By Lee AckermanHarlan, Iowa - The Shelby County Speedway in Harlan, Iowa has a long tradition of great racing. The town has produced several racing legends including Tiny Lund, Johnny Beauchamp, Dale Swanson, and Bob Parker just to name a few. Over the years the Shelby County Speedway has been the sight of many great races. One of the great eras in the tracks’ racing history was the late 60’s and early 70’s. This story highlights three racing specials held at the track from 1969 through 1971.
Despite the threat of rain, 3,306 fans turned out on July 28, 1969, at the Shelby County Speedway for the running of the Centennial 100. When the checkered flag waved it was Keokuk, Iowa’s Lem Blankenship, who had dominated the event, leading 95 of the 100 circuits and took home the win. Blankenship took the lead on the fourth circuit and held it until local star Bill Wrich of Kennard, Nebraska led laps 20 and 21 before Blankenship went to the front for good.
During the race Blankenship had to battle with Wrich, Jim Gawley, George Barton, and Bill Moyer. Wrich would retire on lap 35 with mechanical problems and not return to the event until past the middle of the event. George Barton of Boone would finish second, Don Christensen of Harlan third in the locally owned Orv Rocker Ford which had been a questionable entry up until race time, Milo Stodola of Fremont, Nebraska was fourth and Red Rollins of Carson, Iowa was fifth.
In addition to the $400 first prize, Blankenship would take home $95 of the $100 lap money put up by Swanson Automotive. Thirty-seven drivers were on hand hoping to make the 18-car field for the Centennial 100. The $2,000 guaranteed purse was the largest guaranteed purse at Harlan or in West Central Iowa racing history.
Bill Wrich accepts the Iowa – Nebraska Championship trophy from trophy girls Reggie Wright and Shari Schreiner. Flagman Larry Cook presents the checkered flag.
While Harlan would hold more than one stock car (late model) special in 1970 on September 20-21, 1970, they would hold the first annual Iowa-Nebraska Championship Race. In a similar race on July 22, 1970, at Sunset Speedway in Omaha, local hotshoes Bill Wrich and South Omahan Bud Burdick came away with first and second.
Sixty-two cars would compete in the two-day event. Burdick would set his sights on the pole position for the race by turning the fastest time in qualifying with a lap of 21.57 seconds. Ev Hutchinson of Sac City would turn in the second fast lap at 21.79 with Earl Tice of Ames clocking in at 21.80. Burdick would claim the pole for event by first winning the first heat race and then taking the speed dash over Randy Sterner of Blair, Nebraska, and Jerry LeCroy of Des Moines. Other heat winners were Dave Chase of Council Bluffs, LeCroy, Sterner and Don Davidson of Des Moines.
On Sunday, September 21, drivers had three more chances to make the feature. First in a 20-lap qualifying race which saw six more drivers qualify for the 50-lap feature, Earl Tice would pick up the win followed by Rich Lyons of Jefferson and John Beaman of Council Bluffs. The top two from the semi-final race would also make the feature and those two positions went to Eastern Iowan’s Stan Stover of Reinbeck and Ed Sanger of Waterloo. Sanger had to hustle as after starting in the middle of the pack, he spun and was sent to the back, but he roared through the field in the 15-lap event to grab the runner up spot and a transfer spot. Ankeny’s George Barton grabbed the final spot in the feature by winning the consolation event.
Pole sitter Bud Burdick quickly took the lead in the 50-lap feature that started with a three wide, eight-row deep, 24-car starting field. Burdick would control the early stages of the race but would soon have competition in the form of the tenth starting Bill Wrich. The two would wage a battle for 30 laps. On lap 42 Wrich made the pass and would cruise to a half lap win behind the wheel of Tom Gawley’s #180 in the 50-lap feature event. Burdick would retire from the race with a blown engine soon after being passed by Wrich.
Finishing behind Wrich were Don Davidson, Stan Stover, Lloyd Jorgensen, and Earl Tice.
Only 11 of the 24 starters were able to complete the race which paid a $6,130 purse with $1,100 going to Wrich. An estimated crowd of 3,200 was on hand for the finale.
In 1971 the big event at the Shelby County Speedway was the Midwest Championship races. The event would take place over two weeks with qualifying night being July 27 (the event scheduled for the previous night was rained out) and the feature races being held one week later on August 3. The purse would be very similar to the Iowa-Nebraska Championship races the year before with the winner taking home $1,100 of the over $6,000 total purse.
After qualifying action concluded it was Council Bluffs’ Dave Chase in his #31 that would set on the pole for the following weeks feature event. First, Chase would win one of the four heat races. Other heat race winners included Keith Leithoff of Omaha, Jim Wyman of Oakland, Iowa, and Bill Martin of Council Bluffs. Leithoff would win his heat race by a bumper of Council Bluffs Ron Tilley.
Chase then came back and won the Speed Dash to grab the pole. Following Chase in the Speed Dash were Leithoff, Ev Hutchinson, Tilley, Wyman, Scott Furstenberg of Omaha, Don Christensen, and Martin. The B Dash was won by George Peterson of Harlan followed by Earl Tice, Randy Sterner and Jack Golder of Hooper, Nebraska.
The Midwest Championship trophy is presented to Dave Chase after his win in the 50-lap feature. Trophy girl Judy Hansen makes the presentation and car owner Bob Williams enjoys the moment.
A record crowd of 4,917 fans with at least 100 turned away was on hand for the feature races on August 3. Dave Chase would start on the pole and dispose of early challengers Ev Hutchinson and Keith Leithoff and later hold off the efforts of Jim Wyman and Bill Martin to win the 50-lap feature event and pocket the $1,100 first prize. Following Chase to the line would be Wyman, Leithoff, Hutchinson and Christensen. During the event Chase turned a record setting lap at Harlan as he posted a lap of 85.31 mph.
Early in the evening Bill Wrich and Bud Burdick had won qualifying races and Omaha’s Dave Milbourne won the 20-lap consolation race following a brief power failure with Gene Behmer of Fremont, Rick Lyons of Jefferson, and Bob Kosiski of Omaha in two.
During the following years Harlan would continue to hold special events including the Cornhusker-Hawkeye Challenge in 1978, 1979, 1980, and in 1981 the special “Bobby Allison Night” would draw a crowd in excess of 5,000 fans.