Class of 1998

George “Andy” Anderson


Born in Salem, Iowa, George “Andy” Anderson spent much of his childhood in Hastings, after his family moved there when he was eleven years old.

As a young 20 year old, Anderson began his racing career in 1949, racing with the Nebraska Hot Rod Racing Association (NHRRA), driving a Roadster, or “Hot Rod” as they were known, for owners Gene and Elmer Young. Anderson won his first feature during his rookie season, and a year later, wheeling a Roadster owned by the Thaut Brothers, raced to an impressive third place finish in the NHRRA point standings.

In 1951 and 1952, Anderson raced to the NHRRA championship, driving the famed number-60 “Belle of Belleville,” owned by the Goodrich family of Belleville, Kansas. During that time period, he also began racing Big Cars (later known as Sprint Cars) in races sanctioned by the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA).

His tenure in Big Cars included driving to a seventh place finish in the United Motor Contest Association final standings in 1953, and tenth and eighth place finishes, respectively, in the IMCA final standings in 1953 and 1954. In 1955, he won the Nebraska Racing Association championship.

In 1957, Anderson drove a Big Car in the California Racing Association (CRA), prior to hanging up his helmet for the final time in 1958. During his driving career, he won over 60 feature events in Roadsters and Big Cars in 15 different states.

At the conclusion of his driving career, Anderson did mechanic work for Danny Oakes on his USAC Midget and Indy Car teams, and later became a well-respected race official. He was the starter for the Rocky Mountain Midget Association and also was a USAC official at Continental Divide Raceway in Colorado in the mid 1960s. He held the office of Secretary-Treasurer for the Big Car Racing Association (BCRA) from 1965 to 1975, and promoted Sprint Car races at Erie, Colorado from 1973 to 1975.

Anderson became a USAC official for the Indianapolis 500 in 1976 and was eventually promoted to Vice Chairman of the USAC Technical Committee. He also was involved in the Indianapolis Rookie Orientation Program until his retirement from USAC following the 1997 season.

He was inducted into the Belleville High Banks Hall of Fame in 1999.

Roy Burdick


Roy Burdick was raised in Omaha and in 1942 opened an automotive repair shop, Burdick Auto and Truck Repair, which is where his racing story began.

In 1948, a customer called asking for a tune-up on his car. When the car appeared at the shop, it was a Modified Stock Car! After completing the repairs, Burdick decided to go to the local race track to see how the newly repaired race car performed and was immediately “hooked.”

Shortly thereafter, Burdick began assembling his own Modified Stock Car, a yellow Ford Coupe with the number V8, enlisted the support of his two brothers Ralph and Bud and his son Bob, and sat out to go racing.

With Bud turning the wheel, the Burdick team won two track titles at Omaha’s Grandview Race Bowl, five championships at Playland Park in Council Bluffs, and four consecutive track titles at Sunset Speedway in Omaha in 1959 through 1962.

Burdick’s first taste of regional racing came in 1956, when he was awarded a Ford Motor Company factory deal to run the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Late Model tour. Burdick fielded IMCA Late Models for three years, from 1956 through 1958, with his best season being 1957, when his son Bob drove the Burdick Ford to 22 IMCA feature wins, and a second place finish in the point standings following a close battle with Johnny Beauchamp.

That IMCA touring success led to a phone call from Holman & Moody Racing in Charlotte in early 1959, which plunged Burdick into NASCAR Grand National (now Cup) racing. Burdick was provided a Ford Thunderbird and because his son Bob had entered the Army, Beauchamp, an old dirt track nemesis, was hired to drive the car for the inaugural Daytona 500. When the checkered flag flew, Beauchamp had powered the Burdick machine to a surprise victory, only to have the win taken away four days later and awarded to Lee Petty. Racing historians now agree that Beauchamp actually won the race, as he was nearly a full lap ahead of Petty at the finish.

Burdick’s cars raced NASCAR for three seasons, mostly at the Super Speedways. His cars won two Grand National events, finished second twice, accumulated seven top-ten finishes, and set four track records.

Throughout much of his ownership career, Burdick successfully balanced local racing with both regional and national racing. He died in 1991.

