Howard Koziol's Playland Memories
Howard is an ex-Late Model racer in the Omaha area as well as a Playland driver. He has graciously consented to jot down some of his Playland remembrances here.
I am no writer, but I have considered writing some stories dealing with things I saw, & actually did at Playland. Would like to share them before they slip from memory.
In 1967,since I made it a personal fun project to save the articles, it didn’t take long to observe that the WH not only had weekly results on the day following the races, but had at least 1 midweek article, often followed by a short article on race day. Almost weekly, the Top 10 in points showed up in the paper as well.
Ran a couple of times in the Mini Stocks, driving cars that belonged to others in ’71 & ’72. Raced briefly in the Road Runner class in ‘73-’74. The Bronco-renamed as Hobby Class was where I ended up during the ‘75-’77 seasons. More on these later in the story.
From my first time in '57 or'58 until 1962, I remember the yellow '32 Ford coupe # V8 driven by Bud Burdick as being one of the biggest of the big guns.
If memory serves me correctly, Bud was point champ in '58, '59 & '61. Don Pash the Avoca Flash driving the white '32 Ford coupe # 5 was champ in 1960.In 1962, the point champ was Bill Wrich, who at that time drove black '32 coupe # 16. Others that come to mind during that time period were # 46-Bob Kosiski,black'32 Ford coupe; Bob's brother Dan, white '34 Ford coupe # 35(the number was inside a circle with a wing on it), # 14-Jim Wyman, white '32 Ford coupe with green lettering; # 53-Bob Burdick(Bud's nephew),bronze '33 Dodge coupe; # 8Ball-Glen Robey,'33 Hudson coupe; # 7- Bob Cave, black & white '32 Chev coupe; # 49-Keith Leithoff, maroon &white Chev coupe; # 38-Bud Aitkenhead, white '34 Ford sedan. I believe Don Settel was point champ in 1957, but I don't remember his number. Other names & numbers from that era:# 6-Jim Stewart,# 9-John Stewart, # 4-Ed Janisch, # 37-George Rydberg,# 82-Ed Rydberg, # 67-Dave Hellerich, # 77-Dick Gappa,# 76-Mike Dizona, # 92-Jim Vana, # 3-Bob Womochil.
Maybe some of you reading this will recall during the late '50's/early '60's, there was a silver(?)'57 Chev(# 88, I think) that ran with the coupes. Don't remember the driver or how well the '57 did, but it certainly stuck out running with the coupes.
Sometime during this era, Bud Burdick, in his famous yellow # V8 '32 Ford coupe, ran against Bob Kosiski (I think),driving a 1959 or ’60 Thunderbird in a special match race. Sorry, don't remember who won.
Two of the most famous names that raced at Playland were Tiny Lund & Johnny Beauchamp, but I honestly don't remember seeing them race there, they were before my time. All this was before the Interstate came through. I vaguely remember the old Aksarben Bridge. One of the track announcers during that time was Frank "Coffeehead" Allen, from KOIL radio. He & some officials stood in a white wooden tower in the center of the infield. The backstretch of the 1/5 mile asphalt oval had a wood fence(that got driven through many times) with lots of advertising on it.
One of the "rides" I remember near the north admission building to the race track was called Pump-It. These were miniature railroad type flat cars mounted on a miniature railroad track.The rider pushed/pulled a T-shaped handle back &forth while sitting on the little flat car to make it go. One of the reasons I liked that ride was because it was near the race track.
During 1963, most of the above-mentioned drivers belonged to a group called the MSCRA. This group did not race at Playland that year. A group that raced the same style of cars, but less modified ran there in '63. I didn't get to go much that year. A few names I remember from that group: Elvin Heiman, Ron Hoden, Jerry Marco and Bob Matson.
The amusement park and speedway were closed entirely in 1964 & '65 due to construction of the new Interstate, which would greatly reduce the size & change the landscape of the amusement park, but the race track would remain.
The MSCRA group of drivers returned to race on Friday nights, but the car count was getting smaller. The old coupes & sedans were allowed to run overhead-valve v-8's,& pretty good sized asphalt slicks. Most of the motors were 301 cu. in. Chevs, but of course
Jim Wyman ran a Ford 289. If I remember correctly, Bob Cave still ran his 6 cyl against the V-8's. Speaking of V-8, Bud Burdick really hit (or got run into) the concrete flagstand just off the inside of the front straightaway that year. That flagstand was later replaced with a perch above the fence along the outside of the front straightway .Point champ that year? Bob Kosiski, driving a metallic blue '32 Ford coupe # 53, with a Chev small block. Little did we know the major change that was on its way for 1967............................
