In the early 1950s, the Omaha area had a number of auto racing facilities: Playland Park in Council Bluffs, Grandview in Bellevue, and a one-eighth mile micro-midget track in Ralston.
Then there was Blue Heron Speedway, also known as Riverside Park Speedway. To get there, you went south of Council Bluffs, one mile east of the South Omaha Bridge and one block south of the South Omaha Road, now known as Veterans Memorial Highway.
Blue Heron Speedway was built in 1950 and was originally managed by Paul Moran of Honey Creek, Iowa. The track featured temporary bleachers for about 3,500 fans. The half-mile race track came to life on July 9, 1950, on what would be a dreary, drizzly day. Only 20 cars and 700 fans showed up to battle the weather.
Despite the bad weather, the program went off without a hitch and there were no accidents. The big winner that day was Omaha's Earl Brockman, who won his heat and the feature.
The next week, things got a lot better, as 51 cars came to test the new track with 2,000 fans in attendance. Omaha's Rex Earl was the big winner, taking his heat, the dash and the feature.
Omaha's Glenn Robey remembers the big half-mile.
“It was very dusty, at times you couldn't see much further than the hood of your race car,” he said.
It wasn't long before management realized they needed a smaller track to provide race fans with more action. By Aug. 7, the drivers had a new and smaller quarter-mile track to race on. Hot rod races and midgets were planned that year in addition to the stock cars.
What happened next is a little sketchy. It is unclear whether they raced at Blue Heron in 1950. And it doesn't appear that Blue Heron raced much, if any, in 1951.
In 1952, track owners John and Ernest Urban completed new permanent grandstands and other features and brought the track back to life as Riverside Park, also called Riverside Park Racing Bowl in some of their advertisements. It would be a busy year for the track and probably its heyday. In addition to the regular stock car races, midget races, hot rod races and micro-midget races were held.
Top-notch drivers who raced at Riverside in 1952 included Bob Parker of Harlan, Iowa, in stock cars; Wayne Selser and Bob Slater of Kansas City, Mo., in midgets and Andy Anderson of Belleville, Kan., in hot rods. Parker won several features in stock cars and later became a top midget driver.
Slater won at least three times, and Selzer twice in the midgets. Anderson won both of the hot rod races held at Riverside in 1952. Parker, who raced at Riverside in the stock cars and the midgets, reflected on his Riverside experiences.
“It wasn't very big as I recall,” Parker told me. “But we did have some success there.”
Other drivers who raced at Riverside and went on to have outstanding racing careers include Jud Larson, Mac McHenry, Bud Burdick and Bob Kosiski.
“As I remember, they didn't have a lot of equipment at the facility,” Kosiski said. “They ran in the afternoon, so it would get quite dusty.”
Riverside would continue with an active program of racing in 1953 featuring drivers that included Burdick and Kosiski.
Kosiski would pick up the first of his many track championships at Riverside in 1953. The track hung on for a while but eventually faded into history as another “ghost track” of the area. But in its day, some drivers called it the best track in the area.
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