DSM history buffs - Des Moines Speedway?

Luftgekuehlt67

Well-Known Member
I'm wondering if there are any history buffs with knowledge of historical DSM lurking here (or maybe you know someone fitting this description). I'm trying to understand where this facility was sites:

There is a surprising amount of information on the track, as it hosted some big name AAA sanctioned races, but it only lasted a few years before being scrapped. I've been, somewhat to my surprise, unable to get an idea where the track was actually located. Near Valley Junction (proto WDM), but that's about it.
 

Chickenlounge

Well-Known Member
Found this page https://www.racing-reference.info/tracks/Des_Moines_Speedway that says Valley Junction, IA, which is a historic part of West Des Moines now according to this site: https://www.valleyjunction.com/map/

If you look at Railroad Ave on that map, could it be the same as the Rock Island Shuttle at the top (assuming the Rock Island Shuttle is a railroad)? http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/tracks/desmoin2.html

That's about all I could find with some googling...

Edit 1: Check out page 2, right column of this PDF: https://www.wdmhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Speedway-articles-for-website.pdf "area south and west of 14th street and Railroad Ave". Looks like there's an Enterprise Rent-A-Car there now.
 
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Chickenlounge

Well-Known Member
Would be interesting to see if there's a small monument, plaque, or something else commemorating the site, or if it just faded into history. Anybody live near there?
 

Luftgekuehlt67

Well-Known Member
Would be interesting to see if there's a small monument, plaque, or something else commemorating the site, or if it just faded into history. Anybody live near there?
Great question! My guess? There's nothing.

It was a big deal but only for an incredibly brief moment in time. AAA races were only held at a handful of tracks - in 1916, Des Moines hosted one of only 15 rounds that counted towards the national championship. The non championship (held immediately before the points paying race) race was won by none other than Eddie Rickenbacker and the field was like a who's who of the early American racing scene. In terms of prestige, in modern terms I think this would fall somewhere between Des Moines hosting a NASCAR cup race and an F1 grand prix. But then, a couple years later, the track is being sold for scrap. Pretty wild.
 

okeefe4prez

Well-Known Member
Found this page https://www.racing-reference.info/tracks/Des_Moines_Speedway that says Valley Junction, IA, which is a historic part of West Des Moines now according to this site: https://www.valleyjunction.com/map/

If you look at Railroad Ave on that map, could it be the same as the Rock Island Shuttle at the top (assuming the Rock Island Shuttle is a railroad)? http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/tracks/desmoin2.html

That's about all I could find with some googling...

Edit 1: Check out page 2, right column of this PDF: https://www.wdmhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Speedway-articles-for-website.pdf "area south and west of 14th street and Railroad Ave". Looks like there's an Enterprise Rent-A-Car there now.

Valley Junction is pretty old and I would guess that the area that you suggest at 14th and Railroad is where it was because that looks like one of the few undivided parcels big enough to build a mile oval that didn't get slashed by a street and it was probably cheap land due to proximity to the railroad and flood plain. As someone who did court ordered community service in Valley Junction in '93, I can assure that the flood plain was probably really big down there before the Army Corps of Engineers put in the levy system.

Those guys must have had balls of steel to drive a car with that era of technology 90 mph on a 40 degree wooden banked track. I went to Bristol and looked down the banking in the corners and it is only 30 degrees but it is steep enough to scare the crap out of you. I can't imagine 40 degrees made out of wood.

I was an avid race fan back in the day (my old man and I would go to the Fairgrounds, Knoxville or Boone a few times a month) but I never heard of this track until this post.
 

Luftgekuehlt67

Well-Known Member
For sure - literally no safety equipment whatsoever back then. Every race had a very real possibility of death.

30 degrees of bank is insane. I had a chance to drive the Pikes Peak roval course a while back - only 10 degrees bank but a 1 mi track, so some sustained cornering going on. It felt like the wall was looming over you. As you come into the corner, your entire field of view is absolutely filled with concrete - track surface + wall. It was a crazy sensation.

