Friday night I piled in the truck with my buddy Hlavs and his 3 daughters for a drive to Morris, IL for an evening of auto racing. It’d been 20 some years since my last visit to Grundy County Speedway. Hlavs’ family used to bring me along when I was a kid. (My bff, Rich – Hlavs’ younger brother, who passed away far too young, invited me on many a family outing back in the day.)
Not much has changed at Grundy, save for a additional line of fencing prohibiting onlookers from standing alongside a wall at the first turn. We were in attendance when a car jumped the barrier and killed a spectator back in the 90s – a startling incident I’ll never forget.
The venue learned from the tragedy and shored up its safety protocol. For nearby residents and traveling race fans alike, these Friday night races are a summertime tradition.
I’ve never been a dedicated NASCAR fan – Rich used to chuckle at his dad’s tongue-in-cheek promise/threat: “We’ll make a race fan out of you yet, Greesey.”
But for live entertainment, being up close and personal at a racetrack is exhilarating.
Sure, Hlavs’ youngest daughter Izzy complained about the noise until we bought her some earplugs. Overall, though, it was a complete family night. Grandpa Hlavs sent the girls down to buy popcorn; Uncle John ate pizza and threw back a couple of Coors Lights; I bought myself an official Grundy County Speedway T-shirt.
The penultimate race of the night was a feature event: a 25 lap stock car race. Grandpa Hlavs had predicted a couple winners in a row, but on this race he was wrong about who would take the checkered flag. It was a messy race, with some wrecks and spinouts. Grandpa Hlavs picks to watch were forced out of action or fell back in the pack. But there was one car near the front worth noting.
“See that number #1 car, Greesey? That’s Randy Weese. That was Richard’s favorite driver.”
I had a new guy to root for. Sure enough, with a few laps remaining – Randy Weese overtook the lead. His red stock car held on for the checkered flag. I looked over at Grandpa Hlavs and pointed up at the sky. The odds were against an old timer like Randy Weese, but something inspired him to taste victory Friday night. Makes me feel like little miracles happen all the time, everywhere. Sometimes at a longstanding community gathering place in tiny Morris, IL. I guarantee we weren’t the only family there with a bushel full of memories tied to Grundy County Speedway.
Good wholesome fun. Special place. They’re having a Grundy County fair there this week for the 4th. Might be a good time to make the drive down and check it out.
The races didn’t wrap up until close to 11. Hlavs, the kids & I hopped back in his truck and journeyed back to his house to cook up a midnight snack – 1 Jack’s & 1 Tombstone frozen pizza. I hugged everyone goodbye and Hlavs thanked me for coming out. I thanked him for the invite.