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Early History

Ohio Valley Raceway


          Ohio Valley Raceway was built and opened in the spring of 1965 by my brother, Jim, and me, Wayne Williams. Jim passed away in 2003 which leaves me to try to recall how it all got started, forty-five years ago. Jim and I always shared a love of fast cars, but in order to watch, or participate in drag racing we had to travel to Hardinsburg, Sturgis or Seymour. From our teenage years of cruising the parking lots of drive-in restaurants, we knew there were as many fans of hot cars in the Louisville area as anywhere else, but who had nowhere to legally drag race. We heard opportunity at the door but until we opened the gates to our track that first night, we could not have imagined how loud it was knocking.

          Jim was twenty years old at the time and I was twenty-six. Together, we could not have scratched up enough money to build a go-cart track, let alone a drag strip. So we approached our father who was certainly no fan of fast cars. Over the years, any time my '57 Chevy or Jim's 409 powered Corvette pulled into the parking lot of his hardware store in Orell, KY, he merely shook his head. It took many grueling sessions with our dad to convince him that this was a viable venture, but in the end, he conceded but with strict provisions on a pay-back schedule.

          The grass airport off Dixie Highway on Katherine Station Road was owned by a man named Huff. We knew him as a customer at Dad's hardware store. To us it seemed an ideal place to build a race track and after several weeks of negotiations, we agreed on a price. Around Christmas of 1964, we put shovels to the ground.

          Everything we were spending was borrowed so it was low-budget all the way. We painted the old aircraft hanger and house. Excavating and paving of the main strip, return strip, and a few other small areas was finished as soon as weather permitted. We built a 16'x16' wooden two-story tower near the starting line. The windows were simply plywood flaps that opened to the inside and left the operations crew exposed to the elements. We used farm fencing to separate the spectator areas from the track. The Christmas tree and timer was a home-grown monster and the source of many headaches later. In mid-April of 1965 we opened on a wing and a prayer.

          Absolute pandemonium would probably best describe opening night - total chaos. Katherine Station Road was the only access to the track and it was at a total standstill by 6:30 - cars with nowhere to go, double-parked all the way back to Dixie Highway, the south lane of which was at a standstill all the way back to Al's Bait Shop, a distance of over two miles. So, with nowhere else to turn -we went to racing.

          The farm fencing we installed to keep the spectators safe, was about 15 feet from the track. By the time we started a match race between two wheel-standing "A" gassers, "spectators" had broken off every T post at grass level, flattened the fence and were standing with their toes on the edge of the pavement.

          From the git-go, this opening night was a family affair - our wives running the concession stand and friends selling tickets and directing traffic. Needless to say, we were sorely understaffed.

          The next Monday morning brought the need for some changes - in a hurry. A new 7-foot chain-link fence was installed from the start line to the finish, keeping the fans off the track. We opened more entry gates for the pits and increased the waiting area. Security was a big problem so we hired two of the hardest-nosed security people we could find, solving, forever, that glitch. A tribute here to Emmet Crane and J.T.S. Brown. They kept me in beer. In the weeks, months and years to follow, other problems were solved by updating everything, it seemed. A new timing system solved the Christmas Tree snafu. More paving improved the staging area. A more powerful PA system allowed everyone to hear. A professional announcer kept things running smoothly. The competition procedures were enhanced. We improved everything to the point where we thought we might get the nod for a NHRA sanction. With the help and guidance of Bob and Eileen Daniels, Ohio Valley Raceway became the first sanctioned 1/8th mile track - anywhere.

          I would like to list some of the high points over the years in no particular order: The concession stand developed the best chili dog I have ever had, to this day. When the floods came, so did the snakes: Big Daddy Don was there and so was Grump. There were many more national heroes who passed through the Valley, too many to mention. I especially remember with fondness, the deer that crossed the track during eliminations, and Jim Cusic's big left turn at the finish line at 100 mph. And who could forget the night we searched in the weeds for 15 minutes, for Bill English after his brakes failed. We got to see Frakes & Funks' twin-engine Chrysler-powered front engine car, John Carter's Willys eating up the first third of the track on rear wheels only. We were the origins of "Honest" in John's Carter's name. The Valley went to National Trails and impressed everyone at the first 1/8th mile Championship. Many national record holders came from the Valley because fierce competition breeds champions.

          There were some low points, most, better forgotten, but the name Ed Payne always comes to mind. In 1970 we sold the track to a great racer and good friend, Jesse Ballew.

Story by Wayne Williams 1/27/2010

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Ohio Valley Raceway

The Ballew Years


           I purchased Ohio Valley Raceway from Jim and Wayne Williams in 1970 on a five year contract with two years extra if weather was really bad and prevented a lot of racing. I was able to pay it off in the five year window. Wayne stayed on to help run the track. Mom and Dad worked there, also my wife Jenny and brother Eugene. I think they all enjoyed it. Juanita Baker ran the concession stand and kept everything top quality, and she was a great friend of the Ballew family.

          We had a very good crew including Travis Miller, Huey Darnell, Charlie Meyer, and many others. Always tried to improve the track and operations. We built the new tower and tore down the old house then built the new garage and restrooms. Added bleachers bought in Terre Haute, In. Later we added an extension to the track for the shutdown area.

          We usually started the program with the competition and modified eliminations then on to stock and super stock. Always kept the action moving with no delays when possible, giving spectators the best show. We tried to book in many top racers for match races, etc. Such as Don Garlits, Bill Jenkins, John Lingenfelter, Blue Max, Dick Lahaie, Bob Glidden, Don Prudomme, Raymond Godman, Tenn Bo Wevil, Shirley Muldowney and the Frakes and Funk AA/FD.

          The Louisville and Southern Indiana area has many top racers, some of the best in the country still come from right here, along with a lot of National Record Holders. We had 15 years of very good racing at first as an NHRA track and then as a IHRA track. I was always in attendance for the first 12-13 years. Racers didn't always agree with everything we did, but we always tried to be as fair as possible and would have reruns when needed.

          We started the Door Slammer Nationals in 1975, it became the largest Sportsman Event if the time and still continues today with the 36th annual in October, 2010. When the floods would come and cover the track, we would bring hoses and pumps and stay there 24/7 to keep the track washed off as the water went down. I always enjoyed fast and nice appearing cars, and raced a lot of cars, including Corvettes, 57 Chevy's, Kellison and one old Studebaker.

          Frank Spencer and I became close friends and we raced together a long time. We held the SS/I record for a long time with a 68 Corvette. Frank worked very hard on the race car, and became a very talented engine builder.

          I have very many good memories of the track and racing in general and still have many friends from those days. I may do a little racing again this year myself.

          I have always remained friends with Jim & Wayne Williams and in 1985, I sold the track to other friends, Mike Kayrouz and Fred Everitt.

Story by Jessie Ballew and Charlie Meyer

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