Area racers have fond memories of local track

HARTINGTON — The high banked curves of the Cedar County Raceway are nothing more than a memory today.
Even though the track is being dismantled and plowed under, area residents will always have fond memories of the dirt oval.
Ray Knutson began racing in his 1934 Ford Coupe back when the track was still flat.
After coming back from the military in the 1960s, Knutson started racing more frequently at the Fairgrounds. He was even an early winner after the track was reconfigured into a 3/8 mile oval with high-banked curves.
“The car I won in was with a ’55 Chevy,” said Knutson.
Knutson said he fondly remembers the race nights from down on the track with the crowd cheering.
“It was amazing that I could find the time to work on a car, or to work on a car all night then have the energy to work all over again the next day,” said Knutson.
Time is something that racers find very precious. Kyle Kathol didn’t race, but he was part of several pit crews over the years. He  learned how big of a time commitment the track was when he decided to manage the facility in 1997.
“We had between 15-20 people that helped out either during the week or on race nights,” said Kathol, who managed the track for only one year before turning the reigns over to someone else. “I’d say that I put in 40 hours at work and then easily another 50 during race season.”
The track required a lot of maintenance because there were plenty of racers that competed each week.
“In the early days, we probably had 20 cars, 30 if it was a good night,” said Knutson.
“Racers really liked that we could get 40-50 cars each week,” said Kathol.
Finding the racers never seemed to be the hard part, but rather the time commitment needed for someone to be the track manager is what started the decline.
“In the early days, us racers would go down there and work on the track,” said Knutson. “It was a lot of work to keep up the track.”
After Knutson stopped racing, he did come back a few years later when he helped build his son’s racecars once the track came back in the late 1980s.
“It seems like the popularity of racing around here has come in waves,” said Knutson. “It is popular for a bit and then it settles down, then the next generation brings it back. I think a lot of us were hoping someone would bring the track back again like when Dennis Cummins and Nick Opfer did.”
It was popular, not only for area race fans, but for a lot of race car drivers, as well.
“Every Sunday night during the summer was race night,” said Jim Specht, who used to race at the track in the 1970s, and is now in charge of taking it out. “The grandstands were typically packed with people. It was a real community event.”
Over 60 years ago, the Fairgrounds’ horse track was turned into a race track for cars, and for many summers since then, races were held on Sunday nights in front of a packed grandstand.
It appears that no one wanted to see the track go, but something needed to be done.
“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.”