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Welcome Playland Speedway Fans! To my tribute to the late, great Playland Speedway and the local legends that raced there.
This book is a summary of sorts of the material from my www.playlandspeedway.com website. Not everyone has internet access (yet). And this is an effort to get the history of the speedway to others. There is a great deal more content on the website. I did not even try to include everything here. But, with the help of many good folks, I hope to bring you a glimpse of the storied past of Playland Speedway.
Not all of the information contained here is accurate, like many memories, sometimes that are the way we want to remember things, not always the way they really happened! Even the history of Playland isn’t always consistent from one source to another.
The layout of this book roughly mirrors the layout of the website. I’ve divided it into a rough history of Playland Speedway, with pictures, followed by a “memories” section of material provided by various contributors to the website. Next a section for each major car class and a series of drivers “pages” from the website. Finally, you’ll find I’ve added a section of “odds and ends”, comments in e-mail form from visitors and contributors to the website.
Many famous local racers graced the racing surface of Playland Speedway during its history. You’ll recognize several as nationally known racers. Tiny Lund, Bud Burdick, Glen Robey (8-ball), Elvin “Junior” Heiman (66), Mel Kruger, Bobby Parker, Dick Gappa (77), “Wild Bill” Martin, Dave Chase (31), Paul Zdan (10), Frank "the Flying Dutchman" Vandoorn (30), Larry Brown(16) , Bob Matson (71), Larry Jiskra (70), Sonny Miller (109), Ron Tilley (56), Russ Dilley (22), Ron Hoden (65), John Beaman, Frank Prideaux (67), Mel Sorensen (93), Bob Jura (72), John Ernest (73), Jerry Boyd (52), Ron Wolfe “the Asphalt Animal”(76), Chris Hoeppner (84), Bob Rollins (80), Claude “Sonny” Brown (67) and of course my personal hero, my Dad, Al Franks (89) who wasn't famous at all.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the moral support I've received from folks like Glenn Robey, Bobby Parker, Bob Matson, Don Ronk, Frank Vandoorn, Dave Kaut, Paul Zdan, Jim Taggart, Howard Koziol, Lee Ackerman, Bob and Carolyn Stender, Bill Stawowcyzk, Darrell Taylor, Dave Hellerich, Kim Elder, Joe Daub and Dave Hubbard. Thanks to all who contributed pictures and articles from their scrapbooks.
Playland Speedway was originally a dog track. The dog track was started by none other than infamous gangland czar Meyer Lansky, who in 1941, spent $50,000 building the Council Bluffs dog track and grandstand. The Dodge Park Kennel Club was its name. He ran dog racing in 1941, 42 and 43, until the mayor shut it down.
The Playland Park brochure.
The facility sat idle until it became a dirt track in 1947. The name was Frontier Park back then. In 1948 an amusement park and midway were added, including a 3/4 mile long roller coaster! The track was now called "Playland Bowl". In 1949, it was called "Playland Park Stadium".
Here are two pictures I found that shows Playland in 1952. That was the year of the big Missouri River flood.
In 1956 the NASCAR Short Track Championship Race was held in C.B. The entry and time trial sheet is on the website. I was going to add it to the history page, but it deserves its own page! If you didn't know about this race, wait till you see who was there! Thanks Lee Ackerman of the Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame for the sheet.
Racers from North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Texas, New York, Washington, South Carolina, Iowa, and Nebraska converged at Playland Speedway in Council Bluffs!
Lee Ackerman sent this write up from the World Herald, 4-21-2006.
On August 5, 1956, NASCAR came to Playland Park Speedway in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The event was billed as a NASCAR Short Track Grand National event. While not an official Grand National Points Race (Winston/Nextel Cup), it did feature 10 NASCAR drivers along with 9 area drivers. The Sunday night event drew a crowd of 4,081 fans to Abe Slusky’s Playland Park.
Bill Amick of Glendale, California, outlasted the 19 car field, by setting both quick time of 15.82 seconds, and then leading the entire 100 laps to win the race and a big chuck of the $3,200 purse. Amick’s Ford teammate, Marvin Panch of San Francisco, California qualified second and finished second. Jim Paschal of High Point, North Carolina qualified third and finished third in the feature driving a Mercury.
Rex White of Yadkinsville, North Carolina broke the monopoly as he qualified further down in the time trials but won the first ten lap heat over Panch, Amick and Paschal and then passed Johnny Allen of Corpus Christi, Texas on the 9th lap to nail down 4th place in the feature. Allen would finish 5th.