In addition to the successful "Bronco" class, Mr. Slusky added "Figure 8" racing to the Saturday night card. A dirt figure-8 track was used in the infield, with the crossing being the center of excitement. Whether on the asphalt oval, or the dirt figure-8, fun racing was very alive and well at Playland at the end of the 1967 season.
During the 1968 season, a friend of mine from jr high, JB & talked his older brother into taking us to Playland for the Sat nite races. He dropped us off & said he would pick us up afterward. That night, both JB & I were impressed by Dave Chase's # 31 1963 Chev, complete with a 409 in it. Chase cleaned house that night, taking his heat, the trophy dash,& the 'A'.
That was one thing about Playland: it wasn't always the high dollar or most likely to win equipment that won. In 1968, Chase's '63 Chev was probably not the car you would expect to win, but it obviously did with Chase behind the wheel.
That same night we went to the amusement park during intermission,& got in line to ride "The Bullet". It was one of my favorite rides. Word was that most of the amusement park employees were more than willing to operate "The Bullet" because they got to keep whatever money that fell out of the riders pockets that the riders didn't claim, and, there was a lot of it on this one night alone. However on this night, not only riders’ money was emerging from this crazy ride. Screams were not the only thing erupting from riders’ mouths, either. Wouldn't you know, this happened when we were next in line, what a mess. This was not the only miscue of the evening, as JB's brother forgot to pick us up after the races. At first we thought this was cool, but then decided that it really wasn't since we spent all of our money at Playland, thus no bus fare. Only choice was to start walking, moaning about how far away South Omaha was. We didn't get too far, when JB’s brother remembered and showed up after all.
The 1968 season ended (as did other Playland seasons as well) with the "Playland 300", a 300 lap "relay" race in which 20 -2-driver-teams (1 driver from each team on the track at a time) competed for an increased purse along with additional prizes. The teams consisted of the Top 20 in points & a chosen team mate that was not in the top 20. The pit area for this race was moved to the infield. One team member would be required to wait in the team's designated pit stall while the other raced on the track. Only when the team member that had been racing pulled into the pits, could his partner pull onto the track. Both drivers were required to run a minimum number of laps, unless there was mechanical failure.
Bob Jura & his partner, Roger Schram, won the "300" at the end of the 1968 season. The World Herald did a nice article complete with pictures about this race. I attended that
race and vividly remember watching from my grandstand seat the look of elation on Bob Jura’s face as he took the checkers. Brought this up to point out that the relationship between the stands
and the track was close enough that if a person wanted to observe little things like the
one just mentioned, you indeed could do so.
Playland's format would expand to 3 classes in 1970. The Bronco class would remain intact, with drivers such as Dave Kaut, Bob Johnson, O.J. Gay, Al Franks(Dan's dad),Don Brown, Claude Brown, Gale Hevelone, Frank Van Doorn, & Mel Krueger competing. Walter Johnson, one of the few black race car drivers to compete got his start in the Bronco class.
A different new class created as a less expensive way to go racing was the "Mini Stocks". This class saw some former Bronco drivers move into it, as well as some new racers. Primarily consisting of VW Beetles, the Mini class also had Opel Cadets, Fiats, Hondas, & several other brands of foreign cars. Drivers’ names that come to mind: Robin Chase, Jimmy Jones, Jr., Mark Roseland, Joe Estes, Barry Caughlin, Butch Bovee, Frank Maason, George Snelling, Pete Abshire, Pat Riley, Calvin Smithberg, & many more. When the Mini Stocks raced, it sounded like a swarm of loud bumble bees on the loose.
One day Joe Estes stopped at the Standard station where I worked during my high school years. I knew that Joe raced at Playland because I went to school with his sister, Mary, who used to talk about Joe's racing. While his street car was being filled with gasoline, I asked him about his racing in the Mini Stock class. He said it was a blast and that it was a little more affordable to race Minis. He invited me to be on his pit crew, which I ended up working on for 2 or 3 seasons, enjoying every bit of it.
The "icing on the cake" for 1970 was the newly created "Super Stock" class. This was to become Playland's Late Model-type class. Newer equipment. No claim rules. Wider rims & tires. More horsepower. The Bronco class was ready to graduate some drivers into the Supers. Paul Zdan had the most unique looking car in the class: a 1964 Chevelle convertible with a sprint car wing fastened to the cage of the red #10. Actually, it was a '57 Chevy frame with a '64 Chevelle convertible body with a Chev 350 in it. Ron Tilley's white '64 Chevelle 2dr hardtop with the blue #56 on it sponsored by Lloyd's Gulf was one impressive machine. The tires on # 56 looked like they were 24" wide. Other Super Stock drivers were # 101-Bill Scheffield, # 78-Ed Morris, driving a purple '56 Chev whose left front tire was on the ground only when the car was not moving; # 66-Elvin Heiman, # 77-Mike Rocha; # 52-Jim Boyd, a really cool '68 Chevelle; # 103-John Ferrin, an orange '55 Chev ( John & his wife Jeanette are our next-door neighbors, really good ones, I might add); # 100-Wally Nissen, white ’64 Chevelle; Glen McKeighan.# z62, whose exhaust headers exited above the front tires of his blue ’64 Chevelle, producing a real cool sound out of his Chev small block; # 126-Roger Nixon,’66Ford Mustang body/Ford engine; # 27-Denny Watkins; # 98-Don Schlondorf, white '55 Chev with blue lettering. Dick Gappa drove Larry Gascgoine’s orange ’56 Chev sponsored by a product called Cromwell x-3. Thus, the car was number x-3. Gappa was one of the top contenders, & nearly won a race labeled ”The Mid-season Championship”.
