Class of 2008

Joe Fahnestock


Although details on the youth and adolescence of Joseph M. “Joe” Fahnestock are unclear, he eventually ended up in Lincoln and became one of the most influential people in auto racing in Nebraska in the 1930s. It is entirely possible that without his influence, auto racing in the state may not have existed at that time.

In 1932 Fahnestock was named Director of Auto Racing at the Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln. During his first year at the helm, a stellar field of Big Cars showed up at the Fair including Art Challenger, Ted Davis, Bert Ficken, Curly Freeman, Johnny Gerber, Clyde Gilbert, Ted Hartley, Speed Haskell, Lawrence Hughes and Tex West. Teammates Gerber and Clark were the big winners during the two days of racing that year.

During Fahnestock’s tenure at the State Fair, the annual event continued to draw the biggest names in racing, with Cunningham, Louis Durant, Gilbert, Haskell, Sam Hoffman, and Ben Musick, scoring wins. One of the notable “also-rans” was future Indianapolis 500 winner Floyd Davis, who raced in Lincoln in 1933 but could only muster a third place finish as his best result.

In 1934, when the Midget racing craze hit the Midwest, Fahnestock single-handedly brought the smaller cars to Nebraska. He built Midget tracks and promoted races at Creighton Stadium, Irish Valley Speedway, and Wirt League Field in Omaha, and Landis Field and the Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln.

The biggest names in Midget racing competed at Fahnestock’s venues including Pat Cunningham, Carl Forberg, Ralph Foster, Sam Hoffman, Eddie Kracek, Ben Musick, Ralph Pratt, and Charlie Taggert. Car owners who got their start on Fahnestock’s Midget circuit included Les King, Otto Ramer and Chet Wilson.

Perhaps the greatest racing event Fahnestock ever put together was Ord’s 1938 Valley County Fair Midget races. Fahnestock teamed with legendary promoter Clyde Baker to put on the event which attracted one of the strongest fields of Midget racers ever assembled. Future Indianapolis 500 racer Harry McQuinn swept the races.

Professionalism was the hallmark of a Fahnestock race event, whether he was working as the Promoter or the Official Starter. He dressed in white trousers and a white shirt with a black tie and a white hat.

After the World War II scuttled automobile racing, Fahnestock disappeared from the scene. He eventually became an automotive instructor at the technical school in Milford and passed away some time later.

Terry Fritsch


Terry Fritsch, Sr. was born in Omaha and acquired an interest in racing through his father, Larry. As a youngster in the mid 1950s, Fritsch and his father attended drag racing events at the Nebraska Motorplex near Scribner. At the age of 11, he began racing go-karts, but later turned his attention to drag racing.

Fritsch finished building his first drag car in 1961, an A Dragster with a tubular frame and a modified Oldsmobile engine providing the horsepower. That year the car made its first quarter-mile run at Flightland Drag Strip at the Blair, Nebraska Airport at a speed of over 104 miles per hour. Just prior to his 16th birthday, Fritsch established a record in the car that will probably never be broken when he became the youngest driver ever to participate at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

Fritsch continued to race in his home-built dragster through the 1964 season when he unveiled a new hand-crafted creation. The new machine utilized an injected Oldsmobile engine and was run as an A Competition Roadster. Fritsch had great success in the new car winning numerous events and qualifying for the World Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1966. Fritsch easily won the Competition Eliminator trophy at Tulsa, pocketing $2150 in cash for his efforts.

In 1967, after destroying the unique Oldsmobile power plant during a meet in Sioux City, Fritsch made the decision to switch to a Chrysler Hemi and immediately the wins began to pile up. In 1969, Fritsch won the Competition Eliminator trophy at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

Fritsch’s most unique dragster was a twin-engined Top Alcohol Dragster designed to compete against the supercharged single-engined cars. The car, which was powered by two fuel injected 377 cubic inch Chevrolet engines, required more than two years to build and made its first run down the strip in 1982. The car was always a crowd-pleaser, but unfortunately, was at a serious weight disadvantage which ultimately became impossible to overcome.

During his drag racing career, Fritsch competed in 16 states from Florida to California. He appeared at the U.S. Nationals three times winning Competition Eliminator there in 1969. He was also the NHRA Division V champion in 1969 and was a multiple-time national record holder.

After retiring as a driver, Fritsch founded FCR Performance in Omaha in 1978, a business dedicated to high performance products including racing engines.

Joe Orth


Joe Orth was raised in Lincoln and attended his first racing event as a youngster at Playland Park in Council Bluffs. He later began attending races at Capital Beach in Lincoln.

After spending a couple of years in Vietnam, Orth returned to civilian life and was invited to become a crew member on the Larry Swanson Sprint Car team by high school friends, Gale Murkel and Don Barker. In 1971, he officially became a crew member on the team with Lonnie Jensen as the driver. The team was at the top of its game and, with Orth turning wrenches, won features that year at Beatrice Speedway, Eagle Raceway, Midwest Speedway in Lincoln, Knoxville Raceway in Iowa, and the Belleville (Kansas) High Banks.

