECT MIDGET RACEWAY HERE
$100,000 TRACK READY BY NEXT MAY
Plans for the fastest midget race track in the world, to be constructed near the intersection of Forest Hills road (state route No. 173) and the route 173 extension, which connects with North 2nd street road north of Rockford were moving toward completion today.
Only formal okeh by the county board of supervisors is needed before actual construction is begun on the 30-acre tract of land which will house the $100,000 quarter-mile oval.
Construction contract already has been let to the Rockford Construction company and building will start next Friday, weather permitting. The track is expected to be ready for its first race by the middle of next May.
Known as the Rockford Midget Auto Racing Association, Inc., the project is backed by eight Rockford and Loves Park men: Don Gleasman, Robert Milburn, Herbert Davis, Jay Hart, Stan Ralston, Gil Mandt, Al Tondi and Jim Wagner.
"Gleasman is president of the association; Milburn, vice president; and Hart, secretary-treasurer. Wagner is to be general manager of the track and will return to Rockford shortly from California where he is a golf club professional.
Study Other Stadiums
Hart, spokesman for the racing syndicate, said final plans were decided upon after several month of studying race tracks throughout the country; South Bend's Speed Gilmore stadium in Los Angeles, currently the fastest track in the country; South Bend's Speed Drome, second fastest; Soldiers' field, Chicago; the Milwaukee Fairgrounds, and the Indianapolis Midget drome.
Several big name drivers have been approached and have voiced their approval and agreement to race here. Hart said 30 to 40 cars would be racing each night. He said the group has been invited to participate in the January meeting of the Midwest Drivers' association, composed of drivers largely who will race on this circuit.
Until gate receipts can be estimated, drivers will be guaranteed a purse of $2,000 or 40 per cent, whichever is larger.
Both class A and B cars will race here, with emphasis on the larger displacement type A racers. Because the engines on the type A cars are hand-tooled by precision craftsmen, their cost varies from $10,000 to $20,000. The motors on the second type are usually rebuilt V-8 type engines. The cars cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 to build.
Sanctioned as a part of the American Automobile association, drivers will be awarded points toward the national AAA championship, depending on the length and type of cars. Allied with the racing circuit in Indianapolis, South Bend, Chicago, and Milwaukee, the Rockford races are expected to attract the nation's leading drivers, many of the racing in the "big-time" 500 mile races at Indianapolis.
Doc Shanebrook, a widely known local driver, is expected to pilot a speedy entry if sufficiently recovered from injuries suffered last season. Several local cars are expected to compete.
The track also will be used by local automobile parts manufacturers as a proving ground. Hart added.
The world-famed Indianapolis speedway was studied, but ideas gathered there, showed the local group what they didn't want.
"True, it's big and famous, but the track itself is one of the most dangerous in the country." Hart added. "That not for us. We want the safest, yet fastest oval that can be built." Average speed for the track is expected to be around 90 miles-per-hour, greater than the current average of 85.
No Skidding Here
The turns, designed by American Automobile association engineers, will be parabolic curves, allowing full speed at all times. The asphalt surfacing is to be a super-traction mix with a rough surface to prevent skidding. The track will be 43 feet wide. When completed, there will be no theoretical speed limit as on many tracks in the country." It depends entirely on the car and the ability and nerves of the drivers, Hart said.
With most races to be held at night, Rockford is to have a unique off-set lighting system, designed to give nearly daylight brightness but with no blinding glare for the driver.
Two grandstands of wood and steel construction, each seating 2,6000, will be placed along the straight-away, allowing full view of the racers at all times.
Many track features have been suggested after polling the nation's top drivers. For instance, the pits, where the drivers stop to take on more fuel and to make minor repairs, will be larger than usual and with more convenient access to the track itself.
Because of the highly dangerous nature of midget racing, Hart said the local syndicate will go all the way to install safety features.
--Rockford Register-Gazette, December 8, 1947
5,000 FANS SEE MIDGET OPENER
McDowell Wins 20-Lap Feature Event
Rockford got its first look at the new midget auto racing plant on highway 173 last night as more than 5,000 fans poured into the stands around the quarter-mile oval to witness the opening of the $100,000 speedway sponsored by the Rockford Midget Auto Racing Association Inc.
Loose sand, coupled with a slippery asphalt surface, created many a hazardous turn for the 14 drivers who assembled to race for the $2,900 purse offered in the season opener.
Johnny McDowell of Los Angeles, Cal., piloted his maroon and yellow midget to victory in the 20-lap main event in a field of 12 drivers. The win was forecast by his time in the trials, :17.08 in the third lap, for a mark of .28 of a second faster than any other driver on the track.
Last night's field was limited to 14 entrants due to the fact that many of the men booked to drive here were turning in qualifying rounds yesterday morning for the annual 500-mile "big car" classic at Indianapolis on Memorial day.
