When Chuck Brennan purchased the iconic Huset’s Speedway, the racing fraternity sucked in their collective breaths.
First came a name change to Badlands Motor Speedway. Some wondered why the change; Huset’s was known far and wide for sprint car racing.
Then Brennan announced a massive remodeling project in the millions of dollars. “Yeah, I bet” was often heard from fans and racers alike.
That announcement was followed by claims of bigger purses. Again, the nay-sayers were skeptical. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” said one competitor. It was hinted that race teams might also be given tow money.
Brennan also announced the speedway would switch its big sprint show from Sunday to Saturday, putting Badlands in direct competition with famed Knoxville for the best of the big motored cars. “It won’t work,” complained many. Sunday night was proclaimed “Family Night” featuring mainly stock cars and a $10 admission price. Many people began to take notice.
As work began to update the old speedway, speculation and conversation picked up. It was announced that Hartford Speedway was ceasing operations. That upset some, especially among the modified ranks. They’d have to find another venue to race.
“The guy is nuts,” proclaimed one longtime race fan. “It just won’t work. He just wants someplace to hold rock and roll concerts.”
Then the racing schedule was announced. Big shows, big stars. Besides the World of Outlaws, the historic United States Auto Club (USAC) racers would visit Badlands Speedway. Motorcross and monster trucks are coming, as are several rock and roll shows featuring top flight acts. People started wondering.
The first race this year saw huge crowds and, despite a few opening night glitches, both fans and racers were impressed. The massive facility no longer resembled Huset’s Speedway. Here was the new, polished and much improved Badlands Motor Speedway.
Brennan had made good on his promises. Drivers were running for a $50,000 purse on Saturday night, with the winner of the 410 A Feature pocketing $5,000. Drivers get $700 just to start the main sprint car event.
“Those payouts are unprecedented around the country,” said Tom Savage Jr., who oversees the day-to-day operations of the speedway. “Plus, we do have a program called the Travel Assistance Program, TAP for short. TAP pays 410 sprint cars $1.50 per mile to come to Badlands with a maximum of $400. So, if a driver comes from Grand Forks, Minneapolis or the Des Moines area, they would get $400 tow money and $700 to start. That’s $1,100 to come to Badlands Motor Speedway, even if they finish last. Not bad.”
Badlands averages 30 or more big bore sprint cars each week. There is even a $100,000 season-ending point fund.
Under Savage’s guidance, the glitches have been addressed; programs are run and completed on time. Track and facility improvements are essentially complete, but it is a safe bet that even more improvements and enhancements may be forthcoming. There is even a family section where fans with young children can sit.
Wanting to show off his new speed plant, Brennan held a “grand opening” both Saturday and Sunday with free admission for all. “Never heard of such a thing,” quipped one attendee, “but guess this Brennan guy is for real.”
“I’m very eager to show off the updated Badlands Motor Speedway,” said Brennan. “We have seating for 9,000 people and free parking.”
Next on the schedule is the World of Outlaws, who’ll invade Badlands on July 2-3. An Outlaws Fan Fest will be held at Badlands Pawn from 10 a.m. until noon on July 2. Fans can visit with the Outlaws, see their cars and haulers at the event, and then the World of Outlaws caravan will travel through Sioux Falls en route to the speedway. A map of the route is provided on the Badlands Web Page for those fans wanting to witness the teams on parade. A huge fireworks show will be held each night. July 4 is the rain date.
All and all, you can say that Brennan, Savage and Badlands Motor Speedway have lived up to the promises big-time.
On Saturday night, we visited the pits at Badlands to get comments from the drivers themselves.
“Racing here is great. I’ve been racing for 16 years and this is the best purse I’ve raced for on a weekly basis,” said Ryan Bickett. “In the 360 class it pays $2,500 to win. You get $300 just to start. That’s a great purse. The first 10 years I raced, the most I ever got for a win was $606.” Bickett added that Brennan has kept his promises. “Now it is up to the drivers and fans to support him and the speedway.”
Fellow sprint car pilot Joe Riedel said he has no complaints whatsoever: “It’s really good. The purses help make it a whole lot easier to field a car. It’s been good.”
