I've begun work on a book that will detail the history of Tunis Speedway in Waterloo, Iowa, a track that operated for over 35 years and produced some pretty impressive dirt track drivers, many of whom went on to bigger competitions and venues throughout the midwest. Waterloo happens to be home to the world's largest tractor factory (John Deere) and many of these drivers honed their mechanical skills on the production lines of that plant or in shops that provided services to the company. Below is a basic chronology for the track:
1938—Jud Tunis purchases
52 acres of land with money borrowed from his wife Marie. The property sat on the outskirts of Waterloo at that time and he paid $200 per acre to acquire it. “Everyone called me a damned fool.”
1941—Builds home on the land.
1947—Jud uses part of the land to build a track to race horses. This was a ½ mile track. Jud wanted a track closer than Waverly where he could run his own horses.
1948—Jud is convinced to build a ¼ mile track inside the ½ mile track for midget racing.
1949—First midget races are held. Jud decides auto racing has some promise.
1950—The first full size auto races are held. Jud was owner and promoter of the track until 1966.
1966—Jud sells a portion of the land to Well’s Department Store to build a retail store. He also leases the track to Jim Cordes, Roger Beck and Bill Zwanziger who take over promoting the races.
1975—The track is expanded from ¼ mile to 3/8 mile.
Early 1980s—track is closed. Land is sold to developer from Cedar Rapids who never completes the project.
Facts about the track
Would seat 5000 spectators in the stands and many times did just that.
Admission was $1.50 to $2.50 per person throughout the time the track was operating.
No race car driver was
ever killed on the track. A thrill show performer was killed when a dynamite trick did not work correctly and a young boy died when he fell from a horse while on the track.
Jud conditioned the track himself. Each spring the track surface was rebuilt. He was quoted in 1965 (Des Moines Register, May 24) as saying “It takes a good rich soil on top of clay to make a good running surface. You can’t do it with sandy soil. You need soil that will knit together. We go below the frost line every spring and plow it up and then repack it with sheep-foot rollers.”
Marie Tunis (Jud's wife) was involved in operating the track as a ticket seller and bookkeeper.
More than 50 people manned the staff of the track during races. This included car parkers, ticket sellers/takers, gatemen, pitmen, infield workers, race car pushers, judges, flagmen, tow truck operators, track waterers and security staff (normally off duty policemen). In addition the concession stands were manned with even more people.
Insurance for race events was $600 per event. Prize money typically was about $3000 per race date.
In 1975 there were five dirt tracks attracting drivers between Webster City and Dubuque along Highway 20. The Tunis track was the first of those tracks to be built.
This is just a simple outline of how the track began and developed and I'm slowly gathering information and images from past drivers, their families and people who actually helped make the track function on race days.
I'm seeking any and all information about the track and its significance as a competitive dirt track venue and can be reached directly at email@example.com.
I've also set up a Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/178616285607374/ that contains quite a bit of information I've been able to collect from the over 400 people who have become members of the group. Any help is appreciated!!
Yes...that's it. I have a number of aerial shots from the 50s through the 70s of the track that shows the encroachment of residential development that eventually killed the track. Here is current view via Google. You can still see the track which is still on bare land. I walked out there a couple of weeks back and there are remnants of guard rails, etc. I swear I heard engines revving.
Jim, this is really great stuff. I'm always interested in John Deere connections to racing. My old Richmond, Va. pal and longtime racing companion, Frank Buhrman (now of Carroll Valley, Pa.) had a paternal grandfather who established the leading John Deere distributorship, Buhrman & Sons, Inc. in the Richmond, Virginia area in 1921.
Here's a link to a little info about Frank's grandfather:
Mr. Buhrman was one of the founders of the Atlantic Rural Exposition where Richmond races were conducted beginning in 1946 and is today the site of Richmond International Raceway.
I sent the link to your post to Frank, since I know he'll enjoy the John Deere racing connection.
Dave--Here's a small letter to the editor I found from the last promoter who staged races at Tunis in the early 80s. This was just before the track held its final race in 1983.
Jim, thanks for sharing that letter written by Keith Knaack, the late publisher of Hawkeye Racing News. When I was Media Relations Director at RIR, I had the pleasure of meeting Keith not too long before his passing when we first ran USAC Silver Crown and Midget cars at Richmond in the early 90s. He was an extremely well versed proponent of auto racing and we were delighted for him to make the cross country trip to our events. We really enjoyed his stories of the Knoxville Nationals and all the racing around Iowa.
Jim, in 2009, Circle Track magazine did a really nice story about Keith Knaack, Iowa racing, Kathy Root and IMCA, which predates NASCAR by 33 years.
Here's the story link:
Thanks for this link. I would like to post this to the Facebook group page I've set up about Tunis and its history. I'm getting quite a bit of information from the site and contacts from all over the country, mostly from family members of former drivers who are diving into old boxes and finding all kinds of things. Hoping this might turn into an interesting book. We'll see what happens!!
Never know what you'll find when old racers open old boxes! Good luck with your project.
Great job, Jim! Love the ghost tracks!
Here's an aerial perspective of the track over the 30 years it functioned...
I messed up...here is the 1950s aerial.