In 1972, the team won the point championship at both Eagle and Knoxville, and secured the Big Car Racing Association (BCRA) title. They also ran third at the Knoxville Nationals. Over the next three years, the team had success with drivers Chuck Amati, Lloyd Beckman, Don Maxwell, Dick Morris, Jan Opperman, Roger Rager, Ron Shuman, and Dick Sutcliffe behind the wheel.

When Swanson retired from racing, rather than find another team to work with, Orth decided to move to the infield and pursue another passion, photography. Initially honing his craft at Eagle and Midwest, Orth received his big break when Mike Arthur, the editor of Paul Oxman’s Sprint Car Calendar asked him to provide photos from the Midwest for the upcoming edition. As a result, Orth has been a regular contributor to the Sprint Car Calendar for over 30 years.

Other publications that have featured Orth’s imagery include Dirt Modified magazine, Hawkeye Racing News, Flat Out magazine, Open Wheel magazine, Mid-States Racing News, NASCAR Scene, Sprint Car and Midget magazine, and Western Racing News.

Orth continues to be one of the top lensmen in the business, working some of the top events in the country. He has shot at the Knoxville Nationals for nearly 50 years and at the Chile Bowl Nationals in Tulsa for over 30 years. He has also shot numerous times at the Belleville (Kansas) Midget Nationals and has taken photos for the World of Outlaws (WoO), the American Sprint Car Series (ASCS), as well as NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing).

In spite of his travels across the country, Orth has continued as the track photographer at Eagle Raceway since 1986.

Bob Nickolite


Bob Nickolite was born in Silver Creek, Nebraska and was raised in Columbus. He became interested in all types of sports at a young age and was a letterman in football, basketball, and track at Columbus High School, achieving All-State honors in football as a Senior in 1949. He later became a high school football and basketball official, creating the foundation for his career in motor sports officiating.

In 1951, while attending an automobile race in North Platte, the regular flagman failed to show up and because of his past sports officiating experience, promoter Ed O’Boyle called on Nickolite to come out of the grandstands and wave the flags. He went on to flag races from the mid 1950s through the 1970s at Beatrice, Columbus, David City, Eagle, Lexington, Lincoln (at both Capital Beach and Midwest Speedway), Nebraska City, and Ord, and was also the Official Starter for the Nebraska Modified Racing Association. Nickolite also flagged events at the Belleville (Kansas) Highbanks, Lakeside Speedway in Denver, Colorado, Riverside Speedway and Olympic Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, Playland Park Speedway in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and State Fair Speedway in St. Paul, Minnesota.

While working at Playland Park in the early 1960s, Nickolite met with promoter Abe Slusky and popular announcer Joe Patrick and laid the ground work for the area’s first televised racing events. Later, he hosted a radio show from Lincoln’s Midwest Speedway.

Besides flagging, Nickolite was also successful as a race promoter. He promoted races in Beatrice, Columbus, David City, and South Sioux City, Nebraska as well as race events in Belleville, Kansas, Denver, Colorado, and St. Paul, Minnesota.

In the 1990s, Nickolite was instrumental in building the new dirt track and returning auto racing to the Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln. After racing took a nearly two decade hiatus at the State Fairgrounds, he and Gary Swenson co-promoted three events there in 1994. From 1995 through 2000, Nickolite and Tony Glenn, co-promoted the Nebraska State Racing Championships at State Fair Park. In 1996, Nickolite again collaborated with Glenn, Bob Burdick, Wayne Dake, Bill Smith, and Ray Valasek to put the wheels in motion for the formation of the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

Nickolite was inducted into the Columbus High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011. He passed away in 2014.

John Wilkinson


John Wilkinson was born in Hastings and moved to Lincoln with his family when he was a youngster. He was a high school football star at Lincoln High School and played college ball at both Fairbury Junior College and the University of Nebraska.

Wilkinson began his racing career as a 19 year old in 1949, competing at a County Fair race in Auburn. Although he wrecked his car during the race, his career behind the wheel was underway.

The following year, Wilkinson began racing for Avery Pickering at Playland Park Speedway in Council Bluffs and Grandview Race Bowl in Bellevue. In 1953, the pair began racing at the newly-built Lincoln Speedway at Capitol Beach and quickly became a consistent challenger. Eventually Wilkinson answered the call to pilot a Super Modified for Gordy Zeller at Columbus, David City, and Norfolk and the team immediately went on a tear, winning everything in sight. At one point, they won ten feature races in a row between the three tracks.

After one season with Zeller, Wilkinson reunited with Pickering and the pair picked up where they left off, winning consistently at Capitol Beach. As their success continued, they began to branch out, racing against the tough competition at Knoxville, Iowa; Sedalia, Missouri; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

When Capitol Beach closed in 1963, Wilkinson took his talents to a pair of new area race tracks, Eagle Raceway and Midwest Speedway where he and Lloyd Beckman became the featured attraction. In 1965, Wilkinson received a call from Charlie Williams and Gary Swenson and became the chauffeur of their brand new Super Modified. Racing against the best open-wheel drivers in the Midwest, the team won three of their first four nights together and captured the point championship at Midwest.

