The "Legendary" Lawrenceburg Speedway
This article taken from the 1984 Lawrenceburg Speedway "Official Souvenir Magazine"
by: Carroll Hamilton, reproduced courtesy of Stock Car Racing Magazine.
"Track to open sunday afternoon with jalopy racing sanctioned by the Southern Ohio Stock Car Racing Association, newly formed in this area by unexperienced men who are anxious to try out racing." The May 14, 1950 Lawrenceburg (Indiana) REGISTER sports page announces the humble beginnings of the now famous Legendary Lawrenceburg Speedway.
The 'burg is pure Americana , pure vintage race track, pure bullring. The place reeks of history, of times gone by, of times when brute strength was a winning factor, times when mechanical wizardry coupled with bravery made many a saturday night hero.
Just as Yankee Stadium is famous for those who played baseball in it. Lawrenceburg Speedway is famous for those who raced on it. Grab a beer, find your way to the grandstands and settle in, this is what racin' is all about. Look around. There are real race fans. Saturday night, beer drinking, dirt track fans. The same brand of fans who filled the place back in 1959, when Sunday afternoon jalopy racing was replaced with Saturday night "modified" racing.
Roy Robbins was the hot shoe in modifieds. Bailing wire and tape was Roy's game. He even used tires from his tow truck and trailer when the occasion arose. Regardless of his methods the burley Louisville, Kentucky mechanic took the '59 track pgTitle. A season long battle with crowd favorite Stan Bowman kept the crowds big and enthusiastic.
A whopping $1,250 guaranteed purse kept the modifieds coming and the Southeastern Indiana racing fans loved it. '60 saw the unorthodox Robbins lose his pgTitle to Bowman, while a young Texan named Jim McElreath made the 'burg his home.
The United States Automobile Club (USAC) Midgets invaded Lawrenceburg in '61. Johnny Rutherford and A.J. Foyt were in the field. Pitch 'em sideways and stand on the gas....Super Tex and JR sure showed them how. Those were the days, no cages, no fire suits, just brave men standing on the gas.
'61 also saw Roy Robbins take his homemade car and unorthodox style off to some place called Knoxville, Iowa and cop the first ever "Knoxville Natioinals" .Sure made the racers from the 'burg look tough.
Two of the most prominent names in sprint car racing teamed up in 1962 as Dick Gaines took over the famous "Dizz" Wilson modified. Larry"Boom Boom" Cannon hit the 'burg scene that same year, while Stan Bowman left the Lawrenceburg ranks to race the mighty USAC Sprinters.
Bowman took the checkered flag at the first ever USAC sanctioned sprint car race ever held at Earl Baltes' famed Eldora Speedway. Once again the racers from the 'burg looked tough.
Bowman was on his way, but it was not to be. Tragedy struck a USAC event in Terre Haute, Indiana. The popular Stan Bowman was dead! No cages, no fire suits, just brave men standin' on the gas, sometimes too brave.
Dick Gaines, who later became known as "Mr. Sprint Car", drove the "Dizz" Wilson Special to the 1963 Lawrenceburg pgTitle. This was quite an accomplishment as "Dizz" was famous for changing drivers as often as he changed right rear tires.
1964 saw Carl Williams join Gaines in Wilson team cars, however, early in the season "Dizz" changed drivers and Williams was gone. A host of young drivers tried out the Wilson seat, with Mike Smith finally landing the ride, as his six year old son Danny looked on.
The Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) rolled into Lawrenceburg in '64. Johnny Marcum's stars Jack Bowsher and Iggy Katuna brought crowds out in mass, but when the dust cleared some new comer from over in Indiana had stolen the checkered flag. Chargin' Charlie Glotzbach had put it on 'em.
Cecil Beavers took the '64 modified pgTitle, even though to this day Gaines claims it was his. The point system was based on money won and the points were awarded to the person who signed the Saturday night payoff sheet. Beavers signed for all his, while "Dizz" picked up some Gaines' change.
The crowds quickly took a likin' to a big, tall lanky rookie in '65. At twenty-two, Bloomington, Indiana's Sheldon Kinser could sure make that Cadillac powered Brewer modified fly. Little did we know that this was just the beginning of the "Kinser Clan's" hold on sprint car racing.
Gaines signed for all his money and took his second Lawrenceburg track pgTitle.
Local hot shoe Ross Smith got an ex-USAC sprinter formerly driven by Bobby Marshman, bolted on a cage and followed the trend from modifieds to sprint cars. The parallel four bar car was to much and Smith ran away with the '67 season. Old Bailin' wire and tape, Roy Robbins hung in there to finish second and save face for the do it yourself set, but the old modified was history. Sprint cars with a cage, they were the hot set up.
Steve and Randy Kinser sat with their mom and watched their father Bobby take the pgTitle in 1969.
Management changes, purses drop, crowds are down and the 'burg goes under. The early seventies were tough for Lawrenceburg. Stock cars were in - open wheelers were out. The 'burg tried late-models but it never seemed to work.
1973, a new promoter, some new names mixed with some old names and the 'burg is back.
Scrappy Butch Wilkerson battled a cool Bobby Black in a season long dual for track supremacy. The fierce competition brought the faithful Saturday night, beer drinkin', dirt track fans back and sprint car racing was alive and well again in Southeastern Indiana. Wilkerson, driving the "Dizz Wilson"sprinter finally edged out Black for the pgTitle and in doing so gained a following that was to make him one of the most popular drivers in Hoosierland. At a post season banquet, Black was quick to point out to Wilkerson that "if it wasn't for us losers there wouldn't be any winners."
