Where it all started…
Speedy Acres. Was there ever a better name for a race track that was located IN a field, IN the country?
The Man of Steel
FIESTA CITY SPEEDWAYIn 1959 the Speedy Acres drivers negotiated to get the races set up on the Chippewa County Fairgrounds. Working with Henning Swanson and the other fair-board members, they came to an agreement. The track had been used for harness racing for many years so early that spring the fair association revamped the track to make both harness racing and stock car racing possible. The turns were banked and the drivers donated their time and money to build a 435-foot cement retaining wall in front of the covered grandstand. All the facilities of a completely modern race track were put in and it was made into one of the finest dirt tracks in Minnesota.
On the south end of the pit area was the baseball field for the Montevideo Spartans. Part of the deal was that NO ONE drove on the field. There were outfield fences on the south end and lots of barricades down the track. The drivers tried, but through the years, every once in awhile a car would slide off and the baseball people would scramble across the field to check the damage. They paced like caged lions during the races because they had games on Sunday afternoons and that didn't give them a lot of time to get the field repaired.
It was called a half-mile track, but many of us tested the distance by driving around the inside of the track with our cars and it came out to about 3/4 mile. Through the years the track has been shortened and changed. Originally the north end of the track ran right up to the ditch on Highway 212. Blading that big track was quite a job and often resulted in a ridge on the inside that caused a lot of accidents.
Other things have changed, too. Back in those days the heat winners started in the back of the pack for the features. That led to exciting races as they finagled their way through the slower traffic. Today the fast cars go up to pole position and it may be faster racing, but not nearly as entertaining. And though the cars of today look like they're moving much faster, if you figure that the guys in the old days were racing on an almost three-quarter-mile track, their times looked pretty darn fast.
Today everybody and their brothers are in the pit area. Back then the driver and just a couple of pitmen could go in. We women had to get out at the gate to the track and sit in the grandstand until the races started. Believe me, that wasn't exciting. For Sunday afternoon races we arrived a couple of hours before the races started. That meant the women had to trudge in the hot sun and sit in the stands, waiting until the races started. Most of the stands didn't have roofs either.
Try looking across the pit area today and you'll see big semis with mobile garages hooked on the back. If you look at these pictures, you'll note that most of the drivers had a couple five-gallon cans of gas, a can of water, a small tool box, and some bald tires. Got us through. I love what Norm Milbrandt said at the 1994 reunion. He said that most of the tires had NO HUNTING on the sidewalls. Oh, we were not big-time racers, but we had a lot of fun and nobody lost the farm over expensive cars. We pretty much had junk yard specials.
First Race on the New Track
The first stock race on the new track was on June 13, 1959. Gene Neises was the acting track manager and Clayton Johnson, the announcer. Jim Ryman continued to be the flagman. The races started at 8 PM and there were drivers from Montevideo, Renville, Sacred Heart, Marshall, Appleton, Dawson and Madison. They had over 30 cars and the grandstands were full.
One of the things that I don't think the fair board thought about was the harness-racing horses. They were stabled in a barn that was only a few feet from the track. The barn was located just past the number four corner. When the cars came out of the turn and onto the straightaway, they hit it full bore. It really scared the horses. You could hear the commotion in the barn and the horses neighing and squealing all the way down in the grandstand. Kind of a spooky situation. Don't remember, but I think they moved the horses later. I hope so.
Chippewa County Fair, August 1959
There was a lot of excitement for the county fair that first year of racing on the new track. It would be the first time in the fair's 78-year history that stock car racing became part of the county fair program. (I looked for the results of this big event in the Monte paper, but couldn't find them.)
Through the years the track has been run by different people and organizations and there were a few years with no racing, but the program is up and running again and in 2016 was stronger than ever.
$100 TOTALIn 1962 Al Deville and Les Schultz, racing promoters from Watertown, SD, introduced a new audience participation game called $100 Total. The game offered $100 to the person or persons who could correctly pick the first five placers in the A Feature, but they had to be in the proper order.
It went over well and the fans knew their drivers. The first week three persons picked the proper combination. The next week 17 fans split the $100. If I did the math correctly, that would amount to $5.88 per person. Almost as profitable as racing!
The 17 winners were: Sharon Lutz, Jim Larson, Carol Brandriet, Mike Simonson, Ken Davis, Avis Nygaard, Shirley McClure, Lowell Birhanzl, Joyce Hildahl, Janice Dahl, Charles Haugen, and Steve Zaiser, all of Montevideo. John Maroney, Maynard; Mrs. Charles Prekyl, Marshall; Paul Nelson, Taunton; David Lovering, Granite Falls, and Irene Heemeyer, Aberdeen, South Dakota.
An Open Invitation
This is the invitation sent out in 1959 by Paul Phillips, Secretary of the Tri-County Racing Association. Area drivers were invited to the first ever car race at the Montevideo Speedway. If you click on the picture, you can read it. It wasn't until 1961 that Les Schultz and Al DeVille took over the management of the track and it became the Fiesta City Speedway.
It must have worked because here is a picture of the pit area in 1959.
This page updated on December 17, 2016.