Rain has played havoc on area racing for decades - Daily Leader Extra : Sports

Rain has played havoc on area racing for decades

By GALE PIFER, Motorsports Reporter | Posted: Friday, May 31, 2019 3:27 pm

Rain, rain and more rain. Area auto racers and fans alike are fed up with the constant rains, which have washed out many track openers. But early race schedules have always been iffy because of cool and wet weather.

I know firsthand just how promoters feel seeing their anticipated pay days disappear. At best, most tracks will be able to fit in a dozen race nights between Memorial Day and the season finals in the fall. Auto races in this part of the country aren't money-makers for either the promoters or the racers.

The 1960s are often referred to as the golden age of auto racing, especially at Lake County Speedway near Madison. The decade was filled with good car counts, big crowds and exciting races. But it was also a decade when bad weather marred the action.

Take 1965, for instance. Rain washed out several scheduled races; it wasn't until late May that races were held. Marlyn Hanten, behind the wheel of a bright yellow No. 01, won the first heat for the modifieds and followed up with an A feature victory. A Tuesday was added to make up for the late start of racing. It worked so well that another "makeup race" was scheduled the next Tuesday. But as August arrived, so did the rains again. Lake County was washed out three weeks in a row.

The next year, 1966, rain washed out most of the first half of the season, but then Mother Nature made a 90-degree turn. Hot temperatures and stiff winds were the norm for the final half of the year. The stock dam behind the speedway dried up, as did the slough off the north curve.

Just to get enough water to wet the track, midnight trips were taken to Lake Madison -- besides being against the law, this upset the local GFP folks.

It was an interesting night when the local game warden showed up. Sheriff Norm McGillivray saved the day. McGillivray was a longtime speedway supporter. On this night, he had parked his patrol car near the beach and showed his spotlight on the spot so track workers could fill up the speedway water truck.

When the game warden arrived, telling all in attendance they were breaking the law, Norm chimed in, "I was just about to give the boys a ticket."

Satisfied, the game warden left and McGillivray said, "Hurry up you guys, ain't ya got enough water now? Let's get out of here before he comes back."

But nothing topped 1968, when half of the scheduled races at Lake County Speedway were rained out. The weather during the week was fine, but not on the weekend. In a weak attempt at humor, this writer did a racing column saying the Madison speedway was a "friend of the farmers. With corn in need of moisture, we schedule a race and it rains."

At least that's what I wrote.

The serious side of lost racing shows due to rain is that bills continue to pile up; but no income because of no racing. As president of the Interlakes Racing Association, I took a chance and booked a traveling thrill show for the Madison oval.

Again, McGillivray came to the speedway's aid. I had the crazy idea to have one of the thrill show drivers drive a car down Egan Ave. at high noon on two wheels to promote the show at the speedway that night. Members of the Sheriff's Office and the Police Department blocked the intersections. A ramp was placed at the intersection of Egan and the highway at the north end of Egan.

At the appointed time, the thrill show driver drove up the ramp and, on two wheels, went all the way down Egan to the corner by the Depot. It worked.

In fact, we had one of the largest crowds ever at the speedway for the thrill show and the books at the end of the year showed we made a profit with only six races held the entire year.

Forward to 2005. Standing in the infield looking toward the grandstand, you couldn't see a thing because it was snowing so hard. It all proves that you can't beat Mother Nature.

Rapid Speedway attempted to sneak in a special for the Midwest Sprint Touring Series on Memorial Day, but two inches of rain forced its cancellation.

The MSTS sprints did get in a show at Park Jefferson recently. Lincoln, Nebraska's Jason Martin won the event. Ryan Bickett of Ramona was 8th in the feature race and won the B feature. Dylan Opdahl of Madison was 6th in the B. Chuck McGillivray was a DNF in the main event.

The Rock Rapids oval will race on Friday, with sportsmans, hobby stocks, USRA modifieds and USRA stock cars. The MSTS sprints will appear at the Iowa track on June 4.

The much anticipated opening of I-90 Speedway near Hartford is set for Saturday with the Tri-State Late Models and the Paramount Racing Series 305 winged sprints. The following week, June 8, the Midwest Sprint Touring Series will be at the track.

With two rainouts already in the books at Jackson Motorplex, Friday is also the opener. For those wanting a preview of the MSTS racing action, the 360 road warriors will be on hand.

In the near future, we'll write about the MSTS and their attempt to promote 360 sprint car action, plus a feature on Madison sprint car driver Dylan Opdahl.