Found photos : Three lost decades of Iowa Speedway recovered. With Merlin Benning, Lester “Red” Dralle. Claus Stricker, Don & Dick Feckers & Red Droste. 1950>1970.
TUNIS SPEEDWAY, WATERLOO, IOWA, U.S.A.
In the late 1940s, Judd L. Tunis, a local meat cutter and sausage maker was tired of loading up horses and hauling them 25 miles away just to exercise them on a track. He bought 52 acres of field beside Highway 218 on the city limits of Waterloo in eastern Iowa and built himself a horse track there. It was a 1/2 mile long and complete with bleachers.
“I was raised with horses,” said Judd later, “I love ‘em. I built the track in 1947 as a place to work out my horses because I had to go all the way to Waverly to do it,”
“I paid $200 an acre for the land,” he said, “The top price at the time was $150 an acre. Everyone called me a damn fool.”
Tunis’s Speedway began in 1948. One account says it was all Judd’s son-in-law, Bill Higgins’s idea. In this version Higgins persuaded Judd it was a great idea to build a another track inside his horse track to race midget cars on. With the help of the gloriously named Ira “Speed” Chumley, Judd built a steep banked, oval shaped 1/4 mile dirt track within his horse track.
In a 1975 interview Judd himself said it was “John Gerber of Davenport, who was staging midget races at Cedar Rapids and Davenport, talked me into building a quarter-mile track and we’ve been in racing ever since.”
Tunis Speedway hosted bikes as well as midget car racing when it opened. The following year, men began arriving in huge misshapen jalopies. Stock car racers. Locals rode the stocks there like they stole them for cash prizes of up to $3000, it was wholesome carnage and spectators arrived too. In droves. Week after week, huge crowds of up to 10,000 people turned up for Tunis’s Speedway. Tunis ran the show for 17 years then contracted a racing association to put on the Sunday night races. In 1973, Judd gave Claus Stricker, a local driver racer from Cedar Falls, the contract to promote and run the races. Judd stay around, in the thick of it, never missing a race day. “There are always a few little details that need tending to,” he would say, “Seems like someone always wants something. The other night, I jumped in and helped one of the ticket sellers,”
After two decades of racing, Judd Tunis made an error in the sixties that almost pulled the handbrake on his speedway dreams. He sold off a portion of his property to a department store group and quickly discovered that the survey details on his land were way out and he’d mistakenly sold off turn four of the track, The new owners of turn four wouldn’t sell it back to Tunis but did allow him to continue racing.
By 1983 Tunis, fed up with continual complaints about the noise, closed the doors to his venue ending three decades of racing.
Incredibly only two deaths occurred in 3 decades of racing at Tunis’s speedway. Neither had anything to do with with stock car racing. One was a boy who fell from a horse he was riding on the track and died from his injuries and the other, a thrill show performer who was killed during his act.
“It was the Lee Overland Thrill Show,” remembered Tunis wistfully, “Some guy had an act where he blew himself up with 12 sticks of dynamite while he laid sealed in a coffin. Something went wrong that night.”
Credits :: to Jim Volgarino for posting both images & captions to the found photography repository, FORTEPAN IOWA : “Lost Tracks” section of speedwayandroadracehistory.com : The History of Cedar Rapids and Eastern Iowa Car Culture, Street and Racing Facebook group ; midwestracingarchives.com
Merlin Benning, from Waverly, Iowa, began his racing career at Tunis in 1959. This 1933 Ford coupe was his second race car after he wrecked his first, a 1940 Mercury.
He purchased the 1933 Ford from brothers Lloyd and Bob Hesse of Waterloo, painted “17” on the doors, got Dick’s Conoco of Waverly to sponsor him and raced the it from 1959 to 1963. He retired #17 at his farm outside Waverly.
It’s although nothing at all happened. Today, the Tunis Speedway site is resting, re-wilding itself, morphing to its former, natural self. A lonely, scrabbly field beside Highway 218, city limits of Waterloo, Iowa.
Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.