by Jim Taggart
Ran across your Playland Park pages and really enjoyed the stories and photos. I grew up in Vermillion, SD, and went to the races around the Sioux City, IA, area. I saw some and heard of many racers from the Omaha area over the years.
Playland Park and Riverview Park in Sioux City were the leading tracks in the area long before stock cars began to dominate racing. Before and after WWII the area's leading midget drivers plus many nationally-known drivers raced at Playland on Friday nights and then towed to Riverview for Sunday night and naturally there grew up quite a rivalry between drivers and car owners from the two tracks.
Playland started racing stock cars a few weeks before Riverview's first event on Wednesday, August 2, 1950. Many Playland drivers towed the 90 miles to Sioux City during that first season and took home quite a lot of Iowa money. In fact, they dominated the action with Wayne Selzer of Omaha winning the first Riverview "A" feature.
The Sioux City Journal reports that for a third in his heat and victory in the feature he received $220 out of the $1,500 purse. Other Playland drivers competing included Carl Lillienthal; Johnny White, who had one "A" Feature victory; Larry Wheeler; Jay Sharp; Bobby Parker; "Tiny" Lund of Harlan, IA, who had one feature victory and was described as the "premier driver in the Council Bluffs circuit;" and Johnny Beauchamp of Atlantic, IA, who won two features (the first, on August 24, starting from 17th, after winning his heat from 15th position).
Not too many Playland drivers came north in 1951 with only Don Glien, Omaha; Doug Miller, Council Bluffs; and "Hooky" Christenson of Harlan, IA, mentioned. Some Sioux City drivers did compete at Playland as the Journal reported that on June 8, "Claire Harder won the 25-lap fearture race and Dwayne Bailey took second." Possibly there were different rules at the tracks that year which may account for the small numbers. Also, by 1951, there more tracks in operation making it easier to race close to home.
In 1952 Riverview changed their rules to allow modified cars and Playland drivers made a few trips to Sioux City including Don Pash, Avoca, IA; Bobby Parker and Ted Fletcher of Omaha; and Johnny Beauchamp of Atlantic, IA. A number of Sioux City cars ventured to Council Bluffs on Friday nights and some did rather well. Claire Harder of Sioux City, driving a black and white Ford #84, won a number of features. Others from Sioux City who competed successfully include Ray Haarsma (#36), Valley LeMoine (#66), Orville Goodier (#11) and Bud Smith (#15). Dick DeLap from North Sioux City, SD, also made the trip south. Kenny Crabb from Sioux City was injured in a midget race there in late July.
Riverview went back to "strictly stock" rules at the beginning of the 1953 season but, with racers being racers, people started to "improve" the cars and everything degenerated into chaos by midseason. The track owner brought in new management and they went back to the '52 modified rules for the rest of the season.
From 1954 on modified racing slowly died at Riverview. "Stocks" were tried again, and then, in 1957, a late model show featuring the C.A.R.S. circuit from southwest Iowa and southeast Nebraska brought racing to a close at Riverview.
I remember seeing a few Omaha area guys running in the Sioux City area in the early '60s. A fellow named Gary Nelson came up from Omaha to run coupes at Raceway Park in South Sioux City, NE. He may have been from the Sioux City area originally though and just moved south during that time.
Bill Wrich (I think that's the right spelling) came up to race at Soos Speedway in Sioux City, IA, in maybe 1963-64. Soos was the old Sioux City Soos baseball park and they built a quarter mile in the outfield. I think Wrich drove a couple of different cars but the one I remember best was an orange and black '55 Chevy with 8-ball as the number. They had a kind of unusual set of rules at Soos which allowed cars from '32 to '55. So you had races with Deuce coupes (with six-cylinders) racing against an OHV V-8 in a '55 chassis. My local hero, Junior Brunick of Vermillion, SD, driving a '40 Ford coupe complete with flathead, held off Wrich in the '55 Chevy for a B-feature win one night. Very odd and very exciting.