Wilbert “Willie” Hecke


Wilbert “Willie” Hecke was born in Campbell Hill, Illinois and moved to the Hastings area at a young age. He began his racing career in the early 1950s at the quarter-mile race track north of Hastings.

Hecke drove several cars during the early years before landing the job as the driver for the Franklin Motor Company racing team. He raced for Franklin Motor Company for seven years at tracks in Nebraska and Kansas before teaming up with John Davisson to become the driver of the number-1 “Mighty Mouse.”

While chauffeuring the “Mighty Mouse,” Hecke won numerous track championships including five consecutive titles, from 1967 to 1971, at both Hastings Raceway and Kearney Raceway. He also won track championships at Skylark Raceway in Columbus in 1968, 1970, and 1971 in the cockpit of the “Mouse.”

In 1970, car dealer Bob Strong of Kearney purchased a CAE Sprint Car and kept the entire “Mighty Mouse” team of Hecke, Davisson, and long-time mechanic Homer Macklin together to run his new race team. Following the 1971 season however, Davisson retired from racing and retired the “Mighty Mouse” logo at the same time.

In 1972, Hecke and Macklin teamed up with car owner Howard Carrico of Kearney to form the “Go Big Red” race team, sporting a new Bob Trostle built Sprint Car. Hecke led the team to track championships at Hastings in 1972 and 1974, at Skylark Raceway in 1972 and 1973, and at Mid-Continent Raceway in Doniphan in 1972 and 1974. They also scored a win at the Nebraska Triple Crown in Omaha in 1973. Carrico later purchased a Don Maxwell Sprinter, which Hecke powered to a track title at Mid-Continent in 1977.

Prior to retiring from racing in 1979, Hecke won 20 track championships and participated in numerous special events in Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa, and Colorado. At many of those events, Hecke’s carbureted small block Chevrolet competed against the fuel injected cars of some of the most successful drivers from around the country.

Hecke was called out of retirement, by car owner Don Vonderfect, to race “one more time” on August 24, 1985 at a special event in North Platte, Nebraska. After winning his heat race, Hecke suffered a fatal heart attack while sitting in the race car in the staging area prior to the main event.

“Willie” is often remembered by the “thumbs up” signal he gave to the crowd at the beginning of each race he participated in. He was one of the most popular drivers to come out of Central Nebraska.

Bob Kosiski


Bob Kosiski began his racing career much by accident, when a relative failed to show up for an event in Central City, Nebraska and he took the wheel of the race car. Two years later, following his graduation from high school, Kosiski began a nearly 30 year dirt track career that saw him win track championships and major events all across the Midwest.

Early in his career, Kosiski raced a 32 Ford Modified Coupe at Riverside Speedway in Omaha, Grandview Race Bowl in Bellevue, and Playland Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa, winning his first track championship at Riverside Speedway in 1953. He continued successfully racing at tracks in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, until his career was briefly interrupted by a two-year stint in the military in 1957 and 1958.

Upon his return from the service, Kosiski resumed his racing career, running with the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Stock Car Series in 1959 and 1960, finishing eighth in series points in 1959 and fifth in the final point standings in 1960. Major victories along the way included triumphs at Hutchinson, Minnesota and LaCrosse, Wisconsin in 1959 and what he describes as his “biggest career win,” the 100-lap Minnesota State Fair Championship in 1960. Kosiski set the track’s 12 lap record that day, and defeated legends Ernie Derr and Ramo Stott in the process.

In February of 1960, Kosiski qualified his Ford Thunderbird for NASCAR’s “crown jewel,” the Daytona 500, only to fall out midway through the race when his car's rear end failed.

Kosiski won championships at Playland Park in 1965 and 1966, Whitehead Speedway in Nebraska City in 1970, 1971 and 1972, and a record eleven titles at Sunset Speedway in Omaha, including seven consecutive Late Model titles from 1971 through 1977. He was the all-time winningest driver in Sunset Speedway history.

In addition to the Minnesota State Fair Championship in 1960, Kosiski's other major event wins include the Nebraska Late Model Nationals at Mid-Continent Raceway in Doniphan in 1973, the Nebraska State Fair Championship five years in a row from 1971 through 1975, and the North Dakota State Fair Championship in 1975.

Kosiski hung up his driver’s suit for the final time at the conclusion of the 1978 racing season, with 16 track championships and hundreds of feature race wins to his credit.

