Chicago Icon Wayne Adams Celebrates 100th Birthday

Wayne Adams during the later stages of his announcing career at Raceway Park. (Wayne Adams Collection)

CHICAGO – “Well good evening ladies and gentlemen.  Once again this is Wayne Adams bidding you welcome to Raceway Park.”

That’s the way Wayne Adams use to open up a night of racing at Blue Island’s Raceway Park.  Part of the Chicago area auto racing landscape since the 1930s, Adams, the voice of Raceway Park for some 40-plus years, turned 100 years old Monday, April 15.

Adams, who was born in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1919, was the track announcer at the Chicagoland speedway, beginning in 1947 and ending after the 1989 season. With his distinctive-sounding voice, he would announce 2,625 races in seven states during his career – more than 2,000 of those at Raceway Park – once known for hosting racing sometimes four-nights-a-week.

In 1947, besides handling the microphone at Raceway Park, Adams also announced the midget auto races at Chicago’s Hanson Park Stadium and at Soldier Field.  The following year (1948), Adams announced more than 100 race programs with the Chicago resident doing the announcing for the weekly midget races at Raceway Park, in addition to calling the action for the United Auto Racing Ass’n midget group that traveled throughout the Midwest to tracks at Grand Rapids, Mich., Mendota, Streator, Peotone, Kankakee and Waukegan in Illinois and Gill Stadium in Chicago.

Short track stock car racing was introduced to the Chicago area in 1948 at Gill Stadium with Adams announcing those first stock car programs.

“It seemed like the people screamed for a half hour after a 10-lap race,” remembered Adams years later.

When stock cars began a full season of competition at Raceway Park in 1949, Adams was the announcer and handled the duties every year with the exception of 1969, when he was let go by an interim promoter.

“From the time I started going to the races, I had a desire to announce a race,” said Adams.  “As a result, every time I went to the track I would listen to the announcer as best I could and try to pick up some of the good things and perhaps think about some of the things I didn’t like so well.  Ed “Twenty Grand” Steinbock (of Chicago) was the dean of auto racing announcers all over the country.  He was considered number one.  He was working Riverview, Raceway Park and most of the tracks around.  I kind of liked the way Twenty Grand presented a race.  I use to listen to him and thought maybe I could do it the same way he did it.”

After the opening race program of the 1947 season with someone else doing the announcing, UARA officials asked Adams to become the association’s announcer.  Before he knew it, Adams was also announcing at Raceway Park (the first time on Saturday evening, Aug. 2, 1947) and at Soldier Field – the mammoth arena on Chicago’s lakefront.

New Raceway Park promoters, Nick and Pete Jenin, along with Blue Island midget speedster, Bud Koehler, were in the stands at Hanson during Adams’ microphone debut.  After the races, the Jenin brothers asked Adams if he would like to announce the races at Raceway on Saturday nights.  After that, promoter Art Folz asked Adams to handle the announcing chores at Soldier Field on Sundays.

“I remember the first Police Benevolent race at Soldier Field that I worked in 1947,” said Adams.  “They had 77,000 people for that midget race.  I’ll never forget that night.  I was so scared.  I was never nervous before, a little concerned maybe, but not nervous.  But that night at Soldier Field, I walked out into the infield and there were about 30,000 people already there for time trials.  Later that night, I thought here’s a little boy from Missouri announcing in Chicago before 77,000. I’ve really hit the big time.”

Over the years, Adams announced at various tracks in the Midwest, announcing IMCA big car races and handling the microphone at Indiana’s Schererville Speedway (later renamed Illiana Motor Speedway) during some of the track’s early weekly Sunday afternoon stock car races in 1950.  He even promoted some stock car races at the fairgrounds track in Danville, Ill., in 1951