Dave Hellerich's Playland Memories  

Dave is an ex-Playland racer living in Conway Arkansas, look for other pics supplied by Dave on the pictures page and race results page....

 

 

My first recollection of Playland speedway was in the early 50ís, my folks had just bought our first house and one of our neighbors was a relative of Bud Aikenhead. TV was still rather new but they did broadcast the races from Playland on friday or Saturday night. The picture was fair and of course in black and white but it hooked me on racing forever. All the neighbor kids, including myself, would re-inact those races with our Radio Flyer wagons. Since we lived on top of a hill, we would race side by side at breakneck speed for several blocks, sometimes crashing etc. We had a pit area and worked on those wagons as if they were the real thing. I had already made up my mind that someday I would drive a stock car. 

As the years went by and I got my first car, a 1950 Studebaker, the dream was still haunting me. Sunset had opened and a few of us would drive out and watch on Sunday nights. I am not sure what night Playland ran but I do remember the big tree on the river levy behind the board fence that sometimes we would climb up in and watch for free. Also remember cars off to the side of the new interstate watching also until the police made them move on. 

Did a lot of drag racing and go karts too (rental tracks was all that was available). Met Larry Morton thru my future wife who was working for the same company and started to go to the races with him, became an obsession with me and spent all my spare time helping him and going to the track. Larry had a 34 Plymouth coupe #23 and had rolled it over several times (was involved with Don Augustus racing team for awhile). 

     

One night at Playland Larry flipped in the #3 corner and after getting out safely, the car burst into flames, the officials tried to put it out but there fire extinguishers did not work and the car burned completely up.

#23 Larry Morton airborne at Playland 1960 in Turn #3 .   Second pic is next day and the remains of car 23 after the wreck and fire.

 Abe Slusky gave Larry a cash amount and also took up a collection in the stands to replace the car (I think it was something like 450.00). One of the Rydbergs who raced, had a coupe body in their yard and gave it to Larry. We put it on the burnt frame and checked out the engine ( 6cyl Chrysler) and got new tires etc. He raced it awhile after that but the frame was so tweaked it never was right. Larry bought another car from Augustus and I bought the old one for 75.00. 

This is myself after I bought #23 from Larry for 75.00. We had put a new body on it and then he bought   

Put in a stock Desoto six that a guy gave me and went racing (no trailer in those days just pulled on a tow bar). First time behind the wheel was so nervous I couldnít get the belt fastened with out help, but when the engine fired up and I made a lap or two, all fear was gone. I was 21 yrs old then (1961), never did win a race with that car but had a good time and learned a lot from it. Didnít have any slicks to run at Playland so did most of my racing at Sunset on the dirt. Did borrow some slicks a few times and race on the asphalt with that old Plymouth , after I had put a new frame under it. Hit the guard rail at Sunset one night and bent that frame good, so I took the car apart and sold it piece by piece. Bought a 32 Ford sedan from Al Costintino , who was a friend of Mike Dizona. 

Bought this 32 Ford from Al Cosentino after two years with #23 and then wrecking it, frame bent bad.    Started with a flathead engine then went to a 289 Cobra engine

Had a flathead in it and was built very good, showed it in the auto show too. That's when I started to race Friday at Playland and Sunday at Sunset. 

One thing I remember about Playland with the Plymouth was that even if you ran dead last all night, Abe Slusky always paid everybody something for just being there. Some of the racers that I had the privilege to compete with there were Bud Burdick, Don Ronk, Bob Kosiski, Bob Cave, John Beeman, Kurt Lind, Jim Wyman and so many more that the list is endless. There was a one armed fellow that drove a 47 Ford coupe( donít recall his name) one night he lost a wheel and it flew into the pit area striking a gentleman by the name of Ernie Matz, breaking his leg. He recovered and ended up building and maintaining a 32 Plymouth coupe that was later driven by Bob Kosiski. I bought a 33 Ford coupe from a friend of Glen Robey, that was after they switched to overhead V8ís, after the Plymouth I ran the #67 on my cars. in 68 went to Vietnam and when I returned they had switched to late model cars (55 on up). Bought a 65 Mustang from a fellow that ran it at Playland but never could get used to driving full fender coil spring cars. My brother did build a 55 Chev with a Ford straight axle front end, it was owned by Motor City Used Cars. #9. It wasnít to long after that that Playland was torn down. Every time I return to visit relatives, I feel sad when I drive by the old track site. So many memories of good times and good friends. Now Sunset is gone too and I guess we have to accept it but those years were some of the best for me. I have a million more stories of those racing days and maybe someday will write more about them. By the way does anyone out there remember the mini stocks at Playland? One that sticks in my mind is a Volkswagon with a 348 Chev mounted in it, I think maybe Bob Jura owned it but not sure. Keep up the good work at GOTRA, us old-timers really appreciate it.

