Speedway honors its heritage with reunion

By JOCELYN SHEETS
Register Sports Editor

 

FinishLinePhoto/Dayton Sutterby
Several “vintage” race car drivers enjoy themselves during a reunion at Humboldt Speedway last Friday. Unfortunately, the men (above) were not identified for the Register but around 40 drivers who helped the sport grow in the area since the track’s opening in 1968 came to the reunion.
Courtsey photo

HUMBOLDT — Pride in one’s sport is important. On Friday night, Humboldt Speedway celebrated its history and the sport of dirt-track stock car racing with a “vintage” driver reunion.
Around 40 former drivers from the early days of racing at Humboldt through more recent years came together Friday for the reunion. They were recognized by current Humboldt Speedway owners Ron and Rhenda Whitworth in front of a packed house.
Oh, there was the usual Friday night racing but most of the buzz of the night was about the “vintage” Humboldt track racers.
“We were so pleased with the response of the former drivers. We weren’t sure how many might come back but we had about 40 and it was great to see them,” Rhenda Whitworth told the Register Monday.
Larry Ballou, Fort Scott, was one of the returning drivers. Ballou told the Register in a telephone interview he began racing in 1964. Ballou retired from racing in 1978 when he moved to Kansas City to work.
“We started racing at Humboldt in 1968. I just enjoyed the sport and my family was with me,” Ballou said.
‘The reunion was great. The Whitworths have done such a great job with the track in Humboldt. We saw a lot of people we hadn’t seen for quite a few years.”
Ballou said he visited with Dave Kustanborter “who lives in Arizona” at the reunion. He said the two men developed a friendship during their racing days that has lasted.
“We drivers get a lot of attention but without the wives and families who support the drivers, we couldn’t have raced. The friendships we made during those years were tremendous,” Ballou said.
Dick Davis, a Humboldt native, is remembered for driving No. 1 in the 1960s. Davis, who lives in Chanute, said he began racing in 1963. He remembers when the Humboldt track opened in 1968.
“We drove jalopies — old car bodies we’d find in hedge rows, pull home and put engines in,” Davis said. “Russ Lytle and Whitey (Norman) Compston built cars for me in those years also.”
Davis said the reunion was great and really appreciated that Ron and Rhenda Whitworth provided him and others to come together at the track again.
“When you went to the ticket booth, the track announcer was there and pointed us out and some of our individual racing history. They gave us Humboldt Speedway hats and we passed the hats around and drivers signed them.”
Davis as did Ballou, Bob Gaulding of Yates Center and Harlan Cleaver of Iola pointed to the improvements the track had undergone. Davis said the Whitworths have done a lot of work to make Humboldt Speedway a “top rate dirt track.”
“When it opened the pit area was on the infield. Now the pit area is outside the track and things are so organized and well run,” Davis said. “Humboldt Speedway is one of the biggest things going in Humboldt.”
Gaulding raced for eight years starting in 1968.
“I had a drag-race car and Bud Hatch came by one day and asked why I didn’t get into dirt racing. Bud’s car number was 87 so we just switched it around for me and I drove No. 78,” Gaulding said.
“We raced four nights a week and I really enjoyed the sport but I need to take care of my business so I stopped.”
Gaulding, who has Gaulding Oil Company with John Schinstock in Yates Center, said the reunion was great. He said the changes at the Speedway were tremendous and the Whitworths had done an unbelievable job with the facilities.
“It is so much better as a track and dirt,” said Cleaver, who is still in the sport. “I’ve run at a lot of tracks and Humboldt is the best track.”
Cleaver went to the Humboldt Speedway with his parents in 1969 “and a couple of weeks later I had a car and was into racing.” Cleaver, who is 65, ran a 1957 Chevy in street stock competition.
“I last drove two years ago but I help my two sons and my nephew with their cars now. So we still have cars racing,” Cleaver said.
Dale Hobart had a vision in 1968 when he built Humboldt Speedway. Race drivers and fans are still coming to the track for quality dirt-track competition.
So it is true, to take a phrase from a popular movie, “if you build it, they will come.”