The stock car guys are also singing the praises of Badlands Motor Speedway these days.
Matt Steuerwald said Brennan and Savage are “treating us as good as can be expected. A thousand dollars to win and $100 to start is pretty darn good for a stock car class. There is not one thing he (Brennan) said he’d do that he hasn’t.” Even the hobby cars are running for a $500 to win purse.
“Plus that, twice this season Brennan has waved the pit fees. And now the fans get in free for two nights. Now how can you beat that?” said Steuerwald.
We’ll let the grand old man of racing, Chuck McGillivray, have the final word:
“Chuck Brennan and Badlands Motor Speedway is the best thing that has ever happened to racing. Now at least you can buy a few parts and make ends meet. The fuel allowance is something I never thought I’d see, but it’s certainly a plus. There is absolutely nothing I’ve seen to be negative about.”
That sums up what the racers are saying about Badlands Motor Speedway, some of whom were rather skeptical when the old Huset’s Speedway was purchased by Brennan. And it appears to be making an impact. On Saturday night, there were 37 sprinters in the pits and 18 stock cars.
I’ve been around this auto racing game a long time and I noticed Saturday night that the attitude of the racers has changed. There were smiles everywhere. The past few years it was frankly a rather solemn crowd. Saturday it felt like the pits when we first started racing. Everybody was in a good mood.
I especially noticed that the racers tossed their trash in the containers provided for that purpose. Maybe it has something to do with the cemented pit area. In days gone by, lots of trash just got dropped wherever it landed. Even former driver Lee Schlumbohm was seen sweeping mud into a pile that had dropped off the car!
Some of the oldtimers were back behind the wheel. J.J. Zebell was driving the No. 29 late model street stocker, a former Gary Brown Jr. car. Dave Ekern was in a sprinter, although his evening came to an abrupt end when he got on his head. He wasn’t injured.
LAKE COUNTY REMEMBERED
While visiting in Madison recently, several people asked me if I’d seen the Facebook page about the old Lake County Speedway, or Interlakes Speedway as some of us old-timers still call it.
Penny Millard and two others showed me the web page. It was filled with old pictures and memories posted by both drivers and fans, praising the old three-eighths-mile oval just south of Madison. It brought back lots of memories…
It also brought questions about whether I’d ever consider reprinting “Thunder Over The Plains,” the history of Lake County Speedway. Despite selling hundreds of the books, it seems like some folks didn’t get one. If there are enough people wanting to order the book, we would reprint it. But book publishers have a minimum number they are willing to print. If interested, contact me at galep@@midco.net or talk to Penny Millard in Madison.
Incidentally, the site is called “We Loved Lake County.” Check it out.
THE CHAMP REMEMBERED
The late Randy Droescher, the last sprint car champion at Lake County Speedway, will be remembered in a pair of races in July. The first annual Memorial Races, inspired by “The Iceman,” will be held July 19 at Rapid Speedway and followed up on July 24 at Badlands Speedway.
Daryn Pittman won the Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series at the Jackson Motorplex Friday night. Dustin Larson won the $1,000 Dominick Bruns Memorial Race for IMCA stock cars.
On Saturday, 60-year-old Sammy Swindell won the National Sprint League feature at Knoxville, his 49th career win at
the track. Swindell thus becomes the oldest winning sprint car driver at Knoxville.
Here’s a plug for the Shrine Hospitals. David Ragan will drive the Shriners Hospital for Children’s car in NASCAR’s Coke Zero in Daytona, Fla., July 2. The car was designed by a Twin Cities Shrine Hospital patient, Hailey Randall.
And finally, it was announced recently that the GoMuddy National Sprint League 360 sprint car series has ceased operations.
“In the best interest of 360 sprint car racing and in an effort to curb any further segregation between the National Sprint League and other sanctioning bodies, the NSL 360 Series will cease operations effective immediately,” National Sprint League founder Tod Quiring said.
Originally Posted: Tuesday, June 28, 2016 3:35 pm
By GALE PIFER, Motorsports Writer
Daily Leader Extra