Lewistown Raceway celebrating 60 years

Kevin Olson, right, and his son, Kasen, stand near the finish line at the Lewistown Raceway Wednesday. Kasen, a junior dragster, hopes to keep the raceway going and compete in races like his father.
Photo by Charlie Denison

By: 
Charlie Denison
Reporter

The oldest track in Montana reaches a milestone this weekend, as the Lewistown Raceway celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Established in 1957, the track still stands. Track managers Nicole McGimpsey and Vice President Kevin Olson said there are many to thank for its legacy; volunteers, veteran dragsters and race enthusiasts such as Larry Carrel, who helped fund the 2012 repaving project. “We can’t stress how much we appreciate Larry’s hard work and dedication toward the track,” McGimpsey said. “We’re amazed by his generosity toward racers.”

Throughout its 60 years, the Lewistown Raceway has been known for its camaraderie and friendly atmosphere. Dean Stapleton, a veteran racer, has particular enjoyed racing in Central Montana.

“I’ve won a lot of trophies at this track, but even if I lost, I’d enjoy coming out here,” he said. “I’ve gone out and celebrated with the guy who beat me. There is hardly anybody that isn’t friends out here.”

Stapleton used to compete at the raceway in the late 60s and regularly through the 90s and early 2000s. Seeing the raceway today brings him much pride, which is another reason he regularly volunteers in the tech station.

“It looks a lot better than what we envisioned,” he said.

Having a quality track is a huge plus, Kevin added, but what matters most is the atmosphere.

“We’ve tried to make it a fun place,” he said. “Everybody gets along with everybody. It’s good competition, too. We’ve had racers from here go on to win big events. Everybody has a good time.”

Kevin said he didn’t realize how much the track means to some of the racers until he wore a Lewistown Raceway shirt to a racing event in Pomona, California.

“I had five or six people ask me about our track,” he said. “People were telling me they raced there in the 60s and loved it. They all had great things to say about their experience.”

It’s those kinds of memories, Kevin said, that keep the raceway alive, and he wants to do all he can to keep the track going. For many racers, it’s a sanctuary.

“It’s a big deal to hang on to something like this,” Kevin said. “Our membership has dwindled, which makes it an even bigger deal that we are still here. It takes a lot of dedication.”

 

At the starting line

According to National Dragster magazine, the Lewistown Raceway “resulted from the efforts of a local high-school car club, the Roadsturs, which worked to get a portion of an abandoned air base for a makeshift dragstrip.”

Original Roadstur member Marty Storfa recalls this time.

“Jim Conley was the one who really made it happen,” he said. “He was in his 20s and the rest of us were 16-17 years old. We were a bunch of high school kids who just wanted to race.”

The Raceway officially opened in May 1957. The following July, the National Hot Rod Association made it official, signing a charter to make the Raceway fully compliant.

In 1964, Bob Todd took over as manager and changed the track’s name to King Kam Dragway (this didn’t last). By 1968, the Central Montana Racing Association took over. An announcing booth was installed at this time.

The 70s were a colorful time for the raceway. Bill Spevacek’s Pop-A-Top funny car brought a lot of people out, as did Ron Brinkman’s ’64 Chevy Impala, Stapleton’s ’66 Chevelle and Rod Richards’ ’57 Chevy Bel Air.

 

Past meets present

Racers from all over the state are expected to compete this weekend and pay tribute to the track’s rich history.

“I’ve called a bunch of old racers from Glendive, Missoula, Havre and all over and told them about it,” Rod Richards said. “A lot of them said ‘yes, I’m coming down.’”

A Lewistown Raceway veteran since the early sixties, Rod takes great pride in the track, but it’s his older brothers Mike and Glenn who deserve the credit, as they were both instrumental in getting the raceway started.

“My brothers were members of the original Quarter Miler’s Car Club,” Rod said.

The Quarter Miler’s were a group of local youth who operated the drag strip. Many members were originally part of the Roadsturs, including Storfa. Others involved included Dick Erlandson, Wayne Pallet, Jack Maples, Dan Murray and Dick Mintyala.

Storfa said he is pleased to see the raceway continue.

“It’s impressive,” he said. “I hear it’s the longest continuing running strip in the northwest.”

Reflecting on the past, Storfa said he looks back on his days as a Roadstur and Quarter Miler with fondness.

“Those were the golden times, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Everyone was interested in cars.”

 

Shifting gears to the future

The Raceway has come a long way, Rod said, and he’s pleased with the progress.

“I hope in another 60 years the Raceway is still going,” he said. “It’s getting harder to get people out. I don’t want to see it shut down. We hope to see the town continue to support it.”

Kevin’s son, Kasen, a 13-year-old junior racer, also hopes to see the raceway keep going.

“I love the sportsmanship,” he said. “Everyone is so nice. And I love to go fast.”

Just recently, Kasen broke 83 miles per hour at a race in Anaconda. He’s hooked, and he wants to continue in his father’s footsteps. He loves it, and he’s thankful to his father for the opportunity.

“I could never do this without my dad,” Kasen said. “He’s done everything for me.”

Kasen still has a long way to go if he wants to beat his dad’s record of 275 miles per hour when racing in a gravity storm jet car, but he’s in for the long haul. Seeing this kind of enthusiasm for racing from his son means a great deal to Kevin. He hopes to see the same kind of excitement from the community and would love to see a good turnout this weekend.

However, it’s not as easy to get people out to the raceway as it was in Storfa’s era.

“We used to run up and down Main Street with a set of loud speakers on the roof of our cars and tell people to come out to the races,” Storfa said. “It worked!”

Times may have changed, Kevin said, but good times can still be had at the raceway.

“Our gate fees are cheap, the food is great and the beer is cold,” he said. “Come out and enjoy.” 

Time trials begin at 11 a.m. Saturday and racing begins at 3 p.m. On Sunday, time trials begin at 9 a.m. and races begin at 1 p.m.

 

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