RODDA: Track Savers

Ron Rodda.

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa – The first segment of our annual Midwest racing trip happened to visit a group of tracks that fell into one general category.

Each track was either saved by someone or built to keep a city from having no track.

The first stop was in Norfolk, Neb., for a visit to Off Road Speedway. This facility was built on the property of Off Road Ranch and much of the work was done over the winter, thereby avoiding a large break in local racing.

Racing since 1965, Riviera Raceway closed after a long run following the 2014 season. Off Road Speedway replaced it the following spring and Norfolk was not without a track.

Some of the dirt from Riviera was used in the construction of Off Road, a track that is now in its fifth season.

Off Road is a very nice facility with something that is too often lacking in short track grandstands: leg room. They are an IMCA-sanctioned track, running primarily on Saturday with late models as their top class.

Sprints make an occasional appearance and a strong car count makes for a full evening.

The following night was spent at U.S. 30 Speedway, just west of Columbus, Neb. This facility did not close only because it was saved by the present owner.

When he found out it was going to be closed, he negotiated with the owner to buy it, and strangely enough, the seller was his sister.

U.S. 30 was built in 1985 by Abe Lincoln and his family. The track has been run within the family since and Abe’s son, Bobby, will keep that going. It was Bobby getting his change in a Texas diner that helped keep the track open and a family operation.

Abe passed away Aug. 24, 1997 and one of Bobby’s daughters was born two days later.  In the following years, when they found a penny, they would use it to talk to grandpa. Pennies would play a part many years later.

The track was going to be closed following the 2017 season and become soybeans. Land value had risen and a race track was not considered a good use of the property.

Bobby got the news of this sitting in a diner in Texas, the result of his weekly trucking run to that area.

The waitress brought his change and apologized about having to give him 15 pennies.  When Abe raced he ran the No. 15. Fifteen coins with the picture of Abraham Lincoln on them had Bobby thinking, “OK Dad, you got my attention. Speak to me.”

Bobby was part of the effort to build the track and “it was everything to me when I was in high school.”  He bought it and with the help of two daughters and a son-in-law, U.S. 30 remains a family track.

Now in his second year, Bobby noted that car count is up, with accompanying growth in the crowd size. Columbus has four large manufacturing plants that have a four-day, 10 hour per day work schedule, so Thursday night is like a Friday night.

U.S. 30 has raced regularly on Thursday for years and will continue that plan.

Abe’s son is putting every penny earned back into improving the facility. His only regret is not taking it over sooner. He is doing what he is in memory of his father as well as his love of the sport.

Sunset Speedway, located on the Northwest outskirts of Omaha, was appropriately named when considering the west facing grandstands. Housing was encroaching on the track and October of 2000 ended a history of racing going back to 1957.

The track now known as I-80 Speedway already existed, having opened in 1994, and it served as a facility to replace a venue lost closer to Omaha.

One of the widest tracks in the Midwest, I-80 regularly offers five-wide racing for its mostly stock car and late model-focused schedule.