When the Village of Hibbing was incorporated in 1893, it wasn't much more that a logging camp in the wilderness. But with the great wealth of iron ore that lay below, it was destined to grow fast. The Duluth Missabe and Northern Railroad reached the future site of Mitchell Yards in 1894 and by 1903 the village was populated by 10,000 men, women, and children and 20,000 by 1915. In 1904, Fred Smith brought the first automobile to Hibbing. It was a 17 horsepower Haynes Apperson that sold for $1,500. The town had some very ambitious and forward thinking residents right from the start. And some of them formed the Hibbing Speedway Association in 1905 which lead to the building of the first Hibbing Raceway and grandstands at the County Fairgrounds (Pool Location site) in 1906 and with that, the racing of horses and motorcycles commenced. The Hibbing Daily Tribune announced the formation of the Hibbing Automobile Association in 1909 as there were now "more than 50 automobiles on the Mesaba Range". And so it was , on September 16, 1911, the association held it's first auto race at the Hibbing Raceway. That first race was won by Fred Smith driving car number 333, a 40 horsepower Velie. Mr. Smith was the local Velie Automobile dealer and had been a champion bicycle racer.

 

 

Fred Smith at the Hibbing Raceway in 1911.                                  Fred Smith with "Mechanician" Oscar Rudd 

 

 

Road racing was quite popular across the Nation in the early days of motor racing and this was not lost on the local Automobile Association who, in 1914, layed out a 10 mile circuit using city streets and roads. From the Hibbing Daily Tribune on July 24, 1914: "The idea of the Hibbing Automobile Club is to make Hibbing the center of attraction for automobilists and motorcyclists for the entire northwest and they are taking advantage of the twenty-first birthday of the village to begin their great field of operations. The 10 mile iron ore track is known locally today as the Mahoning Loop and it is figured by those in charge of the celebration that the loop will become known all over the world, it being the only iron ore loop known and surrounds iron ore bodies worth millions of dollars all within the most modern and richest village in the world". This is a great example of just how ambitious our racing pioneers were. The reward for all of their promotional efforts began to show up when world famous cars and drivers started to appear for race meets at the Hibbing 1/2 mile track in 1915. It was to be a milestone year in the tracks history and the Hibbing Daily Tribune can describe for us some of the details of this race held on the 18th of July, 1915. From the July 3, 1915 edition: "An opportunity to see the greatest speed kings of motordome in action will be given range people July 18, when Tilton E. Lewis of Duluth will stage a big automobile race at the St. Louis county track here. Louis Disbrow, worlds champion dirt king and holder of more world's records than any other driver together with Eddie Hearne in the "Blitzen Benz", the fastest car in the world, "Wild Bill" Endicott, winner of the Columbus, Ohio, 100 mile race, Johnny Raimey, winner of the Detroit 100 mile race, Tommy Klein, the sensational St. Paul driver and Art Klein, Clark, and several others, will all participate in the event here and thousands of people from all over the range are expected to witness the performance of the speed demons. Tilton Lewis was in Hibbing for several hours yesterday and with B.J. Burrows, council member, and J. E. Lewler, secretary of the Hibbing Commercial club, arranged for the contest. Lewis announced that he was now negotiating with several world famous racers to appear here in addition to those already signed up. The speedway will be gone over by engineers and it is planned to make the dirt track one of the fastest in the state. Records for the size of the local track, it is excepted, will be hung up, and indications are that the event will be one of the foremost of it's kind in the history of the range"     

 

 

Louis Disbrow in the world famous Case Jay-Eye-See Car                The Simplex Zip-Worlds fastest Dirt Track Car in 1915

 

 

The races that day were a stunning success. Hearne and Raimey did set records that made the track the fastest in the state. One of the seven races that day was won by Tommy Milton, future two time Indy 500 winner (1921 & 1923) and National Sprint Car Hall of Fame driver. Also of note. Louis Disbrow brought two world famous cars with him. The "Simplex Zip", considered to be the fastest dirt race car in the world, and for exhibition only, the Case "Jay-Eye-See" car, the most powerful automobile in the world.  

 

 

This photograph was taken for the opening of Wichita Speedway on October 14, 1915. Nearly every car and driver pictured here raced in Hibbing a few weeks earlier

 

 

Of the many noteworthy race meets held in Hibbing, a race held in 1916 stands out. Because on the 4th of July, 1916 there was, an official 100 mile Indy Car road race held here on a new 10 mile circuit. (At the time, these cars were referred to as "Championship Cars" or "Big Cars")  And Mr. Chester S. Ricker, head of timing and scoring at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was in Hibbing to record this AAA sanctioned event. The race would be won by a well known local car builder and driver, Elmer T. Shannon from Chisholm. He was driving a Stutz.

 

 

It is thought that this photograph is of the July 4, 1916 "Indy" Road Race. The 10 mile road course passed through Pool Location where this photograph was taken.

