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Many Ozarks speedways become ghost tracks

Saturday, August 9, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD — They've come and gone over the years, many without a current-day trace of what used to be. Others sit eerily silent with weeds overgrowing grandstands in which fans once munched hot dogs and cheered their racing heroes.

At least 35 speedways have dotted the Ozarks landscape since World War II, The Springfield News-Leader reported. There are only seven survivors, and it's a number that seems to shrink each year.

"You could go on and on," Aurora late model driver Justin Wells said, "but we've lost some great tracks over the years. Just in the last 10 years, really."

Ask some of the old-timers, and there are stories to tell. Devil's Bowl Speedway? A little dirt track west of Springfield that was open briefly in the 1950s. Humansville Speedway? Another dirt track that became a Tuesday-night fixture a half-century ago.

And who can forget the biggest of all from days gone by, the Springfield Fairgrounds Speedway? Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, it used to be the social gathering spot with crowds of 5,000 or more common on spring and summer Friday nights.

Now, a granite monument with names of Ozarks Racing Association hall of famers is all that remains of the Fairgrounds racing history.

For more modern times, turn to West Plains Motor Speedway. It sits six miles south of town off Highway 63 and, until a few years ago, played host to one of dirt-racing's biggest events. Bolivar Speedway? NASCAR's Jamie McMurray once was a Friday-night regular there.

Those are the two latest speedways to join the club of "ghost tracks" where the checkered flag has waved. Both are for sale, but the trend suggests that their last races have been run.

The reasoning is simple. Bolivar's Bill Allen, who's been in the racing business as a driver and track owner over the last 50 years, said it's all about economics.

Allen leased the Bolivar Speedway in two separate stints since 2001. He has owned and operated the Dallas County Speedway near Urbana, open since 1997. The quarter-mile dirt track is all about grassroots racing. Many fans bring lawn chairs. The cars are not fancy.

"Our payouts (to drivers) are not so great," Allen said. "That's the secret of making it, not having to pay out more than you're taking in. We're getting 60 to 70 cars a week in five classes. We're having a pretty good year."

Unfortunately, that didn't happen at Bolivar. Allen said he came up about 200 paying spectators short on a weekly average of making a go of it there. The paved oval last had regular racing in 2011.

Monett Speedway has bucked the trend better than any other. Open since 1970, the dirt track has been operated by Randy Mooneyham since 1979. He hears rumors annually that the track is for sale and that it'll become property of a nearby industrial park.

Not true, Mooneyham said, but he is adamant that the Ozarks doesn't need any more speedways. Competition among the survivors, for cars and fans, is keen. The state-of-the-art Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland and the Springfield Raceway near the Springfield-Branson Regional Airport both are going strong on Saturday nights.

Those that remain in the racing business hope to maintain.

"It's like any other business," Allen said. "Be nice to everybody and greet 'em good, treat 'em right and take care of your facilities the best you can. That's worked out pretty good for us."


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