Jody Deery’s Racing Role Will Be Felt For Generations


Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports

Guest Columnist

Jody Deery is still active in the operation of Rockford Speedway after more than 50 years.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jody Deery told her unique story to NSSN Publisher Corinne Economaki, who ghost wrote this column on Deery’s behalf.

Jody Deery, registered nurse, mother of eight, wife to Hugh, race-track owner and promoter, says she can imagine what the pioneers felt like as they charted new territory.

In the early ’50s, Deery and her husband Hugh lived in Indianapolis and became acquainted with racing via friends who had invited Hugh to participate in an Indy 500 wrecker crew. Those days, the crews were volunteers, and through Hugh’s weekend work, he and Jody became race fans, first watching Indy 500 time trials, then the event, and eventually branching out.

In 1957, to make a long story shorter, the Deerys purchased a one-eighth share of Rockford Speedway in Rockford, Ill. Hugh worked the concessions and ushered, and as the years went on, bought more shares, obtaining a second mortgage to do so. In 1960, Hugh and Bill Earnest bought the remaining original shares from Stan Ralston’s widow, making them 50/50 partners. Then in 1963, Hugh purchased Earnest’s shares and he and Jody were proud owners of a race track and proud parents of seven children. There were more (children, not race tracks) to come.

Prior to this, Hugh worked as an insurance adjuster and Jody did private nursing, at night. Hugh watched the kids at night, and she would sleep for an hour or two when she got home, and watch the kids all day, and nap again when Hugh returned from work before she had to report on duty. Deery also did polio nursing, when most other nurses were terrified of “catching” the disease.

Jody and Hugh were each raised on a farm and knew the benefits of hard work and shared work. She says the race track was the best place to raise her seven sons and one daughter.

As their proficiency at promoting and track ownership grew, Hugh became known as an inventive promoter, and in fact was honored many times over the years for his work. Jody says Hugh was, “a good idea guy. He knew our business was family entertainment and he worked to make it the best it could be.” Hugh passed away 23 years ago, and Jody’s decision to keep, and run, the track was easy, even though there were people who told her to sell, that she wouldn’t be able to do the work. “When Hugh died there were very few women in motorsports, among them Eileen Daniels (who worked tirelessly alongside her late husband Bob) and Sue McKarns (who also worked along her husband John running the ARTGO series). Back then, women weren’t allowed in the pits, there were hardly restroom facilities, and there were few women spectators. Now, there are women in every aspect and lots of women spectators.”

Deery still works full time at Rockford and owns the lease at LaCrosse (Wis.) Fairgrounds Speedway with John McKarns of ARTGO. And just to make sure she stays busy, Deery also volunteers with the American Lung Ass’n, American Cancer Society, Quota Club (an international organization for the hearing and vision impaired), her parish church, St. James Catholic Church and School (where all eight of her children attended) and Catholic Charities in Rockford, raising money for at-risk foster children and helping low-income families. She also raises money for nursing scholarships through St. Anthony’s College of Nursing in Rockford to help combat the current shortage of practitioners.

Some of Jody’s and Hugh’s children work in motorsports. Meet them, in descending order: Dr. Hugh (1949) is an infectious disease specialist in Michigan; Ted (1950) builds EPA-mandated geodesic domes for highway salt storage; Jack (1952) manages Canandaigua Speedway, Cayuga County Fair Speedway and Rolling Wheels Raceway, all in New York; Tom (1954) is CEO and president of DIRT MotorSports; Susan (1957) is the concession manager (among other things) at Rockford Speedway; Brad (1959) owns three automobile dealerships in Iowa; Charles (Chuck, 1961) operates LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway in Wisconsin; and David (1963) is Director of Operations at Rockford. All are married and among them have produced 18 children (nine boys and nine girls), which Jody says, “isn’t so many for eight kids.” Is there a hint in there somewhere?

(Original Print Date: July 18, 2007)