Aaron Woodard, Denver, Colo., was timed in 2:20.4 to win the second race of the evening while Kenny Easton, Newcastle, Ind., was clocked at 2:19.34 to win the second
SPEEDWAY TO ENLARGE FOR 1949 SEASON
Directors of the Speedway had a busy session recently when they elected officers for 1949, changed the name of the organization and made plans for sodding the infield for football, the field to be used by Harlem high school for its home games to be played at night with no rental charges.
The name was changed from Rockford Midget Auto Racing Association, Inc. Stan Ralston was elected president, with Bob Milburn and Jay Hart re-elected vice president and secretary, respectively. Dr. Burt Canfield was elected treasurer. Ralston succeeds Don Gleasman as president. Besides the officers, Gleasman, Herb Davis, Gil Mandt, Al Tondi and Ira Bell, Jr., were elected directors.
Harlem high accepted the offer to play its home games under the lights at the Speedway, the infield to be sodded with a good drainage system. Plans are being made to hold one or two pro football games there next fall under the lights.
The association also plans to resume hot rod and midget auto races at the speedway about the middle of May if the weather permits. It is planned to race midgets with smaller motors in order to increase the competition in this type of racing.
--Rockford Morning Star, December 19, 1948
TWO KILLED AT MIDGET TRACK
Car Plunges Into Pits; Mechanic, Son Die
An inquest will be conducted Friday into the deaths of two pit crew members killed at the new Rockford speedway on highway 173 last night when a midget racer plunged through a guard rail and across the pit area.
The driver oft he midget auto which crashed was not badly hurt. A 16 year old boy working as a gate keeper also was injured, but not seriously.
Dead are Ralph Brown, 40, 2801 Cannon street, former race car driver and mechanic for "Doc" Shanebrook, a race driver, and Brown's son, Robert, 18, a mechanic's helper. The boy was decapitated when the race car knocked him partly through a track official's parked car in the pit area. The father, also hit by the car, died of a skull fracture a few minutes after the accident.
Steering Mechanism Failed
The gate keeper was Jack Darby, 123 North Chicago avenue. The driver of the car which crashed, Ted Duncan, 36, of Miami, Fla., and Beecher, Ill., said the steering mechanism on his car failed as he was in the middle of the track's east turn.
Both Duncan and Darby were reported in "good" condition at Swedish-American hospital today. Duncan was to be X-rayed to determine the full extent of his injuries. He was thrown from his car and suffered shoulder and back injuries.
Darby, whom Duncan believes his body struck as he was thrown from the seat of his car, suffered head injuries.
13 Cars, 13th Lap
The accident occurred during the last, or feature event at the track at 10:15 p.m., just before completion of the 13th lap of a a 30-lap race. Thirteen cars were racing, and all were grouped in the east turn when Duncan's machine left the track. The other cars completed the race, but a caution flag slowed their time as track officials protected ambulances crossing the track.
There were an estimated 4,000 spectators watching the events. About 50 pit crew members, all in the pit area restricted to track officials, mechanics and other workers, were nearest the accident scene.
Sheriff's Deputy William Ducion said the car flew through the air over his head striking the father and son. Don Boring, Indianapolis, Ind., a driver whose car was in the pit with mechanical trouble, said he was standing only a few feet from the victims.
Borning said he saw the car crash the heavy guard rail and threw himself flat during the split-second interval before the car flashed past.
Standing on Ramp
Duncan's car apparently hit the slope at the top of the east end of the track, turned over, hit the father and son standing on the entry ramp to the track, then bounced off one parked car and over two others before dropping wheels up over a fence about 20 feet from the grandstand.
The motor of 800-pound car raced wide open as it lay bottom up in an open area. A mechanic's helper rushed over and switched off the ignition to avoid fire danger.
The parked car badly damaged by the racer was owned by Dick Day, Register-Republic sports editor.
The body of Robert Brown, apparently decapitated when it struck a car owned by Jim Wagner, a track official, was lying at the rear of a line of parked cars. Duncan, driver of the crashed car, was lying between two parked cars. Darby was knocked only a short distance. The elder Brown, whom Dr. Burt Canfield, track physician, said died a few minutes after he was placed in one of two ambulances kept waiting during racing events, was knocked down the pit slope.
Sign Liability Waiver
Track officials pointed out today the Rockford speedway is adjudged by drivers and track workers as one of the safest in the nation. The drivers were polled last night to determine their ideas on further safety improvements of the Rockford track. They agreed unanimously that the track was as safe for spectators and workers as it could be made.
Accident liability insurance rates for the Rockford speedway are among the lowest of any in the nation. Although last night's accident did not endanger any spectators, they are protected by the track's insurance. Drivers, track officials, and pitmen sign waivers of liability in case of injury or death.