 

The start of the 1919 Indianapolis 500                      Elmer T.Shannon with his car "The Mesaba Special" at Indy in 1919

 

 

But the story doesn't end there because in 1919 Mr. Shannon acquired a Duesenberg race car and he fitted it with an engine of his own design. He named the car "The Mesaba Special" and in the month of May, brought his car to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and qualified for the 1919 Indy 500 in the 29th starting position. While he is credited with a 13th place finish, he didn't actually drive the last few laps. His mechanician (riding mechanic) drove the last laps .And that is because Mr. Shannon was nearly killed in what is widely regarded to be the freakiest accident to have ever occurred at the 500. Before the race, Mr. Chester S. Ricker stretched a thin copper wire across the start finish line and connected it to an electronic scoring machine. As the cars passed over the wire, it would trigger the machine. Near the end of the race, coming out of turn 4,  the car being driven by Louis Chevrolet (The Chevrolet) threw a wheel. And as he crossed the finish line, the jagged hub of the broken wheel severed Mr. Ricker's wire. The wire, under high tension, recoiled and hit Mr. Elmer T. Shannon, who was following closely behind, in the neck and severed his jugular vein. He nearly bled to death and it was widely reported that he had become the 4th fatality of this race, but quick action by track personnel had saved his life. 

 

 

Chester S. Ricker with Louis Chevrolet              Louis Chevrolet in his Frontenac at Indy in 1919

 

 

Also of note in 1916 was the appearance of Miss Elfrieda Mais who was billed as the "Champion Feminine Pilot of the Universe". She was married to Johnny Mais and later to Ray LaPlante, both well known racers. She started working as an airplane stunt woman and wing walker in 1910 but switched to driving racing cars in 1912. Racing sanctioning bodies of her time did not allow women to compete against the men so Elfrieda’s efforts were mostly confined to speed trials against the clock and stunt driving exhibitions. This was a real shame as she frequently turned lap times equal to the best of the men. She was in Hibbing for the third time in 1933 and the Hibbing Daily Tribune said this: “Elfreida Mais, premier woman dirt track driver of the world, provided the final thrill of the day when she crashed a solidly constructed wall of boards and planks while traveling at better than 60 MPH. The impact sent splintered pieces of boards and planks flying more than 50 feet in the air and scattered fragments more than 100 feet.” When she repeated this stunt in front of the grandstands at the Hibbing Raceway on the 4th of July, 1934, no one could have known that she would be killed a few weeks later while performing this same stunt at the Alabama State Fair.

 

 

Miss Elfrieda Mais "Champion Feminine Pilot of the Universe"   Race car driver from 1913 to 1934         Aviatrix from 1910 to 1912

 

 

Motor racing fans were thrilled when, in 1923, Sig Haugdahl brought his "Wisconsin Special" to Hibbing. He had just set a land speed record at Daytona Beach with a speed in excess of 180 MPH. This car was powered by a monster 846 cubic inch, six cylinder aircraft engine that had been used in fighter aircraft during World War 1. And while here, Sig set a new track record. The crowds attention was also drawn to a most unusual race car. Les Allen brought a car originally built for Barney Oldfield. This car was built by the legendary Harry A. Miller and Fred Offenhauser. It was the "Golden Submarine", the worlds first totally enclosed, open wheel race car. It remains to this day one of the most famous race cars ever built.

 

 

Barney Oldfields "Golden Submarine"                                                   Sig Haugdahl's  "Wisconsin Special"

 

 

1924 would mark the last races at the track in Pool. The new 1/2 mile track and grandstands were completed in 1927 but from the available records it appears that automobile racing did not resume until 1930. The race meet on the 4th of July, 1934 featured another milestone event. Track officials had spent an entire two weeks grooming the track for this event with the goal of setting some new world's records. And records they set. First, American National champion and Hall of Fame driver, Gus Schrader set the fastest time ever for 1 lap, a distance of 1/2 mile with a time of 26.20 seconds. Not to be outdone, his arch rival, Canadian National champion and Hall of Fame driver, Emory Collins, responded by setting the fastest time ever for 2 laps, a distance of 1 mile, with a time of 54.20 seconds. With these records, the Hibbing Raceway became the fastest 1/2 mile dirt track in the world.

 

 

Gus Schrader with Track Announcer and future President, Ronald Reagan and  Emory Collins in Victory Lane

 

 

When World War 2 ended, and the country began to return to normal activities, a new sport was born. "Stock Car" racing. Until this time, race cars were mainly open wheel machines built specifically for competition. For the first time people could watch the same automobiles being sold at their local auto dealer, racing one another .And it's popularity skyrocketed. Hence, the success of NASCAR. The IMCA (International Motor Contest Association) brought it's newly formed National Stock Car Division to Hibbing in 1950. On the 11th of June, 6,000 people packed the grandstands to see their first "Stock Car" race. The race is won by the current National points leader, Herchel Buchannan driving a 1946 Nash Ambassador. The Hibbing Raceway track that we race on today was built in 1952 by the Land O' Lakes Racing Association headquartered in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. It was originally built as a 1/4 mile track (later lengthened to a 3/8 mile) and marked the beginning of the modern era of weekly stock car racing.

 

 

Johnny Rutherford Three time Indy 500 winner  and   Indy 500 winner Rufus "Parnelli" Jones

 

 

The old 1/2 mile track was retired in the mid 1960's and racing since then has been solely on the smaller 3/8 mile track. But before she retired, she played host to two drivers you may have heard of. In 1959, Indianapolis 500 winner, Parnelli Jones raced on her as did three time Indianapolis 500 winner, Johnny Rutherford in 1962.Over the years, an impressive list of World famous drivers appeared here to race. Including 26 drivers now enshrined in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, 4 Indianapolis 500 winners, and 1 Daytona 500 winner. An outstanding heritage indeed.

 

 

 

© David L. Aho 2012

Dave is a member of the Hibbing Historical Society and the Minnesota State Historical Society and is a City of Hibbing Heritage Preservation Commission board member.