The SLMR touring series was scheduled to make its first visit to the US30 Speedway just west of Columbus on Thursday.
That sent my mind flashing back to the mid-1960s when a couple of us racing fans from Kearney would make the two-hour-plus trek on Sunday nights down U.S. Highway 30 a couple of times a year to Columbus to visit arguably the most successful outstate Nebraska track of its day: Skylark Raceway.
Opened in 1961, the ¼-mile racing facility on the east side of Columbus soon became a hotbed of Nebraska racing. When Kearney reopened its fairgrounds track in 1962, racing every other Sunday afternoon, it would usually run the Modified feature (couples and sedans) before the jalopy feature. This enabled Modified drivers like Willie Hecke, Wendell Cummings, Harry Hoff and others to take off to Columbus for the Skylark’s Sunday night show.
In 1962, Omaha’s Sunset Speedway and Skylark teamed up to run the Omaha vs. Columbus Challenge, or Midwest Championship. That first race at Skylark on Sept. 1, 1962, saw Sunset veteran Bill Wrich defeat a 50-plus car field representing five states.
The next attempt at Skylark was apparently rained out, but after two races at Sunset won by Jim Wyman (representing Sunset) in 1964 and Lyle Roucka (representing Skylark) in 1967, the series made its final appearance at Skylark on Sept. 16, 1967, with Omaha’s Dave Milbourne picking up the win.
While Dick Small of Columbus won the first track championship in 1961, the man to beat at Skylark was always Hecke, then racing out of Holdrege. Hecke, behind the wheel of the legendary Purple and White No. 1 Mighty Mouse owned by John Davisson, was the leader for years at Skylark and every other track he raced at in Nebraska.
Other Skylark champions who come to mind are Tom Topil of Rising City, Russ Brahmer of Wisner and Cummings of Hastings. Other Skylark drivers from those days included Gerald Bruggeman, Gene Brudigan, Stan Haack, Milo Stodola, Jim Stewart, Eddie Walther, Red Westerman and Don Smith.
When I returned from the Marines in 1970, I went back to the track (then called Platte Valley Speedway) but it wasn’t the same. The crowd was smaller and so was the car count. It closed in 1973, with the site eventually turned into a feed mill. But in its day Skylark Raceway was the place to be in central Nebraska on Sunday nights.
In 2001, Skylark veteran driver Abe Lincoln built the US30 Speedway and once again Columbus-area drivers had a place to race. After Lincoln’s death, his family has continued the tradition. So while Skylark Raceway may be a ghost track of the past, its legacy lives on in the US30 Speedway.
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