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Local Sports

The ‘grassroots’ of racing remains strong in Iowa

Hometown short oval tracks have long been recognized as the birthplace of big league auto racing, whether we’re talking about NASCAR or IndyCar. And oval tracks in Iowa not only gave rise to some of the biggest racing stars of yesteryear; guys like Don White, Ernie Derr, Ramo Stott, Johnny Beauchamp and ‘Tiny’ Lund, but many of those same tracks have thrived over the years. 

The “grassroots” of racing lives on in the Hawkeye State, and nationwide for that matter, and we all benefit from the success of Iowa’s short tracks.

One of the best-kept secrets in motorsports is that Iowa — not North Carolina, Virginia or Indiana — is the ‘racing-est’ state in the nation, based solely upon the number of active racetracks versus the total population. With 55 tracks — the vast majority of them short (5/8-mile or less) dirt or clay ovals running a weekly racing program — and a population of three million, Iowa simply blows away the rest of the nation in terms of race tracks per capita. Small wonder that such new age stars as Michael Annett, Landon Cassill and Joey Gase continue to emerge from our little corner of the Heartland.

The fact of the matter is that the impressive number of weekly short tracks in Iowa is not lost on the decision-makers at NASCAR and IndyCar. They are very well aware that a vibrant “grassroots” for our sport is absolutely essential to the vitality of big-league racing at all major facilities.

So when Iowa Speedway was conceived and ultimately constructed, the top two sanctioning bodies in the nation sat up and took notice.

With a per-capita fan base far greater than any other state could boast, a large group of well-run short oval tracks and a unique location near the literal center of the country, Iowa was perceived as an underserved market and a prime candidate for a major motorsports entertainment facility. Ditto to the Midwest in general, giving rise to two of the newest tracks in the nation, Chicagoland and Kansas Speedway.

But make no mistake about it — we couldn’t have attracted top-flight national events for Iowa Speedway without a solid foundation for motorsports in Iowa, and developing this world-class facility here in Newton would have therefore been out of the question.

So it was the work of countless local track operators, racers and enthusiastic race fans at dozens of tracks stretching from the Missouri River to the Mississippi, and from the Minnesota line to the border of Missouri, that made it possible for this tremendous tourist attraction to be built and promoted in the center of our state.

Let’s look at a few of the exemplary weekly operated short tracks in Iowa. Certainly, the first one that ought to leap to your mind is the world-famous Knoxville Raceway, a half-mile “black clay” oval located just 26 miles south of Newton on Highway 14 in Knoxville.

Sitting on the Marion County Fairgrounds, and rightfully claiming to be the “Sprint Car Capital of the World”, Knoxville Raceway annually attracts tens of thousands of devoted race fans to the renowned “Knoxville Nationals” sprint car races, in the second week of August, in addition to the many thousands who attend the weekly Sprint Car racing shows and special events such as the Lucas Oil Late Model Nationals and World of Outlaws sprint cars.

Knoxville Raceway is also home to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum, located just outside and overlooking Turn 2 of the legendary oval, and attracting fans year-round to displays of famous sprint cars and special programs appealing to visitors of all ages and interests.

Of course, we can’t forget about Boone Speedway, that storied quarter-mile clay oval on Highway 30, east of Ames. The site of the annual IMCA Super Nationals — by far the largest Modified race in the nation, attracting more than 800 competitors every September — Boone Speedway has one of the country’s largest weekly car counts.

It brings an average of more than 2000 race fans to every weekly racing show, and is promoted by one of the giants of our industry, Robert Lawton, who was named Promoter of the Year by Racing Promotion Monthly just a few years back.

The list goes on and on — the legendary clay half-mile Iowa State Fair Speedway in Des Moines, operated by veteran promoter Mick Trier, Toby Kruse’s high-banked quarter-mile clay oval on the fairgrounds in Marshalltown and the historic quarter-mile dirt oval at Davenport Speedway, where in July they will honor 2013 NASCAR Hall of Famer Herb Thomas’s win on their track back in 1953.

But the fact remains that these and the many other beloved bullrings that dot Iowa’s picturesque countryside are the very foundation of the success that we enjoy today at Iowa Speedway.

Our hats are off to those who have come before, and to the keepers of the grassroots going forward.

We are really looking forward to working with our grassroots partners throughout the upcoming racing season, and invite the fans of those great short track facilities to sample our own brand of short track racing at Iowa Speedway as well. If you are one of them, please check us out online at, “Like” us on Facebook and do come out to one or more of our events when your home track’s schedule has a break.

Iowa’s “racing tent” is large, and we are in great company!

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