I was only doing ~100 mph, but when I looked at my right elbow that night, I had a baseball sized bruise. Imagine the IRL guys hitting 2X those speeds at that track in the late 90s. Sheesh. Still kinda want to try it though!
 

uihawk82

Well-Known Member
I'm wondering if there are any history buffs with knowledge of historical DSM lurking here (or maybe you know someone fitting this description). I'm trying to understand where this facility was sites:

There is a surprising amount of information on the track, as it hosted some big name AAA sanctioned races, but it only lasted a few years before being scrapped. I've been, somewhat to my surprise, unable to get an idea where the track was actually located. Near Valley Junction (proto WDM), but that's about it.

The southeast part of Des Moines had a road course type track for quite a few years, at least the 1950's into the 80's. It was more of a Sports Car Club of America type course with those types of cars but maybe there were also some stock car type road races.

It looks like they are still active but dont know where the track is.

Des Moines Valley Region SCCA https://www.dmvrscca.org/

 
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Luftgekuehlt67

Well-Known Member
The southeast part of Des Moines had a road course type track for quite a few years, at least the 1950's into the 80's. It was more of a Sports Car Club of America type course with those types of cars but maybe there were also some stock car type road races.

It looks like they are still active but dont know where the track is.

Des Moines Valley Region SCCA https://www.dmvrscca.org/

Good to see DSM has an SCCA chapter alive and kicking. It doesn't appear they have a "home track", as the road racing events they have listed on their site are in other states - Kansas, Missouri, even Oklahoma (Hallett, which, by reputation, is supposed to be a wonderful facility. A lot of the guys in the club I belong to have run down there and rave about it. I have hopes of making the trek down someday)

They do seem to run some local autocross-type events "locally" (i.e. around Central Iowa), so that is good. That's a good way for people to get a toe in the water at not much cost...which can then be a gateway drug for getting involved in the club more seriously.

The SCCA at large is still a pretty big deal within amateur racing circles, though it's certainly not in the public consciousness the way it would have been in the heyday of sports car racing in the USA in the 50's and 60's. As an interesting side note, the SCCA was the sanctioning body for CART after the "first split" in '79 when CART originally split from USAC. In modern times, the SCCA seems to vary in popularity from region to region as there is some healthy competition in some areas from newer organizations like NASA, but they do a good job of keeping at least a presence pretty much everywhere in the form of autrocross and "Track Night in America" events in places where they don't have the facilities or membership numbers available for full on race events.

As far as Greenwood goes, that was a fun reminder - I had kind of forgotten about that track! If you're a road racing enthusiast, it's kind of a sad and all too typical story. It was built in the 60's and only really lasted a few years but, in that time, hosted a couple of top-level SCCA professional races (back when SCCA was still dabbling in such things). I believe there were multiple efforts to revive it and it may have even hosted a few one off events, but it's been completely dormant for at least 40 years. Well...not completely dormant I suppose, because it's now owned by "Iowa Operating Engineers" who use it as a training facility. If you search "Greenwood Roadway, Indianola, IA" on Google Maps, it comes right up. If you go to satellite view, it's very clear that the track - as far as abandoned racetracks go - is in spectacular condition. The racing surface itself could be brought up to raceable condition with tantalizingly little effort/investment. Safety improvements would likely be the big expense, as you'd probably need to remove quite a few trees from the looks of things and also maybe even some dirt depending on the specifics of the topography. "Safety" when the track was built in the 60's basically amounted to "hey, tell those kids sitting on the outside of turn 3 to take two big steps back from the edge of the track".