Jay Hart, member of the association which operates the local track, said that all possible cautions have been taken for the protection of both spectators and persons employed in staging the events.
One of the midget cars would probably never be able to penetrate into the spectators' area through the heavy wire fencing, he said. Last night's crash involved only the pit area, which is restricted to employes and drivers.
The cars travel an estimated 50 to 55 miles per hour on the turns. Duncan was well in the running when his car left the track.
Wife Saw Crash
His wife, Mildred, who travels with him, was at the track last night but sitting in her car at the time the accident occurred. She said today she usually sits in the grandstands. She added that her husband expects to be out of the hospital tomorrow.
The racing car, valued at about $12,500, was owned by John Pawl, who was also at the track last night. Pawl said the machine could be repaired. Other drivers agreed that the accident was unavoidable, most stating it was "one of those things that happen in racing."
Deputies led by Sheriff Emil W. Heideman and state police handled crowds which surged to the scene of the double tragedy. Throngs were chilled by the sudden death they saw.
Victim Former Driver
Ralph Brown, a former race car driver himself, worked as Shanebrook's mechanic but had been employed at the Sundstrand Machine Tool company plant here. His son, who also worked at Sundstrand's was his father's helper. Both had traveled to other tracks servicing Shanebrook's black No. 4, which the race caller has dubbed the "sedanette" because of a safety top.
Shanebrook's car was out of the races last night with mechanical difficulties. But the father and son were there working on the machine.
Duncan, in the midget racing field for 13 years, said he had never had a serious accident before last night. He makes his home with his mother in Beecher, Ill., during the midwest racing season, but he and Mrs. Duncan have a home in Miami, Fla.
--Rockford Register-Republic, June 17, 1948
FIRST STOCK CAR RACES AT SPEEDWAY SET FOR JUNE 29
EIGHT EVENT ARE SCHEDULED
The first program of stock car races at Rockford speedway, located seven miles north of here on route 173, will be presented Wednesday evening, June 29.
Plans for the race program, which is of an entirely different type than any previously offered in this vicinity, were announced by track officials last night. Eight events are scheduled, and the program will be directed and sanctioned by the Hurricane Hot Rod association.
Stock car races, which have proven extremely popular in other sections of the country, attract either coupes or sedans of 1939 to 1949 vintage. Participating cars are strictly stock in every regard, and no convertibles are permitted.
Each entry is fully equipped with windshields, head lights, fenders, starters and all other standard accessories. No special devices on the engine are allowed. Cars must be licensed to run on the high ways, and all makes are eligible.
For the June 29 program, time trials will start at 6:30 o'clock and the first race two hours later.
A mid-season championship hot rod race will take place at the speedway the evening of July 4. The race will be a 50-laps event for a large purse, and is expected to draw the best cars and drivers in the business. The race will climax a schedule of seven events.
Hot rod races also are held at the track every Saturday night.
--Rockford Morning Star, June 19, 1949
ROCKFORD-OWNED CAR ENTERS JUNE 29 STOCK CAR
LOCAL DRIVER WILL COMPETE
A Rockford owned and driven entry will be in the field when the first stock car racing program held in this section of the country is presented Wednesday night, June 29, at Rockford speedway, seven miles northeast of here on route 173.
Ivan Anderson is owner of the car, a 1940 Ford coupe which will be driven by either Nick Koralis or Harlan Aase. Both Koralis and Aase have been competing in hot rod racing programs at the speedway.
Stock car racing, which has been proving popular with fans on the east and west coasts, attracts stock model coupes and sedans of all makes from 1939 to 1949. The cars are standard vehicles, and no special engine designs or accessories are permitted. Convertibles also are barred.
The Hurricane Hot Rod association, which sanctions the hot rod programs held at the speedway each Saturday night, also sanctions the stock car programs.
Track officials point out that the June 29 program will give fans an opportunity to see their favorite models operating under race conditions while expertly handled.
The speedway also announced plans yesterday for its mid-season hot rod championship race the evening of July 4. The feature race will be a 50-lap event in which the nation's leading hot rod drivers will compete.
--Rockford Morning Star, June 26, 1949
ERNST, DEERY BUY ROCKFORD SPEEDWAY
Ownership in Rockford Speedway changed hands Tuesday with the sale of controlling interest to insurance executive Hugh Deery and track steward William Ernst.
Deery, a former stockholder, and Ernst purchased 51 per cent of stock in the Speedway from Mrs. Mary Ralston, widow of Stan Ralston, and her son James.
No purchase price was announced following Tuesday's stockholders meeting, but it was estimated that the controlling interest sale was in the neighborhood of $72,000.
Al Tondi and Herbert Davis remain as the only other stockholders.
