Friday, December 31, 2010

More than 100 photos from the legendary I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo. The most awesome race track I've ever been to

I've been in the picture scanning mode lately, and I decided to go all-out and share my photo collection from what is easily the most interesting job I had, working in the front office of I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo.

I-70 was a Kansas City racing institution. Opened in 1969 by salvage yard owner Bill Roberts, the track proved to be one of the fastest, toughest, most significant venues in the Midwest. For its time, I-70 Speedway was state-of-the-art, with modern concession stands and restrooms, individual boat-type seats in the grandstands, and a VIP suite/media center. Short tracks didn't get much better than this.

The actual racing surface was pretty amazing as well. I-70 is a 5/8-mile, asphalt tri-oval with a whopping 28-degrees of banking in the turns. The idea that they accomplished the paving job was a pretty big deal in 1969. This track was on par with places that held NASCAR Grand National races in other parts of the country.

This didn't go unnoticed by the drivers that chose to race there. The greatest short track drivers in the country made themselves very familiar with the high-banks, including Dick Trickle, Larry Phillips, Mark Martin, Terry Bivens, and even Bobby Allison. I-70 was a stop for the prestigious ASA late model series several times a year, and the track gained a reputation as a serious stop for the full-bodied stock cars.

The track was sold to open-wheel driver Greg Weld in the early 1980s and the asphalt surface was covered in dirt. Sprint cars, modifieds, and late models were lightning fast there, no doubt, but the banks were so high that the track didn't lend itself to this type of racing. By the end of many race nights, the cars would knock the dirt off down to the asphalt in places. Speeds were so high that cars built for the typical smaller dirt tracks would suffer mechanical failures or crashes on a regular basis. Car counts suffered, and when there are less cars at a track, there are less people in the stands as well.

Roberts re-took ownership of I-70, and in 1988, reopened the track with the familiar asphalt surface underfoot. The track flourished during this time. In addition to a stellar NASCAR-sanctioned weekly show, several national touring series made I-70 a part of their schedules. ASA races were now on national television. ARCA made a stop at I-70. The American Indycar Series took a turn. Racing semi trucks literally busted through the retaining walls one year.

By the 1990s, I-70 Speedway became so successful it found a new owner. Sioux City, Iowa, vending machine magnate Ted Carlson was a serious late model stock car fan, and decided to invest some of his money into short tracks. At the time, Carlson's portfolio included Park Jefferson Speedway in Sioux City, San Antonio Speedway, Kansas City's Lakeside Speedway, and I-70 Speedway.

It was during this time that the brightest spotlight yet was shined on I-70 when the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (now the Camping World Trucks) made I-70 an annual stop. The truck series made its start on the premiere short tracks around the country, and it was quite an honor to have NASCAR's third-highest series on the historic high banks. One of the most significant events during that time was Tony Raines' 1997 victory in a Dodge Ram Truck. Dodge had recently returned to NASCAR competition after nearly a 20-year hiatus, and it was their first win ever in the truck series. In addition to the regular winnings, Raines was given the keys to a new Dodge street truck that day.

Another big moment was Adam Petty's 1998 ASA victory. Adam was the great grandson of Lee Petty, grandson of "King" Richard Petty, and son of Kyle Petty. His first ASA win made him the first fourth-generation athlete to win a professional sport in any arena. Petty went on to win an ARCA race at Charlotte. He was later killed in a practice crash in New Hampshire, ending the promising career of a well-loved young driver.

I was a big fan of I-70 Speedway for years, and eventually weaseled my way into the front office. I started writing program articles, which eventually led to the Marketing Director job at I-70 and Lakeside Speedways. Then, in 2000, when Lakeside went from asphalt to dirt, I was given the General Manager position at I-70.

It was a really demanding, but really rewarding career path. Of course, I sold track sponsorships, wrote race recaps, made public appearances, and answered the phone. But I was also handing out the trophies in victory lane, I got to drive the pace cars as my personal vehicles, and I got a real inside view of the sport I loved the most at the track I loved the most. I even met my wife there!

Just as I-70 Speedway was experiencing some of the strongest success in memory, it was again sold to a new local owner. My job went to him. Despite a litany of changes, the track's popularity deteriorated, and it was closed down after the 2008 season. It now sits in an ever-increasing state of disrepair, looking for new ownership.

When I think about I-70, the amazing history, and the dramatic downfall, my heart literally aches. I, like many others, hold a deep passion for the high-banked half-mile. But like many things from the past that I held dear, it is but a memory now. I've been to hundreds of race tracks in my lifetime, and no place has or will ever hold a candle to the way I feel about I-70 Speedway.

I scanned more than 100 pictures from my collection for your enjoyment. Some of them are probably from an unusual perspective, because even though I have some of the obligatory racing/action shots, I also have a lot from the position of "marketing guy". So you'll see the pace car making a bunch of appearances, billboard and signage shots, and the like. That's just what I was doing, so those are the pictures I have.

Click on the balloon in the bottom left corner of the pictures if you would like to read the captions.


13 comments:

  1. These great local tracks! As a former resident of Vermont, I have fond memories of Catamount Stadium in Milton, and Thunder Road in Barre. The latter is still racing, next year will be their 52nd year!

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  2. Thanks! I checked out the Thunder Road website. Looks like a great place--I would love for that to be near here!

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  3. Craig- I am trying to reach Ted Carlson, and am wondering if you would know where to find him these days? Thanks!

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  4. I don't know where Ted is--haven't talked to him for quite awhile. His main company was United Vending and Food Services. Maybe someone there would know. http://uvfsinc.com/contact.php

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  5. awesome photos; but i would like to have seen some midget pics. from the dirt. thanks for sharing these.

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  6. Thanks, Art. Honestly, I've always been more of a stock car guy than a sprint car fan, although we've been to a lot of those over the years. I'm actually from Nebraska, and we spent a lot of time at Sunset Speedway until my family moved here in 1986. The few times we went to I-70 when it was dirt, it really wasn't all that great, so most of our Saturday nights were at Riverside Stadium (which I loved!) I didn't start working at I-70 until the 1990s, so I really didn't have many pictures from earlier than that.

    Thanks for checking in!

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  7. Man if them pace cars could only talk and tell there stories too!

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  8. How would you contact Craig Hover ?

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  9. Depends on what kind of contact you want to have with me! lol.

    There's a box over to the right that says "your ad here". That'll take you to my e-mail. :-)

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  10. Hello Craig. I have hundreds of pics from I70. Good friend Larry Wright gave them to me. Would love to get some of them on here for I70 fans to see.

    email me moosecan2000@yahoo.com

    Rodney Hawkins

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  11. I have grown up in Lexington, Mo. which is only about 14 miles from the track. I miss being able to go out to the I-70 Speedway and watch some racing. I really enjoyed looking at the pictures you provided though, thanks!

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  12. Need to show Jack Frost leaving the park in turn 1!

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  13. Have some really great memories from this place. I've been to lots of race tracks in my 53 years but this one BY FAR was the greatest. Sure do miss you I-70. Do you happen to have any pics of Tony Roper at I-70? He was a dear friend of mine.

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