Lincoln Speedway opened in 1963 under the direction of Paul Saens, making it the direct offspring of Capitol Beach. Located on the fairgrounds it fell into line to become the direct competition for Midwest Speedway. The third of those tracks was Eagle Raceway located outside of town near Eagle, NE. Midwest Speedway won approval by the voting NMRA members leaving Lincoln Speedway in the cold. Biskup/Gerdes and the NMRA staff chose to align themselves with Eagle Raceway and tally a joint-point total.
Eagle was complete and began racing on Memorial Day weekend 1963. Midwest Speedway had yet to be finished so points for the 1963 NMRA were not officially counted until after our Track’s debut on Independence Day 1963. The NMRA also busied themselves at the Gage County Fairgrounds up until the opening date at the soon-to-be-famous Midwest Speedway.
During that first year the cars were still the Coupes and Sedans that had been visible at the Beach. They were the most advanced Coupes and Sedans in the Nation, though. With quick change rear-ends, fuel injection, and in-out boxes they were already taking Super Modified shape. The closing of the first year would signal an end to a rulebook dominated sport.
Before the first season was concluded the NMRA held a big-time fifty lap special on Labor Day. The two most professional drivers Nebraska had ever seen, Lloyd Beckman and Bob Burdick, took off in a fury during those fifty laps. In fact, the two lapped the entire field!! Burdick had the lead and was coming close to the white flag when a lapped car swung out and tagged him. Burdick hit the guardrail and took it over ripping the front-end off of the car. The race was called and Lloyd Beckman was given the win. This was the only night when Beckman was hesitant to accept the trophy.
Roy McCain drove the Guy Hollamon Special to the 1963 NMRA title whisking Beckman by eighty points. Bob Burdick finished his historic racing career with a third place showing in the 1963 NMRA point standings. Cliff Sealock took the Williams & Swenson 24 to a stout fourth place. Keith Hightshoe rounded out the top five that first year racing for Les Vicers.
The first full season at Midwest Speedway would usher in the true Super Modified era. The homespun Sprint Cars became stars on Midwest’s Third Mile. Lloyd Beckman was the clear-cut champion of NMRA 1964 racing a fiberglass bodied hoodoo, powered by a Chevy 400. McCain was strong again in 1964, as was John Wilkinson racing his own hoodoo.
In 1965 Wilkinson replaced Cliff Sealock in the Williams & Swenson 24 after the latter moved to California. It was a match made in heaven as John screamed to end the season as the 1965 NMRA champion. Roy McCain again was strong taking the runner-up spot. Lloyd Beckman would end his sixties tenure with Bill Smith’s 4X owning a third place point show.
A different story in 1966 as John stepped away from the famous 24 allowing Beckman to step in. That summer Lloyd Beckman was the most dominant driver in the history of the NMRA winning ten Features in a row! Nine of them were scored right here at Midwest Speedway. Beckman won the title over Frank Brennfoerder by a staggering 1624 points! Roy McCain was third at the end of 1966.
1967 was accented by the arrival of the roadster to the NMRA. Joe Saldana unloaded a brand new state-of-the-art roadster to compete at Midwest Speedway. 1967 also saw the arrival of a new champion with the NMRA. An interesting cycle of events catapulted Larry Upton to take the crown. Upton began the season racing Lonnie Jensen’s car while he took the control of Ed Smith’s entry. Following the Independence Day race Jensen was unseated and took back his own car. Larry Upton naturally fell into place racing the balance of the season in the Smith 44. With Jensen, the Smith Special lounged in the NMRA standings until Upton hot shoed it all the way to the top in the final few months of ’67.
The arrival of 1968 would see an all-new set of Super Modifieds take to our Track. Despite being enthusiastic sportsmen, Jerry Gerdes and Jerry Biskup were not savvy businessmen. The fan base was strong for the weekly NMRA shows, yet the front gate wasn’t making the place float. The NMRA felt it was getting the short end of the stick and asked for a purse increase for them to return. The duo turned them down and the NMRA left Midwest Speedway behind to race exclusively at Eagle Raceway. Lincoln Speedway had closed a year earlier…defeated by Midwest Speedway.
