World Series of Drag Racing Monday Press Conference @ iWireless Center

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

CORDOVA, Ill. — Drag-racing veterans Bob Bartel and Ron Colson took a moment to reflect as they looked out at the green farmland surrounding the Cordova Dragway Park.

It was a moment that passed as quickly as one of the several hundred super-charged muscle cars that are competing in this weekend’s 52nd O’Reilly Auto Parts World Series of Drag Racing.

Bartel, 84, from Moline, chuckled as he thought of what the area looked like almost 50 years ago.

There really wasn’t anything here back then but lots of farmland and a sand and concrete,” he said.

With potholes that needed to be filled,” added the 67-year-old Colson, from Oregon, Ill.

Bartel and Colson know because they were there at the beginning, when the track first started offering car buffs a chance to test their roadsters.

Bartel is the pioneer of the Cordova Dragway, the man who had a fondness for racing and found the ways and the means to build a track.

I belonged to the Moon’s (named after a disc hubcap of the day) Car Club of Moline in the ’40s and ’50s,” Bartel said, “and we started talking to other car clubs in the area and thought how nice it would be to have a track to race on instead of racing on the streets.”

According to Bartel, main streets and major avenues in the Quad-City area were the normal racetracks for Quad-City car-crazy teens and automobile aficionados. Sometimes a city or town would block off an entire street so people could race on weekends.

In 1956, Bartel and a few other Quad-City businessmen thought it would be a lot safer to have a supervised track for racing.

So I took some of my (stock) shares from Sears, and with the other businessmen we pooled our money to buy some land,” Bartel said.

I went north and south, on each side of the river, looking for land level enough to build a track.”

He found that land on the Sullivan Farm just north of Cordova on Highway 84.

The year before, the farmer had a good year and produced 10 bushels to the acre. Because of that, he decided he could afford to sell off some of his land. Luckily, I just happened to hear about it, and we were able to buy a few acres,” Bartel said.

Not only was the land very level, but it had mostly sand in the soil, which would make it easier and less expensive to build a quality drag strip.”

Bartel and his volunteer help of other area car clubs tilled up the dirt and added mixtures of dry Portland Concrete that came to them on the railroad tracks nearby. They carried the concrete from the train tracks to the racetrack and used a rotor tiller to mix at least 24 inches of sandy soil and course concrete.

Then we added water we pulled out of the Mississippi River and let the entire track dry for a few days. After that we used a road grader to level the track out, and we were ready to race.”

At first, Bartel said the track was used by the local car clubs, but soon the word got out around the entire Midwest that a new purpose-built drag strip was in operation.

At the time, there were only about 50 tracks in the country. Most were either dirt tracks or airport runways. This track and the track in Union Grove, Wis., were the only tracks specifically built for drag racing,” Bartel said. “(In 1956) we averaged about 8,000 people during any given race day. Track fee was $5, and admission was $1. There was no starting tree of lights or timing system. Two cars would come to the line with a guy in between with a starting flag. I also had someone behind with their hand on each rear bumper to make sure there weren’t any false starts. There was also someone at the end with a flag to signal a winner.”

Bartel said it was just car against car in the beginning. In 1957, the World Series of Drag Racing first came to Cordova and found an annual permanent home at the track. That’s when Ron Colson first joined Bob’s team as a teenager.

I was always drawn toward drag racing and racing in general. I read everything I could and dreamed of joining the circuit someday,” said the 67-year-old veteran driver.“I knew all about the drag racing that was happening in California, where competitive drag racing began, and in places in the South. When this track opened here in Cordova, close to home, I just had to come and be part of it.”

Bartel added that Colson nagged him for work until he allowed the youngster to fill potholes on the track. From those filled potholes, Colson has filled out an impressive resume as a champion driver. In the ’70s and ’80s he drove the Chi-Town Hustler and Hawaiian Funny Cars. He won the very first IHRA-sanctioned series in 1974 and won the last Winston Cup drag race at the Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway in 1980.

Next year he’d like to bring a completely restored Chi-Town Hustler and run at Cordova Dragway during the 53rd World Series of Drag Racing.

When Bob built this track, it enabled Midwest drivers to build their own cars and have a place to race them on par with the California drivers. We were finally able to compete at their level, and it’s grown ever since,” Colson said.

As this year’s World Series of Drag Racing came to a close Sunday, spectators, drivers and promoters only had to look at the surrounding area and thank Bartel and Colson for giving them a place in the fields to run.

If it wasn’t for Bob being a visionary, seeing 20,000 people and hundreds of dragsters and professional and amateur drivers here would have never occurred,” said Scott Gardner, the present-day operator of the park.

Contact the sports desk at (563)  383-2285