Jim Baker's Then and Now

Tri State Dragway and Beyond

When I think back to the ‘good ole days’, one name comes to mind a lot -- Russ Guymon! Russ was an aspiring young drag racer from Keokuk, Iowa. Long prior to Kahoka (Tri-State Dragway) opening, Russ had built a reputation for excellence in the Mississippi Valley.


I temporarily lost track of Russ and his wife Donna until a Facebook post caught my attention and found they live in southern Missouri where Donna spent her early childhood.


Russ was with us in 1959 at Cordova, IL, when Palmer Lazarus wowed everyone by shifting a four speed-equipped ’56 Chevy with a 6-71 blower! We all went home to the Tri State area and Russ went to work on a ’55 Chevy two door sedan. Seeing his preparation, we decided to offer him use of our new blower. We intended the supercharger for our Pontiac engines, but we had to wait for a Pontiac manifold. So Russ and I assembled the small block Chevy engine and that awesome sound descended on Sportsman Park (the name of Keokuk’s first drag strip). For several weeks there was no matching the screaming ’55 Chevy. Then a rod let go, hit the starter and the steering box...which did not have a ‘happy ending’.

The above photo shows the first Top Eliminator final at the new drag strip at Kahoka, MO. The head linesman in the center is Russ Guymon. Russ remained a key figure in upper Mississippi River Valley drag racing for more than 20 years.

Above is Russ’s ’62 Nova coupe powered by a big block ‘rat’ motor at Lee County Raceway.  The gal in black is his loyal wife, Donna, while the girl with the yellow cap is daughter Kim. Back in 1961, we traveled to Indy for the first NHRA U.S. Nationals on Saturday night after working the drag races to conclusion at Kahoka. Kim was a baby and we toured the NHRA National races all day Sunday, then went to the Indy Shrine Temple for a huge car show. Poor baby Kim. Today, Kim is a pharmacist at Walgreens in Quincy, Ill.


L/R: R.D. Wolf, Russ Guymon, me and Tony Sheffler trying to get into the photo. Tony recently retired from announcing at Atlanta Dragway after a long career with the mic!

Russ’s newest and perhaps last effort was this ’69 Camaro Pro Stocker. Ronnie Saar, manager of Lee County Raceway at Keokuk, Iowa, jumped on board the new Pro Stock Eliminator category as did several of the Midwest tracks of the day.


Tony Sheffler (recently retired announcer at Atlanta Dragway), and Lee County announcer as well as track manager at Keokuk during the ‘80s, said this about Russ: “Always a tough competitor and with a good team helping make it all happen. Great memories for sure!”

The above photo is one of the few I have of my Top Fuel efforts during the mid-sixties. It is a 421 Pontiac Super Duty with a 6-71 blower and Hilborn injection. The driver is young Ray Halberstadt a member of the Keosaqua, Iowa, car club that made Tri State Dragway hum during those years.

This is Ray (left) at Des Moines, Iowa, with me in 2016. The former Top Fuel pilot now manages a factory at the Iowa Capitol.

Ed Bruegge’s awesome ‘Possum Chaser’ A/G Crosley, without question the most popular car at Tri State Dragway during the early ‘60s.


Danny Hobbs, announcer and final manager at the doomed TSD, sent us a message about a June 2019 visit he had at his Kahoka, MO, home with ‘Big Ed’ and his wife Nikki:


“Not really much to give you about Ed visiting. He had called me in the early spring about getting together and on this past Friday he called that he was in Kahoka so I gave him directions...he and his wife are just plain great and gentle people...we mainly discussed the medical problems we both are fighting...we did in just passing discuss some of the names that raced at TSD....Leo Payne, RD Wolf and the funniest was we both were fans of Gabby Bleeker and his wild and crazy the Bantam Fuel Altered that he ran and what the “The Greek” said about anyone that would drive such a crazy machine after he took it for a run...I was thinking that it was at US30.... the funny part to me was Ed thinking the Bleeker machine wild....think about this, Jim ...Ed was probably 6’2” or 4” and 250+ lbs.....the short wheelbase Crosley wagon was probably only 6’ interior so it was probably more of a handling handful than Bleeker’s was in fact seeing Ed get into the machine was something. He said he has built 15 T-Buckets to date...the last one is driven by his son, Darren.”

Photo above was snapped in Fairfield, Iowa, back in 2016. It is Jim Baker and son Brad with Ed Bruegge and his son Darrin.

This is Ed Bruegge’s 15th Street Roadster with an 8-71 blower for ‘kicks’ on the street. It is driven on the street by Ed’s son Darren.

A huge group of Tri-State area drag racers met at Tommy Johnson Sr’s home in Fort Madison, Iowa, to spring a surprise party for me during our tour of the area in 1978. L/R, R.D. Wolf, Muscatine, Iowa; me with long hair; T.J. Crutcher, Fort Madison who ran a lot at both Kahoka and Keokuk; and my oldest son, Guy Baker. During the many years that I raced, Tommy’s reunion was the absolute highlight of my career!


While I speak to Tommy’s wild party ‘back in the day’, there is much more material to share. During our latest conversation, Tom Sr. related that the day Tom Jr. was born. Sr. raced at Tri State Dragway that night, handing out cigars to everyone. Track announcer Danny Hobbs and I remember Sarah bringing baby Jr. up to the tower deck for shade and safety during a later race.


That was in the mid ‘60s. My recollection is vivid about a 1976 Pro Stock Show at Eddyville, Iowa, when Jr. made run after run during the later rounds, on an ATV three wheeler. He told us he was dialing in the ‘tree’.


Well as every DRO reader knows, he got it ‘dialed in’. Without a doubt Tommy Johnson Jr. is the most famous product of those early days in the upper Mississippi River Valley. CONGRATULATIONS on his victory during the Mile High Nationals at Denver, CO.

This photo was snapped early in 2019 at the Arizona Nationals near Phoenix. TJ has gone on through the season and finds himself in second place just 199 points behind leader Robert Hight.

Until Next Time, Be On Time! 



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