Class of 2000

Noel Bullock


Noel Bullock was born in Franklin, Nebraska and at a young age moved with his parents and family to a homestead in what would eventually become known as Madrid, Nebraska.

In 1918, as a teenager, Bullock assembled his first race car in an old blacksmith shop. He earned a heralded driving record in the car while racing at county fairs and other dirt tracks throughout Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas and Colorado. Over the next five years, Bullock’s Ford Special won over 80 racing events, many on mile race tracks.

Bullock’s most prestigious win came in 1922, when at age 23, he achieved international fame by scoring an unexpected win at the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb in his hand-built car. Entered alongside the big, powerful, and beautifully finished cars representing Hudson, Packard, Mercer, Essex, Wills St. Claire, and Revere, Bullock’s make-shift machine, known as “Tin Lizzy,” was given no chance of winning the 12 ½ mile event. When the dust settled however, Bullock hopped out of his car and claimed the $500.00 first prize and the coveted 43-inch tall Colorado Penrose Trophy. The “kid” from Nebraska had won!

Bullock’s win over the well-funded “factory” entries so infuriated race organizers that the following year, the rules were changed and he was unable to defend his Pike’s Peak title.

In 1924, Bullock moved to Denver where he opened a motor service and repair business while continuing his racing career. That summer, he scored wins at Overland Park, Pueblo, and Longmont, Colorado including a win at Overland Park in June when over 6,000 fans watched him dispatch of some of the top drivers of that era including Byron “Speed” Higley, Roy Allen, and Fred Merzney.

Following the 1924 season, Bullock moved to Los Angeles, where he opened another automotive shop and raced at Banning Speedway and Legion Ascot Speedway through the 1927 season.

Bullock’s career as a race car driver is nearly inseparable from an equally impressive career in flying. In 1919, under the tutelage of Reed Davis of North Platte, Bullock learned how to fly an airplane and soon thereafter, opened the North Platte Aircraft Company. Bullock and Reed formed the Victory Flyers and put on air shows all over the country. .

Bullock tragically died on December 22, 1934, at age 45, when the plane he was piloting, was forced to make a landing in the ocean after leaving Mazatlan, Mexico headed to LaPaz, California.

Bob Burdick


Robert “Bob” Burdick was born in Omaha and developed a love for racing as a youngster while watching his uncle Bud race motorcycles.

In 1955, Burdick’s dad, Roy, who had owned stock cars since 1949, built a 1955 Ford to compete on the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) circuit and placed his son behind the wheel. In his first opportunity, Burdick finished third in a 200 mile IMCA race at Hutchinson, Kansas.

Burdick won four times in each of his first two years on the circuit, and in 1957, won 22 IMCA events including all of the major state fair races. He finished a close second in the final IMCA standings that year, behind Johnny Beauchamp.

At the end of the 1959 season, Burdick was drafted into the Army, and racing was temporarily put on hold. His father put together a NASCAR Grand National (now known as Cup) team and in the interim, hired Beauchamp as his driver. Burdick was able to use his Army leave to go racing on occasion however, and in his first ever Grand National start, in the Northern 300 at Trenton, New Jersey, he sat on the pole. Although a fire took him out of the Trenton race early, he earned his first career top-10 finish a week later at Nashville and later that year, at the Southern 500 in Darlington, South Carolina, he sat a track record during qualifying and finished second.

Because of his obligations to the military, Burdick was only able to make a handful of NASCAR starts in 1960, but the following year, he scored the biggest win of his career when he passed Marvin Paunch with 43 laps to go to record an upset victory in the Atlanta 500.

From 1959 through 1962, Burdick entered a total of 15 NASCAR races and recorded his only win at Atlanta, scored two top five finishes, both at Darlington, as well as six top ten finishes. He sat on the pole twice, led a total of 70 laps, and racked up nearly $30,000 in total earnings.

In the early 1960s, Burdick ran Supermodifieds, scoring victories in Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas driving for Ernie Motz of Omaha and Kettelson’s Automotive of Lincoln.

Burdick, who was the only Nebraska driver to win a race in NASCAR’s premier division, passed away in 2007.

Jim Gessford


Jim Gessford was born in Bloomington, Nebraska but spent most of his adolescent years in Holdrege, where he attended school. He developed a love for cars and engines at an early age and during his high school years began building his first race car.

After a short driving career, Gessford hired Chuck Sears, who at time used the alias Bill Tague, to drive his race car. In 1950, with Sears at the wheel, Gessford’s “Deuce” set a number of track records and scored numerous feature race wins.

The following year Gordie Shuck assumed the driving duties. One of Shuck’s most memorable wins in Gessford’s Flathead Ford was a stunning win over Frank Luptow’s Bardahl “Black Panther” Offenhauser in a heat race at the Nebraska State Fair in 1951.

