The sounds of cheering fans and revving engines have filled the air at Arlington Raceway each year since 1981. From May to September drivers and fans alike flock to the half-mile dirt track at the Sibley County Fairgrounds for weekly entertainment. Drivers come for the competition, comradery and, with any luck, prize money. Fans come in hopes of seeing their favorite driver in the winner’s circle, to enjoy some great food or just get away for the weekend. Arlington Raceway is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Sibley County. The town of just over 2,200 welcomes over 100 drivers and 500 fans each Saturday night during racing season.
Lifelong Kasota residents, Bob and Susan Allen, founded Arlington Raceway in 1981 and have owned and operated it ever since. Both attended St. Peter High School in the late ’70s and also attended small business management classes at South Central College. Bob grew up racing on the quarter-mile dirt track in St. Peter with his family, which was heavily involved in racing. He also ran track and cross-country, so you could say he’s been involved in racing all of his life.
On May 9, 2020, the duo will mark their 40th opening day as owners of the track: no small feat for a family-owned business. Susan says, “When the St. Peter Speedway closed, local racers began looking for a facility to race at. At the time, the Canon River Speedway near Morristown was the closest track but soon that track also closed down. The Sibley County Fair Board made contact with a few of us and we held a meeting in our one-stall garage to discuss starting a track in the late spring of 1981. I had just given birth to our first child, Levi, in January of the same year. Bob was only 21 at the time and it was decided we would start an association comprised of drivers that wanted to participate and hold races at the Sibley County Fairgrounds in Arlington.” From that meeting in their garage sprang a raceway that has hosted generations of racers.
Bob remembers fondly how it unfolded. “Just before midseason the first year we decided to make this a business as the association members had all they could do to keep their cars running and did not have time to work at the track. It was decided to back pay workers and call it a business. At that time, we formed LB&S Inc. of Kasota using some of Susan’s saved-up money. Arlington Raceway was used as the track name and consisted of a figure-eight track on the infield of the oval as we were located between Raceway Park in Shakopee and Redwood Speedway in Redwood Falls, both of which had figure-eight classes. Other classes included the modified and the hobby class. The first night only one figure-eight driver signed in to compete, so we had him run with the hobby cars and he won the feature. The following week more figure-eight cars joined the field,” says Bob.
The track has come a long way since its inaugural night back in 1981. “The first event had only 13 cars in three divisions and 328 fans in the stands. The price for admission was $3.50 for an adult and $2 for kids, while the pit fee was $10 if you had white pants on and $12 if you did not”, remembers Susan. Over the last 39 years the Allens have reshaped the race track surface, added an auto/truck cross track, a go-kart track, lights and cement barriers, along with countless other improvements for the safety of the drivers and spectators. Last year the average payout for a Saturday night event winner was around $12,000. Safety and entertainment have been two of the top priorities throughout their ownership.
Over their career in the racing industry the Allens have won many awards for their success and help in moving the sport of racing forward. One of the most prestigious awards came in 2004 when Bob and Susan received national recognition in Daytona Beach, Florida, as the Region Five Auto Racing Promoters of the Year as selected by their fellow race promoters from the region. Each year they attend national and regional meetings to keep up to date with changes in the industry. Bob worked tirelessly in the ‘80s to start the WISSOTA Promoter’s Association, of which he was a founding incorporator. The association now includes 50 tracks. With rules and regional changes for car classes, Arlington Raceway left WISSOTA and joined the IMCA sanction in 1989, where Bob helped develop the IMCA Sprint Car Class. The class now boasts over 1,000 drivers as the largest sprint car sanction in the world, with tracks across the country.
As in any business, change is inevitable. Racing is no exception to this rule, but Arlington Raceway has adapted to these changes. “In 1981 all of the bookwork was calculated on paper with the help of a calculator, as were points that were awarded to the drivers each week for their position in the race. We also used an old-style mimeograph machine to make weekly copies. Today we have race management software, QuickBooks software for bookwork, and software for message centers. We use four different computers each night to help run everything smoothly, as well as a copy machine and printers. We also have several Motorola radios and headsets for communications. The drivers wear a RACEceiver in their ear to hear communication from the control tower when an incident occurs on the track so that they know where to go,” says Susan. “Back in the ‘80s, there weren’t very many women that would go into the pit area on a given night. That trend has changed both nationally and locally. Today the pit area is comprised of 40 percent women and 60 percent men. The fans in the stands are about 45 percent women and 55 percent men. In addition to our regular weekly divisions we also have Auto and Truck Cross on a limited schedule so that those on a limited budget can race as well. We also have four classes of go-karts that compete at Arlington. Karts began racing on the front stretch but the participants have increased and now there is a go-kart track in the infield and four classes run on a limited schedule as well. Both of our sons, Levi and Brett, raced in the go-kart divisions when they were younger and now two grandsons, Andrew and Brayden, compete in karts as well. This is a way that more families get involved at the track and many go on to race on the big track as they progress in their racing abilities.” In fact, Arlington Raceway is proud that at least 15 drivers have national IMCA titles in their respective divisions. A highlight for the raceway came when one driver even qualified for the Indy 500. He later returned as a regular at the track a few years later.
