Kokomo Speedway History
By Brett Bowman
The 2013 season marks the 66th year of existence for the famed Kokomo Speedway. If the next 66 years are anything like the first 66 have been, its no doubt that the ¼-mile bullring will only add to its legend.
The track was opened by partners Albert Miller and John Rose in 1947. The pair, along with former Indianapolis track builder and promoter Ted Everroade opened the facility with the intent of it being exclusively a midget track.
The first race at the track was held on July 6, 1947 and Ralph Purnell holds the distinction of being the first feature winner in the famed tracks history. The present day facility and the track that was opened over 60 years ago are remarkably different.
The track then had grandstands completely surrounding the racing surface itself. In the infancy years, the track could easily hold in excess of 10,000 fans. Now, primarily for safety reasons, the grandstands that engulfed the track in the early days have for the most part been removed. Leaving only the original main grandstand on the frontstretch as well as the smaller backstretch bleachers. According to archived articles found in the Kokomo Tribune, the all-time attendance record at the track is 12,856, set on June 21, 1948.
There have been tragedies that have befallen the track as well over the last 65 seasons. The first driver to lose their life in an accident at the facility was Lafayette’s Teddy Klooz. The midget driver was fatally injured in a turn one accident on September 15, 1947. The accident injured four pit workers as well.
The most recent tragedy that claimed a drivers life came almost 15 years ago when popular driver Vince Osman was killed in a turn three accident.
In its long history, the track has changed hands very rarely.
Famed promoter Bill Lipkey purchased the venue from Miller and Rose in 1952 and helped make it arguably one of the most hallowed dirt tracks in the country. Lipkey and his family maintained the track until the Winter of 1994 when local businessman Kent Evans and his family took over the reigns of the track.
Evans, who owned liquor stores in Kokomo as well as a track champion non-wing sprint car, and his family immediately made dramatic changes to the track that are still in place now, over 15 years later.
Evans installed the state of the art lighting system that still beams down on the track each race night. Fans and drivers alike rave about the clarity that the lights provide. In addition, Evans and his family worked tirelessly to provide the best possible facility for the fans and competitors alike.
A prolonged period of terrible weather and numerous cancellations due to rain led to the Evans family relinquishing the track in the Winter of 1999-2000.
Famed radio personality, the late Dick Bronson and Mark Owsley forged a partnership and purchased the track on January 24, 2000. Two weeks into their first season, Bronson sold his share of the track to Owsley, citing health reasons.
Dave Duncan, an auto salvage dealer and former racer, took over the track from Owsley on contract from 2001-2002 until Owsley again reclaimed the facility.
The O’Connor family purchased the track almost ten years ago and have made tremendous improvements, both in the action on the track as well as cosmetic changes.
Following the 2004 season, the new owners set about making drastic changes to the race track and its configuration. The first order of business was to essentially tear down the old, flat track and start from scratch.
In addition to adding more banking to the track and widening the surface, new walls and much stronger, Nascar and IRL approved catch fence was put up as well.
If success is based on sheer numbers, the new owners have been ultra-successful.
Attendance figures are much improved over what they were in years past not to mention the amount of racers showing up each week to participate.
Over the years the track has played host to virtually a who’s who in racing history. A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Lloyd Ruby, Troy Ruttman, Johnny Parsons, Parnelli Jones, Bill Vuckovich, Pancho Carter, John Andretti, Steve Butler, J.J. Yeley, Steve Kinser, Jack Hewitt, Rich Vogler, Tom Bigelow, Tony Stewart and Mike Groff are among those who have both raced at the track as well as in the Indianapolis 500.
Sprint Cup standouts like Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Ken Schrader, Kasey Kahne, Yeley, Stewart and Dave Blaney are just a few who have visited the track over the years.
Though the track is known primarily for its open wheel standouts who have competed, the support divisions with the likes of Dave Phillips, Glen Bradley, Jim Davis, Chuck Piker, Glen Gamblin, Gary Mock, Swede Bolander, Jim Taylor, Rocky Lucky and Jon Casbon, just to name a few have all turned countless laps at the track.
Tony Elliott holds the distinction of being the winningest driver in the history of the track as he has bagged well over 60 sprint car A-main wins. Veteran Bob Kinser has unofficially garnered 57 wins, while Dave Darland has also found victory lane over 50 times. Former track champion Jon Stanbrough has captured in excess of 30 wins at the track in the last several years alone and is well on pace to eclipse Elliott’s mark.
Sprint Car Track Champions
1963- Don Fisher
1972- Bob Kinser
1973- Bob Kinser
1974- Bob Kinser
1975- Bob Kinser
1976- Bob Kinser
1977- Allen Barr
1978- Bob Kinser
1979- Bob Kinser
1980- Bob Kinser
1981- Kerry Norris
1982- Kelly Kinser
1983- Kelly Kinser
1984- Randy Kinser
1985- Randy Kinser & Tony Elliott
1986- Gary Fisher
1987- Tony Elliott, Terry Shepherd & Dave Darland
1988- Tony Elliott
1989- Tony Elliott
1990- Tony Elliott
1991- Dave Darland
1992- Gary Fisher
1993- Dave Darland, Kevin Thomas & Gary Fisher
1994- Dave Darland
1995- Tony Elliott
1996- Kevin Thomas
1997- Mike Mann
1998- Tony Elliott
1999- Tony Elliott
2000- Tony Jarrett
2001- A.J. Anderson
2002- Dustin Smith
2003- Jon Stanbrough
2004- Shane Cottle
2005- Shane Cottle
2006- Jon Stanbrough
2007- Shane Cottle
2008- Scotty Weir
2009- Cole Whitt
2010- Chris Windom
2011- Shane Cottle
2012- Scotty Weir