SIOUX CENTER—This summer, a longtime part of Sioux Center will cease to be: the Sioux Speedway racetrack at the Sioux County Fairgrounds.
Horses and stock cars have rocketed around the half-mile track for decades, but the track closed after the public approved a bond in February that allowed the city of Sioux Center and the Sioux Center Community School District to utilize the land on which the track sits to construct a new high school building.
The racetrack has been a part of Sioux Center since the 1970s, but before it hosted horses and stock cars, it was home to go-karts.
Around 1973 the Sioux Center Jaycees built a track for go-karts on the site, according to Al Sandbulte, president of the Sioux Trotting Association. That didn’t last long, he said, noting it stopped about two years after it began.
A group of area horse harness racers gathered to develop the site by constructing a legitimate track for harness racing.
In 1974, the racing group began talking with the Northwest Iowa Vocational School in Sheldon to help build the track, which was first known simply as the “Sioux Center Race Track.”
Sometime in 1977, a meeting was held to formally organize a managing group for the racetrack upon construction. This group was the Sioux Trotting Association.
They drew up plans to construct a half-mile oval racetrack with an estimated initial construction cost of $15,000, though it ended up costing more than that.
While it was up to the racing group to build the track itself, the Sioux County Fair Board oversaw the building of the grandstands.
Stock car influence
Nate Regnerus, who did some marketing work for stock car racing at the track, said stock car racing took place at the track during the 1970s as well, featuring such racers as Leon Mulder, Al Schouten and Doc Zeutenhorst.
But it wasn’t until July 1998 that stock car racing really took off at the racetrack thanks to the work of Mulder, and with it came a new name for the track: the Sioux Speedway.
Outdoor lighting and guard rails were added at that time as well. The changes were necessary steps to make things safer than they had been.
As Regnerus recalled, the July 1998 race packed the grandstands and people sat or stood out in the grass to watch.
“People came from quite a distance to compete,” he said. “The main event winner in the modified division was from Arkansas.”
Through the years, more than 1,000 car racers from 18 states (plus one Canadian and one Australian) came to the racetrack.
The last car race took place during the 2018 Sioux County Youth Fair, which was won by Sioux Falls racer Gregg Bakker.
Water drainage problems were a persistent challenge, according to Sandbulte, since the clay ground found at the site hangs onto the water. During winter and spring, then, the track was prone to developing frost boils.
Tile had been installed when the track was built. Back then, however, tiles were done in individual segments laid out in a line to pipe the water away, but the segments would shift and move with freeze and thaw cycles and occasionally a segment would be moved sufficiently to hinder the water flow.
“I’ve seen it where the infield is practically covered in water,” Sandbulte said. “You got a banked curve, and the water’s like 6, 7 feet up the curve. We put a tractor with a lagoon pump on the side of it just to pump it away and get something done.”
The tile system was improved in 2005, and it was completely replaced six years ago.
Because the clay itself held onto the water so badly, that meant harness racers had to be careful when taking their horses onto the track.
“If we’re on a bad track training hard with our horses, you could ruin their legs if it’s not right,” Sandbulte said. “So, we had to really take care and make sure it drained.”
The water would usually clear up in time for the races scheduled for midsummer. The Sioux Trotting Association would have two weekends for racing with as many as 180-200 horses, according to Sandbulte.
Once the track dried, Sandbulte said, “that track was the fastest horse track in the state of Iowa. We could get that track to zing. And everybody who came to race on that track would say the same thing.”
Once the weather allowed it, he said the track would get really busy with training work.
Regnerus echoed the sentiment.
“There’s no other track around that’s as big as this one, so you could get some good speed,” he said.
Sandbulte said the track has been underrated, given what it brings back to the community.
“There is some earning power,” he said, of racing. “It’s just overlooked a little bit. Any time you can bring money back into the community is good.”
As for Regnerus, he said it’s good the property will be put to good use and that students will benefit from the land in a different way with the upcoming high school building.