MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Did you know the Minnesota State Fair used to have a race track where the need for speed was unmatched?

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shares how a group of retired racers is making sure the State Fair Speedway is never forgotten.

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The “International Motor Contest Association, Old Timers” might be a long name but the group’s mission is pretty simple.

“Preserving the cars. Preserving the memorabilia. And preserving the history,” said Kevin Busse, a former racing announcer.

And they’ve done a good job. From the green flag to the checkered flag, vintage race cars find new purpose after their tires leave the track. The same goes for speedways that no longer exist.

“Back when racing was going full tilt in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, the drivers, if they wanted to, could compete seven days a week,” said Busse.

But times have changed. Some of those Minnesota race tracks have gone by the wayside. That includes the State Fair Speedway that ran for nearly a century, before its final race in 2002.

During the fair there would be races every day starting at noon.

(credit: MN Historical Society)

“Grandstands were always packed. It was a big to-do for the local drivers and the fans,” said Busse. “It gave the local drivers in the day a chance to compete with some of the biggest names in racing like AJ Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Mark Martin.”

The racing greats left behind a museum of memorabilia. After the track closed the IMCA got their hands on eight truckloads worth of memories. And every year they put it on display at the Dakota County Fair.

“This one belonged to Russ Brown. It was autographed and signed from the 1940’s,” said Busse while holding one of Brown’s old helmets. It’s just one of the many donated items left behind.

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Nobody knows that better than the drivers that raced at the State Fair.”

Ron Olson raced at the Great Minnesota Get Together a dozen times, back before Sweet Martha’s and the Giant Slide were major stops. It was one of the biggest tracks he raced on.

“I just loved going fast…fast as I could,” he said. “For many, many, many years it went on and you couldn’t wait until you got to the Fair.”

With his 1960 Buick, Ervin “Blackie” Wangerin is a Minnesota legend. And he used to race at the Daytona 500 against the likes of Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty.

“I ran that 16 straight years,” said Wangerin.

But as fun as that was, it was his home state’s big event that gave him one of his biggest thrills.

“One beautiful track. The corners were nice and you could drive the car just as hard as you wanted to. It was an excellent track,” said Wangerin.

Now, the Grandstand is filled with concert-goers instead of racing fans. But the speedway’s memory lives on in the fast lane thanks to a group of old timers who are always ready to make a memory lane pit stop.

“The fans come out and they just love seeing those items again from what they remember,” said Busse.

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The group is looking for a permanent location for the Speedway museum. Right now, each of its members have boxes of State Fair Speedway memorabilia that they keep at home.

John Lauritsen