Tilley & Zdan always raced each other hard, and, believe it or not actually tied for the Super Stock Championship in 1970. On one of the last nights of the season, I remember a lot of race fans who were also Nebraska Cornhusker fans(myself included) having transistor radios listening to the progress of the Nebr/ Southern Cal football game in between races. That game ended in a tie.
All 3 classes put on a good show the entire season. The stands were full evey week. The multi-class format turned out to be a change for the better, bringing in new racers as well as creating opportunity for the existing ones.
1970 was the first year I got to compete in an event at Playland. No, not a race. My first Demolition Derby. I bought a 1960 Pontiac from Joe Estes' brother Leroy, who used it in a previous Derby. What a total blast! I got 5th place out of 23 cars & got paid $3 cash. The Pontiac was a goner after this Derby, though.
In 1974, I ran a full-sized ’63 Ford 4 door, with a 260 cu. in.(all stock) Ford engine, a 3 speed trans in 2nd gear. I’m not going to say this car was slow, but you could nearly flatfoot it all the way around Playland. Needless to say, I was not competitive the few times I ran this car, but the experience of being able to run in an affordable class even in a non-competitive car was at least a start.
While the Roadrunner Class was maybe not the most glamorous, at least it gave those of us with little money to spend an opportunity to race & have fun.
Bob Cave, Jr., Karl Gray, Jerry Marco were a few of the guns in the Hobby class of 1975. Other Hobby drivers that come to mind were Jim Nordstrom, Fred Welch, Terry Narmi, Randy Wredt, Joe Gascoigne, Larry Robinson, Don Lemley, Rollie Tietsort, & many more.
I graduated from a very limited part-time Roadrunner division driver to the Hobby class in 1975. Again, having been a Chevy guy with my street vehicles, I had wanted to race one, but it didn’t work out that way.
Tom told me that he had enough 390 engine parts & power train parts at his place to make a complete car. Furthermore, he would let me use his shop, his tools,& his welder to finish the car. Not only that, he took a down payment, & let me pay the rest after I got to go racing. All of this was great for me, except that I had to put aside my unwarranted dislike of Fords, because now I was going to be racing one with a lot more time/effort/dollars in it than the ‘63. It was affordable, with more than fair terms, so better to race a Ford than not to race at all.
Tom earlier bought this car, a ’66 Fairlane body on a shortened ’62 Ford frame, for the drive train, which included a 427 Ford, top loader 4-speed, & truck floater rear end. It was red with #18 on it. (If anyone reading this knows anything about that car from that era, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you).
After Tom took what he wanted from the red Fairlane, it was pretty much a skeleton w/body& steering components. He had some good used 390 engine parts laying around,& told me to help myself. The finished 390 had 6 -11:1 pistons from 1 engine, 2 from another, crank & rods from yet another (unbalanced), a very homemade deep sump oil pan with a Ford 428 windage tray to help keep some oil in the pan. The block was pretty stock other than it had restrictors in the lifter galleys, as you didn’t need as much oil upstairs when you were running solid lifters. Those solid lifters rode on a Crane “Fireball” cam, with 523 lift &294 deg duration. The Ford 390 heads had good sized intake valves,& pretty decent ports, actually. A Ford 427 dual-point distributor was used, with none other than AC spark plugs. A massive stock, cast iron Ford 4bbl intake was atop the already heavy 390, on top of the manifold was a factory Autolite 4bbl carb (approx 600cfm?). Exhaust escaped thru a set of inexpensive Cyclone street headers. Fuel was premium right out of Bob’s Standard pumps.
Ended up using spindles,front hubs(complete w/drum brakes),3speed trans,& 9”rearend housing out of the’63 Ford that I ran in the Roadrunner class. Put 4:11 gears in the rear end, & ran 2nd gear with the 3speed.All of this with stock rims & street tires,(except on the RF).
The car had a stock steering box, with the stock steering shaft, cut off flush with the dash,& a small sprocket welded to it. A separate shaft that contained the steering wheel& a larger sprocket was connected by chain to the shaft with the small sprocket, thus it had ”quick”, but VERY hard steering. Imagine what your car or truck with power steering would steer like with the engine not running, or with no power steering belt.
