Sports and competition have been an important part of Sioux City’s history since the nineteenth century. Certainly, one of the most popular forms of entertainment just after the turn of the century was automobile racing. It became a famous pastime across the United States, but especially in Sioux City. Racetracks for both horses and cars were scattered across the city. Sioux City’s most famous racing event, however, was the Mini Indy. It was the highlight of auto racing in Sioux City and Iowa.
The history of racing in Sioux City dates back to the 1890s when horses were run around the Evans Driving Park located at Twentieth and Center Streets. Later these races were moved to the Interstate Fair fairgrounds in southern Riverside in 1903. There the race goers had more room and a large one-mile oval track. Only a few years after this move automobiles became very popular and affordable. Racing of automobiles became incredibly popular only a few years later and thousands gathered to see them at the fairgrounds and at tracks across the country. These early races at the fairgrounds involved mostly local racers, but the idea of attracting world famous racers was on the way.
His idea received positive responses from his business friends and other influential people in Sioux City. Shortly after his idea to hold a race in the town, the Sioux City Automobile Club and Speedway Association were formed. The formation of both organizations helped grow the idea of automobile racing in the city. Soon local promoters from the Speedway Association began the search for a location on which to build the new two-mile track.
Eventually, a site for the track was found. It was not in Sioux City, but just across the Big Sioux River on the acreage of William Stevens. The area was perfect, it was flat and did not require much work to build a suitable track. The track opened in 1912, but it had no grandstand and few facilities for drivers and audiences. In this early time, the track was used much like the one at the fairgrounds, mostly for local drivers and small crowds. Sometimes famous drivers would come for a race and add a little more interest to the sport.
In the years between 1912 and 1914 the track’s grandstand was constructed. Also, in preparation for big races, members of the Speedway Association went to work constructing a professional dirt track. They used 30,000 gallons of crude oil and dirt to build the track instead of using concrete. The association also had an electric timing system, built by Stewart Warner, installed.
In 1914, the history of automobile racing was forever changed in Sioux City. That year the city held the “Fourth of July Classic” car race. This race was sponsored by the American Automobile Association and heavily promoted by the Sioux City Journal. It was a 300-mile race and many of the greatest names in the sport were expected to attend.
Just as the Sioux City planners had expected, the race attracted some of the biggest names in the sport. Seventeen competitors passed the time trials and were allowed to drive in the big 4th of July race. Barney Oldfield was expected to win the race, as he had been victorious in so many races. Earlier in 1914 he had taken fifth place at the Indianapolis 500 and his arrival in Sioux City became a major media event. Sixteen other racers were preparing for the competition including, Spencer Wishart, Eddie Rickenbacher, Howard Wilcox, “Wild” Bob Burman, George Mason, Harry Grant, Billy Knipper, George Babcock, Ralf Mulford, W.J. Shrunk, Billy Chandler, Mel Stringer, Cyrus Patschke, Tom Alley and Gil Anderson. Harry Wetmore was the only driver from Sioux City to compete in the race.
The event was huge for Sioux City. The original crowd of 10,000 for which Wycott had hoped was surpassed. Nearly 50,000 people attended the race. More than half of the audience was from outside of the city. Sioux City’s hotels were packed; some places had ten men to a room. Wealthy Chicagoans and Easterners came in their private railcars hoping to see the event.
The race began at eleven in the morning on the 4th of July. Those in attendance went wild as the starting flag was dropped. Clouds of exhaust filled the air. As the race progressed many drivers had to quit because their cars had mechanical failures. Oldfield’s racecar was one of seven that failed to complete the race because of mechanical problems. The victory instead went to Eddie Rickenbacher, a somewhat unknown driver. He finished the race in just under four hours with an average speed of 78.6 miles per hour. After his victory in Sioux City, he had risen to fifth in the National Championship point standings. He was pleased with his win and said Sioux City’s track was the best in the country.
The people of Sioux City and the event’s promoters were so pleased with the results of the first race that they decided to hold another race in 1915. Racing in Sioux City continued long after the Mini Indy was eventually cancelled. Races went on at the track in Riverview Park for three more decades. Other tracks and events sprang up over the years, but nothing would compare to the first 300-mile race. Certainly, the Mini Indy was a great event for Eddie Rickenbacher, but it was also a great event for Sioux City. Since the nineteenth century Sioux City and the region have been fortunate to have world-class automobile races, and even compare to the Indianapolis 500.
Automobile Racing, Sioux City Public Museum, SC54.
Automobile Racing, Sioux City Public Museum, SC55.
Automobile Racing, Sioux City Public Museum, SC63.
Fabritz, Earl C. “Sioux City’s Mini Indy: The 1914 Inaugural 300,” Bulb Horn vol. 47 no.2, April-June 1986, 29-34.