Just because Iowa Speedway doesn't have a strong shot at a Nextel Cup race doesn't mean it
Sioux Speedway. CJ Raceway. Tipton International Speedway. There is no shortage of racetracks in Iowa. Some, such as Knoxville Speedway, are legendary.
Others, such as Cresco, Crawford County, or Farley, survive as hometown tracks for hometown heroes.
Almost all of them are dirt tracks linked to Iowa's fertile soil as solidly as the sprawling farms that surround them.
All except one.
At first, the very idea of Iowa Speedway seems to make no sense.
It is a 78-mile paved oval in the middle of corn country in the Midwest, surrounded by more than 55 dirt tracks.
Its mass of concrete and steel rises from a former cornfield in a landscape otherwise punctuated mostly by silos and tall corn. But that's exactly why it does make sense, says Craig Armstrong, the speedway's general manager.
"There are more racetracks per capita in Iowa than in any other state," he says. "This is a region that's home to people who are passionate about motorsports. What we are giving them is something different."
So far, it is working.
Iowa Speedway is just finishing its first full year of operation. Within its first six months it attracted the attention of stock car, road racing, open wheel, and two-wheel racing organizations. In its first full year it played host to the ASA, NASCAR's Elite Division, the Indy Racing League, Grand-Am Cup sports cars, Rolex prototypes, and motorcycle racing.
The complex includes three ovals, a dragstrip, and a pair of inside road courses designed by the legendary Alan Wilson.
It may be destined to become America's premier short track.
What makes it different is the way it came to be and what it has become.
It was the idea of the Clement brothers, who are intimately involved in racing. Stan Clement is president of the track. Conrad Clement is CEO of Featherlite Trailers. Larry Clement owns the cars driven by ARCA ace Frank Kimmel.
The 7/8-mile facility definitely has the feel of a first-class NASCAR track.
"They began thinking of this seven or eight years ago," says Armstrong. "They originally were looking farther east, but when Chicagoland was built, they decided to change their focus."
The idea was a little more than that, until a couple of things happened.
Brad Manatt, president of the largest concrete contractor in the nation's heartland, became interested in the project. He is a resident of Newton and saw both the economic need and benefit of the track to his hometown.
Newton is home to Maytag, recently sold to Whirlpool. Well before the sale was consummated, residents could see a change coming in the economic vitality of the city and were open to options, unconventional as they may have seemed.
Then the Iowa Legislature helped with a tax plan to help defray some of the costs and help financing.
"Once Brad Manatt began to warm to the project and signed on to help make it happen, it all became economically feasible," Armstrong says.
"And then we got Rusty Wallace involved."
Wallace insisted he wouldn't simply put his name on the track. If he was going to be involved, he was going to be really involved.
"He's the master of the short track," says Armstrong. "He recognizes that from a driver and fan standpoint, you can't beat the action on a short oval."
It was Wallace's idea to extend the original design to the 78-mile length. That allowed more flexibility in the design, got cars going faster down the straights, and created an opportunity to blend the corner exits for a smooth transition.
"What we ended up with has Rusty's handprints all over it," says Armstrong.
Newly sprouted fields of corn surround the track as NASCAR Grand National teams arrive. T
"He drove the track when it was just dirt. He came back and drove it when it was gravel. And he drove it again after each layer of asphalt was put down."
Go back in time about two years, Armstrong says. The scene was a small family restaurant in Newton.
It was dinner time and Wallace and Andy Vertrees, the project manager and veteran track builder, were discussing progress on the speedway, which was well into construction at that time.
"We had almost 25,000 people here for the Grand National race," he says. "And we had a few more seats to sell. Give me a Truck or Busch race, and we'll fill the house. I just know we will."