Made an attempt to adjust the fiberglass seat already mounted in the car, so I could reach/see without having to sit on a bunch of phone books. Well, sitting in that seat the way I “adjusted” it would make one a candidate to visit their friendly chiropractor often.
Another item that came with the car was the fuel tank, a 16 gallon keg, mounted beneath the trunklid. It also had an electric Holley fuel pump, complete with regulator.
After what I’m sure to Tom seemed like an eternity(late July 1975), the former red Fairlane dirt car was now converted into a metallic dark blue Playland Hobby Stock, complete with a heavyweight 390& white 77x painted on the sides.
Tom & 2 of his friends even came in the pits with me my 1st nite out. I remember in hot laps how well the 390 accelerated. Made those short Playland straightaways seem even shorter. This former non-Ford guy got his non-Ford attitude adjusted by the time hot laps were over. When I reached my pit stall, Tom & his friends had a look of pleasant surprise on their faces.
Having never finished in the top 5 in an ‘A’ feature before,1975 brought me 2-- 3rd place ’A’ feature finishes. The car was still in good shape at the end of the season, but I was unaware at that point that I wouldn’t be using it in 1976.
So, I transplanted my 390 from my Fairlane into the light blue’57,& went racing. Never could get that ’57 to handle properly. Again, started later in the season,& didn’t make much noise with that car in ’76. Did let Krug bros driver Jerry Marco use it one nite, as Krug’s Chevelle had mechanical woes. Turned out Marco got enough points that nite to keep his point title chase alive, even though he didn’t have a fantastic finish in the ‘A’.
Marco did end up as Hobby point champ in ’76, although hotly pursued by Bob Cave & Karl Gray. Other Hobby drivers from 1976 were Chuck Gillespie, Bill McCoy, Jim Neff, Don Hadfield, Dave Foote,& Jim Sorenson.
Late Model drivers from 1976 included Don Doebelin Sr, Ron& Steve Tilley, Bill Sheffield, Paul Zdan, Ron Hoden, O.J. Gay, Frank Van Doorn, & Elvin Heiman.
The truck rear end had 5:57 gears. That with a 1:36 3rd gear in the Ford top loader made a final drive of approx 7:57. Ran pretty tall rear tires that yr, so with that combination, the 390 was lucky if it ever saw 6000 rpm. It had lots of low-end torque that would launch you off the corners & propel you down Playland’s short straightaways pretty quickly.
When I got the Fairlane back from Tom, it had a ľ ton truck rear end, complete with 8 lug, narrow brake drums. Included in this deal were 2 nice 8-hole steel wheels with 2 decent used, tall home-grooved tires mounted on them, they were probably used on dirt before. Well, those tires got put on the rear & ran the ENTIRE 1977 season. Seriously. Wonder what kind of compound they were(?)
My 1977 debut produced a 2nd place heat race finish, which qualified me for the Trophy Dash, a 6 lap sprint for the 1st&2nd place heat race finishers, starting order determined by draw.
Drew pole,& won my 1st ever race, the second Trophy Dash of 1977.I still vividly remember my heart pounding that last lap, then the rush it was to see that checkered flag waving---at me.
Ended up 4th in the ”A” that night, my 1977 season was underway. This took place on Sat nite of Memorial Day weekend. Playland raced a full program on Memorial Day nite as well. This time I won my heat, drew pole in the Trophy Dash again & won it again. Collecting a trophy & kissing a pretty Trophy Girl in the process twice in 1 holiday weekend was just fine with me. Very fine.
Our class had a claim rule on the whole car, as did the Bronco class before us. The rule stated that after a car had been claimed twice in the same yr, it was immune from further claiming.
Not wanting to lose my #77 Ford to the claim, I gambled on manipulating a claim on my own car, figuring I could change the number & drive it for the new “owner”. (Bob Cave Sr drove for his new “owner” in an earlier similar situation the previous yr).
To make this work, I needed good acting ability, cash (that I didn’t have),a person to make the claim(that also had good acting ability), and good timing, in hopes that someone else besides my claimer didn’t submit a claim on my car before my claimer did.
A friend from work offered to loan me the cash. I recruited a good friend (former Playland driver) to submit the claim, which he did in late June of 1977. On that particular night, after placing 2nd in my heat, I drew pole & won the Trophy Dash for the 3rd time.
I was really, really liking this deal receiving trophies from pretty girls.
