For more than four decades, SPEED SPORT and the National Speedway Directory have worked side by side to make race fans more knowledgeable.
The man behind the latter of those — Michigan’s Allan E. Brown — is just as important to the fabric of motorsports media as longtime SPEED SPORT Editor Chris Economaki was for decades, just in a slightly different fashion.
Brown could be referred to as the master of getting people to the race track. He was integral in the growth of the directory after joining forces with Midwest Auto Racing Guide creator Larry L. Yard, and later Ross and Nanette Ferguson. He eventually bought out the Fergusons out and building NSD, which was first published in 1975, into a resource for information about tracks across the nation.
In building that base of information, Brown has dedicated his life to not just reading about the tracks compiled in the directory, but physically visiting as many of them as he can.
“I’ve been to about 2,300 race tracks in my lifetime and seen racing at about 1,300 or 1,400 of them,” Brown noted. “How it all started was … my dad and I, we grew up on a farm about six miles north of Berlin Raceway. Saturday nights would always find us up there, so from the time I was about 5 years old, I was going to the race track every week. We didn’t miss very many Saturday night shows there, and finally when I got my own driver’s license in 1964, I started borrowing the car from my dad and would hightail to Hartford, Kalamazoo and places like that.
“I was very interested, even in my teens, in going to races and seeing what I could see. That period was really where the journey began for me.”
Brown may have gotten his start at Berlin after growing up in nearby Comstock Park, Mich., but he always knew he wanted to see more.
He grew up in a hotbed for supermodified racing, watching drivers such as Gordon and Nolan Johncock, Johnny Roberts, Jimmy Nelson and John Benson Sr. and chasing them to various facilities before enlisting in the U.S. Army at the end of 1966, where Brown’s knowledge base grew even further as he added more tracks to his record while he was stationed in New Jersey and New York.
After his time in the military, Brown came across Yard’s work and was quickly drawn to the concept.
“Larry Yard, when he came out with the Midwest Auto Racing Guide … I was just enthralled by it,” Brown recalled. “About four years earlier, I had made my own directory of the tracks I could find, out of SPEED SPORT, Area Auto Racing News and the MARC Times, so that if I happened to travel I had an idea of where the tracks were in the area I was in and what nights they ran.
“I connected with Larry and said, ‘Well, I’ll gladly help you with the book,’ and he ended up moving to Grand Rapids and I became his sidekick for the first four years,” Brown added. “When he realized that he couldn’t keep it going, I took it over after that. It was fun. It’s not work if you enjoy it, and I did.”
Brown retired in 2009 and sold National Speedway Directory to Tim Frost and his business Frost Motorsports, which continues to produce the annual track directory.
In his travels, Brown has frequently made it a point that he’s “not just trying to add up numbers” and go to as many races as he can. With each track he visits, Brown is genuinely focused on the quality of the events that he and his wife, Nancy, attend.
Those travels were largely thanks to his work with the directory, which Brown was able to sell at many facilities as a way to offset some of the costs necessary for his travels over the years.
“Doing the National Speedway Directory the way we did got me out to different facilities and different areas, so that I could feel the pulse of what was going on and understand what was happening,” Brown explained. “I wanted to know if new tracks were being built or if a track was going to reopen, things like that, and it became my job to go to these different tracks, know what was going on and offer little suggestions here and there as much as I could.”
In addition to his tireless work with the National Speedway Directory, Brown produced the National Sprint Car Annual for nearly two decades before selling it to Doug Johnson of South Dakota. Brown has also published “The History of America’s Speedways, Past and Present,” a book that documents the history of thousands of race tracks — active, defunct and demolished — across the United States.
As he’s continued his work within the motorsports industry, Brown has paid close attention to all the tracks he’s chronicled over his lifetime, particularly some of the ones that helped to begin his journey.
“It’s just been neat for me to watch how the tracks have evolved over the years, and to see how they became more professional over time,” Brown said. “Some of the first tracks we listed in the directory, you’d get there and you’d go, ‘OK, why are we here?’ Then it got to the point where those kind of weeded out.
“It’s still tough. My heart is out to any promoter, because it’s a tough job to keep everyone happy and make the money it takes to keep things going, but we’ve tried to aid that process as much as we can.”