1968 was a great season at Midwest Speedway as the car count ripped through the roof. 4600 North 27th Street in Lincoln became the only place in the state of Nebraska where the cars of the Blue Valley Racing Association (Fairbury/Beatrice), Central Nebraska Racing Association (Kearney/Hastings), and the Lincoln crowd would meet to race. The cars were the same, but the engines were different. With a 305 cubic inch limit and lack of fuel injection the average fan discounted them as second class. That would hurt the front gate.
The Biskup/Gerdes reign ended after only four and half years and they turned ownership over to Pete Leikam before the kick-off of the 1969 season. An ever Open Wheel loyalist, Pete decided it was time to end the Super Modified weekly run and do something completely different in the Lincoln area. A weekly Stock Car show. The “names” of the area certainly were the NMRA and the imports and Lincoln hold-overs were not the direction the Track was going to take.
Originally billed as “Modified Stock Cars” the Late Model tag would soon hang over the fendered wonders. That first year of the Stock Cars featured almost every 55 Chevy in the State of Nebraska. A gaggle of cars poured into Midwest Speedway weekly with sixty-seven showing up on July 20th, sixty-nine on August 3rd, and the most on August 10th with seventy-eight.
Norm Bruner towed weekly from Brainard, NE to race to the first Late Model title at our precious Track. The season was capped off with a “Special Championship Race” highlighting the top fifteen drivers of the year. It would be an idea repeated for a few more years and to no one’s surprise Bruner edged Terry Richards of David City, NE at the checkereds.
The biggest opening day crowd ever assembled at 4600 North 27th Street for the start of 1970. The car counts continued to be high with the same favorites taking the lead night after night. A new star came into focus when Don Styskal claimed the point championship. Styskal of David City shared the top five with his neighbors. Gene Lanc of nearby Rising City posted the runner-up spot with Tom Richards of David City sitting third. Columbus’ Gene Jakub owned fourth and defending champion Norm Bruner was fifth. Tom’s brother, Terry was sixth with the first Lincolnite, Jack Sweeney holding down seventh.
1971 started on a very positive note with 3500 renovated seats in place. The Midwest Speedway crowd was blessed with the presence of Lincoln Mayor Sam Schwartzkopf and his wife Dorothy to present the winner’s trophy. Ed Bowes was glad to accept it. He made a serious bid for the championship in 1971 but fell short towards the end of the season to a repeating Don Styskal.
The Late Model class offered at Midwest Speedway was growing beyond it’s own means. The 55 Chevys were already becoming old hat and almost new Chevelles and Camaros were the common car of choice.
“I was utterly shocked in the improvements in the looks of the cars.” Said Pete Leikam following the opening night of 1972. He went on, “I couldn’t imagine everyone coming back in such attractive cars.”
Other tracks around the area created the Late Model to change. Different rules at different places caused lots of easiness with the rulebook. To accommodate the difference in the cars a Hobby Stock class was added. This was the cousin of the Enduro car whereas the Late Models continued to grow with quick change rear-ends and the like.
Late Models were constantly referred to as “Super Stocks” during this period. Race tires were allowed on the cars along with an engine set back which lead to the metamorphosis of the current day Late Model. 1972 was the year Terry Richards added the wing to his Late Model. Called a “scoop” back in the day, it was just simply made of plywood.
While Norm Bruner was on his way to his second championship in 1972, the NMRA made their way back to Midwest Speedway. Pete Leikam put together a special Open Wheel show as an experiment back in ’71 scheduling against the NMRA. Other than Midwest Speedway stalwart Don Droud, the field was full of out-of-towners with Dick Sutcliffe leaving with the trophy.