I don’t remember where I started, but do remember that I worked up to & ran 3rd in the ‘A’ for quite a while, behind Cave Sr & Larry Robinson Sr, who were really going at it. Going at it so hard, that I figured I would be content with 3rd, as I did not care to become involved in the war taking place just in front of me. It was quite a site to see these guys blasting each other, yet maintaining their positions. Then it happened. Just like the parting of the Red Sea, the net result of the Cave/Robinson battle was that they took each other out of my path momentarily, just enough for me to squeeze by them.
If you think my heart was pounding hard before I won my 1st Trophy Dash, it just about pounded itself right out of my chest before my first ever ‘A’ feature win came a couple of laps later.
Let me tell you, there is no feeling in the world like the feeling you get when you win your first ’A’.
So good was the feeling that it made one forget other things, like why there was a large crowd gathering including track officials/announcer in your pit stall immediately after the races.
I was so wrapped up/elated with winning my 1st ‘A’, that I forgot about the claim that I had set up before that evening’s races began.
The large gathering in my pit stall was due to the fact that Lee Barron had announced that my car was being claimed after the feature. There were so many people gathered in our pit stall that I had to park in a nearby one.
So the euphoria I was experiencing from winning was forced to give way to an Academy Award acting performance (acting like I was surprised by the claim). I remember that even before I had climbed all the way out of the car, Bob Golden was explaining the terms/rules of the claim to the crowd & me. He said that if I refused the claim, I would lose all points & money for that nite, be barred from the class for the rest of the yr, or, let the car go & it would be re-eligible for claiming in 3 or 4 race nites.
Thinking that if there were any acting talent scouts in this crowd, I would surely be offered a role in Hollywood for my performance, I outwardly accepted the claim. (Thinking on the inside, we’ll just change the car’s numbers & be back next week to drive for the new ”owner”).
During that following week, Lee Barron had me on his radio show, via telephone. During the interview it came out that I was going to drive the same car with a different number for its new “owner”.
Upon entering the pits the next Sat evening, we were told there had been a rules change, and that from this point on, no driver whose car had been claimed could drive that car for the new “owner”.
Oh, great. Good-bye Top 10 point standings. Good-bye car for 3 race nites.
By the way, never got any acting offers from Hollywood.
One such Saturday during the summer of 1977 was just that; hot & steamy. On that particular day, the humidity felt as high as the temp, which was well into the 90’s.
On this steamy Saturday, having our own car back & now immune from being claimed again, we towed with our chain as usual to Playland. If you got there early, you could usually get a lot of hot laps. We took advantage of this nearly every week, especially since Playland was living out its last days.
The weather made this hot lap session a memorable one.
The session began with the air feeling so thick you could slice it.
I remember entering turn 1, with the sun still shining, still hot, still humid. Came out of turn 2, headed down the backstretch(Which, with such short straightaways, didn’t take very long).
In the short time it took to exit turn 2, the sky turned very dark. Halfway down the backstretch, the temp dropped what felt like as much as 30 deg. Even with the heat from the engine, I could really feel that temp drop.
By the time we entered turn 3, rain was starting to fall. Slowed down immediately after rounding that corner; good thing, because now it is pouring, along with some hail for added entertainment.
Got back to our pit stall underneath the old Spookhouse canopy, but the canopy didn’t prevent us from getting a little wet this time.
Fortunately, that part of the storm ended as quickly as it began, but unfortunately, that nite’s program was a victim of our ever-changing midwest weather.
What I didn’t tell is how I installed a bolt/nut in both sides of the sliding adjustment track to hold the seat stationary on its track.
What I didn’t do was tighten the nuts on both bolts adequately.
Eventually, both worked their way loose & fell out. This would’ve been no big deal, except for the fact that the adjustment lever would not positively lock into position.
Thus, when both bolts fell out, the seat freely slid forward & backward on its track.
Of course, this could not have happened during hot laps, it had to happen during a heat race. The good news was that I started dead last.
I’m like, this is cute. Got back into the throttle then wondered what would happen when we back off going into turn 1?
Well, the seat with me in it slid rapidly forward & jarred to a sudden stop near its normal position, as the slack was quickly removed from the seatbelts/shoulder harness as the seat slid forward.
When the car accelerated, the seat flew backwards, giving the belts excessive slack. The seat would go all the way to the back of its track, forcing me to slide down in it as it went back, so I could keep my foot on the gas, lift, & apply some brake going into the corners. (I don’t know if other drivers used their brakes entering Playland’s corners, but this one sure did).
Anyway, as soon as the car would decelerate, the seat would rapidly/violently slide forward again, suddenly stopping when the slack in the belts went away, yours truly being the human shock absorber of this rapid/violent back & forth motion.
After a couple of times of sliding down in the seat as it rapidly slid backwards so I could stay with the pedals, then sliding up in the seat as it rapidly slid forward,& preparing for the sudden jarring each time the slack was taken out of the belts during deceleration, I sort of got used to this insanity.
Did I tell you that during this process, I began laughing so hard I could hardly see straight?