 

Note from Dan: The volkswagon was owned by Larry Jiskra and he raced against the regular stockers.  He rammed a power pole and the car caught fire, burning Larry in the process. This adventure caused the ban on foreign cars, until the mini-stock class started up.  My uncle Dave Franks was Larry's pit crew..... Dan Franks

Dec 2002

Just returned from a trip to Omaha from my home in Arkansas, as I came into Council Bluffs headed to the big O, I glanced to my right and saw the soccer fields where the Playland Speedway once was. Flashbacks of many good times racing there were abundant, I believe the two awesome cottonwood trees on the backstretch are still standing. If they could only give us a history lesson on what they must have witnessed in Playland's life span. I still have vivid recollections of my experiences on and off the track and will try to send them as I can. Met with Howard Kozoil Jr. who I have been corresponding with on the internet. He graciously took myself and my wife on a tour of some of the old and new places of stock car racing memorabilia that is so much part of my past. Kosiskiís Racing, Bud Burdicks residence etc. Back in Arkansas I thought about Danís site and decided maybe I could pass on some of my memories for all to savor.

  The first one to mind is about the large wooden roller coaster that once stood in awesome elegance for all to ride, except me, went on it once as a child and never got over the harrowing and somewhat sickly excursion. But my greatest adventure as a teen was to watch the stock cars and smell the odors of rubber and exhaust along with the incredible sounds they made on that oval. Afterwards we would head for the bumper cars and re-enact the races, I envisioned being on that oval and beating the Burdicks and Aitkenheads to the checkered flag. As luck and perseverance would have it, I was able to fulfill my dream, other than being first at the finish. I did win  some races in my day but they came few and far between for several reasons.  

Fun was the main objective and yes, winning was always the goal, but friendship and hanging around those of such driving talent, always gave me much satisfaction. Sitting on a bench in the midway area one night with Bud Aitkenhead, I began to pick his brain about past racing days, trying to get some speed or driving secrets from him (which he did help me with later on). One story he related was when he first started racing, it was with a model A roadster. This was an everyday driver and he said that on weekends , he would drive it to Sioux City and race it on the dirt. No roll cage only a leather sided helmet of sorts and regular tires that came with the Ford. I asked about seat belts and to this day get a chuckle out of his response, Bud was a fairly tall and slender fellow, a fairly large leather belt kept his britches cinched up. When arriving at  the Sioux City track he would remove that belt and loop it thru the seat frame  and that was his makeshift safety belt. I donít know how he faired when back in the pits keeping those pants up, but had heard of other early racers doing the same thing.

  More on my racing at Playland and other memories will be coming as I get time to savor and write them down. Thanks Howard and Dan for giving us old guys a chance to relive the past and maybe enlighten the new generation to how great those days were.  

 

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This was at Sunset with brother Steve and myself along with brother-in-law Bob Billings. Had 289 in it. 

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Steve Hellerich in the Motor City 55 Chev. Steve got into the fence off #2 corner and flipped. Notice old Ford front axle on the car, made handling great back then. He was dazed and afterwards the owners of the car took the car and never was raced again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mscra.jpg (79267 bytes)Dave's MSCRA membership cards.

 

 

 

imca.jpg (47084 bytes)Dave's IMCA membership card

I drove this midget for a fellow by the name of Bill Sundett. Had a V8 60hp Ford flathead. Raced it at several tracks around Omaha and Oskalooska, IA. Took it to Fargo ND. and had problems (as always). Far cry from what they run now, (1964 season.) 

