How Much Was Desoto Speedway? [Updated!]

One of the most intriguing aspects of the 2018 season was the return of an old-school circuit that hadn’t hosted a race in decades. What was once the great state of Minnesota now hosts some of the most spectacular automobile races in the world, and it all started with one small racetrack in the city of Desoto.

It’s been reported that Frank Sinatra once owned a lot of the land that makes up Desoto. The legendary entertainer apparently used to entertain guests at his private mansion, which is now a museum, with the help of a pianist who played for him in the garden. The mansion and the garden are still there today, and you can still visit the lot, which is now called the Olmsted Estate.

The mansion holds the Guinness World Record as the largest known private residence, and it’s not hard to see why. It was built in 1914 and sits on a hillside in the middle of an expansive garden. From the outside, one can appreciate the intricate brickwork, the perfectly trimmed hedges, and the ornamental plants that line the property.

The garden continues inside the house, where it’s been designed with oversized teak trees, marble fireplaces, and ornamental pools. The interiors feature rich marbles, leather-bound books, and original antique furnishings. You can’t help but feel like you’re stepping back in time as you walk through the house, which is open to the public from April to October.

Beyond the garden is the main building, which is flanked by two smaller structures. All together, the buildings have 14,000 square feet of combined living space. This is where the magic happened, as guests would come from all over the world to see the great Frank Sinatra perform. The blueprints for this architectural masterpiece were drawn up by the renowned architect Stanford White.

In his honor, a plaque has been placed on one of the walls of the main building, bearing his name and the year 1914. If you look closely, you’ll also find plaques commemorating other famous people who have visited the estate, including the Duchess of Windsor, Charlie Chaplin, and the Marx Brothers. It was originally equipped with a grand piano that was donated by the singer. The grand piano has been moved to a museum in Des Moines, Iowa, but regular piano tinkering still takes place in the main building. (The venue is open to the public, too, so if you’re ever in town, you can drop in and give it a go.)

The racetrack that is now called Desoto was one of the first outdoor sports spectacles when it opened its gates back in 1914. The Indianapolis 500-style race was initially a part of the NASCAR Grand Tour, which gave the event a prominent place in the history books. The first running of the race was attended by about 25,000 spectators, and it didn’t take long for that number to balloon. By the 40s, an estimated 500,000 to a million fans were attending the race every year. It wasn’t uncommon for people to arrive at the track well into the night, with some arriving by plane just to see the race.

The sheer volume of people turned what was originally a small, rural track into one of the largest sporting events in North America. The grandstands were expanded, and in 1939, the city of Desoto expanded its municipal boundaries to include the track. Over the years, the track’s surface changed from dirt to asphalt, and the configuration of the track also evolved. In addition to the standard 3.9-mile oval, races took place on portions of the track that were originally a mile and a half, two miles, and a half-mile. There have also been races held on an old airfield adjacent to the track. (Sadly, no races will be held there this year as the field is too small; they need to be at least 500 acres to call themselves a race track.)

The track has been closed since 1971, but a diehard group of fans, known as the Old School Racers, have kept the dream alive, campaigning for its reopening. In 2017, they finally made their dream come true, and the first running of the track was attended by about 15,000 spectators. The race itself was a sell-out, with fans lining the roads and banks as far as the eye could see. (Sadly, the organizers had to cancel the race a couple of weeks after the event, due to safety concerns regarding the pandemic. Still, they hope to have the event up and running again by summer.)

The Old School Racers have also been responsible for a number of heritage races that take place each year in Desoto, in addition to the regular 15-race schedule. These include:

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