So between sliding up & down, back & forth in the seat & getting jarred hard on acceleration/deceleration twice per lap, laughing so hard I can’t see straight, believe it or not, I start passing cars.
Passed enough to win the heat. No kidding. Maybe all of the sliding / jarring / laughter got me in a relaxed mental state so I drove good for once.
Was kind of sore in the shoulders, chest & around the waist for the next several days.
Needless to say, the bolts got re-installed & double-nutted as well.
One of my vivid Playland memories is that of towing eastbound across the I-480 bridge, getting off at the Playland exit,& that wonderful aroma of fresh Fritos that came from the Frito-Lay Plant.
Next, we would go under the I-480 bridge, then to Playland’s pit gate.
It was the Gascoignes, along with Bob Fitzsimmons, and, of course big Stan.
It got to the point that each week, after smelling that wonderful Frito smell, we knew that next we would hear that rumble of race engines a short distance away, signifying that Gascoignes were enroute.
We also had the pleasure of pitting next to them under the canopy of the old Spookhouse.
Wolfe presenting Tiny Lund Memorial A Feature trophy to Joe Gascgoine in early
George’s sons Ron, Ken, Randy, & Kevin have all raced, but in 1977, none of them were racing at Playland on a weekly basis. George was at Playland nearly every time there was a race.
Many times he drove his red Dodge tow truck, which he always made available to assist with the racing program, thus he parked it in the infield.
Other than an occasional casual conversation, George & I didn’t really know each other. But we would always see him drive by the station, many times in his red Dodge tow truck on his way to Playland.
One particular Sat evening we were loading up getting ready to go but we were running very late.
So was George, as he pulled up right when we were ready to leave.
Initially I thought that we would miss hot laps. Wrong. That was the fastest ride to Playland ever for me. I was too chicken to look at the speedometer in George’s truck. All I know is that it sure didn’t take very long to get to Playland.
We got paid in cash after the races & I went to find George & tried to pay him. Not only would he not accept any money, he also towed us home—no charge. I remember riding with him in that truck looking back at the race car feeling like a king because of George’s kind deed & because my ’62 Impala & our tow chain got a 1 nite break from towing.
He was a good friend of Tiny Lund & it was George who sponsored the Tiny Lund Memorial races held at Playland.
Sadly, he has since passed on, and will be remembered not only as a friend of racing, but a Playland fixture as well.
I will never forget the world land speed record breaking tow to Playland that he gave us for free.
So I pulled the 390’s heads, put them in the back seat of my not-so-pretty-go-to-work-do errands-race car tow-vehicle-1962 Chev Impala 4dr,and headed to Roy’s home, which was in Oak Hills of Millard, one of the nicer neighborhoods in Omaha. So nice in fact, that I became self-conscious about driving my not-so-pretty Impala in that area. Ended up parking on the street away from his house rather than in Roy’s driveway.
Feeling out of place, I knocked on Roy’s door. As I’m waiting for someone to come to the door, I’m thinking; wow ,the guy who got robbed of being the winning car owner in the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959 & who built the ’61 Pontiac his son Bob won the Atlanta 500 with is actually willing to help me diagnose my Ford engine problem.
Roy’s neighbor whose house I parked in front of is now looking at my Impala like how long before this heap gets towed away,& also like, why did you park in front of my house?
Roy answers his door, invites me in, but I decline, hoping my Impala won’t get hauled off for uglying up Oak Hills. Roy has the ever-present 2” unlit cigar butt in his mouth & leads me out to his driveway. When he finds no vehicle other than his own in the driveway, he asks why I didn’t park there. I point to the Impala & suggest that I didn’t want to de-value his property & that my car & myself were out of place in this neighborhood (pointing out his neighbor, who by now is looking at me affirming my feelings). At this, Roy says I am welcome there, scolded me for not parking in his driveway,& stated that if his neighbors didn’t like it, too bad.
Bought a good set of heads from my friend Jesse Krug, had them machined to Roy’s specs.
Next race nite began with the rained out Tiny Lund Memorial make up ‘A’ Feature. Wound up 4th,not pushing the car too hard due to brake problems.
Playland raced again on Labor Day Mon nite. My finishes were all 2nds.Tried everything I could short of spinning him out to pass Jim Nordstrom in the ‘A’, but didn’t get it done. # 22 did a good job of blocking my every attempt to pass him.
Our feature finishes in Sept were all top 3’s.The engine was still running strong. Car was getting around the corners fairly well too.
Other Sept 1977 memories that come to mind are Ron Hoden Jr’s late season surge with his #47 ’68 Camaro, he really had it going; won 2 or 3 ‘A’ Features in a row. Jr obviously inherited some of his dad’s talent.
