Class of 2017

Mike Barnett


Mike Barnett’s introduction into auto racing came as a Junior High School youngster in Lincoln when he and Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductee, Jim Riggins, were given a 1948 Ford Coupe which they quickly fashioned into a race car. As both of them were too young to drive at the time, they had to hire a driver in order to race the car at the former Lincoln Speedway at Capitol Beach.

In 1970, Riggins purchased a home-built Modified frame and over the next few seasons the pair raced the Chevrolet-powered machine at several tracks in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota. In 1971, the car ran an astonishing 59 times and placed second in the C Feature at the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals. That same year, Barnett was voted Mechanic of the Year by the Nebraska Modified Racing Association (NMRA).

Prior to the 1975 season, Riggins purchased a used Bob Trostle Sprint Car which the pair raced at both Midwest Speedway in Lincoln and Knoxville Raceway in Iowa. Riggins upgraded to a Don Maxwell car for the 1977 season, and Barnett traveled with the race team as the mechanic. That season, they finished fifth in points at Knoxville and just before the Knoxville Nationals that year, Riggins finished second in an Outlaw Sprint Car event in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

Barnett went racing with Jim Schuman and Ed Bowes in 1981, mainly at Midwest Speedway and Knoxville. The following year, Mike Brooks drove the car at Knoxville and Bennett also was building engines for Mike Nicholson.

In 1983, Barnett was approached by Rex Hendrickson and Pete Leikam to work on a car that had been purchased from Gil Sonner. Barnett rebuilt the car and the machine was raced in Lincoln and David City that season.

In 1984, Leikam bought another used race car and asked Barnett to “work his magic” on it. Mike did as requested, and Don Droud Sr. was put behind the wheel. Droud picked up five feature race wins in the car that year and won the track championship at Midwest Speedway, and the following season captured the Eagle Nationals and the Labor Day Sprint Festival at Midwest.

After retiring as a team mechanic, Barnett served as Director of Competition for the Nebraska Sprint Car Association (NSCA) from the late 1990s through the early 2000s. He also co-sponsored Sprint Cars driven by Jason Danley and Keith Highshoe.

Gene Bichlmeier


Gene Bichlmeier is a native of Pierce, Nebraska but moved to Columbus following his graduation from high school. Most of his adult life however, has been spent in Norfolk.

Bichlmeier’s early days in drag racing were spent on the local streets and highways racing his 1965 Chevelle with a 327 cubic inch, 350 horsepower motor. He began his more formal racing career in 1965, driving a Chevrolet Malibu at tracks in Ainsworth, Grand Island, Kearney, Lincoln, and Omaha, Nebraska and Sioux City, Iowa.

In the early 1970s, Bichlmeier became known for his Modified Production Camaro and, later in the decade, for his black 1955 Chevrolet two-door sedan. More recently, Bichlmeier has raced Chevy II drag cars and his familiar 1955 Chevrolet two-door wagon. Throughout his over 50 year career, he has logged thousands of quarter-mile runs in eight different race cars, all equipped with manual transmissions.

Bichlmeier won point championships at Thunder Valley Dragway in Marion, South Dakota in 1979, 1981, 1982, 1984 and 1985. In 1982, 1987 and 1998, he won the point championship at Scribner Raceway (later known as Nebraska Motorplex) in nearby Scribner, Nebraska.

His national event resume includes a win in the 1997 NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) Winternationals in Pomona, California, and a semi-final finish in the 1997 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana. He also has a runner-up finish at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida to his credit. His countless hours on the engine dyno have rewarded him with 11 NHRA national ET and MPH records.

Bichlmeier is also an accomplished engine builder, building Sprint Car power plants during the 1980s for Kim Lingenfelter and Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductee Gerald Bruggeman.

During the course of his over 50 year racing career, Bichlmeier has raced in more than 20 states, accumulating hundreds of race wins including 45 Class victories. He has captured numerous points championships, and set or holds several speed records. In 1975, he was voted by his peers as the NHRA West Central Division Sportsmanship Award winner.

A large part of Bichlmeier’s enjoyment in the sport has been working on the race cars himself. He is known as an innovator and has helped and served as a mentor to many racers over the years.

Well into his 70s, Bichlmeier continues to race a Chevrolet in the GT/I Class at local and regional drag strips.

Paul Brown


Paul Brown was born in Denison, Iowa, but shortly after his birth, his family relocated to Omaha. The Brown family owned Mini Sport Import Repair and it was there that he was initially exposed to auto mechanics.

At age 16, Brown began entering club road races, driving a Volkswagen, and in 1986, received his first job in professional racing, driving for his father’s Saleen Autosport racing team. A year later, in 1987, Brown helped the team sweep all four categories in the Escort Endurance Series Championship. Brown competed in the series, which evolved into the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge, for almost two decades, finishing in the top 10 in over half of the events he ran.

