KALWASINSKI: Chicago Chips
CHICAGO — There have recently been several opportunities to stir up memories of past racing experiences.
The official dedication of the Santa Fe Speedway monument took place Oct. 26 at the corner of 91st Street and Wolf Road in Willow Springs. Friends of Santa Fe, the Village of Willow Springs and the Windings
Town Home Ass’n teamed to sponsor the six-ton marker that has been laid at the site of the old speedway.
An enthusiastic crowd of former competitors, officials and fans were on hand with a number of speakers taking to the podium, expressing their memories of the famed Santa Fe speed plant. Speakers representing stock cars and motorcycles, both popular racing divisions at the speedway, were heard.
The speedway came about in 1953 when Howard Tiedt and several others formed Santa Fe Park Enterprises, Inc. and went about building a modern dirt raceway on the grounds of the popular Santa Fe Park picnic grove, which once was the site of several entertainment attractions including a race track operated by Tiedt’s grandfather.
The new raceway featured both a quarter-mile oval and “short” half-mile oval and became the best known speedway in the Chicago area.
From 1953 through 1995, the track offered motorsports fans a variety of racing events with Santa Fe hosting pretty much every type of racing class/division imaginable. Howard Tiedt passed away in 1990 with his daughter, Mary Lou, and her husband, John Moskal, taking over the track’s reins for its final years.
In January of 1996, it was announced that racing at Santa Fe would be suspended. The facility sat idle for a number of years and finally was the victim of the wrecking ball in the spring of 1999.
“The track always seemed to treat people fair,” said former driver and track official, Kenny Kuehn. “I raced here for 18 years and ran the race track for 22 years. It was a family. We had every type of person imaginable from company executives to people who couldn’t write their name.
“If there was a problem, Howard Tiedt worked it out. He kept the neighbors happy. If they lived within a half-mile of here, he sent them free tickets.”
A number of people commented about Santa Fe’s success.
“Howard knew how to advertise,” said Art “Fireball” Fehrman, a former driver. “He sold out those half-mile (stock car) shows almost every holiday.”
“There was a lot of serious racing going on,” said Bruce Monkman, a former mechanic at the speedway. “If you ever had a chance to see a race at Santa Fe, you saw a race.”
The two driving forces behind the project were Willow Springs Mayor Alan Nowaczyk and graphic artist and longtime fan, Bob Behounek, who lettered a number of cars that competed at the track.
“I remember back when I was nine years old and coming out here for kids’ birthday parties,” reminisced Nowaczyk. “In 1986 and 1987, I raced in the spectator division and had a lot of fun with that.
“Bob Behounek came up with the idea. He was passionate about it and I said it would be great and let’s see if we can make it happen. I think a lot of people were generally heart broken when the track closed. I think it was nice to have a buy in from everyone involved, including the homeowners association.”
Behounek has been involved with the project from its beginning, including locating the granite marker.