THE W.H. LYONS RACETRACK
The W.H.LYONS RACETRACK @ The Sioux Empire Fairgrounds
The W.H. Lyons Race track was first built on land donated by the Lyons Family in the 1940's - the original layout of the track would have placed the back stretch to the west of the current grandstand, while the former wooden bleachers would have sat in the location which would the infield looking west at the current grandstand itself. The original wooden bleachers were burned in a fire in the late 1940's while the track was redesigned in the early 50's with, while building the current grandstand in its present location today.
The track was very large, where most tracks are 1/2 mile in length, the W.H Lyons Track was actually a 5/8 mile length track - it had its quirks such as the dog leg approach headed into turn one, while turns 3 and 4 actually were wider than turns 1 and 2. While the original track itself was built in 1940 to hold horse races, it soon became evident that automobile racing was quickly becoming more popular in the area, and the track began holding Stock Car Events, IMCA Sprint Cars, and Fair Races in the mid to late 40's. As the racing scene began to become more popular in the are with the the establishment of Soo Speedway and Huset Speedway in the mid 1950's, the W.H Lyons Racetrack became more popular holding local events two to three times a year, twice during the Sioux Empire Fair, once in September to hold the Sertoma Charity Races, and finally the National Cheaters Day Events in late September on an annual basis.
The track held automobile races pretty regularly from 1946 to 1999, until the Minnehaha County Fairboard decided to turn the property into a parking lot. There were some on the fairboard who felt the track was too expensive to maintain, although no feasible study had ever been done, and no interest by the county itself was brought forward to put forth a serious effort to invest into the track itself. There are, in fact, some members of the Minnehaha County Commission over the past twenty years who have stated that a racetrack is just too expensive to maintain, despite the fact locally owned non-profit organizations, the business community, and the local racing community all offered to help contribute to the investment. It really came down to the fact, one or two members of the fairboard felt the need for the parking lot outweighed any sense of 'revenues' that a local racetrack could bring to the county itself. Not to mention the steady arm of the City of Sioux Falls government breathing down their neck to remove the 'noise' polluted atmosphere of the race car engines in the area.
Keep in mind, many towns in the Midwest, the same size as Sioux Falls have all benefited from racetracks in their own backyard, two to mention are Jackson Speedway in Minnesota and Knoxville Raceway in Iowa. Both tracks hold events several times a year that bring thousands of traveling fans to the area, and with those fans, bring 'tax dollars' to the area. So, to say the track would not have generated sufficient revenues to pay for the investments, the maintenance, and the events, is a weak one at best.
But all we have today are memories, and this past week, I took a trip to the former track site, to see if I could catch a glimpse of any hidden remains to the track itself, and what I found was amazing, there are several places left today, where you can still today see the evidence of a former track, mainly turns three and four on the northern side along the quarry.
Turns 3 and 4 of the former W.H Lyons Racetrack. What was a large 5/8 mile track, here I am standing on what was Turn Four approach to the Front Stretch. Keep in mind turns 3 and 4 were wider than 1 and 2 mainly because you had to get to the grandstand area, which set you up for the dog leg approach into turn 1.
I recently made a trip out to the Fairgrounds to locate any remaining parts to the former track, and to my liking, turns 3 and 4 are left entirely intact. The trees, shrubs, and man make little lake sits just inside turn 3 most likely dug up to transplant dirt when raising the land to build the parking lot.
Turns 3 and 4 sit just outside the parking lot, and just to the south of the old Quarry gravel road that ran alongside the turn.
You can see the spot where the guard rails once stood, while looking across to where turns 1 and 2 are opposite turns 3 and 4.
Turn 1 would not be far from the Expo Building, the spot where Jerry Richert and Gabby Lusk tangled in the 1985 Cheaters Day. While turn 2 would be just to the left of the wooden utility boards that still stand outside turns 1 and 2 about the spot where Jim Mathews lost his life upon crashing I to the guard rail.
The infamous dog leg approach to turn one happens to be the spot where the Entrance Gate is today, while a portion of the front stretch is left in front of the grand stand still used today for concerts, tractor pulls, and other events.
Much of the parking lot serves as the massive infield, while the backstretch runs along the eastern edge of the parking lot heading along the tree line into the approach to turn 3.
And as you walk along turns 3 and 4, you can still see a portion of the old infield, while witnessing just how much the raised and leveled the land for the parking lot itself.
The entire land area making up the W.H LYONS FAIRGROUNDS was a gift to the county to be a place for all people to gather, and because of the terms set forth in the patent rights, shall remain forever a county Fairgrounds area.
A racetrack is lost to time, but if you look closely you will see its remains today, and below, I will provide you a glimpse of a previous Cheaters Day event run on the massive 5/8 mile racetrack by watching the following video below, the 1998 National Cheaters Day won by Donny Schatz prior to him joining the World of Outlaws traveling series, where he has gone on to win several national titles, the Knoxville Nationals, and became an iconic name in Sprint Cars.
1998 National Cheaters Day at the W.H Lyons Racetrack at the Sioux Empire Fairgrounds