Monday, November 23, 2020

The Good Old Days; Racin’ in Hamburg


Bud Aitkenhead

By Lee Ackerman

Omaha, Neb. - For many years when I thought of racing and Hamburg, Iowa, I thought of Terry Holliman whose career spanned 35+ years driving Late Models and Sprint Cars. Somewhere in that period, Terry’s son Tadd started racing Sprint Cars with him and hence, Hamburg, Iowa and racing = Holliman. Well sometime back I found out that I didn’t go back far enough when it came to Hollimans from Hamburg racing. So, to tell that story, I must tell you about the Hamburg Speedway.

It all started in 1952…

On May 18, 1952 the Hamburg Speedway held its first race. The crowd was decent with a crowd of over 1,000 fans, the car count not so much as only nine cars showed up for the inaugural event. Harold Douglas, President of the Junior Chamber of Commerce stated that they were pleased with the crowd but wished they had been able to attract more cars.

The spongy track slowed and cut thrills and spills to a minimum, but because it also caused radiators to boil over ten lap heat races were cut to five laps and the 25-lap feature to 15. Drivers said that the track was hardening up nicely by the end of the last race, and most of them said they would be back next week.

By June 8, things had gotten a lot better and race fans who attended that race said it was by far the best race of the season. The track was hard from the beginning and the speed picked up and there were three roll-overs. One interesting incident was that Atlantic, Iowa driver Carl Lilienthal was disqualified and banned from the Hamburg Speedway for trying to run down the flagmen. He missed the flagmen but destroyed the flag stand and flags.

It was also announced that the Jaycees who were promoting the races had purchased a complete set of lights and would be installing them soon with racing moving to every Wednesday or Thursday nights. It ended up being Thursday night.

Things improved and by July 3 the place was humming. A field of 26 cars was on hand for that event which was dominated by Harlan, Iowa’s Johnny Beauchamp driving the 8-Ball car. Beauchamp won his heat, the trophy dash and the feature. The 8-Ball was owned by the Williams Brothers of Shenandoah.

After the races the 2,000 fans who had attended the races and 2,000 more who were parked on various roads around the Speedway were treated to a free fireworks extravaganza co-sponsored by the Jaycees and the Hamburg Merchants.

By mid-July Ray Whitehead of Hamburg had a significant lead in the points race with 150 points followed by Marlin Crum of Nebraska City with 100, Gerald Kinnersley of Red Oak with 100 and Joe Lindsay of Red Oak with 74.

In late July, Omaha’s Bud Aitkenhead had joined the fray and he and Ralph Betts of Nehawka, Nebraska put on some of the best racing yet seen at the Speedway. After each had won their heat races, Aitkenhead brought his #1 home a half-car length ahead of Betts in the trophy dash as he turned the six laps in two minutes and 19 seconds.

In the 18 lap feature, Betts gained revenge spinning Aitkenhead out in the north turn and taking home the win. Two Red Oak drivers Gerald Kinnersley and Joe Lindsay chased Betts to the checkers.

In early September Betts wasn’t so lucky. At the September 4 races, Betts took the wildest ride seen at the race thus far. The accident totally destroyed his #71 machine and it took track workers at least ten minutes to extract him from the car. He was transported to the Hamburg hospital and it was reported he had a broken collarbone. The races were called complete at that point (14 laps) and Joe Lindsay of Red Oak was declared the winner.

Although not confirmed it is believed that Ray Whitehead won the track championship.

1953 would bring new challengers to the Hamburg Speedway but a driver when the dust settled at the end of the year it was an Omaha driver who had raced had Hamburg Speedway the latter part of 1952 that would walk away with the Track Championship.

By mid-July the Jaycees Racetrack Committee decided to switch from Thursday nights to Saturday nights. The committee said the move was three-fold. First, it was to attract more people to Hamburg to do their Saturday shopping and then attend the races. Secondly, to attract bigger race crowds and lastly to attract more stock cars for the races.

The early part of the season was a battle between Bud Aitkenhead and Merle Ravenstein of Omaha and Don Pash of Missouri Valley. By early July Aitkenhead held a slim lead over Ravenstein with Bash not far behind. In late July and early August Ravenstein charged to the points lead while Pash dropped from the action and did not race at the Hamburg Speedway the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Ray Whitehead had started the season late but had cracked the top ten.

Aitkenhead put on a late season charge while Ravenstein (most likely not racing all the remaining races) and ended up winning the season championship by over 100 points. Aitkenhead took the season finale with Whitehead second and that is how they finished in points even though Whitehead missed the first several races.

Aitkenhead finished with 368 points, Whitehead with 271 points, Hamburg’s Gene Holliman (remember I said at the start we would find another Holliman racing back in the day at Hamburg Speedway). Terry’s dad Gene finished third with 256, Ravenstein 249 points, with Johnny Carlson rounding out the top five at 233 points.


  1. Terrific article Lee! Thanks for sharing some of our history

  2. Does anybody have any pictures of the old Kellso later called , pioneer racetrack in des moines IA ? My brother raced there in 57 thru 60s

  3. We have some of Ray Whitehead's trophies from Hamburg 1952, at the museum in Sidney (Fremont County). Do you have an email that I can send you a picture of them? -- Mary Howery, Fremont County Historical Society

  4. Do you have any pictures of Ray Whitehead in your archives? We are putting together a display about the racetrack in Hamburg. Also could we use your writeup for our display, with credit to you and a link to your site? -- Mary Howery, Fremont County Historical Society