I have a great set of books called "Ghost Tracks" written by a guy named Pete Hylton who was, at one time, the official historian of the SCCA. He's got a nice little blurb about Greenwood, which he visited in the early 2000's. Sounds like the course would be a lot of fun; a nice variety of corners and some elevation change as well. I took a screenshot of the Google Maps satellite view and (crudely) annotated it with some of Pete's great track notes (apparently, Iowa Operating Engineers let him drive/walk the course circa 2002). It's actually a decently long track - the longest straight is nearly a half mile long and, using a measuring tool, I am getting a length of about 2.87 miles. Just for reference/perspective, this would make it about the 14th longest track on the 21 race 2018 Formula 1 schedule (roughly the same length as the track that the Spanish Grand Prix has been run on in recent years). So, in terms of scale at least, not exactly a rinky-dink facility carved out by a couple guys with a backhoe and a couple packs of Busch Light. Someone(s) put some real effort into making this track back in the day.
Greenwood.png

Here is a recent-ish tour of the track in it's current state in some guy's bugeye sprite. The track is very narrow in places, but gets quite wide as you go through the speedy bottom section. They apparently had some kind of 50th anniversary event at the facility in 2013 called the "Greenwood Revival" (a play on the world famous Goodwood Revival event in Britain).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnNKPUZBWww

Some great archival footage:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hG6WqBxl0W8

And someone has even created it as a mod for the rFactor racing simulation - I'll be downloading and driving this later!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhTf8onKBwU
 

okeefe4prez

Well-Known Member
Good to see DSM has an SCCA chapter alive and kicking. It doesn't appear they have a "home track", as the road racing events they have listed on their site are in other states - Kansas, Missouri, even Oklahoma (Hallett, which, by reputation, is supposed to be a wonderful facility. A lot of the guys in the club I belong to have run down there and rave about it. I have hopes of making the trek down someday)

They do seem to run some local autocross-type events "locally" (i.e. around Central Iowa), so that is good. That's a good way for people to get a toe in the water at not much cost...which can then be a gateway drug for getting involved in the club more seriously.

The SCCA at large is still a pretty big deal within amateur racing circles, though it's certainly not in the public consciousness the way it would have been in the heyday of sports car racing in the USA in the 50's and 60's. As an interesting side note, the SCCA was the sanctioning body for CART after the "first split" in '79 when CART originally split from USAC. In modern times, the SCCA seems to vary in popularity from region to region as there is some healthy competition in some areas from newer organizations like NASA, but they do a good job of keeping at least a presence pretty much everywhere in the form of autrocross and "Track Night in America" events in places where they don't have the facilities or membership numbers available for full on race events.

As far as Greenwood goes, that was a fun reminder - I had kind of forgotten about that track! If you're a road racing enthusiast, it's kind of a sad and all too typical story. It was built in the 60's and only really lasted a few years but, in that time, hosted a couple of top-level SCCA professional races (back when SCCA was still dabbling in such things). I believe there were multiple efforts to revive it and it may have even hosted a few one off events, but it's been completely dormant for at least 40 years. Well...not completely dormant I suppose, because it's now owned by "Iowa Operating Engineers" who use it as a training facility. If you search "Greenwood Roadway, Indianola, IA" on Google Maps, it comes right up. If you go to satellite view, it's very clear that the track - as far as abandoned racetracks go - is in spectacular condition. The racing surface itself could be brought up to raceable condition with tantalizingly little effort/investment. Safety improvements would likely be the big expense, as you'd probably need to remove quite a few trees from the looks of things and also maybe even some dirt depending on the specifics of the topography. "Safety" when the track was built in the 60's basically amounted to "hey, tell those kids sitting on the outside of turn 3 to take two big steps back from the edge of the track".

I have a great set of books called "Ghost Tracks" written by a guy named Pete Hylton who was, at one time, the official historian of the SCCA. He's got a nice little blurb about Greenwood, which he visited in the early 2000's. Sounds like the course would be a lot of fun; a nice variety of corners and some elevation change as well. I took a screenshot of the Google Maps satellite view and (crudely) annotated it with some of Pete's great track notes (apparently, Iowa Operating Engineers let him drive/walk the course circa 2002). It's actually a decently long track - the longest straight is nearly a half mile long and, using a measuring tool, I am getting a length of about 2.87 miles. Just for reference/perspective, this would make it about the 14th longest track on the 21 race 2018 Formula 1 schedule (roughly the same length as the track that the Spanish Grand Prix has been run on in recent years). So, in terms of scale at least, not exactly a rinky-dink facility carved out by a couple guys with a backhoe and a couple packs of Busch Light. Someone(s) put some real effort into making this track back in the day.
View attachment 7251