Carl Lillienthal of Atlantic, Iowa was the top local driver winning a heat race and then finishing sixth in the feature. Bob Meyer of Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Jim Sorensen of Omaha finished eight. Only 9 of the 19 starters finished the race. Tiny Lund, ex-stock car champion at Playland and a native of Harlan, Iowa dropped out of the race on the 46th lap.
Marvin Panch would win 17 NASCAR Cup races in his career and was the 1957 Cup runner-up. Jim Paschal would win 25 Cup events and was a contender for the title several different times. Rex White would win 28 Cup events and was the 1960 series champion and 1961 runner-up. Tiny Lund would go on to win the 1964 Daytona 500 and be a multi-time NASCAR short track champion.
Among the entrants, a who's who of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers according to NASCAR.com!
Rex White #5 on the list of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers. The 1960 NASCAR Winston Cup champion, White won six of his 28 career victories that year. White finished in the top-10 in the point standings six of the nine years he competed on NASCAR's elite circuit.
Herb Thomas #10 on the list of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers. NASCAR Winston Cup Career: 1949-57, 1962 Thomas, a former truck driver, was the NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion in 1951 and 1953. He won 48 races in 230 starts, picking up 38 pole positions along the way, which is still 10th on the all-time list. Thomas won the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in 1951, 1954 and 1955; his '55 Southern 500 victory came despite being badly injured in racing accident three-and-a-half months earlier.
Lee Petty #15 on the list of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers, was a hard charger in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series division, claiming 54 wins -- ranking him seventh on NASCAR's all-time wins list. In 1954, Petty won the first of three championships in a Dodge. He won his second championship in 1958, also in a Dodge and his third, in '59, on the strength of 11 wins, powered by a Chrysler.
Marvin Panch #17 on the list of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers, competed against both Lee and Richard Petty in the 1950s and 1960s. Panch's first win came in 1956 from the pole position at a track in Montgomery, Ala. His most successful season was in 1957.
Tiny Lund #21 on the list of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers. Career: 1955-75 He would go on to save Marvin Panch's life after a fiery road race crash in 1963! The injured Panch asked Lund to take his place in the Wood Brothers' Ford. In the crowning achievement of his career, Lund won the Daytona 500. A big man with an ironic nickname, Lund won five NASCAR Winston Cup races through a 21-year career.
Jim Paschall- Car #75 finished 5th in the 1956 NASCAR final points standings.
Jim Reed -dominated the short track division of NASCAR in the 1950's. He claimed the championship in the division from 1953 to 1957, a record that still stands as the longest consecutive championship by any driver.
Jack Smith -had 21 Winston Cup wins, was voted most popular driver in 1958, and is a member of the Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame. In 1960, when asked about increasing race speeds, Fireball Roberts remarked, "At Daytona Beach we started at 140 miles an hour. Now we are up to 150. Pretty soon we will be hitting 155. At 140 anyone could drive. At 150 there are just ten drivers who can handle it. And at 155 there will be just four who can stand the pace." Fireball named Jack Smith as one of the four. From Eddie Samples www.lloar.com
Joe Eubanks finished 15th in the 1956 NASCAR final points standings. One Winston Cup Win 9/28/1958 Orange Speedway
Resizing the park.
Sixty acres of the park were condemned by the state to build the I-480 bridge in 1964-66. The 3/4 mile long wooden coaster was demolished. The bulk of the major rides were sold at auction. Some would later go to Frontier City in Oklahoma City, a park the Sluskys owned. It is still there.
When the track reopened in 1966, rides included the Wild Mouse, bumper cars, Tilt-A-Whirl and of course the usual midway games. It was a great place to go as a kid.
Many people don't know that the Sluskys (Jerry and Howard) bought an amusement park.
From Jerry Slusky: “You will recall that I lost my father, Abe, in 1970. He was only 59. A few years before his death, my brother Howard and I bought Frontier City in Oklahoma City. Howard moved to Oklahoma City to operate the park and did so until we sold it to Tierco (now Six Flags) in 1981.
Sadly, Howard died in 1984 in a private plane crash. He and 7 other Oklahoma City businessman died on their way to a fishing lake near Chihuahua, Mexico. He left a wife and three great sons,”
Beginning in 1971, the track was operated by other promoters.
Aerial photo from The Leazenby Collection 1976.
The end of an era.
I was a California Marine when the track was closed in October 1977.