In 1955, Gessford and “Starvin” Marvin Copple purchased a brand new Oldsmobile and prepared it to race in the NASCAR beach race at Daytona. Copple drove the car and finished the grueling race which was run partially on sand and partially on a two-lane road that paralleled the beach.

During the summer of 1955, Gessford moved to Hastings where he opened a machine shop, which became known as Gessford Machine Shop. Through the years, Gessford fabricated a number of racing products including axle housings, steering gears, engine components, and complete race engines.

In 1960, with Cliff Sealock at the wheel, Gessford’s Roadster won points championship at David City, Beatrice, and Capital Beach in Lincoln. Gessford later owned and provided engines for both Supermodifieds and Sprint Cars and in 1973, Dick Sutcliffe wheeled a Gessford co-owned and powered Sprinter to six consecutive feature race wins and a track championship at Knoxville Raceway.

Over the years Gessford’s machines raced in over a dozen states from Florida to California with 15 different drivers at the controls, including Chuck Sears, Gordie Shuck, Cliff Sealock, Dick Sutcliffe, Don Maxwell, Lloyd Beckman, Roger Rager, Mike Shafer, and Kenny McCarty.

Regarded as an innovator, Gessford was one of the early car owners to experiment with alcohol as a racing fuel and also built and championed many unique innovations including a magneto with two sets of points, which allowed the driver to cut back on power when the race car began to lose traction in dry racing conditions.

Gessford, who passed away in 2004, was posthumously inducted into the BCRA (Big Car Racing Association) Hall of Fame in 2006.

Joe Kosiske


A native of Omaha, Joe Kosiske’s involvement in racing began in 1949 when he built a race car which was driven by Stan Williams at Grandview Race Bowl in Bellevue and Playland Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Following his son Bob’s graduation from high school in 1952, Kosiske put Bob in the cockpit of his newly built 1932 Ford Modified Coupe. Success came quickly with the car winning races at Central City and David City that year. The following season they won a track championship at Riverside Speedway in South Omaha and finished third at Playland Park. In 1954 and 1955, Kosiske’s car continued winning races at both Riverside and Playland Park, while also scoring wins at Wayne, Norfolk and David City, Nebraska and Anita, Iowa.

After his son Bob completed a two year commitment to the military, Koskske put together a Ford Thunderbird in 1959 which was campaigned at state and county fair events with the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA). Bob finished eighth in the final IMCA standings that year with wins at Hutchinson, Minnesota and LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

In February of 1960, the father and son duo entered their Thunderbird in NASCAR’s Daytona 500. In one of the 100 mile qualifying races, Bob finished 18th. Two days later, in “The Great American Race,” he finished 44th in a 68-car field when the car’s rear end gave out.

That summer, the pair again returned to the IMCA circuit where Bob finished fifth in the final point standings. Their biggest win came at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul where their Thunderbird set a new 12-lap record and won the 100-lap feature race. That win was followed by a second place finish in an afternoon race in Madison, Minnesota on September 11 and a win in that evening’s 100-lap feature. Unfortunately, in the early hours following the Madison win, Joe Kosiske was tragically killed in an automobile accident just south of Rock Rapids, Iowa. Following the accident, IMCA created the Joe Kosiske Memorial Trophy which was awarded for several years to the IMCA National Stock Car Champion.

In addition to his achievements as a car owner, engine builder, and mechanic, Joe Kosiske’s love of auto racing also started a tradition of family racing excellence passed down through his son Bob to his grandsons Joe, Steve and Ed, and eventually to a number of his great grandchildren.

Robert “Bobby” Parker


Robert “Bobby” Parker was born and raised in Omaha and in the mid 1940s, as a teenager, began attending Midget races at Playland Park in Council Bluffs.

Midway through the 1949 season, Wayne “Bromo” Selser, who was an accomplished Midget racer, helped Bobby secure his first ride in a car owned by Floyd Austin. Almost immediately, Parker became one of the top drivers at Playland racing against some of the top Midget drivers in the Midwest including Selser, Jud Larson, Bob Slater, Mac McHenry, and Der Merkley.

In 1950, when the Modified Stock Cars first appeared at Playland Park, Bobby’s father, Gene, put together a car which Bobby drove at Playland, Riverside Speedway in Omaha and Grandview Race Bowl in Bellevue. Before long, Bobby was winning races against the likes of Bud Burdick, Johnny Beauchamp, and Don Pash. In 1953, Parker narrowly lost the Playland Park point championship to Burdick on the final night of the season when he threw a wheel, forcing him out of the race.

In 1957, Parker landed a ride in Ed Murcek’s 1934 Ford Sedan for the inaugural season at Sunset Speedway in Omaha. In spite of winning only one feature event, Parker won the point championship at Sunset that season and the following year grabbed three feature wins while securing his second consecutive Sunset crown.