Here is a recent-ish tour of the track in it's current state in some guy's bugeye sprite. The track is very narrow in places, but gets quite wide as you go through the speedy bottom section. They apparently had some kind of 50th anniversary event at the facility in 2013 called the "Greenwood Revival" (a play on the world famous Goodwood Revival event in Britain).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnNKPUZBWww

Some great archival footage:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hG6WqBxl0W8

And someone has even created it as a mod for the rFactor racing simulation - I'll be downloading and driving this later!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhTf8onKBwU
Damn, that track is ridiculous. That would be awesome if they brought it up to standard and could run it again.

My neighbor is huge into SCCA down here. The BMW and Michelin North America HQs are in the area so there is a sweet BMW track and Michelin has some proving grounds where SCCA and the BMW club do auto cross events. This dude has a 2011 BMW and wrenching that thing has become a bit of a neighborhood affair. He blew something out of the transmission a few months ago but that was too big of a deal for us to work on in the neighborhood. He had to take it to some dude in Atlanta to get it fixed because everyone here was trying to push a 14 grand new transmission on him. This dude is a tire engineer and got put on rotating duty for the southeastern races for a few years. He said these teams would roll out 8 PSI under the recommendation and then get pissed at him when they shredded a tire the second lap out and that it got old really fast.

Racing is still huge down here. They've got everything. Paved oval, dirt oval, road courses, indoor carting, outdoor carting, even radio control off road, on road and dirt oval. It's dying in so many places which is sad to see. I got my boy a Losi truck for Christmas and once he learns to drive it I'm going to get him in the junior league racing at the RC track. I want to get him a go cart but the Missus is too nervous to let him do it.
 

Luftgekuehlt67

Well-Known Member
Racing is still huge down here. They've got everything. Paved oval, dirt oval, road courses, indoor carting, outdoor carting, even radio control off road, on road and dirt oval. It's dying in so many places which is sad to see. I got my boy a Losi truck for Christmas and once he learns to drive it I'm going to get him in the junior league racing at the RC track. I want to get him a go cart but the Missus is too nervous to let him do it.

Yeah, as someone who really got into racing during one of the sport's golden eras (the 90's), it's hard to see the popularity diminishing pretty much everywhere. I follow IndyCar and F1 very closely and then NASCAR sort of from afar. All three series I think are struggling in their own ways with a lot of the root causes, I suspect, being very similar. F1 and NASCAR I think are definitely challenged, but large enough to be safe, with NASCAR having a very well entrenched foothold in the southeast. IndyCar is a lot of fun (the best pure racing series in the world, IMO) and I think the series is an amazing success story of how to be successful (and survive) in this new era of diminished motorsport popularity. But, the fact is, to say IndyCar is a shell of it's former self is almost understatement. It's nowhere near where it was from WW2 through the late 90's where most American male sports fans could name probably at least 2 or 3 open wheel drivers off the top of their head.

I think things are slightly better at the grassroots level. I suppose that's because, at the amateur level, the sport has never been dependent on tobacco sponsors, TV deals, etc. I belong to a vintage club that has something like 300-400 active members and we routinely have individual class races with 25+ car grids. And that's just vintage - in my area, there is both SCCA and NASA that both still pull huge numbers. But, even there, I'm concerned because if we can't get people interested in even watching top level pro racing, I don't see how that isn't going to translate in the long term into lower participation in amateur/club type racing. Drifting has also gotten extremely popular. I'm getting to be a grouchy old fart, so please no one take this personally (or too seriously), but I find drifting to be pretty stupid. It's just not for me. As a road racing purist, it's hard for me to look at someone drifting and not see it as an example of what not to do! On one level, I can see how, especially with the younger crowd, drifting might siphon off some would-be circuit racers...on the other hand, I can also see how drifting could serve as a gateway drug to circuit racing...so who knows.