Dick Gaines, driving the famous Kinser Brothers No. 11 was Wilkersons '74 foe. Once again the fans are treated to wheel bangin', slide 'em sideways, go for broke sprint car racing.
Gaines went off and won the 1974 Knoxville Nationals, chalking up another round for the racers from Lawrenceburg. Wilkerson didn't fare to well at Knoxville, but the at the 'burg he was something, beating out Gaines for back to back pgTitles.
At sixteen Danny Smith won the youngest driver award for 1974.
A year later, a veteran at seventeen, Danny wheeled his father sprinter into the Lawrenceburg victory circle for his first ever sprint car feature win. Dick Gaines finished a close-close second and in a post-race interview was quick to praise the young Smith, "the kid deserves the win, he drove a perfect race". Gaines would know as he stalked the kid for most of the race, running just inches away, trying to force Smith to miscue. It was a race many Lawrenceburg fans vividly remember, especially the Danny Smith fans.
Cigar smoking, crowd pleasing Calvin Gilstrap edged out Dick Gaines for the '75 Lawrenceburg Sprint Car pgTitle.
Clavin Gilstrap, the defending track champion chose not ot run the 1976 season to go into semi-retirement. At 47 Gilstrap was ready to retire from the racing wars, but felt a strong obligation to his Saturday night Lawrenceburg fans and chose to race exclusively at the 'burg. However, as so often the case, Calvin happened to be at Bloomington (Indiana) Speedway on friday night July 30. He was in the stands as a fan when his friend Cecil Beavers, a former Lawrenceburg champ and now car owner asked him to try out his sprinter. Calvin accepted the invitation and on his very first qualifying lap hooked a rut and flipped the Beavers car. Calvin died the following Monday of head injuries. Lawrenceburg fans were shocked, somehow they new another piece of the 'burg was lost. Brave men, sometimes too brave.
Steve Kinser made his initial Lawrenceburg appearance in 1976. Boy was he something to watch! A little wild, but what a charger. Kinser tangled with his cousins' No 11, Gaines driven sprinter in the feature - taking both out for the night. The confrontation was ironic, as it was the famous KinserBrothers No. 11 car that later carried Steve to national acclaim. Gaines was hopping mad and claimed the youthful Kinser drove like a crazy man. While outraged on the outside, inside Gaines knew Steve would be a driver to be reckoned with. Maybe even he'd be the next "Mr. Sprint Car"?
Despite his run in with Kinser, Gaines went on to cop his third Lawrenceburg Speedway crown.
A still young Danny Smith won five features in a row on his way to the 1977 track pgTitle. Dan's father, Mike, returned to the sprint car ranks after a ten year layoff and managed to finish seventh in the final standings. "It's like riding a bicycle, it's something you never forget" the elder Smith quipped.
1977 also saw another Kinser become a Lawrenceburg regular, Randy Kinser found the winners circle on several occasions.
That same year Gaines won the "Southeastern Indiana Sprint Car Championship", a big post season event at the 'burg. Gaines was in a the new Kinser Brothers No. 11 "lightweight". The radical car was the talk of the pits and the shape of things to come.
Later in the '77 season Gaines and his now "lightweight" found the Champaign, Illinois Fairgrounds guardrail, did a series of end-over-ends, and upon landing was smacked by another sprinter. Gaines was in series condition, and was nearly blind. Brave men, sometimes too brave.
After a long slow winter recovery Gaines announced his retirement, a retirement that was short lived. But at this announcement the Kinser Brothers No. 11 was turned over to Steve Kinser. and the Steve Kinser story was born.
An unretired Gaines teamed up with the legendary "Dizz" Wilson for the 1978 season. Seeing Gaines pitch the Wilson 71 in the corners took many a fan back to the 1963-64 years when the duo was almost unbeatable. But Gaines was still recovering from his '77 crash and while he won a few he was no match for the resurging Wilkerson. Wilkerson copped his third track pgTitle, while Gaines held on to finish third.
Kerry Norris, a protege of Wilkersons and son of Dave Norris, a former Lawrenceburg modified driver, came into his own in '79.
Steve Kinser and Danny Smith were off in Ted Johnson's World of Outlaws. Gaines had limited racing appearances. Wilkerson was ride hopping and Norris was flying. Norris easily took the 1979 track crown.
Late in the '79 season Wilkerson returned to the USAC sprints, a division he had been in and out of most of his career.
The treacherous high banks of Winchester (Indiana) Speedway marked the end of the popular Wilkerson's time behind the wheel of the mighty sprinters. A head on confrontation with the front stretch wall left Wilkerson in a coma for nearly a month, and while Butch went on to a slow recovery, he hung up his helmet to "leave the sport to the younger set."
Norris has learned well, and set himself up as the man to beat at the legendary Lawrenceburg Speedway.
Hey the fans are on there feet. The cars are on the back chute. Norris is in front, but wait there's Danny Milburn and Tony Solomito making it three wide into four. It's a race to the checkered flag. Side by side they take the flag. Whew! It's Milburn by inches, followed by Norris and Solomito.
Names change, but the same excitement, challenges and thrills somehow always exist at this Indiana bullring, and somehow you know that some of these brave man will stand on the gas and broadslide their way into racing history.