After a successful career in the Midwest, Brown moved to California in 2000 where he went to work for his future in-laws, Tom and Bea Hollfelder at Tiger Racing. In 2006, he won the first NASA (National Auto Sport Association) American Iron Extreme (AIX) national race for Tiger Racing, and three years later, in 2009, won the AIX Series championship. In 2011, he posted five Pirelli World Challenge GTS victories, led more laps than all other GTS drivers combined, and won the SCCA Driver’s Championship, while securing, for Ford, the SCCA Manufacturer’s Championship.

He was a 5-time SCCA National Road Race champion, and over the years, held track records at numerous prestigious road courses including Mid Ohio Sports Car Course (Ohio), Road Atlanta (Georgia), Luguna Seca Raceway (California), Road America (Wisconsin), Mid-America Motorplex (Iowa), and Heartland Park Topeka (Kansas).

Just two weeks prior to the start of the 2012 season, Brown was diagnosed with an aggressive form of melanoma and drove his final race on July 15 of that year, as a last minute entry at an SCCA event at Road America. Despite having Stage 4 melanoma, he drove a Tiger Racing Ferrari from a last place start in a 35-car Can-Am field, to an impressive sixth place finish.

Brown’s competitive spirit, coupled with his friendliness and genuine personality, made him a favorite of fans, his fellow competitors and the media. He was a Tier 3 test driver for Ford, a factory test driver for Morgan Aero Racing USA, and a popular driver coach.

Brown passed away on October 13, 2012, less than three months after his final race.

Lynn Grabill


A second generation racer, Lynn Grabill grew up in Grand Island and strapped himself into a race car for the first time in 1957, as a 17 year old teenager, at the former race track in north Hastings. His car, a 1939 Ford Coupe, was owned by his father Wayne, who had raced stock cars in the 1930s in Harlan, Iowa.

During his early racing years, Grabill raced Coupes at a variety of mostly fairgrounds race tracks in southern Nebraska and northern Kansas and later, became known as the pilot of the number-12 “Grabill Special,” Modified which he campaigned weekly at Kearney and Hastings. In the mid-1970s, he took the wheel of the popular “Touché Turtle” Sprint Car owned by veteran car owner Mel Lammers of Kearney.

Grabill scored a major win in the annual Omaha World Herald Good Fellows Race at Playland Park Speedway in Council Bluffs , Iowa in 1962, besting a field that included National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee Lloyd Beckman. He also defeated legendary racer Johnny Beauchamp in a 1958 event at Playland Park and outran “Little Joe” Saldana to pick up the win in the Junior State Championship Race at Capital Beach Speedway in Lincoln in 1961. Driving for Lammers, he set the track record for 305 cubic inch carbureted Sprint cars at Mid-Continent Raceway in Doniphan in 1975, a record that was never broken.

After hanging up his helmet and fire suit, Grabill became a successful car owner. With his son, Kerry, behind the wheel, Grabill’s machines won Caged Cart track titles at Erie, Colorado and Waverly and Hastings, Nebraska. In 1997, with Kerry also at the controls, Grabill’s Modified Midget finished second at the NMMA (National Modified Midget Association) Western Region Championship Race in Lenmoore, California. In 2008, Grabill’s Micro Sprint won eight feature races in eleven nights at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Missouri.

Grabill also spent seven seasons as a successful 360 cubic inch Sprint Car owner from 2000 through 2006. Prior to selling his racing operation at the conclusion of the 2015 racing season, a number of drivers successfully piloted his Micro Sprinters including popular Midwestern pilots Mike Boston and Wyatt Burks.

During his career, Grabill took checkered flags at each of the more than 60 race tracks at which he either owned or drove a race car, scoring victories in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Colorado and California.

Carroll "Speedy" Hill


A native of Omaha, Carroll “Speedy” Hill’s interest in race track fire prevention started at Playland Park in Council Bluffs, Iowa in June of 1961, when he witnessed a car engulfed in flames, which couldn’t be put out because there were no fire extinguishers at the track. At the time, he was working for Anders Fire Equipment, and the next week, “Speedy” returned to the track with extinguishers in hand.

Over the next 40 plus years, Hill and his crew provided safety protection for more than a dozen race tracks in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri and Colorado, and because known simply as “Speedy” because of the speed at which he would make his way to the race track to assist injured drivers and clear debris.

Hill and his team provided safety protection at legendary Sunset Speedway in Omaha for many years until it closed at the end of the 2000 racing season. He and his crew are credited with saving life or serious injury for numerous drivers including Lee Gardner, Roger Haden, Al Humphrey, and Bill Wrich after incidents there. Hill’s quick response was also credited with the favorable outcome of a potentially deadly accident at Eagle Raceway involving race official Mike Cacek who was struck by an errant race car.

