Santa Fe Speedway Had Long History In Chicago
Perhaps the best-known short track in the Chicago area during its run, Santa Fe Speedway operated between 1953 and 1995.
Located at 91st Street and Wolf Road in the Chicago southwest suburban area, the speedway featured a quarter-mile and a “short” half-mile clay oval. Howard Tiedt built and operated the speedway on the property where his father, Frederick, had built the original Santa Fe Park, a picnic grove/race track complex, in 1896 in the area that became known as Tiedtville.
The early track saw horses, bicycles, motorcycles and automobiles compete there until a tornado in the late 1920s destroyed the grandstands, bringing a halt to the racing activity at the site located adjacent to the Santa Fe Railroad tracks, hence the name.
Frederick Tiedt died in 1946. Prior to 1953, Howard Tiedt established Santa Fe Park Enterprises, Inc. and began an overall reconstruction program of the race track and grounds — the beginning of Santa Fe Speedway.
The first race at the new speedway was held in May 1953 with Indiana’s Kenny Boyer winning the first stock-car feature. He later became the track’s first stock-car champion. A number of races were televised live with popular baseball announcer Jack Brickhouse handling some of the telecasts.
On July 10, 1954, the first NASCAR Grand National stock-car race in the Chicago area took place at Santa Fe with Dick Rathmann winning the 200-lap race and a reported $1,000 for his efforts.
Bill Van Allen, Dick Nelson, Jim O’Connor, Tony Izzo and Frank Reaber stick out above the rest when it comes to stock-car championships and races won at “Chicago’s Track of Clay.”
Van Allen won three-consecutive stock-car championships from 1954 through 1956. He came back and won three more from 1962 through 1964.
Dick Nelson won his first of seven titles in 1960. He won again in 1961, 1966, 1967, 1970, 1971 and his last — 1972.
Jim O’Connor captured late-model laurels in 1973, repeating in ’74 and again in 1976. The 1977 racing season saw Tony Izzo claim the first of his nine track championships. Izzo won four straight from 1977 through 1980 and five straight between 1984 and 1988.
Santa Fe became part of NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series in 1987. Howard Tiedt died in 1990, and his daughter Mary Lou and her husband John Moskal took over during the track’s final years.
Frank Reaber added his name to the champions’ list in 1989 and won additional titles in 1992, 1994 and 1995, which was the last season of racing at the famed speed venue.
Over the years, USAC midget and sprint cars, along with World of Outlaws sprinters, competed at Santa Fe. The track was also a popular venue for weekly AMA motorcycle events.
With the ’95 season completed, participants looked forward to another season of racing the following year and were shocked when management announced the track would not open in 1996.
The facility sat idle in 1996, 1997 and 1998, falling to the wrecking ball in March 1999 to make way for a housing development.