If you'd like, I have a story about the car that Johnny Beauchamp drove at Playland in '53-'54 and a couple of photos of the car but not in paint scheme that Beauchamp used. Junior Brunick, who purchased cars from Beauchamp's owner, Dale Swanson of Harlan, IA, and raced against Beauchamp a little, told me the story and I'd be happy to send it. Thanks for getting back to me so quickly and for keeping the history alive.
Thanks for the website!
Fri, 14 Mar 2003
Sorry it's taken so long to get back to you. I still haven't gotten that story about Beauchamp's car quite the way I want it but will send it as soon as I do.
In the meantime, I've gotten into researching midget racing in the Sioux City-Omaha area. I was lucky enough to find Tim Iverson of Sioux City who lent me the scrapbook of his father, Jens "Red" Iverson, who who was prominent in post WW2 racing at Playland.
"Red" started racing at Riverview Park's asphalt 1/5 miler in Sioux City in 1936. He drove for a number of owners before the war but when racing started again in Omaha and Sioux City he mostly drove for Fred King from Omaha.
In 1948 he drove King's white No. 38 Offy which had originally been built by Louie Turco of Omaha in 1940. In 1949 he drove King's red and white No. 18 Offy. His son tells me that "Red" raced for a living during this period.
There are a couple of other cars and drivers in the Playland photos who are unknown to me. If any of your website patrons recognize them I'd sure like to know who they are.
By the way, I really like all the work you've done on the site. It looks great! I've got a few clippings from the National Speed Sport News with Playland results that I'll try to get down to you.
Playland, along with Riverview, Luverne and Canby, MN, and Huron, SD, were part of the five-night-a-week Tri-State Midget Auto Racing Circuit in 1948. (Riverview on Sunday, Playland on Tuesday, Luverne on Wednesday, Canby on Thursday, and Huron on Friday.)
The Minnesota and South Dakota tracks didn't do too well but Riverview and Playland drew great crowds. Playland was turning people away at their Tuesday night shows and so by midsummer was running Tuesday AND Saturday nights. Have a good weekend.
I have been extremely remiss in telling you what a great job you're
doing with the Playland website. I'm sure it's a ton of work but it's
really turning into something.
I was really happy to see the Stender's materials. As you may you
remember I've been doing research on midget racing in the Sioux City
area and, of course, the Sioux City and Omaha/Council Bluffs tracks
featured the same cars, drivers, and officials a lot of the time both
before and after WW2.
Mrs. Stender's grandfather is mentioned for having a towing service
but not for being one of the pioneers of midget racing in the area.
Jay Bergantzel's last name was spelled many ways but the name he was
known by for most midget fans in 1936-7 was "Barney Oldfield" for an
ever-present cigar. In fact in most of the results from Riverview
he's known ONLY as "Barney Oldfield." He got an occasional heat or
consi victory but even without big results he was very popular and
was narrowly defeated by Carl Forberg (I think) in a crowd
acclamation popularity contest. He sort of drops from sight by about
I wonder if the Stender's have any photos of him and his cars from
that time? It'd be a nice addition to the Riverview research.
I'm sending along a photo that I think was taken at Playland Park in
1949. It's Les King's #2 Offy with Les King sitting behind the car
(he's obscured slightly). If it is Playland, I've got maybe a half
dozen more that are from the same set. I got them from the late Bob
Stolze's photo collection although I don't know who took them.
Please let me know if you think it's your track and I'll send the
rest. I would ask that you don't it put on your site until I've had a
chance to caption it and the others.
Got to go but, again, great job on the site.
Mon, 23 Jun 2003 20:20:11
Finally have the rest of the Playland Park midget photos from the
late Bob Stolze's collection. These are from the 1949 season which
was sort of the high point for our area's post-WW II midget racing.
1947 sort of saw things getting started again and featured a lot of
pre-war cars; 1948 saw better cars, some new drivers, and the
formation of a five track circuit; 1949 saw more top quality cars and
drivers and big purses; 1950 saw the midgets collapse at mid-summer
to be replaced by stock cars; it was all down hill from there.
Anyway here are the photos.
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