Following the death of local driver Dwight Wrich in a fiery crash at Denison Iowa in 2000, Hill put together a training course for race track fire personnel and taught the class for several years, in conjunction with the Nebraska State Fire School and the Hastings Fire Department. Hill traveled to numerous Midwestern states, telling his story of race track fire safety and training personnel on how to quickly and effectively extinguish fires associated with auto racing and racing fuels. Hundreds of safety officials have benefited from Hill’s expertise and training.

Hill served on the Indianapolis 500 fire safety crew for 18 years, and was eventually elevated to the rank of Assistant Fire Chief at the famed Brickyard oval. In 1981, he manned the unit that extinguished a dangerous fire in the Rick Mears pit stall, which was captured on national television.

During his over five decades of involvement in race track fire safety, Hill and his crew have been credited with assisted numerous injured and ill race car drivers, officials and fans over the years, potentially saving the lives of many.

Hill passed away in 2014.

Ray Valasek


Ray Valasak was raised on a family farm in Valley County near Ord. He developed an interest in automobile racing at a very young age when he began attending races with his family at the nearby Valley County Fairgrounds.

Valesek first sat behind the wheel of a race car in 1950, at Grandview Raceway in Omaha. A few years later, he began racing the NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) Sportsman circuit in Central Nebraska at race tracks in Broken Bow, Lexington, North Platte and his hometown track in Ord. The highlight of his driving career was a Trophy Dash win at Lexington in 1954 when he outran Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductees, Don Ostendorf and “Curley” Doggett.

Following the 1954 season, Valasek attended Engineering College and obtained a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1959. Upon completion of his degree, he moved to Anderson, Indiana, where he produced drawings of the frame and other components for a car Dick Etchison was building for a racer in Chicago. Etchison was so impressed with Valasek's abilities that he tabbed the Nebraskan to help in the pits for the 1963 “Little 500” in Anderson. With a lightweight new car, Etchison and his driver, Johnny White, took the lead with 22 laps remaining and won the race.

Valasek moved to Lincoln in late 1963 and provided technical and mechanical assistance for Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductee Frank Brennfoerder. In addition, Valasek put together engineering drawings of Greg Weld’s Supermodified Roadster for “Speedy” Bill Smith, which Smith later used to create his famous 4X Roadster.

In 1998, Valasek was one of the founding members of the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame and has been a member of the Board of Directors ever since. He served as the board’s Secretary Treasurer for many years and has worked as the Hall of Fame’s research historian providing biographical information on numerous by-gone drivers, car owners, and race officials who, much due to his efforts, were eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame.

One of Valasek’s proudest accomplishments in the sport was the completion of a book he co-authored with Bob Mays titled "Valley County Thunder, The History of Racing at Ord, Nebraska.” The book was published in 2004 and that year, Chris Economaki, the editor of National Speed Sport News, hailed the publication as the “best racing book of the year.”

Joe Wade


Joe Wade was born in Weeping Water and grew up in Lincoln where he graduated from high school. His racing career began as an eight year old youngster, when he started racing go-karts at tracks in and around Lincoln. By age 16, he had turned his attention to motorcycles, racing at tracks in Crete, Fairbury and Wilbur.

During the winter of 1968, Wade and a group of friends began putting together a Stock Car and, with the race car finally completed, he began his dirt track racing career at Midwest Speedway in Lincoln in 1969. As a testament to his natural talent, Wade picked up his first feature race win in July of that year at Midwest.

In 1973, Wade was a late entrant in the IMCA (International Motor Contest Association) New Model Stock Car event at the Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln and after finding a suitable replacement for himself at the fire station, where he worked as a firefighter, arrived at the race track in time for the feature race. Starting at the back of the field, Wade powered the Ron Pohlman and Phil Durst owned Late Model into the lead on the 30th lap and went on to the biggest win of his career.

Wade, who had acquired the nickname of “Smokin’ Joe,” continued racing Late Models with great success through the 1970s, at Beatrice, David City, Eagle, Lincoln and Nebraska City, Nebraska and Harlan, Iowa, before teaming up with Ivan Tracy to race Sprint Cars at Midwest Speedway in 1981. During his first season as a Sprint Car pilot, Wade scored three Feature Race wins and continued racing Sprinters through the 1985 season when he hung up his racing gear for good.

During his 17 year career, Wade successfully raced at over two dozen tracks in seven Midwestern states. He won track championships at Beatrice, Lincoln, Nebraska City, and York and at one time held one-lap records at eight different Nebraska race tracks, including Eagle Raceway, Midwest Speedway, Mid-Continent Raceway in Doniphan, and The Speed Bowl in Red Cloud. He was the seventh most winning driver in the history of Midwest Speedway, scoring a combined 16 Feature wins in a Late Model and a Sprint Car at the popular Eastern Nebraska facility.

Wade was known as a fearless competitor who was well-liked by fellow drivers, race officials and fans. He passed away in 2014.

Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame

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