My love of horsepower was foundered by a father who was in love with old cars and the sport. Like clockwork, every spring we would hear a rumble from the Machine Shed and Dad would drive his Hotrod Tractor out and get ready for the racing season. Us kids would spring out from where ever we were and watch this slumbering hotrod come to life for the summer racing season at the area tracks. I can tell you the smells, what our yard looked like, and to this day when he starts the Ford Tractor, it takes me back.
I suppose as you get older, change is inevitable. This last week came an end to an era of racing in Minnehaha County in South Dakota. Husets Speedway was sold to Badlands Pawn and Loan and renamed Badlands Speedway. It broke my heart. Increased insurance costs, declining racers and attendance, and liability have forced many local tracks to close or change hands.
My whole life growing up, racing and cars influenced my life. Heck, it revolved around it. From Mother’s Day ’til October my whole life was spent at area tracks. Friday Night was Rock Rapids Speedway – Rock Rapids, IA, Saturday was Lake County in Madison, SD, Sunday of course was the Mecca – Husets Speedway in Brandon, SD.
My dad, Art Nordstrom, was an official at the area tracks and his brother, Greg Nordstrom, also raced late models. We would pack up the pickup and after the cows were milked, head out to the races. Dad would load up the Ford Tractor on the trailer and we would all pile in the pickup, literally. My Mom, would always have a kid on her lap, and we would fight for the spot to sit by Dad. Quite often we would get to shift, but that thrill was also a penalty. If we were fighting or screwing around, you could get 4th gear in your knee.
The Nordstroms would get to the tracks early and Dad would talk to the owners/promoters. One who stands out the most was Fred Buckmiller. He would have a mechanic’s jumpsuit, cigar and was larger and louder than life. He loved “bomb” fireworks. I’ll look up at him and he would say, “So, you’re Art’s daughter. You look like your mom and act like your dad.”
We had to learn to kill time while Dad was talking “racing” with the guys. Sometimes we would ride our bikes around, pick up beer tabs and make chains and look for unripped tickets and treasures in the stands. As a family, this was our vacations, activities and, like I said, our whole life. Our whole family raced everything.
I can remember picking up tear-offs that weren’t ripped and taking them home and cleaning them up. Putting elastic out of Mom’s sewing case and wearing them while we raced each other on our bikes. We had an announcer and everything. Mom even made a set of flags for us. I loved the orange hot wheels track and we’d race forever-championships. I still have the orange race track; love it! Suzie and I used to put our feet out in our pajamas and our nightgowns turned into little sprint cars and we’d pretend to race in the living room.
The races were exciting. Everybody knew Dad and we were his kids. At the beginning of every race everyone would line up down the front stretch in their whites and they would do the national anthem. It was such a sight. Then the “Bomb”, and “Gentleman Start your Engines!”
Dad would have the Ford tractor on the infield and would burn down the front stretch and the crowd would cheer. We would be so proud; that’s our Dad. My Uncle Greg would race, and he was good. Gramma Nordstrom would get so nervous when he would get by the wall. We sat by her because she would bring Brach Candy. But if there was a close call with Greg, she’d grab your leg and squeeze and you almost choked on your Nougat Chew.
There were so many racers that we knew. It was a close-knit group with stiff competition. David Kruger, Marty Barber, Jim Mathews, the boys from Nunda, Jerry Ross, there are so many that I remember and kept track of. Local heroes. After the race, we would go down in the infield and learn of the latest “rivals”.
Husets was the place everyone wanted to race. They had outlaw sprints, street stocks and modified. Street stocks were my favorite and the class Dad was in charge of. They would get 16 or more in a feature and you knew something was going to happen. I loved the crashes, but I also remember the tragedies that happened, too. Bill Rook, Gary Bott, and some others who were killed in the sport they loved. I can remember several times when Dad’s whites had blood on them. His cousin was killed in turn 1 at Husets in a sprint car.
The racers and we would all load back up for the next week. The ride home, packed in the pickup, we would fall asleep or sometimes get KOMA County from Oklahoma on the pickup AM radio. The other show was on WNAX, Midnight Macob and spooky stories.
I grew up around the tracks. Getting older and boys, when you weren’t at the farm, there were a lot of cute boys at the tracks. I knew everyone and it was so much fun. Several times at Husets Speedway, I was the Trophy Queen. I even raced Enduros at the area tracks. Did really good.
At Husets, the Hagan boys from Brandon were neighbors and would always talk tough. Well, I wasn’t any wall flower and dished it right back. He said he wasn’t going to let me win. I was in 2nd, a field of 120 some and then got off, wrecked. Got out and it was that Hagan boy. He said he did it and I jumped him, and my dad actually had to pull me off. I was so mad.
Tomboy at heart, the race tracks were a love of my life. My sister Suzette Nordstrom, wasn’t always into the races, but came along. When we went to Madison Track, we often would get to go to the lake swimming and fishing before the races. One thing that we liked was we were “Artie’s Girls” – everybody watched out for us. But I think we could hold our own.
My brother, Shannon Nordstrom, got to announce the races when he was about 6 and I think he did just as good as Dave Dedrick or Denny Oviat. When we were old enough, Shannon and I would watch the races from the infield. We even had signals worked out if someone was going to try and hit Dad. Sometimes he would stand there with that buck-toothed smile while the guys would scream at him about a call. The smile made them the maddest; he never yelled back. He got run over once or twice, hit by a guy, so we had reason to have a signal.
Nordstrom’s Auto Recycling put on special races with pit stops and had huge money prizes for the street stock. They worked and practiced and it was huge. I got married on a race day, and Dad left my wedding dance, in a tux, and went to Madison Track to give the prize, and came back to the dance. My Mom was less than pleased. Dad retired from the track officials in the ’90s and that’s when the area racing changed more.
But when I heard the news on KELO, I went back to what I call the Golden Days of racing – the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, the years that I remember the most. The biggest part of my life. The yards full of race cars at our farm before the races, Mom getting Dad’s whites ready, Dad getting the Ford Tractor ready, and packing in the pickup, as a family, to go to the races. I know that is part of my love of cars and horsepower. It was so exciting. The smells, the cars, and most of all, the sound.
The Ford Tractor is parked away and Dad only brings it out on occasions. Lake County Speedway was auctioned off a few years back and now only cows are going around corner 3. Rock Rapids is still going, so is Hartford Speedway. Husets now sold, to me, with the name change is the end of an era, that I’ll never forget. I’m sure the new owner will promote and do things, but my memories are with Husets Speedway and area tracks and the Golden Days of Racing – and being one of “Arty’s Girls”.
Yvette VanDerBrink-Auctioneer/Broker – Ex Racer in the 1980’s
The Lil Nordstrom’s Gal
VanDerBrink Auctions, LLC
Link to the Story of Husets http://www.keloland.com/newsdetail.cfm/husets-speedway-sold/?id=178948