Election of officers for the new group is scheduled for Friday morning in the office of attorney Louis Gilbert.
Ernst, a commercial pilot employed by Business Air Transport and veteran racing enthusiast, said he hopes to increase the stature of racing at the local track. He has been active in auto racing since 1948, mostly as a car owner and director of races.
Ernst, responsible for the appearance of the nation's top drivers from the Indianapolis 500 mile race for the past two seasons at the Speedway, is hoping to bring big names in races more frequently to the Rockford track.
"My ambitions are to increase the quality of racing with better cars and better racing," Ernst commented.
Ernst and Derry agree that an annual Speed-O-Rama featuring top drivers from the Indianapolis 500 each season is a possibility.
They plan to co-operate with Frank Larson, owner of the Freeport track in making the Speed-O-Rama one of the highlights of the Rockford area sports calendar.
Tuesday's sale of controlling interest in the Speedway left only Tondi and Davis from a group of eight original stockholders when the track association was organized in 1947. Others in the original group of owners were Stan Ralston, Gil Mandt, Bob Milburn, Jim Wagner, Jay Hart and Donald Gleasman.
The track opened with midgets in 1948, continued with hot rods in 1949 and changed to stock car racing in 1950.
--Rockford Morning Star, June 6, 1962
HOW STOCK IS STOCK CAR?
Stock racing cars are not all what the name implies.
Red Aase, of Loves Park, three-time champion at Rockford Speedway will vouch for that.
He's the only driver-mechanic still active from the original field of hot-rod racers who were on hand when the track opened in 1948. Don Harvey, Corky Wickson and Al Shear are the only other drivers still active from the first stock races in 1950.
Red will tell you that there is a great deal of work involved in setting up a production-line vehicle to take the stresses and strains of an auto capable of 85-mile-an-hour racing on the quarter-mile track. Stocks at Rockford Speedway average about 60 m.p.h.
Before the car is ready for the track it is dismantled right down to the frame. The chassis is then completely re-welded and extra bracing is added.
A roll cage is installed, which give the driver extra protection in case of an accident.
All the suspension components are replaced by heavy-duty equipment, and two shock absorbers of the heavy-duty variety replace the normal one at every wheel.
Special steerings arms are installed, special springs are put in, and a "full-floating" rear axle replaces the normal one. "Floaters" are axles which don't carry any of the body weight of the vehicle, but serve only to transmit the power to the wheels.
Heavy-duty brake drums and special linings also join the package. Instead of normal wheels, which average six inches across the rim and are 14 inches in diameter, a reinforced 16-inch wheel with a rim width of 8 1/2 inches takes its place.
General Tire Co. makes an extra wide tire especially for use by drivers at Rockford Speedway. Design of the tire is quite different from regular tires, leaning more towards providing maximum road holding--but giving a much harsher ride--than does the comfort-designed passenger car tires.
Air pressure in each tire also varies, according to Aase. For instance, he used 15-2- pounds in the left from, 25-30 in the right rear. This is done for better maneuverability on the constant left turns of the quarter mile oval.
The inside of the car is gutted, with all upholstery being removed, and the normal seat is replaced by one with padding on the sides to give the driver a more comfortable position.
The gasoline tank has an 11 gallon capacity and Aase estimates that he gets about 3-miles-per-gallon during a race.
Cost of building a car for racing at the local track? Red says his 1967 Chevrolet cost between $5,000 and $6,000 when parts and labor are taken into consideration. Bryder Motors of Beloit plans to enter a car that cost about $11,000.
Aase, father of three children and a mechanic by trade said he never had the desire to race in the big cars like they run in the Indianapolis 500. "First, my wife doesn't approve of that kind of racing but she does enjoy watching the races here." he said.
The Loves Park driver won his third Rockford season's championship here last year. His previous titles came in 1955 and 1957.
Red holds the record for the fastest qualifying speed at the Speedway with a time of :15.63 seconds. He was the fastest qualifier in the first four race programs of the season going into Saturday night's event, but was still looking for his first feature victory.
Unlike the Indianapolis 500 where the fastest qualifiers get the front starting positions, the fastest cars are put in the back row. Eighteen stocks qualify for the feature and Aase says "it's a real test to start last and try to race your way to the front."
Biggest thrill for a stock driver is a clean sweep, according to Aase. That comes by being the fastest qualifier winner in the trophy dash and a heat race and finally the feature victory.
Aase picked up an estimated $5,000 in purses at the Speedway in winning the championship in 1963. The biggest single purse was $1,050 he picked up for winning a 500-lap feature event here in 1955.
The Speedway attracts crowds of more than 5,000 persons for its Saturday night racing and last year had a season's total in excess of 60,000 fans. Aase claims it is by far the best for any quarter-mile stock car track in the midwest.
--Rockford Morning Star, May 24, 1964
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