Times Sports Editor
Hidden away in small towns all over America are dirt racetracks that have thrilled local fans for years, but few have as storied a history as Lincoln Park Speedway, tucked away in tiny Putnamville.
Kenny Farrand built the original quarter-mile facility in 1969, but the current facility basically took shape in the early 1980s when Mike and V. Farrar purchased the track from Buck Arnold.
The track has gone through a number of owners and promoters throughout the years, but beginning with Saturday's historic Putnamville Clash for sprint cars, the facility has returned to its local roots.
Local business owner, Joe Spiker, reached a five-year lease agreement at the beginning of July to take over day-to-day operations of the track from Dave Allison. Spiker's five-year deal is with an option to buy the facility as well.
Spiker has long been a racing fan and when he decided that he wanted to be more deeply involved with the sport, his attention moved to eventually owning a track. Discussions began with Allison regarding Lincoln Park before the current season, but no formal agreement was reached. Meanwhile, Spiker had the opportunity to lease Vermilion County Speedway located in Danville, Ill. He has operated the track, which is owned by the fairgrounds, and made significant improvements to the facility and broadened the racing card for racing fans.
While running Vermilion County Speedway has provided a wealth of positive experience for Spiker, the history and location of Lincoln Park Speedway made it an attractive venture.
Before local opportunities became an option, Spiker did plenty of traveling while seeking out a facility to be involved with.
"We've been to racetracks all over the country, looking, researching and gathering information, but this is close to home," Spiker said. "If Lincoln Park Speedway was 100 miles away, maybe it wouldn't be quite as attractive, but being close to home and with all the history we have here, it's going to be great. We were here every Saturday night, all of our life. They used to run Fridays and Sunday, running Figure-8's, it's not what it used to be right now, but we're hoping to bring it back."
Over the last 25 years, the historic track has seen some of the greats of national and local dirt track competition.
Sprint car track champions have included Bob Kinser (seven titles) and Dave Darland (twice) and notable names like Tony Elliott, Rich Vogler, Bill Rose, Sheldon Kinser, Chuck Amati, Ron Shuman, Joey Saldana, Jon Stanbrough, Tray House, Jay Drake, J.J. Yeley and even John Andretti have all won features at the current 3/8th mile facility.
Rarely was there an empty seat in the house during the heyday of the racetrack as fans packed both the hillside and the stands. But as time marched by and economic lulls took their toll, crowds dwindled to several hundred on many Saturday's during recent years.
Much like attendance figures, the condition of Lincoln Park Speedway declined as time took its own toll. However, Spiker believes that the first step to restoring the track to its past grandeur lies in giving LPS a facelift.
"Here, there are a lot of things, bleachers, bathrooms, concessions, mowing, weed eating that needed to be done," Spiker said. "We've started all of them, but we probably won't get any of them completely done this season, but over the winter we'll get a good stab at it."
The restrooms have already been upgraded with the concession stands undergoing an overhaul as well. The tree line along turns three and four have been cleaned out and pushed back and the overgrowth along the fences in turn one has been removed as well. Those aren't the only changes that will be visible in the coming weeks according to Spiker.
"Everywhere you look there'll be something different. There's nothing here that we're satisfied with appearance or functioning wise. It could all use some attention," Spiker said. "The goal is to get all new boards on the bleachers, which is like a $7,000 hit, so we won't do all of that at once, but we want to get them all replaced and painted to make it nice for the fans. Basically get things working properly and not have bathroom issues where you are walking through water to get in."
"Our guys are real experienced and know what they are doing so we just tell them what to do and they can come here and get them done. There are two guys who work here, they're great and, now that they are working for us, they are here every day so they have plenty of time to tackle the task at hand," Spiker said.
However, as is often the case in the Midwest, Mother Nature has influenced transition.
"We had planned on having a two-week shutdown, but the rain pushed back the fireworks (originally scheduled for July 4), so we've just had a week," Spiker said. "But we'll replace the front guardrail in the front stretch area, do some grading and packing and work on some water drainage issues. There's a whole bunch of stuff that people will probably never notice unless you're out there with a race car."
The most recent unveiling of the track will be Saturday when the 22nd running of the Putnamville Clash for sprint cars takes place. Also on the card will be the UMP Modifieds, super stocks and bombers.
Spiker also has his sights set on potentially bringing back some of the national series that used to highlight the LPS schedule yearly. The United States Auto Club (USAC) along with the Midwest Sprint Car Series and King of Indiana Sprint Series have been conspicuously absent over the past few years.
"We've talked to some people and maybe they've had some bad blood in the past and the relationship hasn't been so great so we've kinda walked on some eggshells, but if we can prove ourselves here and they trust us, it's baby steps, but we'll see what we can do," said Spiker in regards to bringing back some of the premier national series dates. He also hasn't ruled out moving some dates from Vermilion County to Lincoln Park Speedway.
"We have some races scheduled at Danville and we don't know exactly what the schedule is going to bring over there and we might try to bring a couple of them over here if we can get it to work out, but we haven't crossed that bridge yet," Spiker said.
Ultimately, Spiker pointed out that his goal is to provide a great facility for fans, families and drivers alike. When asked what he wanted fans to expect from a Joe Spiker run facility, he replied, "Clean bathrooms, good food, fan friendly racing and getting done early that's the main thing. It's going to take some marketing, but we advertise probably more than anyone I know. We're going to try and get this place back on the map. I mean (LPS) is the premier dirt track in Indiana, it just needs some attention.
"I just hope people are patient, because it won't be done overnight," Spiker added. "But over the next year and even the next year it's just going to keep on getting better and if they have patience then they'll have a nice place to come watch some racing."