Steve Bechtel has nothing against movie theaters. Heck, they’ve even entertained race fans over the years with films like “Days of Thunder,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and even the kids’ favorite, “Cars,” which turned into a franchise.
Bechtel, who does a little bit of everything at the Grundy County Speedway, knows what the Speedway offers, and it’s fun for all ages that’s affordable.
“You go to the movies nowadays and you can’t even get in for less than it costs to get into the racetrack,” Bechtel says. “We like to think we offer something for the big fans, the casual ones and those looking for something new.”
Inexpensive concessions and affordable admission rates, allowing those 11-years-old and under in for free, keeping fans active by launching free T-shirts, and obviously fast-paced, exciting racing are key reasons why the track continues to be popular.
“I always tell people when you come to the racetrack you use all five senses,” Bechtel says. “There’s the track and smell of racing fuel and rubber being burned by cars and with multiple divisions there’s a distinct sound to all of them. We have a lot of people who tell stories about how they came here as kids and it stuck with him. As a kid, you see the speed of the cars or a spinout and the hair on the back of your neck sticks up. It’s a cool experience that can last forever.”
Grundy County Speedway’s history goes back well over 100 years when it began as the home of the Grundy County Fair in the early 1900s in Mazon. Soon after it became a destination for horse racing. In the 1920s, men began racing cars for the first time, driving home-built and modified cars without cages, seat belts or helmets that reached close to 50 miles per hour. As the annual fair grew a new track was built in 1971 at its current site, at 8890 N Rt. Illinois 47 in Morris.
One of the ways the Speedway is connecting with kids is with the unique Kids Co-Pilot Program where every Friday night at least one driver passes out ballots to the kids who are11 and under. If the driver on the ballot wins a feature event, the kid is allowed on the track to get their photo taken with the winning driver and are given a matching trophy.
“The kids get to have a cool moment with the driver,” Bechtel says. “We’ve heard stories about kids being so excited that they go home and sleep with the trophy and year’s later are still taking about. This is another way we make it fan friendly.”
But Grundy isn’t the only place to get your fix of speed and excitement. Check out any of these local venues all season long:
9752 Forest Hills Rd, Loves Park
Nestled along the breezy outskirts of Rockford is Illinois' only high-banked asphalt ¼-mile bullring, which enters its 71st season in 2018. Some regular visitors and competitors lovingly refer to Rockford as "Mini Bristol", a comparison to the famous NASCAR track down in Tennessee, and for good reason. The small, steeply banked track encapsulates a lot of the Bristol atmosphere with some of the closest, most competitive stock car racing in the Midwest. For the fans, a very affordable ticket and not a bad seat in the
house await, so it’s well worth it for any race fan to go see Saturday night short track racing at its gritty best. Multiple racing divisions fill the event card each weekend, so there’s a little something for everyone. The season began in April with the annual Spring Classic and caps off with the much-heralded National Short Track Championships and the wildly fun Bahama Brackets in the fall. In between, the weekly Saturday night show at Rockford is always a blast.
50W086 IL-64, Maple Park
If dirt track racing is more of your thing, then look no further than the venerable Sycamore Speedway, now in its 55th season. With four divisions of racing action on Friday nights and another four on Saturdays throughout the season, plus special events, Sycamore offers a lot of variation for your redlining, mud-slinging enjoyment. In addition to the racing action, the always entertaining Winner's Circle Bar is located next to the track, and a place to gather with fellow racing fans for pre- and post-race enjoyment. Conveniently located along Route 64 just up the road from both St. Charles and DeKalb.
Blackhawk Farms Raceway
15538 Prairie Rd, South Beloit
Located just a short jaunt to the north from Rockford Speedway sits Blackhawk Farms Raceway. For all the road racing enthusiasts out there, "the 'Hawk" has you covered. Fans of auto, motorcycle, and vintage road course racing should check out the expansive 1.95-mile, seven-turn track that hosts many local, regional and national events including SCCA. There are some great features for fans at Blackhawk Farms too. Want to learn road racing? The Level Up Racing School is on site and offers professional instruction on how to tackle the challenges of the track and have a lot of fun in the process. Are you a private pilot or know someone who is and want to literally fly in for some racing? A unique feature of Blackhawk is that it has its own private grass airstrip for small planes located right on the track property. The track operates from March through October. The full schedule, track, event and ticket info can be found on the track's website.
