One Track Fun
April 13, 2017
Cedar Lake Speedway claims a history of fast cars, ardent fans, drivers who test their ego against speed, mile by mile, and at least one marriage proposal.
And since the Kaufman brothers (Chuck, Steve, and Bob) bought the track, the speedway in Richmond, Wisconsin (USA), can also boast about novel approaches to attract thousands of enthusiasts each season.
“People thought we were crazy to even consider buying a racing track,” said Chuck, Director, Allina Health Emergency Medical Service communication center in St. Paul, Minnesota (USA). “I thought this was crazy, but it’s been great fun.”
The three brothers were keen on a business investment. They considered a restaurant in Stillwater, Minn., near their homes in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area.
The deal wasn’t for them.
The real estate agent suggested they take a look at a racetrack developed on a swampy section of farmland owned by a family named Cook at the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Children of the original owner, Elmer Cook, were ready to sell after several decades of successful racing.
Steve and Bob liked the idea, visited the site, and encouraged Chuck to check it out. This was in November 1999, and snow on the ground was about all he could see into the horizon.
“The first thought I had was the maintenance,” Chuck said. “Oh my gosh. Can you imagine? I had no clue. I had never been to a racetrack.”
And this one, he couldn’t even see.
The ability to turn around and sell the 150 acres, if the speedway failed, however, softened Kaufman’s opinion on the deal. He was in with one caveat before closing: have the Cook family help run the operation until the Kaufman brothers were up to speed.
The Cooks agreed and the first Kaufman/Cook race was held in April 2000.
The decision paid off.
Cedar Lake Speedway is now even bigger than Elmer and his son, Bob, ever imagined when a field of 12 cars and 85 spectators were on hand for the opening show in 1957 on a flat clay oval. At the same time, it’s still the noisy, dusty, gritty, and adrenaline-packed racetrack the Cooks had the gumption and vision to create.
The 3/8-mile dirt clay oval track hosts a weekly NASCAR racing program, multi-day events, and special events that benefit the New Richmond community. An indoor arena features motocross races and miniature car racing (quarter midget, slingshots, and micro sprint cars). The existing speedway campground doubled to 1,000 campsites that sell out fast for big name races such as “The Masters,” “USA Nationals,” “Legendary 100,” and the “Triple Crown.”
Purses in the three-day USA Nationals totaling a quarter million, with $50,000 to the winner, invite heavy competition.
Chuck devotes three out of four weekends at the track during the summer, and one week a month at the indoor arena when the outdoor track is closed for the season. Steve is the speedway’s full-time manager, and Bob works there part time. They sell concessions, including T-shirts and their famous pickle-loaded hamburgers, and keep a high profile social media presence. They also have a very good time.
Capacity crowds pack the outdoor stadium in May for the annual Battle of the Buses three-stage, 15- to 20-lap race. Students from nine competing high schools decorate the out-of-circulation buses, and similar to football and basketball games, cheerleaders, mascots, and drill teams line the playing field, cheering the helmeted drivers as they go round and round, passing, blocking, speeding up, and slowing down, and making up time to gain ground on an opponent. Spectators are everything but quiet.
“It’s standing room only,” Chuck said. “People think it’s the best thing going, and, for the kids, it’s all about getting the trophy.”
The success of racing buses led to the Faster Pastor race, which, as the name implies, pits local pastors as they commandeer four-cylinder engine cars. An ambulance turn-over at the first EMS race ended that line of contests. Although the driver wasn’t badly hurt, Chuck figured maybe it was best to keep lights and siren vehicles off the track.
The Kaufmans maintain a family-friendly atmosphere.
They’re not about to drive an end loader-equipped farm tractor into a trailer and sprint car the way Elmer did to discourage striking sprint car drivers. Elmer’s tractor was pulled out, the sprints did not run, and the remainder of the races went on until 1 a.m.1
And while they are not averse to budding romance at the track, it’s only a rare occasion when such stories make the sports pages, as happened in 1990 when a feud between top racers led to nuptials one year later. As the story goes, sensing tempers could get the best of competitors during an argument after a race, Craig Brightbill and Bobby Houston parted ways, but not before Brightbill heard Houston tell his daughter, Lisa, “Don’t ever go out with that boy.” Brightbill said “That sort of did it for me.” Brightbill and Lisa were married the next April.2
Chuck concedes the irony of his profession compared to his family’s business. After all, people in an emergency don’t call 911 for its entertainment value.
“That is so different than my day job,” Chuck said. “I’ve learned to like car racing.”
- Anderson S. “Pit Comment.” Eau Claire Leader Telegram. 1972; Aug. 16.
- Holmes K. “Brightbill thrills crowds with on-the-wall driving.” Eau Claire Leader Telegram. 1993; Aug. 5.