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As reported in the Elgin Courier News, on 11/11/1966, a new team of investors headed by a William F. Arndt, stepped in, to re-open the track, with sprawling upgrades, and an expanded vision. The new team professed to be spending $300,000 large, to court the Indy Car circuit, NASCAR, totally upgrade the facility, and (drum roll please) utilize the 4,000-foot straightaway for drag racing.
I first learned of the drag racing held there from a noted racing scribe in a telecon in 1990, and have researched this issue for years ever since. There are a whopping total of three photos on the 'interweb', none of which I will steal for this piece, as I hate that type of 'smash-and-grab' garbage, but the most noteworthy of which shows Bernie Adams’ Wisconsin-based Camaro funny car (motor by Charlie Proite) in front of a packed house. A fine book on the track by Phil Aleo has a wealth of photos of the many road races held at Meadowdale, and, no offense to that circuit, but the stands were never as full as they were for that drag race.
There is also a story, which I have not been able to confirm, that "TV Tommy" Ivo match raced a Mr. Dick Doane at Meadowdale. (Mr. Doane was a principal in the track’s organization.) The story goes that Tommy lost said race to a Corvette using a primitive and pirate NOS system. As Tommy had a 'Vette for a tow vehicle at the time makes it seem plausible, but asking Tommy about a given match race from the '60s would be like walking up to Ian Gillan of Deep Purple and asking, "HEY, remember that one time you sang Smoke On The Water?"....yeah, good luck with that.
What is credited as the last Trans Am race at Meadowdale International Raceway, on July 7 of 1968, the top three finishers, in order were Mark Donohue, Peter Revson, and Sam Posey. Fairly stout company, if you ask me. Another piece of information, courtesy of Mr. Aleo’s book (which is available on a certain website, named after a lengthy river, for a ton of money, OR you could do like I did, go to the library, they'll get it for you for bupkiss) is that there were no shortage of marquee names racing at Meadowdale, it's not like they had Billy Bob Schmoe face against Corky Curtis there. Even my Grampa Hoffman’s favorite Indy 500 guy, Texan Lloyd Ruby, ran there and quite often to boot.
And as for Mr. Arndt, and his grand plans? Well, on top of the baggage of years of struggle, of which the city fathers had to be weary, turns out there was a 'fox in the henhouse', a source has told me that his organization was embezzled out of their funds somehow, leaving the last grand plan high, dry, and sadly, broke.
I'd like to do a little "credit where credit is due" at this point, to some folk who helped me on this journey, namely Linda Daro of the Meadowdale International Raceway Preservation Society. She helped me see, firsthand, that the NHRA did indeed sanction the track for drag racing, on April 15th of 1969. She pointed to the signature at the bottom (Jack Hart, ftr) and asked me, "was he someone important?" In fairness to Linda, I wouldn't know David Hobbs from Calvin & Hobbs, but I just loved her asking the question. Her organization (MIRPA, for short) has done a TON of work keeping up the facility, which has survived the bulldozer’s bite and now will live on as a preserve and hiking trail complex. It was of brutal irony to me that the facility was almost erased by the building of a subdivision, when it only existed in the FIRST place because it was built by a man whose job it was to build subdivisions in the first place. Life can be pretty screwy sometimes, no?
Also, thanks to Mr. Chuck Engels, whose great website gave me the Besinger letter, for this piece and who also got a video clip I did in 1994 on Public Access Television onto the web, sausage-linkage here (I was, for fourteen years no less, Northern Illinois 'Wayne’s World of Drag Racing' and I single-handily DOMINATED that highly valued demographic of ... unemployed bikers and such.)
A wise man once said that "coulda-shoulda-woulda in one hand and two bits in the other will only get you a cup of coffee", but who's to say how Meadowdale International Raceway might have turned out, had they come courting the Drag Racing community sooner? Only ten minutes from the expressway, along a major highway, boasting what would have been one of the longest (and safest) shutdown areas in the country, it's future was so bright it "shoulda wore shades". Oh well. Every time I see that lonely internet-grab of Bernie Adams’ Camaro in front of a packed house, I can't but to think, what if this type of attendance would have happened earlier? What if, maybe...or was it just the wind I was hearing?
Thanks for hanging out. Til 2017, CCC-YAAAaaa!!! [12/19/16]