Track management tried running a Sun afternoon program 1 time, cooler weather being the reason. With each passing week, the thought of the end nearing kept gnawing away on the inside.
Along with the Playland regulars, several former Playland racers who were now well accomplished dirt late model racers showed up during the 1977 season. Craig Spetman, Randy Sterner, Keith Leithoff, Dave Chase(driving Wally Nissen’s car), even Bob Kosiski showed up, some of them on a regular basis. It kind of made me feel like they were all doing it once more for old times’ sake.
But now October meant not only the end of summer heat, but the all too early end of an era. The end of truly fun racing as we knew it. The end of a place that gave drivers and race fans many memorable moments. The end of anticipating Saturday all during the week. The end of Saturday during the day seeming to take forever, just because you wanted it to be evening so you could head for Playland.
The end of towing your car (with a chain) through the Old Market on the way home.
While #10 Paul Zdan had the Super points locked up (imagine that), Pony points were undecided between Phil Reeves & Frank Van Doorn. Our class had a good points race, too.
Don Marshall(34) & Bob Cave Sr(7) were 1-2,followed by myself(77),Bill McCoy(17), Karl Gray(12), & Joe Gascoigne(11) going into the final points nite.
Don’t remember where I started or how long it took, but I remember working up to 2nd, following the leader for a bit deciding what route to take to try to pass. While I was momentarily biding my time deciding what to do, Cave Sr decided that I was taking too long to decide. We came off turn 2, side by side, Cave on the outside. Before we get to turn 3, Cave runs up over my right front with his left front, tangling us up, taking us into the infield. Remember that standing water? It was not only wet, it was COLD.
This was obviously not what either Cave or I wanted to happen. Laps were winding down and now we found ourselves going to the back of the pack for the single file restart, with only a few laps remaining.(Cave restarted last, I was directly in front of him).
With words unspoken, during the pace lap of the restart, I found out what Cave thought of our entanglement. His front bumper did all of the talking to my rear bumper on that pace lap. His front bumper continued to express itself vigorously during the next few laps, as we were passing cars. Suddenly, his bumper stops blasting mine, and as we all go into & around turn 3, I notice #7 headed to the pits with a flat right front.
Marshall wins the ‘A’ and the points. Cave gets DNF in feature,2nd in points. McCoy finishes ahead of me in the feature and in the points. I finished 5th in the feature, ended up 4th in points. Found out later that McCoy really wanted 3rd in points, as he finished 4th in 1976. Unknown to me, his crew chief Sid was terminally ill, McCoy wanted the best finish in points they ever had to dedicate it to Sid.
Am sad to say that I only saw Bill McCoy 1 time after Playland, that being during the summer of 1982 after a Sunday nite program at Sunset. Am also very sad to say that I understand he has passed on.
Back to the last Playland points nite:
After backing into our pit stall, my pit crew of 1 that nite, Al, tells me upon exiting the car that we have company on the way, and that the visit might not be a pleasant one.
I tell Al to leave, while he still is physically able to, no sense in both of us getting killed. But he stays, so there is someone besides myself to witness what happens next.
The “company” that has now arrived in our pit stall is a very unhappy Cave Sr, along with his pit crew, one of them making Magilla Gorilla look like a midget. That same guy is carrying the shaft portion of a bumper jack in one hand, methodically tapping the other hand with it.
Cave Sr’s nose is now less than the width of a piece of paper away from mine, he wants to know what I was trying to prove by our on track incident.
At this point, I couldn’t help wondering what it was going to be like having the shaft portion of a bumper jack being conformed to the shape of my head.(All of this is happening in a split second).
I then decide to pray this brief prayer:
After the quick prayer, Cave is waiting for me to answer him. I decide, of all things, to tell him the truth. I explain to him that when he ran up over my right front, we got locked up & headed right into the infield, that it was over before either of us could do anything about it.
Since our noses were almost touching, it was not hard to read the look in Cave’s eyes, which changed from intense anger at me more to intense frustration with the situation.
Although he was still not happy at all, he motioned with his hand to his crew, as if to end Al’s & my death sentence. He further motioned with his hand for his crew to head out; the guy with the jack looking more disappointed than someone who just missed the lottery by one number.
Call it an answer to a prayer. Call it whatever you like, but call it Cave cutting me some slack. He remained briefly to chew me out for not being a more aggressive overall driver, also stating that if he’d driven the car I had for the season, there would’ve been no last minute point battle. He then turned & left.
Speechless for a long time, Al and I just looked at each other, neither one of us believing what had just taken place.
Later, during the cold tow home, I thought long & hard about how Cave cut us some slack.
I regret now that I never really saw him in person or talked to him after that nite. He has since passed on.
This cold Saturday nite was for the love of Playland and love of racing, no points. We either drew for heat race starting postion, or maybe it was heads-up points start. I remember I started towards the front of my heat & won it. Don Marshall drew pole in the Trophy Dash with me on his outside. Marshall won, I got second.
