End of an era: Fair Board dismantling Cedar County Raceway

HARTINGTON — A big part of Cedar County history is now being bulldozed away.
The Cedar County Ag Society is taking out the old Cedar County Raceway.
The 3/8 mile dirt oval was once the most popular Sunday night spot in all of Cedar County during the summer time. For the past six years it has sat empty, overgrown and virtually unused, though.
Removing the track was not an easy decision, said long-time Fair Board member Jim Specht, who is in charge of the project.
“This is something that we debated over for two or three years,” Specht said. “It was not an easy decision, but it just became too expensive to maintain the track and there was no interest from anyone to manage the track.”

The Cedar County Raceway is now just a part of history, but the local race track’s colorful past will live on forever.

The facility was originally built as a horse track, but was converted into an auto racing track in the 1960s.

“In the early 50s and into the 60s there was a flat horse track where races took place here,” said Fair Board President Jim Specht. “Then after that, there were stock car races that took place on the flat track that happened for a while.”

In the early 1960s, John Stockwell engineered a new, shorter 3/8 mile banked track featuring sloped corners.

Specht himself did a little racing at the track.

“Every Sunday night during the summer was race night,” said Specht. “The grandstands were typically packed with people. It was a real community event.”

Specht first raced in Hartington in 1972, before coming back years later and taking a much larger role with the Cedar County Fair Board.

There hasn’t been a race at the Hartington track since 2011, and unfortunately, that is not because of lack of interest by racers, but because it became increasingly difficult to find someone to manage the track and to find volunteers to keep it in good condition.

“Keeping the track open has always been a group effort of volunteers helping the manager, and that upkeep takes up a lot of people’s time,” said Specht. “It started costing racers more money and time to get their cars ready to race and that made it harder to find people with the time to help keep the track going.”

Although there hasn’t been a race for six years, the track has still been in place, deteriorating away.

“At this point the cost to get the track running again was just too high,” said Specht. “We took the extra dirt out and leveled out the area and will be able to use it for extra parking and other County Fair events.”

Over the years there have been many people to manage the track, and most of them also raced on Sunday nights.

In 1990, Dennis Cummins and Nick Opfer managed the track and they did that for a few years.  After them, Bobby Lincoln, the son of Columbus I-30 Speedway owner Sam Lincoln, took over track management. Then Kyle Kathol managed the track for a year before Opfer decided to try running it again.

It became apparent that no matter who managed the track the logistics to get the track operational were always a huge hurdle, and as years went by it became harder and harder to get the track functional.

“From 2006-2011, there was only one race a year during the County Fair,” said Specht. “Without the regular maintenance though the track began going downhill.”

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