At the height of his game, and after having finally won a championship over Beckman, the driver he had chased his entire career, Wilkinson abruptly retired from the sport. A few years later, while living in California, he was given a final opportunity to drive for Williams and Swenson at Eagle Raceway and promptly put the car in victory lane.

During his career, Wilkinson raced against and beat the best, including Beckman, Frank Brennfoerder, Keith Hightshoe, Lonnie Jensen, Roy McCain, Joe Saldana, Cliff Sealock, and Marv Sohl.

Wilkinson passed away in 2008, just weeks prior to his induction into the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

Charlie Williams


Charlie Williams was born in Des Moines, Iowa and lived in Iowa and Kansas before moving to Lincoln with the Burlington Railroad.

Williams’ first involvement in auto racing was in 1959 with his future son-in-law, Gary Swenson, and the partnership became known in racing circles as Swenson/Williams Racing.

Over the years, the team had success against the best the sport had to offer, particularly at the prestigious Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals. In 1966, with Lloyd Beckman at the controls, their car set fast time at the Nationals, won a preliminary feature race, and finished second in the Nationals Championship event. In 1968, Ray Lee Goodwin again powered the Williams and Swenson machine to fast time at the Nationals, winning a preliminary feature, and scoring the team’s only Knoxville Nationals title. Goodwin also set fast time at the Nationals in 1969, and finished third and fifth place, respectively, in the Nationals Championship event in 1970 and 1971.

The team of Williams and Swenson won numerous point championships together. Cliff Sealock powered their car to the track championship at Beatrice Speedway in 1963, and John Wilkinson and Lloyd Beckman drove their machine to back-to-back track titles at Midwest Speedway in Lincoln in 1965 and 1966. In addition, Ray Lee Goodwin captured a championship for the team at Eagle Raceway in 1970, at Knoxville Raceway and Mid-America Fairgrounds Speedway in Topeka, Kansas in 1971, and at Midwest Speedway in 1972. Beckman captured the Nebraska Modified Racing Association title for Williams and Swenson in 1966, picking up eleven wins along the way, and Goodwin won the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) Sprint Car title for the team in 1972. During their 14 years together, Williams and Swenson machines won events at race tracks in Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, and Illinois. They raced at the most prestigious Sprint Car venues in the country and against the best competition in the sport.

Some of the most talented drivers to ever strap into a Sprint Car drove the Swenson/Williams number-24 including not only Beckman, Goodwin, Sealock, and Wilkinson, but also Ralph Blackett, Arnie Hesser, Keith Hightshoe, “Lil” Joe Saldana, and Jay Woodside.

Williams retired from racing in 1973 and passed away in 1983. He and Swenson were inducted as a team into the Big Car Racing Association (BCRA) Hall of Fame in 2010.

Bill Wrich


Bill Wrich was born and raised on a farm near Kennard, Nebraska. His first racing experience came in 1954 when, as a 16 year old, he asked his father if he could race at the newly built 1/5 mile race track at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Arlington. Assuming his son wouldn’t like the experience, his dad gave him the okay and Wrich responded by winning his heat race and the trophy dash before retiring from the feature race with car problems.

Wrich went on to finish fourth in the point standings that first year in Arlington and three years later, in 1957, won the track championship there. By the early 1960s, he had become one of the top drivers in the area, winning the track championship at Playland Park in Council Bluffs in 1961 and sharing the track title at Sunset Speedway in Omaha with Bud Burdick. In 1962, Wrich won the Mid-States Championship at Skylark Raceway in Columbus, outdistancing a field of 53 cars from a five-state area on his first-ever trip to the facility.

In 1968, Wrich teamed up with Harlan, Iowa mechanical whiz, Dale Swanson, and the pair dominated the competition at both Harlan and Denison, winning championships at both tracks. In 1969, driving for Tom Gawley, Wrich won his second track championship at Sunset Speedway and finished second in points at Harlan.

During the 1970s, Wrich campaigned on the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) fair circuit and with the United States Auto Club (USAC). He finished fourth in the IMCA New Model Stock Car points in 1976 and third in 1977. Wrich won the final race in the long history of the IMCA Stock Car circuit at Spencer, Iowa on September 10, 1977. Competing with USAC, Wrich scored two top-ten finishes including a fifth place finish at Terre Haute, Indiana in 1975. He won the Late Model portion of the Sunset Speedway Triple Crown in both 1973 and 1977.

After a short hiatus from racing, Wrich returned and won the first Grand National Late Model championship at Sunset in 1995. His final race was a legends race at I80 Speedway in Greenwood in 2005, which he won.

Wrich’s racing career spanned portions of six decades. Driving Coupes, Stock Cars, Late Models and Legend Cars, he won countless feature races and numerous track championships and special events.

He passed away in 2016.

Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame

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