Tri-City Speedway once featured a dim lighted, narrow and bad fast 5/8th’s mile dirt track
Tri-City Speedway has transformed a lot over the years. Years ago, there was a tiny 1/4-mile that was surrounded by an ultra fast 5/8-mile. It’s been years since that was torn down.
If you never saw it. That half mile was as sketchy as they come. There were a handful of scary accidents over the years. I’ve seen cars airborne there like I haven’t seen anywhere else. The track was so big that the noise from the engines would be almost quiet when they were on the backstretch.
But, it also brought some oddities with it as well. Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach, IL backs up to a farm. Every once in awhile the cattle next door will get brave. Even today, they’re liable to take out the fencing that separates the speedway from farm land.
Once upon a time, that happened while 800 hp race cars circled the old half mile race track. A cow walked over to the race track and stuck it’s head over the outside wall to watch the races. No call to PETA will be necessary, cattle decapitation via race car was avoided that night.
Now, the only thing that remains of the 5/8-mile are the billboards that surrounded it in the distance behind the backstretch. Under ownership of Kevin Gundaker, Tri-City Speedway has been reconfigured to a 3/8-mile oval. Inside of that is a new surface, a 1/5-mile for Outlaw karts.
When you tore up the 1/2 mile and the 1/4 mile. Are you happy with what you did there?
Track promoter Kevin Gundaker asks, “Racer aspect or track promoter?”
Let’s go Racer.
“Racer, I grew up on that half mile. That’s the first place I ever made a lap. Actually, it was a 5/8th’s mile.”
“I liked the speed. I liked that element. It was narrow, it was a little bit dark. It was fast. It had all the elements there.”
I’ll correct Kevin a bit. It was very dark. Though, it also takes a lot of bulbs to light up a 5/8th’s mile, especially in the times prior to LED technology. So I understand why they were racing in closet lighting. It was also like that well before he took over as the track owner.
“That thing could bite you. Like, in a real hurry. But, I enjoyed it.”
“Back when I started in ’73 a lot of race tracks were like that. Like when you go to Iowa and places like that, they’re all fairgrounds, big race tracks.
“The downside to it — It separated the men from the boys. And it separated the equipment, the guys that had good equipment and not so good equipment. So, it didn’t make for really good racing.”
“What we decided to do was build us a race track where we could race everything on. Instead of preparing two tracks. We can race a sprint car on this, a late model, a mod, a b mod and they all put on good shows.”
“That half mile, really separated them.”
I turned my first laps on the 1/4-mile. I miss that 1/4-mile.
“That 1/4-mile was a racy little sucker. It raced more as a circle though than an oval.”
“It was so wide on the front shoot, you could use so much of that area. It was a momentum style race track.”
Because you basically had two straightaway’s lined up next to each other. Basically.
The front straight-away of the 1/4-mile and the front straight away for the 5/8-mile ran partially intertwined and partially separate. So, the front straight-away for the 1/4-mile was significantly wider than the back as it was attached to the front stretch for the 5/8ths. You could swing out really wide off turn 4, build speed and take a wide entry into turn 1 as a result.
“Oh yeah. It’s 83 feet wide there.”
Gundaker is also the man that manages the track prep at the fan favorite inside The Dome. Tri-City Speedway equipment is carried across the river, weeks in advance of the Gateway Dirt Nationals. Each year, they construct a semi-banked 1/5-mile oval on top of the bare concrete.