I have asked my son about karting - he's always been a hard no and I'm not the type to push, so it is what it is. Though, karting is extremely expensive (at least to do it at a competitive level it is), so maybe I should consider myself lucky - more money left over for me! Honestly, I think he is concerned it's not safe...so I guess maybe he's smarter than me. If he ever showed/shows an interest, I think my wife's nervousness would definitely kick in at that point. That said, safety in general has improved a lot and, if you are participating with a good quality club/organization that has good rules, licensing, and standards for the facilities they run at, serious "trouble" is really pretty rare. Modern personal safety equipment is superb (I can't even imagine how many lives have been saved and serious injuries prevented by HANS devices alone) but also drives up the participation costs. Having done some research, auto racing today is really no more dangerous than scuba diving or downhill skiing. I know a guy from our club who I estimate to be at least 70 who, in addition to racing with us, still karts competitively. He travels all over the country running events.

I'm genuinely not sure if we'll ever see racing like we did in the 2nd half of the 20th century. The explosion in technology and enthusiasm was really amazing over that time period, I don't think that's something that can be artificially manufactured, the stars aligned and it just sorta happened. I can't imagine racing ever completely not being a thing though, it's just too much fun and certain types will always be attracted to it even if it's not the mainstream consciousness anymore.
 

okeefe4prez

Well-Known Member
Yeah, as someone who really got into racing during one of the sport's golden eras (the 90's), it's hard to see the popularity diminishing pretty much everywhere. I follow IndyCar and F1 very closely and then NASCAR sort of from afar. All three series I think are struggling in their own ways with a lot of the root causes, I suspect, being very similar. F1 and NASCAR I think are definitely challenged, but large enough to be safe, with NASCAR having a very well entrenched foothold in the southeast. IndyCar is a lot of fun (the best pure racing series in the world, IMO) and I think the series is an amazing success story of how to be successful (and survive) in this new era of diminished motorsport popularity. But, the fact is, to say IndyCar is a shell of it's former self is almost understatement. It's nowhere near where it was from WW2 through the late 90's where most American male sports fans could name probably at least 2 or 3 open wheel drivers off the top of their head.

I think things are slightly better at the grassroots level. I suppose that's because, at the amateur level, the sport has never been dependent on tobacco sponsors, TV deals, etc. I belong to a vintage club that has something like 300-400 active members and we routinely have individual class races with 25+ car grids. And that's just vintage - in my area, there is both SCCA and NASA that both still pull huge numbers. But, even there, I'm concerned because if we can't get people interested in even watching top level pro racing, I don't see how that isn't going to translate in the long term into lower participation in amateur/club type racing. Drifting has also gotten extremely popular. I'm getting to be a grouchy old fart, so please no one take this personally (or too seriously), but I find drifting to be pretty stupid. It's just not for me. As a road racing purist, it's hard for me to look at someone drifting and not see it as an example of what not to do! On one level, I can see how, especially with the younger crowd, drifting might siphon off some would-be circuit racers...on the other hand, I can also see how drifting could serve as a gateway drug to circuit racing...so who knows.

I have asked my son about karting - he's always been a hard no and I'm not the type to push, so it is what it is. Though, karting is extremely expensive (at least to do it at a competitive level it is), so maybe I should consider myself lucky - more money left over for me! Honestly, I think he is concerned it's not safe...so I guess maybe he's smarter than me. If he ever showed/shows an interest, I think my wife's nervousness would definitely kick in at that point. That said, safety in general has improved a lot and, if you are participating with a good quality club/organization that has good rules, licensing, and standards for the facilities they run at, serious "trouble" is really pretty rare. Modern personal safety equipment is superb (I can't even imagine how many lives have been saved and serious injuries prevented by HANS devices alone) but also drives up the participation costs. Having done some research, auto racing today is really no more dangerous than scuba diving or downhill skiing. I know a guy from our club who I estimate to be at least 70 who, in addition to racing with us, still karts competitively. He travels all over the country running events.

