A dozen Lakota drivers at SpeedwayBy James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Correspondent
nativesunnews.today RAPID CITY—No expert is certain when Black Hills Speedway commenced operation. Articles from the Rapid City Journal date back to 1952, but people remember when the track was called Rapid Valley Race Track back in the 1940’s. Richard Petty, the winningest stock car driver of all time, once told writers he didn’t know when the first car was invented, but he knew when the first race happened—right after the second car was invented. p> Perhaps the history of racing in Rapid City goes back to when the second car arrived in the Black Hills at the turn of the 20th Century. All we know for certain, is the Black Hills Speedway has operated for at least 62 years. During those years, when conditions were just right, people in downtown Rapid could hear the Friday night roar of engines from way out in Rapid Valley. Competition has always been keen, although the cars and classes have changed, as have the owners, and for reasons, again, no person can say for certain, the kind of interest that routinely packed the stands at Black Hills Speedway began a steady decline around 1995, and has never fully recovered. According to new track operator John Carlton, owner and operator of several Rapid City businesses, last season was a tough one for the track. Mismanagement resulted in cost overruns, drivers not getting paid, but Carlton starts the 2018 racing season with a fresh outlook and a clean racing slate, and a perspective about the drivers, and the operation, past management did not have: “(The last track operator) didn’t care about the drivers. Without these drivers to put on a show we wouldn’t have fans to put in the stands to have a race track.”
Carlton is prepared for this racing season. He has repaired the generator which broke down, costing the track “$2,500 a night, just for power.” He has improved driver safety conditions. Fires were put out last year by fire extinguishers wielded by drivers on 4-wheelers: “We have a new fire suppression system. It’s called Coldfire, everyone is trained in the use of it. It’s better than fire extinguishers on 4-wheelers. Safety wise, we are going to be a lot more efficient at taking care of situations and drivers.” Safety has improved greatly since forty years back, when local racing legends like Jerry May were lost to horrific accidents, but Carlton has made the track even safer. He has also hired an all new staff of about thirty people: “There’s three or four that do the track prep, one main flagman, and several more in each corner, a guy that runs the scales, we have a high tech guy, two people do scoring, about a dozen people for concessions, two people at the main gate, and two people that run the ticket booth.” Folks in Lakota country would be surprised at the number of Native drivers that make up the grid for many of the classes at Black Hills Speedway: Arlo Provost, Louis Vocu, Howard Hunter, Mark Brave, Leonard Ferguson, Warren Pourier Jr, Gary Ferguson, Arlen Ferguson, James Stands III, Owen Ferguson, Lyle Ferguson and Dean Fairbanks.