During that same time period, Parker was also sitting in the cockpit of some of the top Midget race cars, driving for Les Vaughn, Otto Ramer, Les King, Art Jacobson, and Roy Thomas. Although Parker won races for each owner, it was with Jacobson that he had his greatest success as a Midget driver. The team of Jacobson and Parker raced throughout the Midwest in the 1950s and early 1960s and won everywhere they went. They won Kansas City Midget Auto Racing Association (KCMARA) events at Olympic Stadium in Kansas City, Shawnee County Speedway in Topeka, Kansas, and the Antelope County Fair in Neligh, Nebraska and also scored numerous wins in Minnesota racing with the Northeast Midget Auto Racing Association (MNARA).

During his career which spanned portions of three decades, Parker won over 250 Midget feature races throughout the Midwest and also scored numerous wins in both Coupes and Modified Stock Cars in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska.

Gordon Smiley


Gordon Smiley was born and raised in Omaha. After briefly attending the University of Omaha, he left school to quench his thirst for racing, working as a crew member on his father’s Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) team.

After learning all he could from his father, Smiley launched his own SCCA career, driving in his first race at 19 years of age. He raced and won in five different SCCA divisions, while setting 25 track records and winning the SCCA National Championship four times.

In 1979 Smiley, who became known as “Flash Gordon,” moved to England and raced in the European Aurora Formula One Series. He was a consistent front-runner and in eleven races had eight top-10 finishes including a dramatic last-corner win in the Series Championship Race in Silverstone, England.

So impressive was his Formula One showing that the following year he was hired by the Patrick Racing Team to drive an Indy Car at the Ontario 200. Driving a Penske PC-6, Smiley started the race in 14th position and finished sixth. After his respectable Indy Car debut, he was given a chance to qualify in the Indianapolis 500 for Patrick.

With only two practices, Smiley qualified the Patrick car with a speed of 186.848 miles per hour, the second fastest rookie qualifying time at Indy. He started the Memorial Day Classic in 20th position and was running as high as fifth when a turbocharger fire on the 47th lap ended his day. A year later, in 1981, Smiley qualified eighth at Indianapolis and led the 500 for one lap, before a crash on lap 141 scored him as the 22nd place finisher.

Smiley’s final attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 came on May 15, 1982 in the Fletcher Racing Intermedics Cosworth. Confident he could secure the pole starting position, tragedy struck during a warm up lap prior to his first qualifying run. While running in excess of 200 miles per hour, the rear end of Smiley’s race car started to come loose. When he corrected, the car took a sharp right turn and shot towards the wall. The car virtually exploded on impact ending Smiley’s life at the age of 36 years old.

Although Gordon Smiley’s Indy Car career lasted only three years, he is remembered as a personable, yet aggressive driver who was seen as one of the sport’s rising super stars.

Les Vaughn


A native of Omaha, Les Vaughn’s involvement in racing began in 1948 at Playland Park in Council Bluffs. Vaughn’s 24-hour towing service provided a wrecker to the track and it wasn’t long before he decided to build a race car. The car, a 1940 Ford Coupe, carried what would become Vaughn’s signature number-24, representative of his 24-hour service.

By 1957, Vaughn’s racing fleet totaled eight race cars; two Modified Stock Cars, two Midgets, two Sprint Cars, and two Three-Quarter Midgets.

Vaughn’s Midgets raced throughout the Midwest at such strongholds as Olympic Stadium in Kansas City, Riverview Park in Sioux City, Playland Park in Council Bluffs, and Riverside Speedway in North Kansas City. His two Offenhauser powered cars were driven by Bobby Parker, Der Merkley, Bob Slater, Larry Wheeler and Vito Calia.

As Midget racing began to wane in the 1950s, Vaughn began racing Big Cars, competing mainly with the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA). By the mid-1950s, his cars were considered some of the most coveted rides on the circuit. At an event in Minot, North Dakota in August of 1956, after observing a 21-year old Midget driver from Texas aggressively wheel a competitor’s Sprinter during hot laps, Vaughn promptly hired the young driver, whose name was A.J. Foyt. The next day, at the Red River Fair in Fargo, Foyt put the Vaughn Offy on the cushion and ran away with his first IMCA feature race. Despite his late start, Foyt finished 20th in the IMCA point standings that season.

Although Foyt left for the United States Auto Club in 1957, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to drive the Vaughn Sprinter one final time. In June of that year, at an IMCA race on the high-banked half-mile asphalt oval at Salem, Indiana, Foyt powered the Vaughn Offenhauser to a half lap win over a star-studded field. Vaughn later described this as his biggest win as a car owner.

The drivers who drove Vaughn’s cars reads like a Who’s Who of racing talent including Jud Larson, “Tiny” Lund, “Porky” Rachwitz, Bobby Parker, Mac McHenry, “Cotton” Farmer, and “Bromo” Selser, among others.

In late 1960, while at an IMCA event in Oklahoma City, Vaughn suffered a heart attack. Although he recovered, his doctors told him his traveling days were over ending his career as a car owner.

Vaughn passed away in February of 1966 at the age of 61.

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