The three races held in 1972 brought about three different winners. Roger Rager in the famous R&H Farms 40 won the opener; Roger Larson and Dick Sutcliffe won the other two, respectively. Fan attendance was not what Pete had envisioned, so that put an end to Open Wheel for two more seasons here.
1973 showed the Late Model car count plummet due to the separation of the Hobby Stock class. The sleek and classy cars of Kent Tucker and Terry Richards dominated much of the season. Richards kept his Ford dominance strong winning back-to-back titles in 1973 and 1974.
During the off-season of '73 Pete was not happy with his track. They hauled in over 6000 yards of clay to completely restructure turn one. New fencing was put up all around with a new paint smell hovering about the Speedway. The Super Modifieds made a strong return to share the headlines with the fenders during ’74. Dick Sutcliffe was crowned point champion following a thirteen-race season. Jan Opperman put together a couple of Midget shows ran at the Track on July 10th and September 4th.
The track was not done changing. For the years that Eagle Raceway and Midwest Speedway ran in alliance, a friendly rivalry had built up. The tracks were the same size at a Third Mile, though, Eagle Raceway was faster with it’s banks. Instead of just keeping up with the Jones', Pete out did them! Thousands and thousands of yards of additional clay was brought in to push out turns one and two. The back straight was taken back, as well, making the new layout a fantastic Three-Eighths Mile.
The expansion of the track also put an end to the Super Modified era. Throughout the passed five years the Caged Sprint grew to swallow up the Supers. In fact, the last new Super Modified was Rex Nun’s 99 that he put to rest following the ’74 season. This was also the cut-off point displayed in the great Bob Mays’ wonderful book High Plains Thunder.
The Sprint Cars were in full song during 1975 at Midwest Speedway with Ray Lee Goodwin, Jan Opperman, Don Maxwell and Ed Leavitt dominating the competition. On the fendered side of the show Kent Tucker continued his rule. For the first and only time the Aurora, NE native committed to the entire season snagging the 1975 championship.
Late Model racing still wasn’t a big time sport in Lincoln and the Driver roster showed it. Five years earlier the Butler County crop was the run of the track. By the mid-seventies the Aurora/Grand Island section began to take a hold of the Features. As we will soon see...the late seventies ushered in control of the Omaha crowd.
Dick Jensen strolled to two consecutive champions in 1976 and 1977 with Red Cloud’s Craig Lockhart following closely behind. Sprint Cars made a return in 1977 with Tennessee's Sammy Swindell earning his only win at the Track in two performances. It was Doug Wolfgang taking most of the wins during that season.
Just like what had happened a decade earlier, the premier division at Midwest Speedway was beginning to out price themselves. The Hobby Stocks were in turn dropped and a new Sportsman class was added. These cars were closer to the Late Models but installed a cubic inch limit. In 1978 the Sportsman grew to become the main class racing on Sunday nights at our Track.
The Late Model class was lumped on Wednesday nights with the Open Wheel show to finish out an abbreviated season. Don Droud made every show and performed well enough to take the 1978 Late Model championship.
It was also during this time when Pete Leikam injured himself while preparing the Race Track for action. While watering the track Pete jumped out of the truck (it was running in low gear) to shut-off the water valve. The truck jackknifed and pinned him against the fence for several hours. Pete took some time off to recover and left the promoting to pal Don Droud.
It was during 1979 and 1980 that Droud decided to make the switch to Friday nights to compete with area tracks. That allowed the Omaha sect to come in and Jerry Wancewicz and Bill Martin walked back with championships. Sprint Cars appeared at Midwest Speedway once again in 1980 with three special shows put on by Larry Sinner inconjuction with Pete. Steve Kinser made his only appearance at Midwest Speedway and took the lead away from Lee James to win. John Stevenson won one, and Gary Patterson won the last passing Tim Green on the final turn of the final lap.
During the off-season Jim Schuman had a chance conversation with Sam Briscoe. They had brought up the notion that it was such a shame so many old Sprint Cars were just setting around in garages and barns. (Fields for that matter.) The idea was hatched to form a new idea of a Sprint Car.
