by Tom Lathen
The Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame will enshrine seven new inductees at the organization’s 20th annual Induction Ceremony on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017, in Lincoln.
This year’s class of inductees includes Mechanic and Engine Builder Mike Barnett of Lincoln, Drag Racer Gene Bichlmeier of Norfolk, Road Racer Paul Brown of Omaha, Driver and Car Owner Lynn Grabill of Grand Island, Fire Crew Member and Safety Trainer Carroll “Speedy” Hill of Omaha, Historian and Author Ray Valasek of Lincoln, and Driver Joe Wade of Dorchester.
Mike Barnett’s involvement in racing in the Midwest began in the late 1960s. Over the years, Barnett turned wrenches and served as the Crew Chief on Sprint Cars driven by NARHoF inductees Don Droud, Sr. and Jim Riggins, as well as Rex Hendrickson and Ed Bowes. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Barnett-prepared Sprint Cars raced successfully in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Missouri. In 1971, Barnett was named Mechanic of the Year by the Nebraska Modified Racing Association and in 1984, a Barnett-prepared Sprinter won the season championship at Midwest Speedway in Lincoln, with Droud behind the wheel.
Gene Bichlmeier’s career as a Drag Racer began in 1965, and over his fifty-plus year racing career, he has logged thousands of quarter-mile runs at hundreds of race tracks in 20 different states, while securing a total of 46 class wins. He won the points championship at Thunder Valley Dragway in Marion, South Dakota five times and won point titles at Scribner, Nebraska on three occasions. Bichlmeier’s national resume includes a win at the 1997 NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, California and a runner-up finish at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida in 2001.
Paul Brown entered his first Road Race at the age of 16, and competed in hundreds of events across the country until his untimely death in 2012 at age 43. He was a 5-time SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) National Road Race champion and was the 2011 SCCA Pirelli World Challenge GTS champion. That year, he won the SCCA Driver’s Championship, while securing, for Ford, the SCCA Manufacturer’s Championship. Over the years, he held track records at numerous prestigious road courses including Mid Ohio Sports Car Course (Ohio), Road Atlanta (Georgia), Luguna Seca Raceway (California), Road America (Wisconsin), Mid-America Motorplex (Iowa), and Heartland Park Topeka (Kansas).
Lynn Grabill’s involvement in racing, as either a driver or a car owner, spans portions of seven decades. He strapped himself into a dirt track race car for the first time as a 17-year old in the late 1950s and throughout his driving career, wheeled Coupes, Modifieds, Super Modifieds and Sprint Cars in Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas. After hanging up his helmet and fire suit, Grabill became a successful Modified Midget, Sprint Car and Micro Sprint Car owner, with his cars winning Modified Midget championships at Hastings and Waverly, Nebraska and Sprint Car titles at Osborn and Grain Valley, Missouri. With his son, Kerry, at the wheel, Grabill’s car finished second at the NMMA (National Modified Midget Association) Western Region Championship event in Lenmoore, California in 1997.
Carroll “Speedy” Hill
Speedy Hill began working in race track Fire Protection at Playland Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1961 and over the next 40-plus years provided safety protection for over a dozen race tracks in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri and Colorado. Following the fiery death of a driver in Denison, Iowa in 2000, he put together a training course on race track fire protection and toured the Midwest, training race track safety personnel on how to quickly and effectively extinguish fires associated with auto racing. He served on the Indianapolis 500 fire safety crew for 18 years, and was eventually elevated to the rank of Assistant Fire Chief at the famed Brickyard oval.
Ray Valasek has dedicated nearly 70 years of his life to the sport of auto racing as a driver, crew member, author and historian. His driving career began in 1950 when he first raced a stock car at South 13th Speedway in Omaha. He later raced in the NASCAR Sportsman Division, and in 1963, served as a crew member for Johnny White during his winning drive in the prestigious “Little 500” in Anderson, Indiana. Valasek was involved in the founding of the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1997, and served as the organization’s Secretary/Treasurer for numerous years. He co-authored, with Bob Mays, “Valley County Thunder, The History Of Racing In Ord, Nebraska,” which was published in 2004.
Joe Wade’s racing career began as an eight year old youngster, when he began racing go-karts at tracks in and around Lincoln. Following a brief stint racing motorcycles, he began racing a stock car at Midwest Speedway in Lincoln in 1969 and over the next 17 years, successfully drove both Late Models and Sprint Cars at over two dozen tracks in seven Midwestern states. He won track championships at Beatrice, Lincoln, York and Nebraska City and at one time held one-lap records at eight different Nebraska race tracks, including Midwest Speedway in Lincoln, The Speed Bowl in Red Cloud, Eagle Raceway in Eagle, and Mid-Continent Raceway in Doniphan. Among his most prestigious career wins was the 1973 IMCA New Model Stock Car event at the Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln.
The Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame was established to perpetuate the memory of individuals who have brought lasting fame and positive recognition to the state of Nebraska through their achievements in the sport of auto racing. Over 125 Nebraskans have been inducted into the Hall of Fame since the induction of the first class in 1998.
This year’s 20th anniversary Induction Ceremony will be held at the Lincoln Firefighter’s Reception Hall, located at 241 Victory Lane in Lincoln, on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. Doors will open at 5 p.m. with the ceremony beginning at 6:30. Tickets are $20 each.