My younger brother Gregg was 8yrs old and let him sit in it for the pic. midget.jpg (94088 bytes) Note the hand brake and also fuel pressure pump on side of body. Had to steer with one hand, pump the fuel pressure up with the other when got low and then if brake was needed pull on that lever, whew, was not easy. Love the width of those tires too, Bud Aikenhead drove it after I got fed up with the problems and he gave up on it also. Car was sold to a man in Texas in 1965.

Just had to say again what a excellent job you have done keeping the site up and the memories of a wonderful past. As I read these drivers stories and look at the pictures, I sometimes can hear the roar of the engines and smell the rubber and fuel as those cars sped around the asphalt. Closing my eyes I also see the crowds in the stands, men in the pit area working feverishly to ready their racers for another heat and maybe the checkered flag. Smells of popcorn, beer and cotton candy drift into my nostrils. As our country prepares for a very dangerous time of war and economic chaos, those great memories you have kept alive, somehow brings some peace and contentment to my inner being. Thank you my friend.

3-3-03 

It was July 4th, 1965 or 66 that I took my 32 Ford sedan, #67, to Playland for the weekly program. Was running a 301ci Chevy engine with 3speed Chevy gear box and a 51 Olds rear end. Do not remember the order of finish in the heat races but remember starting near the back in one of the features. 

During the remaining heats would go sit in the stands and watch with my wife and friends. There was a 36 Ford coupe #36 that had the rear trunk cut off (bob tailed) running in a race. Do not recall the drivers name, every time he would go into the corners the front end would push right out to the rail. When he would back off the throttle, the front end would bite and throw the car hard left back to the track groove.

In the feature that I ran, he started on the outside of me and I was remembering the way he pushed in each corner, green flag came out and we roared down into #1 turn, going into 2, the leading pack of cars kind of split apart and I thought I would go up the middle and gain a few spots. Thinking of #36 and the way it pushed I was expecting a bump on my right rear as he caught hold of track and shot back left into traffic. Boy was I right, he did just that but my rear tire overrode his left front and in a flash I was flipped up and over onto the drivers side of my car.

Remember looking at the sky and stars and thinking this is neat, hanging on to the steering wheel tightly and never lifting off the gas, I slid the whole length of the backstretch in a shower of sparks from the body chewing up asphalt. Back then there were no window nets and the fuel tank was a 5gal jerry can mounted in the rear of the passenger side of the car. Had a 30gal drum bolted over it for a fire shield, this was my main concern with all those sparks being directed into the car. I thought to myself, better bail out quick, car still moving but I grabbed the seat belt latch and before I could pop it open, was rear-ended by John Beaman and old 67 flopped back on it's wheels violently, breaking the spring perches on the rear end. Good thing I had not released that belt or I probably would have been tossed out of the car. Did climb out after stopping and thought, this was kind of fun, put on a free fireworks show for the fans. This long story actually took all of 10 to 20 seconds to happen but it seems like an eternity when your inside that car. Came out with no injuries but the next day was sore as I had ever been, all over. Everyone's concern was that my arm had been under that car as it slid but believe me I was gripping that wheel like a pair of vise grips. Car was parked and I bought a 33 Ford coupe from Glenn Robey and raced it until going to Vietnam in 68. Came back in 70 and the coupes were history so bought Roger Nixon's Mustang, will tell of that experience at a later date. Believe it or not, almost 40 yrs has passed and I can still relive that night as well as most others in my driving days, as if it were yesterday. With this site we all can enjoy our memories. Thanks Dan, from all of us.

4-18-2003

After returning from Vietnam and the late model cars had replaced the coupes and sedans, sold my 33 Ford coupe to Jack Kesting's (another Playland driver) brother in Norfork Ne. Was offered to drive a car at Playland by a fellow worker named Ray Hopkins, who with his son Jim, lived in the Bluff's. Paul Zdan was running a 64 Chevelle convertible with a wing on top, Ray and Jim, not to be outdone, built a 57 Chevy convertible also with a wing on top. The first night it was brought out, they got to the track late and I had to buckle in and barely got on the tail end of the last heat race. Never having been in this car before, it was a learning deal on how it would handle. Had a very strong engine but lacked some chassis tuning and the 4speed trans kept coming out of gear.