Upon exiting the car at our pit stall, we got a nice compliment from Larry Gascoigne for putting on a good last race. Always enjoyed pitting next to Gascoignes.
Fitting that the Super ‘A’ winner was Paul Zdan, he who dominated the place for so many years.
The Top 10 trophy presentation to each of the 3 classes went pretty quickly. That pretty Trophy Girl should’ve gotten paid for extra duty, after presenting 30 trophies and about as many smooches.
Was very glad to be 1 of those 30……………….
Everybody else was loading up too, anxious to go someplace warm.
I had a big knot in my stomach, similar to that awful feeling you got if you broke up with your high school sweetheart. Or like when you and a good friend went separate ways and you sensed that you might not see him or her again.
Like it or not; it was over. No more next weeks or next seasons.
Hobby: # 34-Don Marshall, # 7-Bob Cave ,Sr, #17-Bill McCoy, # 12-Karl Gray, #11-Joe Gascoigne,# 53-Larry Robinson, Sr, # 55,-Dave Foote, # 98-Don Lemley, #4-Jerry Marco, # 22- Jim Nordstrom, # 47-Ron Hoden, Jr, #24-Craig Hancock, #35-Bob Mass, #25-Harold Life, #15-Butch Meyer, # 9-Randy Wredt, #10-Joe Wredt, # 100-Troy Watson, #110-Jim Sorenson, # 40- Clayton Rhoads, # 04-Don Higgins/George Tangeman, #440-Ken Whetstone. Jeanne Velesquez was one of the female drivers in this class.
This pic was taken on the front stretch during a Hobby Division heat race in 1977. The red '57 Chev #12 is being driven by Karl Gray. This car was purchased from Chuck Gillespie, who raced it as #20 in the same class in 1976.On the outside of #12 is the red '64 Chevelle #53, being driven by Larry Robinson,Sr. This car was the former #4 owned by Krug bros, formerly driven by 1976 point champ Jerry Marco. Robinson purchased this car partially into the 1977 season & raced it the rest of the year.Barely visible behind Gray & Robinson is the RF tip of blue '66 Chevelle #34, driven by 1977 Hobby Point Champion Don Marshall. Unfortunately, this is the only pic I have with Don in it. His Chev 427 powered Chevelle was very fast & Marshall got the most out of that car.
Dyno Don Lemley's beautiful 1966 Chevelle. Unfortunately the throttle stuck on this car during hot laps going into turn one. Don hit the large cottonwood tree between turns one and two before he could shut it down. Fortunately, Don wasn't badly hurt, but unfortunately, the car was totaled.
Pony: # 30-Frank Vandoorn, # 24- Phil Reeves, # 7-Rob Taylor, # 21-Dan Rabbass, #63-Pat Wancewicz.
So, thanks Uncle Mel, for taking me to Playland for my 1st time way back in the ‘50’s.Thanks to all of the coupe /sedan drivers of that era who put on some memorable shows. And to the Bronco drivers who became the next generation of racers to put on some great shows. Thanks Abe & Jerry Slusky for innovation & making Playland a fun, affordable place to race.
Thanks Red Barry, for all those years of scoring those many races.
Thanks Joe Estes, for having me on your crew & helping me get started. And for helping with the “claim”.
Thanks Tom Yocom for being generous & helping me to become a Ford racer, even when I would’ve rather gagged than to have driven a Ford. It ended up being fun to become something (a Ford racer) I wrongly thought I would never become.
Thanks to Greg Virant, Mike Overton, Al Eberle, who, at various times during those Playland days, helped out during the week and in the pits, giving up a lot of hours of their own time .
Thanks Robert & Mary Ann Mixan, for allowing me to keep my various Playland cars at your gas station & work on them there after hours as well.
Thanks Dad, for coming that Sat nite in early September 1977. Because you came, I wanted to do better than ever. Those races I won that nite were a result of you being there.
I am sure I have left out folks who I don’t mean to leave out. My apology if you were not included.
When I arrived at Playland, much to my pleasant surprise, the gate to the pits was not only unlocked, but open. Lots of laps & at least a quarter tank later, I headed for home. It was bittersweet to get some unexpected final laps in my street car, kind of a last good-bye.
Another time later that summer when driving by again, I discovered Bob Cave Sr did one better. He brought # 7 back for some farewell laps himself. I smiled as I watched him from a distance, then slowly went on my way.
But, it appears those hopes are going to have to be permanently put to rest, as there is a project underway to construct a pedestrian bridge across the Missouri River from the Omaha side to the CB side, the CB side being guess where.
I wonder if any of those pedestrians will ever know what used to take place on the CB side of where they’re walking…………………..