500 Speedway Blvd, Joliet
Located directly across the property from Rt. 66 Raceway is the 1.5-mile tri-oval that is home to NASCAR Weekend June 28-July 1. The big racing weekend will include the Camping World Truck Series Overton's 225, the Xfinity Series Overton's 300, and capped off by the Monster Energy Series Overton's 400. Chicagoland is now in its 17th season and from a fan's perspective you can't beat the amazing sightlines and on-site entertainment during race weekend. These include live music, track tours, campground parties, festival-style vendors, family-friendly activities and more. The track also hosts other special events and big car shows throughout the summer and is home to the Richard Petty Driving Experience. If you think those in-car camera views on TV just aren't enough and you've always wanted to ride in – or drive – a real NASCAR-style race car, then here's your chance! Learn from stock car racing professionals and hop in a fully functional, big horsepower racing machine to take some high-speed laps around the track!
Route 66 Raceway
W. Schweitzer Rd, Elwood
www.route66raceway.com and www.dirtoval66.com
Since opening in 1999, this state-of-the-art drag racing facility in Joliet has thrilled fans and competitors from all over the world. Route 66 offers a full slate of local and national drag racing throughout the spring, summer and fall, highlighted by the thunderously fun NHRA Nationals May 31-June 3. As a great bonus, sitting right beside the dragstrip is the Route 66 Dirt Oval. The high-banked, 1/2 -mile clay racetrack has its own schedule of racing events throughout the season including UMP Late Models, Sprint Cars, Monster Trucks and the famous Tournament of Destruction, which is comprised of several Demolition Derbies. These are hugely popular nights for local spectators that not only feature wild smash-'em-up chaos, but great music, food, giveaways and more. Events at the dirt oval regularly sell out, so don't miss them!
Drive of a lifetime
Autobahn gets fans out of the stands and behind the wheel
Are you a fan of speed and thrills? Have you ever wanted to test your own driving ability on a fun and challenging road course?
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of those, then the Autobahn Country Club may be the place for you.
Located at 3795 CenterPoint Way in Joliet, the Autobahn operates with the idea that anyone – at any age or driving skill level – can hit the track and have some fun in a safe, controlled environment without worrying about a speeding ticket.
Several levels of membership to the club are available with varying benefits, but you do not have to be a member to drive the track.
“The Autobahn Experience” is one of several pre-packaged options available and is the most popular option for public visitors. Following mandatory classroom instruction from the professional staff, you can buckle up in either the vehicle you brought, or test drive one of the many available rides in the on-site fleet. Everything from pro Go-Karts to performance vehicles are there to choose from. Rest assured, by the time you get on the track, you will feel comfortable and confident to tackle the untamed course. “There is plenty of instruction. You go at your own pace and its really geared to each person’s skill set and comfort level,” general manager Kevin Rodgers says. Food and hospitality are also included with each package to truly round out the experience.
Many dates and times are open for non-members to drive, or the track can be rented for corporate or group events. Pricing varies with each, and whether you’re there for a half day or full day.
Joliet native Jason Hurst is a regular visitor to the Autobahn Country Club. He had virtually no road racing experience at first, but over time has become a competent performance driver, thanks to the expert instruction provided by the Autobahn staff.
“They teach you how to safely push your car to the limit, and due to the great layout of the track, the chances of damaging your vehicle are real low. There is a lot of open space and no objects in your way out there, so you feel really safe to let it rip,” Hurst says.
The track operations staff is made up largely of off-duty service men and women and safety is their chief concern. There is also additional adult and teen driver safety training available beyond the initial instruction you receive before taking to the track. These courses teach more advanced skills that are not learned in a standard driver’s education course. So, whether you are flooring it down a long straightaway or experiencing G-forces pull you through a hairpin turn, feeling safe and secure are paramount. This in turn creates confidence and that helps make the whole experience that much more enjoyable and exciting.
“It’s really just a lot of fun,” Hurst says.
For the true racing enthusiast or those who just want an even bigger adrenaline rush, the on-site Radical Racing School is about as close to true professional road racing as you may get. These fully capable racing machines go from 0 to 60 in just three seconds and feature all the incredible handling, speed and performance you can imagine. Customized learning from the Pro Race Instruction Team is tailored to any skill level, so you will feel prepared to take one of these thrilling rides for a spin.
Full information about the different levels of membership, track rentals, driving experiences and instructional schools can be found by visiting the Autobahn Country Club's website at www.autobahncc.com, or by calling 815-722-2223.