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Peoria, Illinois, downstream from Chicago, was always a hot spot among drag race cars and stars. The town has two big attractions, the headquarters of Caterpillar Corp. and the World’s largest strip Coal Mines! During the early days, the area surrounding Peoria produced several big name drag racers, including: Selkirk & Bork, Larry Sheppard, Mears & Hampy, Jim Naramore, Evans, Adams, & Watts, Curtis & Schwartzbaugh, John Burdess, and Jim Feurer.
As I have explained in other issues, Illinois racers were very responsible for the success of Tri State Dragway, just across the Mississippi River from Hamilton, Illinois, the birthplace of Tony Sheffler, long time Lee County Dragway official. Tony became a ‘voice’ for AHRA prior to its demise. Presently he is an announcer at Atlanta Dragway!
On many typical Saturday nights, a large group of racers would head from Kahoka, Mo. across the Miss. River to Greater Peoria Dragway, for their Sunday show.
Up in the north western part of Illinois, between Sterling & Rock Falls, was an 1/8th mile track called ‘Route 88 Dragway Strip’. A number of posts have failed to recognize the track after my first mention about it several months ago. It did exist, because we ran my ’32 Ford Coup there in 1960, and have a trophy from that night with the above inscription. The following day, we trekked on over to Oswego, Ill. and ran again, getting whipped by a Chevy powered roadster for Middle Eliminator. But we did have fun!
At Byron, Ill. is the quarter mile plant, Rockford Dragway, which is managed by one of my era’s great pilots, Ron Leek! And south of Chicago in Joliet, is the newer NHRA plant, aptly called Route 66 Raceway!
South, in middle Illinois, drag racing continued its fever pitch during the ‘60s & 70’s; at places like Peoria, Springfield, Matoon, Havana, Beardstown, Whitehall, and Nashville. Most of these tracks were 1/8th mile venues, which sprung up after the ‘60s success of Tri State Dragway in Kahoka, Missouri.