Photos by Todd Boyd (photosbyboyd.smugmug.com)
When sport’s fans think of Omaha, Nebraska and its surrounding area many of them might jump to the thought of the College World Series. Considering that the annual event has been held in the southeastern Nebraska town since 1950 this is not a bad conclusion to reach.
However, about 30 miles west of downtown Omaha another major event is rising to national prominence at a break-neck pace. Situated in the cornfields of Greenwood, the Kosiski-family owned I-80 Speedway rises like a palace from the surrounding prairies.
For seven years running, each July racers and race fans from across North American converge on the facility to be a part of the annual Silver Dollar Nationals. Now boasting a purse well in excess of $200,000 the event offers the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series (LOLMDS) Super Late Models and United States Modified Touring Series (USMTS) Modifieds a true crown jewel in the nation’s heartland.
“When we started this event we wanted to bring the best-of-the-best in Super Late Model and Modified competitors to an area that didn’t get much of a chance to see them throughout the year,” track promoter, Joe Kosiski notes. “This deal started big, but I’ll admit that even our family didn’t expect to see it grow as fast as it has.”
The inaugural Silver Dollar Nationals in 2011 saw Don O’Neal pocket a solid $25,000 for his triumph. Fast forward six years into the future and Tim McCreadie bankrolled a $53,000 check for his victory in the finale.
You don’t have to be a mathematician to recognize that this was a substantial winner’s check increase in a very short time.
“A lot of people think I’m crazy for adding so much money into the event, so quick,” Kosiski said. “However, my family and I were all racers long before we were track promoters. I know how much it costs to run these cars. With the great crowds we get we want to always do our best to give back to the racers.”
Not only did the Kosiski family share the love with the pilots from the LOLMDS Super Late Models, but they also spread the wealth to the USMTS competitors. For 2017 the Modified winner’s purse was doubled to $10,000.
“This is such an amazing event with a huge crowd and a huge payout,” 2017 race winner, Ryan Gustin commented from Victory Lane. “I love coming to I-80 Speedway because you always know that you are going to have a great race track to race on. Winning $10,000 just makes it that much sweeter.”
In addition to bolstering the winner’s checks in 2017 the Kosiski family also added money throughout the field for both divisions.
“We like paying out the big money to the winners, but at the end of the day only one guy in each class is taking that,” Joe Kosiski commented. “Again as racers I know how I always looked at the payback through the field when going to events. With that in mind we are hoping to continue to draw more and more racers from across the country to this event each year, when they realize just how much money is on the line from top to bottom.”
In recent years the staff at I-80 Speedway has further grown the event to include the Belt Bash, which is a 20-lap non-qualifier race for the LOLMDS Super Late Model racers. The winner gets $3,000 or has the option to tag the tail of the 30-plus car starting grid for the 80-lap finale.
2017 Belt Bash winner Brandon Sheppard took the Kosiski family up on their challenge to start at the tail. While his choice may have created a lot of additional work for the Illinois racer, Sheppard made his decision look wise by advancing 30 positions to a runner-up finish behind winner, Tim McCreadie.
“What an incredible run for us,” an exhausted Sheppard said after the finale. “We got behind the 8-ball early in the weekend, but our team never game up. I’m just thankful that they had the non-qualifier race, which gave us another shot to get into the feature. There’s not very many tracks where you can start at the tail of the of the field, and then pass 30 cars to almost win the race. Hats off to them for an awesome track.”
Oh, and did I happen to mention my personal favorite part of the event? It’s the format!
There’s no tired-old time trials here. Instead, racers in both divisions compete in double heat races with passing points being accumulated in each race. The point totals from these heat races determine the consolation and main event line-ups.
In addition, each LOLMDS heat race winner receives a money bag with 250 silver dollars for their efforts.
Speaking of fans, not only do racers come from near and far to participate in the crown jewel, but spectators circle it on their calendars each year as well.
In a gas station that is located adjacent to the track, I met a gentleman, who had traveled from California for the second-straight year to catch the festivities.
“It’s a long way to come for a race and it’s usually really hot, but it’s so worth it,” he laughed as he enjoyed some ice cream on a 100-degree day. “I don’t ever get to see these guys race where I live, so it’s a no-brainer for me to come out here and watch 100-or-so of the best in the business sling some dirt at a top-notch track.”
This gentleman definitely hit the nail on the head about the weather. While the good news is that rain is rarely ever an issue, the bad news is that temps can soar at times. In fact, during this year’s event temps eclipsed the 105-degree mark on Friday.
Perhaps it’s just the price you pay for such a great program.
“When you come to I-80 in July you automatically know it’s probably going to be hot,” said Anthony Burroughs, who is the crew chief for Don O’Neal. “You just stay hydrated during the day, and then the nights are usually pretty good temperature wise. It’s a hot event, but it’s a fun event.”
For race fans looking for just a little something extra, they can likely find what they desire with Thursday night’s program. The opening night’s extravaganza adds a nice flair of divisional diversity to an already loaded weekend.
Not only do the USMTS and LOLMDS competitors get practice sessions throughout the evening, but the Carpetland Nebraska 360 Sprint Series competitors contest a complete show and the Malvern Bank Super Late Model Racing Series (SLMRS) hosts a complete show as well. Throw a B-Mod program into the mix and Thursday night finds well over 150 cars crammed into the pit area.
In true I-80 Speedway fashion, Thursday night’s program found a purse bump as well. The Malvern Bank SLMRS racers competed for the richest single-night purse in the history of the tour. Nebraska’s own Kyle Berck picked up a $5,300 check for his efforts on Thursday evening.
The bottom line is that if you are a diehard racing fan, then this race is a must-see. Odds are pretty good that if you ever go once, that you’ll instantly be hooked and will go back every year thereafter.
If you need a little more encouragement on why you should attend, then simply enjoy the photos that follow in the next few pages.
Todd Boyd brings us these awesome shots from the 2017 edition of the Silver Dollar Nationals.