  The following week was assured the problems were fixed, trying to drive that car was still a chore, right front spring was binding on the weight jack insert and it hopped around the corners like being on a pogo stick and pushed the front end badly. The supers ran 12 or 14in wide slicks and no power steering in most, I was of small stature and weighed in at maybe 150lbs so wrestling this hulk around Playland's small oval was a real task for me anyway. Made the A feature one night and drove a little harder than should have, bunny hopping this machine around each corner, with a few laps to go began to get lapped by the leader Ron Tilley. Tried to stay on the bottom as was usual when being lapped, after he was by, kept watching the flagman(Stan Cisar) for the move over flag but was not given it so when going into #4 turn on the bottom, nailed the gas and shot to the outside because of the push and bounce that had plagued this car. At the same time 2nd place car of Wally Nisson was lapping me and I hit him square in the left front blowing his tire and also his chances of making a good finish.

 Well that was not a good thing for me, after the races the pits were closed to the public and I was approached by several crew members in an angry mood. The local police and Mr. Hopkins kept the violence to a minimum, the next day at the job I told Ray that if he did not do something about that car I would not drive it again and I never did. I think Larry Osborn tried it and then Denny Fox drove it for awhile. After that I did purchase Roger Nixons Mustang and ran it a few times till I ruined the engine, that story will come at a later time.

10-09-03 Dave sent this answer to KatFisherman13's question on the Odds and Ends page:

I knew Al Consintino very well, purchased #67 32 Ford sedan from him and raced it many years. He was a good car builder and worked hand in hand with Mike Dizona. 
67noengine.jpg (27422 bytes) After I bought the sedan with the Ford flathead engine, Al built a 32 Chevy coupe with 301ci engine(after the rule change for overhead valve V8's. Then later on when they switched to late model cars, he built a 53 Chevy with 100,000 mile junkyard engine in it and 5:13 gears in the rear end. To save money he took the guts out of the hydraulic lifters and made them into solids to run on the cam he installed. The car screamed at Playland and he won a feature with it too. He also built a Studebaker Lark with a Chevy engine but I don't remember seeing it run to many times before I went in the service.


Al and Mike worked together on Mike's late model cars in later years. Al had worked for many years for PIE trucking and then had some health problems that finally led to his passing. I have no pictures of his Chevy or the 53 and the Studebaker, but I have a picture of 67 when I got it from him and took the engine out for overhaul. somewhere I have a picture of Al sitting on a moped in the pits at Sunset, will post it for you when I can find it if you want. 
Rich Novotny ran a 32 Ford coupe as I remember, I think it was #99. do remember an incident at Sunset when Bud Burdick was passing him on the front straightaway and Rich's left rear axle broke and the wheel and axle came out on the track and Bud ran over it and sent V8 into the air and hit very hard on it's top. Bud suffered a very bad back injury and was taken to the hospital but recovered from it shortly. 

6-3-2004

With the upcoming fathers day 2004, I was reminded of a race I attended at Playland, celebrating fathers day. 

Seems it was in the early 70's but not sure on that, Paul Zdan had qualified for the "A" feature along with others. Intermission came and there was to be a race with fathers of drivers, strapping into their son's cars and taking on the other dad's in a race. Do not remember the names of most but Paul's dad was going to show them all a thing or two. It was with the 64 Chevelle #10 I believe. Total cars was somewhere in the six to eight range and Mr. Zdan definitely had the advantage, the heat of battle was getting very interesting. #10 and another misplaced name and car on my part, were coming off #2 corner side by side and it was a true drag race down the back chute. As turn 3 approached, neither senior drivers was going to give an inch, no left turn made and the cars slammed into the wall. No injuries to either driver but young Paul had to do some quick repairs to his car to make the main event. Don't think Mr. Zdan drove it again?, wish I could remember the other fellows name though. Maybe someone here can recall it, these little tidbits of memory just pop up now and then and hope they make for good reading for the other folks.

Dave Hellerich Sr.

Conway Arkansas

email--toddh@arkansas.net

 

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