Evolving over the years from an association in the beginning, Arlington Raceway has been the Allens’ main source of income for the past 20 years. Throughout this time, Bob and Susan have also promoted at Fairmont Raceway, and held events at the Brown, Scott, McLeod, Rice and Steele County fairs. They also ran the Sunday night events at the Redwood Speedway from 2000 to 2010, where they made many improvements. To say there have been challenges throughout their career would be an understatement. In 2009 Susan was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and the Allens decided to give up the Redwood track. Their son Levi stepped up and assumed the role of general manager at Arlington Raceway, heading up track maintenance and the day-to-day operations.
More recently, the track came under scrutiny when some residents complained it was too loud and should be closed down. The Allens listened to the complaints and came up with a self-imposed noise mitigation plan, helping to alleviate any more talk of a shutdown. However, a more tragic event, in the early years almost caused the Allens to shut the track down themselves. “One of the toughest challenges was when a racer lost his life in a racing accident at the track. We remember meeting the driver’s father at around 4 a.m. after the accident. We could not believe it happened and said we were not sure we wanted to go on at the track. That night Maynard Rucks, the father said, ‘Please do not make my son the reason you stop racing at Arlington.’ After that, we decided to make Jeff Rucks one of the reasons we do race at Arlington. Each year, for the past 32 years, we have recognized one driver as the Jeff Rucks Memorial Sportsman of the Year. It is a very tough decision made by the track and the Rucks family and the recipient is truly humbled to receive the award. A standing ovation at the awards banquet is given, even by those that have never met Jeff,” says Susan.
Approaching their 40th year in the racing industry, the Allens have seen almost everything, but they still find excitement in their work. “What gets us excited is seeing the first-time feature winners. The driver that has a car that is maybe not as new and shiny as their competitor but races and sometimes beats someone with 10 times more experience. We realized many years ago we are not the heroes at our track. Our job is to be the hero makers. Based on the pool of talent at the Arlington Raceway, we feel we have done our job. We also realize that next year we have to start all over again and do the best we can,” says Bob. 2020 promises to be a grand year as they plan to bring back some of the best promotions and put a new twist on them. More safety improvements are planned, as well as changes in the program to speed it along.
As always, a plethora of classes will be offered for drivers of all ages and skill levels. International Motor Contest Association, or IMCA, classes include stock car, hobby stock, modified, sport compact, sport modified and sprint car. Other classes include outlaw hobby, auto/truck cross, and go-karts for the younger racers.
It takes around 40 employees to make each race run smoothly at Arlington Raceway. The Allens are grateful for these employees who give up each Saturday night to make their track successful. At times, tempers can flare and people’s emotions can get the best of them when the competition heats up. Bob says, “We all make mistakes from time to time and we have found that admitting to them and moving on is the best policy. In fact, many of our racers and fans have stated the on-track activity is a small part of what interests them in Arlington Raceway. The family atmosphere and friendships are the most important factor. Pre- and post-race activities, whether at the track or in the shop, brings lifelong family and friends together.” The memories are what keep them coming back again and again.
The Allens and Arlington Raceway have persevered despite the many challenges facing modern businesses. Today the raceway is a family affair. Something the Allens are deeply proud of. “Consistency, passion and family are what we believe helps keep the Arlington Raceway successful. Weather has always been a great factor in our business and also helps determine the amount of time spent working on the track surface to prepare for the next racing event. Levi spends over 50 hours a week prepping the track surfaces, maintaining the equipment and making sure everything is in working order for the following Saturday’s event. Son Brett helps out part time with some of the maintenance and also with the marketing aspect of the business. Grandson Andrew is the domestic engineer, cleaning up the garbage and mowing the grass each week. Other grandsons, Payten, Brayden, Ellyott and granddaughter Ashlyn help out by picking rocks up, painting and miscellaneous duties throughout the week,” says Susan. Family has been the mainstay throughout the years at Arlington Raceway. Four generations of the Allen family have worked at the track and family is the reason they continue their work with such passion.
Today, Bob and Susan are still very much involved in Arlington Raceway, but have other interests that keep them busy, too. When Susan is not doing the bulk of the administrative and advertising work, she loves to spend time with her grandchildren, going to their sporting events and baking. Bob has served as a volunteer firefighter for the Kasota Fire Department for 33 years. He is currently serving as fire chief. Bob has also spent the last 10 years working for Jones Birdsong LLP, selling motorsport insurance as a risk manager, a career where his knowledge of racing comes in very handy. The Allens also enjoy traveling together to different racetracks across the country.
Racing season, like warmer weather, is just around the corner. Stay tuned for the 40th year of family racing fun in Sibley County this May as the drivers return to the dirt track once again for their fuel-injected fun.
Sibley County Fairgrounds
801 West Chandler Street
Arlington, MN 55307
Photo by Jonathan Smith