Jan Opperman


Born in Long Beach, California, Jan Opperman achieved fame behind the wheel of numerous types of race cars, from Midgets, to Sprint Cars, to Indy Cars. At points during his storied career, Opperman lived in Lincoln and later called Beaver Crossing his “adopted hometown.”

Opperman was known as "The Original Outlaw," choosing to race at the highest paying shows he could find, instead of sticking with a particular race track or sanctioning body. From the late 1960s through the mid 1970s, he won dozens of dirt track races across the country each year, scoring an impressive 39 main event wins in 72 starts in 1971 and piling up 44 feature race victories in 90 starts in 1972.

He began his Nebraska racing tenure in 1969, driving the Speedway Motors 4X Sprint Car for Bill Smith and that year, won his first major Sprint Car title, the Big Car Racing Association (BCRA) championship.

His biggest dirt track wins were the 1971 Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals, the Western World Championship at Manzanita (Arizona) Speedway in 1971 and 72, and the Hulman Classic in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1976. Opp also won the 1974 and 1975 IMCA Winternationals Championships in Tampa, Florida, driving for Bill Smith in 1974 and Al Hamilton in 1975, and secured his second BCRA title, racing for Smith, in 1975.

Opperman fulfilled a lifelong dream by qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 in 1974 and 1976. He finished 16th in the 1976 Memorial Day Classic, but a few months later suffered critical head injuries while battling for the lead at the Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. After sitting out the 1977 season, he returned to racing in 1978, but three years later, in June of 1981, suffered career-ending injuries in a violent Sprint Car accident at Jennerstown, Pennsylvania. That accident left him partially-paralyzed until his death in 1997.

As Robin Miller, one of the country’s foremost authorities on Open Wheel racing, once wrote, “Those of us fortunate enough to have been around Opperman, witnessed something special. He jumped in strange cars, bad cars, underpowered cars, underfinanced cars and excelled. He made magic, not excuses, and left an indelible impression. Opp was what racing was all about!”

Opperman was one of the most popular drivers to ever strap into a race car, and was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1990.

Joe Saldana


“Little Joe” Saldana was born in Clay Center, Nebraska and moved to Lincoln at an early age. His uncle, Orville Hoffman, along with Buck Fallstead, owned Modified Stock cars and Saldana was bitten by the racing bug before he was old enough to drive.

In 1961, Saldana purchased his first car, a 1932 Ford on a 1939 Chevrolet frame with a Chevrolet V8 engine, for just $500, and made his racing debut at Lincoln Speedway at Capital Beach that season.

By 1964, Saldana was winning feature races in his own creations, and a few years later, in 1967, with the help of master car builder Don Brown, constructed the “Mechanical Rabbit” roadster that thrust the young driver into the national spotlight. That year, Saldana finished second in the point standings at Knoxville Raceway, and set the track record during qualifying for the Knoxville Nationals with a one-lap time of 21.45 seconds. Saldana was on his way towards winning the Knoxville Nationals main event that year when a wheel on the race car broke with six laps remaining.

Saldana went on to an incredible 25 year racing career before his retirement from the sport at the conclusion of the 1985 season. During his career, Saldana won the Knoxville Raceway points championship in 1970, qualified for the main event at the Knoxville Nationals eight times, and won the prestigious event, in dominating fashion, in 1970. Other major event wins for “Little Joe” included the 1973 Tony Hulman Classic at the Terre Haute Action Track, and the 1976 Hoosier Hundred at Indiana State Fairgrounds Speedway in Indianapolis, after a furious battle with A.J. Foyt over the final 51 laps.

Saldana attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 each year from 1977 through 1982, qualifying for the Memorial Day Classic in both 1978 and 1979. His best finish at the 500 was in 1978 when he drove Gus and Dick Hoffman’s Eagle Offy to a 15th place finish, after qualifying with a speed of just over 190 miles per hour.

During his career, Saldana had numerous USAC Champ Car and Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) top-ten runs and finished 15th in the final CART point standings in 1979. He also finished in the top ten in the USAC Dirt Car point standings on three different occasions.

