Editor's Note: “A Look at Times Gone By” is an in-depth look at weekly Times Gone By entries compiled since 2015. These articles represent the history of Washington County sports.
The Washington County Fairgrounds welcomed folks to witness rodeos and tractor pulls this past week, but in 1954 stock car racing was the hottest ticket.
That year's June 17 Pilot-Tribune promoted “the first stock car races in Washington County” with $1 adult entry fees advertised for the following Sunday. The fair board and Washington County Race Track manager Merlin Flanders seemed to believe the former baseball field's grandstand would provide enough seating, but quickly found out how much racing fans were looking forward to seeing cars fly around the oval in person.
Organizers were forced to add bleachers each week of the early race season. About 1,000 seats were added at the end of June with 2,000 fans already watching the week before.
In early September, the track drew its attendance record crowd of 4,815, besting the 4,809 set the prior month. The near-5,000 fans watched nine rollovers, and feature race wins by Johnson Sorensen of Arlington and Bob Petersen of Blair.
The field of cars were more often than not driven by locals. Notable drivers named in newspaper clippings throughout the season were Casey Livermore, Casey Roy and Glenn Keeler of Arlington, and Don Kelly, Lucky Chamberlain, Richard Hineline, Don Rouse, Clyde Biffar, E.L. Jones and Richard Meltzer of Blair.
Crashes were prevalent as track officials adjusted rules throughout the season to prevent so many. In August, “Peanuts” Warrick of Blair made headlines — and got his picture in the paper — when he crashed, breaking off a light pole and colliding with a tow truck on the infield.
By year's end, the Arlington race track crowned its first champion — George Cooper of Ames. Tekamah's Bill Cooper, Kennard's Bill Wrich and Russ Brahmer of Wisner followed in the standings. Jimmy Wyman of Fremont, Del Livermore of Blair, Jim Thompson of Valley and Sorensen were Nos. 5-10.
About 4,500 showed up to watch the final race in October as the drivers competed for $1,870 in purse money. A women's race was also held with Torchy Hue of Herman winning the first heat. Mickey Robinson of Blair, and Mary Ayers and Anita Gaines of Arlington also notched top-three finishes.
That night Kennard driver Allen Reeh, unfortunately, rolled his race car for the third time of the season.