Griffith Park Speedway was a 1/4-mile paved track in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. The track was built by Sam Bartus, (who also built and operated Samís Super Speedway, Mosinee, WI., Golden Sands Speedway, Plover, WI., and the Capital Super Speedway, Oregon, WI.) and operated from 1960 to 1970. After it closed as a track, it was a campground for many years. Nowadays the track is nothing more than a memory with condos and a golf course in its place. Unfornately for me I wasn't born until the winter of 1969. Things were winding down at Griffith Park by then. Her era had come to an end and even though I never knew her I felt the connection. My dad once described her as a hole in the wall dump that provided a great time. Knowing my dad he was probably referring to all the beer him and his buddies drank right along side the racing.
I first learned of Griffith Parks exsistance in the mid 80's several years after her demise. The first time I saw her it didn't take long to realize that father time had not treated her kindly. Despite her condition the grand stands and flag stand were still somewhat intact. This wasn't some old run down race track. This was the place where former Nascar driver Dave Marcis got his start. The place where ASA Champion and Nascar driver Dick Trickle first learned the ropes. Tom Reffner (who son would go on to race in the Nascar truck series) also had his beginings here. Realizing all this I asked myself, "Why is this bit of racing history going to waste and why doesn't anyone care?"
Griffith Park is gone now. Memories have faded and industry has moved in but we still have the images. That's one thing that can't be taken away. The drivers and the stories behind those images are what we hold on to. One of those drivers was Marlin Walbeck. He began his career in the '50s. Every Sunday night you could find him at Griffith Park trying to defend his position as top gun against youngsters like Dick Trickle, Tom Reffner, Jimmy Back, Mary Marzofka, Everette Fox, and Rich Somers.
Many stars of that time started out on the dirt track at Stratford. Tom Reffner ran his first race there in '59 and couldn't see a thing because of the dust. Dick Trickle drove a '46 Ford and flipped it his first night out. He came back with a '50 Ford that he'd purchased for $17.50 and a '49 engine that he'd purchased for $32.50. Marv Marzofka showed up with a Studebaker.
The early days of Wisconsin auto racing had it's fair share of great nick names and characters. Lyle Nabbefeldt raced with a live rooster named Roho as his co-pilot. Roho's only complaint about his racing days with Lyle Nabbefeldt was that the pay was chicken feed.
Sadly while Lyle Nabbefeldt was running a time trial alone on the Wisconsin Dells Motor Speedway in 1973 it was reported that the accelerator of his 1969 Chevrolet Camaro may have stuck, causing his car to crash into the first turn wall. The impact was strong enough that the driver's seat belt and safety harness failed. He was 40 years old when he left behind a wife and four children.
Augie Winklemann got his start at Crowns Speedway, a high banked quarter mile track just outside of Wisconsin Rapids on Highway 54. Augie never knew what he was gonna do one lap from the next. Once at Wausau he pushed his own son over the back bank. If he could do that to his own son you can imagine what his thoughts were about the rest of the drivers. Dick Trickle once described him as crazy and furious. He drove like he was in a rage bumping and banging everyone.