Letters were sent out to many of the Lincoln Sprint Car faithful and thirty people came to Droud’s shop for a meeting. Most of the rules were set in to place that night. Many of the old cars were spring-fronts…so the idea was they could run wings. Since wings on a Sprint Car was becoming the thing to do through the turn of the decade it seemed natural this would be a popular idea. Four-bars were left to run topless.
Some time ago Firestone manufactured millions of the Firestone 16 Diamond tire. The Firestone Tire Company was thrilled to learn they could unload this over-abundance of tires stacked throughout warehouses across America. The Lincolnites planned to use them as a spec Right Rear. The problem was, it was a lousy tire...impossible to make stagger. The McCreary spec tire replaced the Firestone three years into the idea.
The other revelation was the denial of Fuel Injection. Like the tires and the cars, Late Model styled engines were all over the place. A cubic inch limit and carburetion made the cars a Limited Sprint Car. The first of an idea that would take off like wild fire in the ensuing ten years. All started by that conversation with Briscoe and Schuman. Pennsylvania stakes a claim that they had the limited idea first with their Super Sportsman Sprint Cars. But not as strong of an argument that our Lincoln heroes have that they invented the "true" Limited Sprint Car.
This signaled the end of the Fenders on Sunday nights and Open Wheel made its glorious return to Midwest Speedway for the 1981 season. That first year Don Droud and Jim Schuman fronted up the purse. As Pete Leikam said the idea would never work!
A packed grandstand and a small car count opened up the 1981 season with Lonnie Jensen taking the field. Ed Bowes aligned with old pal Jim Schuman to become Jensen’s closest competition. With Lonnie the “Modified Sprint” (as they called it) was given justification. This brought out the Nebraska Open Wheel superstars for the 1982 run.
Two of those superstars were Lloyd Beckman and Bill Smith picking up right where they left off. The 4X of 1982 was actually the first car that Don Maxwell ever built ten years prior. An "over 50" Beckman sauntered to the championship. Maxwell returned too, racing for Gary Swenson. Long time Lincoln Sprint Car Star J.J. Riggins came to race winning his only track title in 1983.
By 1983 the Limited (nee, Modified) Sprint was really taking shape. The wing-only-on-leaf-spring-front rule was tossed out because of so many converting four-bars to run a top. It was also during this time the growing Lincoln population threatened our Speedway. Ignorant citizens decided to build towards our Track, which stood for twenty years unbothered. A retirement home was erected not far from the Track grounds causing constant complaining.
As a result a ridiculous curfew was put into place. Noise sanctions were implied and the field were forced to use mufflers. They all found a way around them ofcourse. Jim Schuman's idea was to leave the cap of the Super Trapp off. As Ed Bowes would coast through the pits following a race...Schuman would silicone a cap and slap it on as Bowes cruised by. Mike Barnett remembers designing a Super Trapp to "blow-out" once the car was fired.
Four more seasons of racing were held at Midwest Speedway till the stress took its toll on Pete Leikam. Despite packed grandstands weekly and a wonderful car count...our Sprint Car racing was threatened! But not before Don Droud, Ray Lipsey, and John Gerloff would earn track titles.
Even though Pete owned all of the facilities, the land was leased out by Harvey Bair. Each year Pete had to fight the city council to keep the Track open. But very sadly, Leikam put an end to the fight announcing that Midwest Speedway would cease operations following the 1987 season.
For three long silent years the area at 4600 North 27th Street was vacant of the glorious thunder of racing. For three long silent years the track remained on the grounds with all fencing and buildings removed. For three long silent years the Lincoln community was left without it’s most important landmark, Midwest Speedway.
But things were to turn even worse in 1990. The land was excavated and built upon. The track was rolled over. And to insult all of us Midwest Speedway children….a super shopping center was put in it’s place. Today that evil Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club possess the land that once was the most important thing in my life.
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