75th Anniversary Feature: St. Louis Area Forged Strong Connections To NASCAR Racing

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

Long before there was World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois, there was Lake Hill Speedway in Valley Park, on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River.

Born as a dirt track and paved in 1966, one-third-mile Lake Hill was the crucible in which the talents of future NASCAR stars were tested.

Lake Hill sat between two sets of railroad tracks, and the only way in or out was through a tunnel underneath a railroad trestle. Ultimately, lack of easy access proved the speedway’s undoing, with the facility closing in the 1980s—save for a sputtering attempt at revival in 2007.

Before the track’s demise, however, it boasted a proud history. Prolific winner Russ Wallace was the kingpin at Lake Hill, as well as the patriarch of a racing family that would make an indelible mark on NASCAR national-series racing. 

One of Wallace’s sons—Rusty—already has earned election into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In a 25-year career in NASCAR’s top division, Rusty Wallace accumulated 55 Cup Series victories, 11th all-time, and a series championship in 1989. 

But before Rusty found success on a grand scale, he got his start at Lake Hill Speedway through a court order that allowed him to race at age 16, two years earlier than the prevailing minimum age. 

Middle brother Mike Wallace won four times in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, three times in 1994, when he triumphed at Dover, the Milwaukee Mile and Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Kenny Wallace, youngest of the three brothers, won nine times in the NASCAR Xfinity Series but is perhaps best known for pushing the late Dale Earnhardt to the final NASCAR Cup Series victory of his career on Oct. 15, 2000 at Talladega. 

Off the track, Kenny is best known for his expansive personality, loud, infectious laugh and his punditry on Twitter and YouTube. It was Lake Hill Speedway promoter Bob Mueller who hung the nickname “Herman” on Kenny, likening him to the cartoon character Herman the German because of his raucous behavior at the track.

Before he began racing in NASCAR’s national divisions, Kenny succeeded Buddy Parrott as crew chief for driver Joe Ruttman at Benfield Racing in 1984. Though he has retired from NASCAR racing, Kenny still competes in dirt modified cars throughout the country, and he races occasionally on the CARS Tour co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Justin Marks. 

He’s also an advocate for stock car racing in general and World Wide Technology Raceway specifically, lending his voice to the promotion of Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300 at the 1.25-mile track (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). 

The race will be the second NASCAR Cup Series event held at the speedway, which has benefited greatly from upgrades under the ownership of Curtis Francois. One of the seating options is the Wallace Grandstand in Turns 1 and 2—named for Rusty, Mike and Kenny.

The Wallace brothers aren’t the only notable drivers who can trace their racing origins to Lake Hill Speedway. Ken Schrader got his start at Lake Hill in 1971 and went on to win four NASCAR Cup Series races with Hendrick Motorsports from 1988 through 1991.

Suffice it to say that, as NASCAR celebrates its 75th anniversary, the sport can credit a portion of its rich history to a now-defunct short track on the southwest side of St. Louis.

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