D. William “Bill” Smith


D. William “Bill” Smith grew up in Lincoln where he quickly developed an interest in auto racing. At age 19, he built his first race car, a Roadster, crafted from a 1930 Model A Ford with a Ford V8 engine.

During his college years, after his mother convinced him to quit driving race cars, Smith became a car owner and thus began a long career of campaigning Jalopies, Roadsters, Dragsters, Super Modifieds, various types of Stock Cars, Sprint Cars, Indy Cars, Dirt Champ Cars, and Bonneville and Pike’s Peak cars. All of Smith’s cars carried the number 4X and were painted Royal Triton Purple in color.

In 1952, after marrying his college sweetheart, Joyce Uphoff, Smith fulfilled a dream by founding Speedway Motors. Shortly thereafter, his new wife gave him the nickname “Speedy Bill,” a name which he became known by in the racing world for the remainder of his life.

Smith’s cars initially raced with the Nebraska Hot Rod Racing Association (NHRRA). In 1952, he built a Stock Car which was driven by Tiny Lund that became the first Pontiac to enter a NASCAR-sanctioned race in 1956.

In 1960, Smith built the famous 4X 1932 Ford Sedan, which was driven by Lloyd Beckman, and the pair became virtually unbeatable, winning countless events throughout the Midwest.

Smith purchased his first Sprint Car in 1967 with Beckman, Jan Opperman, Eddie Leavitt, Ray Lee Goodwin, Joe Saldana, Doug Wolfgang, Ron Shuman, and Shane Carson, among others, handling the driving chores over the years. Major wins included the Jerry Weld Memorial in Kansas City in 1975 and the 1976 Tony Hulman Classic in Terre Haute, Indiana, both with Opperman in the cockpit. Wolfgang piloted the car to major event victories in the 1978 Dirt Cup at Skagit Speedway in Washington, the 1978 and 1980 Southern Sprint Nationals at East Bay Speedway in Florida, and the 1978 Knoxville Nationals.

Other major accomplishments for Smith included winning the 1989 American Indy Car Series championship with Robby Unser at the wheel and the 1994 Pike’s Peak Hill Climb, with Unser piloting a radical open-wheel car designed by Smith’s son Carson.

Smith’s involvement in racing continued until his death in 2014. Two of his major points of pride, Speedway Motors and Bill Smith’s Museum of American Speed remain popular with racing enthusiasts around the world today.

Gene Van Winkle


Gene Van Winkle was raised in Lincoln, where his father owned a used car lot. As a young adult, following in his father’s footsteps, Van Winkle opened Van Winkle Motors in Lincoln which became known as the “Gasoline Alley” of the State Capitol area.

Van Winkle’s official involvement in racing began in 1940 when he and his brother Lloyd purchased a V8-powered Midget and campaigned it on race tracks in Western Nebraska.

At the conclusion of World War II, Al Sweeney and Gaylord White’s National Speedways, Inc. (NSI) of Chicago received its International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) license and made its first appearance at the Nebraska State Fairgrounds track in 1946. Van Winkle was appointed pit steward and his wife Lucille worked the pit gate. A year later, Van Winkle broke in as the nattily-attired race starter at the State Fair.

By the mid 1950s, Van Winkle had assumed duties as the official NSA starter for the approximately 60 county fair and state fair race dates throughout the country.

The schedule included approximately 35 Big Car/Sprint Car events, 20 dates for Late Model Stock Cars, plus around five Midget dates each year.

In 1961, Van Winkle was named Vice President of NSI by Sweeney, and a couple of years later, added the title of General Manager. At the time, NSI presented shows at the state fairs in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Florida, as well as a number of other major fairs including the Ozark Empire Fair in Missouri, the North Central Kansas Free Fair, the Wisconsin Valley Fair, and the Mid-America Fair in Topeka. Other premier races run under the NSI banner included the Hawkeye Futurity in Des Moines, the Missouri Futurity in Sedalia, and the Little 500 in Anderson, Indiana.

Following the 1972 season, Sweeney officially retired and Van Winkle was named President of National Speedways, Inc.

During the waning years of the original IMCA, National Speedways, Inc. was sold in 1977 and NSI became part of the National Speedways Contest Association, a new name on the racing scene.

Following his death in 1996, Van Winkle was posthumously inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa in 1998.

Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame

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