I'm genuinely not sure if we'll ever see racing like we did in the 2nd half of the 20th century. The explosion in technology and enthusiasm was really amazing over that time period, I don't think that's something that can be artificially manufactured, the stars aligned and it just sorta happened. I can't imagine racing ever completely not being a thing though, it's just too much fun and certain types will always be attracted to it even if it's not the mainstream consciousness anymore.

It will be interesting to see if electric cars create a wave of popularity if people get into the technical aspects. I think it has two problems, though. First is the sound. I want to hear a race car. Second is battery tech. Maybe they can come up with a way to quick change batteries and that can spring innovation on the consumer side. But so far that Formula E series with the car changes when the battery runs out is pretty underwhelming.

NASCAR is toast. Their next TV deal is going to be a whimper compared to the massive one they have now and there is a rumor that NBCSN (which has almost half the races) is going to fold because Comcast hasn't seen the results they were hoping for. NASCAR has 4 main owners who are getting pretty old (Hendrick, Penske, Haas and Gibbs). Once two of those guys die, it's going to be a real challenge to get any new owners in because the business side is so bad and it will be worse when the TV money gets slashed.

F1 is in a bad spot as well and Mercedes dominance has completely ruined the racing in that division. After turn 1, the excitement is gone.
 

BILLYBOBSTEXAS

Well-Known Member
NASCAR got too big for its britches. It closed smaller tracks out east in favor of large "cookie cutter" tracks in the midwest. Add in more west coast racing to the pot didn't help in the long run either. It may survive if it returns to its roots as a southern sport. If you watch the sport at all, look at the attendance when they pan the crowd. The stands seem to be only one third full.
 

MelroseHawkins

Well-Known Member
The southeast part of Des Moines had a road course type track for quite a few years, at least the 1950's into the 80's. It was more of a Sports Car Club of America type course with those types of cars but maybe there were also some stock car type road races.

It looks like they are still active but dont know where the track is.

Des Moines Valley Region SCCA https://www.dmvrscca.org/


The Ruan Grand Prix used to be held in Des Moines.
 

MelroseHawkins

Well-Known Member
Interesting stuff indeed. I luv racing history. My father and uncle dirt track raced in the mid to lat 60's and 70's for my uncle. My best friends father raced dirt back in the late 70's and in the 80's.

I never knew about the Des Moines Speedway. Boy, those cars were dangerous. All wood track and stands. Boy, that think would go up in flames if caught on fire. I wonder if the Holiday Baseball Park or Des Moines Water Works went on top of it when it was done?
 

MelroseHawkins

Well-Known Member
This page mentions Altoona having another wood track. Is this right? Anybody know anything about this track? Weird they'd have two so close in distance.


Never mind. Altoona, PA.
 

okeefe4prez

Well-Known Member
Yes, the Ruan Grand Prix was a great event for awhile in des moines. Exciting and lots of fans
We went a few times. I liked getting to see the cars and stuff, but talk about a dud of a spectator event. First off, it was hotter than balls. Second, you could see the exit of one corner, the straightaway and the entry into another corner. After the first lap, there was a solid 1 second gap between pretty much everyone. Other than Monaco, there's just no need for city street GPs anymore.

It's unfortunate they couldn't have built the track at Newton with bigger stands so they could get a Winston Cup race, but prying a date off the calendar would have been tough. NASCAR built a shitload of cookie cutter 1.5 mile tracks that are Charlotte clones all over the country and Newton would have been a fantastic change of pace. Joliet (Chicagoland) is one of those cookie cutter tracks and they lost their race this year. NASCAR completely screwed the pooch by not getting a Cup race in Iowa and one in Ohio. IMHO, building unique tracks there would have served their brand much better than putting cookie cutter tracks on the outskirts of big cities, but the blow dried college boys who made the decisions of where to put tracks in the late '90's convinced themselves that the cities would be the way to go.
 
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