Looking for the venue of the famous Iowa Speedway? That’s the third question I get asked when I tell people I’m traveling to Des Moines for the weekend. The answer is not as simple as it seems. While the grandstands and infield are located at the same place, there are a couple of different venues that together host the annual State Fair of Iowa. One is a speedway while the other is a horse-racing track. Let’s take a closer look at each venue and its unique history.
The Iowa Speedway (officially known as the Des Moines Speedway) opened its gates in 1909 and is one of the first true superspeedways. Designed to host the world’s greatest race car drivers, the 3-mile oval is famous for its extremely fast speeds and nail-biting action. The track formerly had a domed ceiling similar to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the ceiling was removed in 2014 to make way for an upgraded fan experience.
Since its inception, the Iowa Speedway has been the venue for many great motorsport events. Many famous drivers have called this place home, including the legendary Speedster Tommy Milton, who lived in nearby Council Bluffs. Other popular drivers that called the speedway home were Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon. In fact, the infield is named after Gordon, as is Gordon’s garage.
Unfortunately, the late 1940s and early 1950s were not kind to the speedway. Several top drivers such as Petty and Ned Mazzi died during this time, and the track was closed due to safety concerns. The track remained closed for over a decade before it was decided that a brand new speedway needed to be built. Construction began in the 1980s and the newly named Iowa Speedway opened for business in 1989. Since then, attendance and support at the track have only gone up, which is why everyone wants to go there.
The Horse-Racing Track
The other half of the State Fair of Iowa is Allen Park, the home of the annual Iowa Horse Racing Festival. This half-mile track hosts flat racing events, sprint races, and handicap races, among other attractions. This place is definitely geared toward children, as there are no food trucks, carnival games, or cigarettes available in the stands. The biggest attraction at the park is without a doubt the horses, all of which are from nearby farms. It is not uncommon for there to be over 100,000 spectators at the track each week during the festival seasons. The park also hosts the Breeders’ Cup World Championships annually in even-numbered years, so expect some big crowds then as well.
The history of the horseracing track in Des Moines is somewhat intertwined with the history of the speedway. It was originally built as a 3/8th mile track in 1892 and was then later expanded to its current length. The horseracing track closed in the 1940s due to attendance struggles. The speedway then hosted the Iowa State Fair until the mid-1990s, when it closed for remodeling. The horseracing track was then repurposed as an RV park, hotel, and banquet hall until it was purchased by the City of Des Moines and returned to its intended use.
These days, the horseracing track is a popular place for locals to socialize and relax. It also serves as the home track for the Des Moines Flyers, a semi-pro football team in the Intense Football League. The speedway and horseracing track are open to the public from early April until early October, so there is plenty to do during those months.
The Difference Between Them
To say that one venue is more popular than the other would be an understatement. While the speedway’s biggest attractions are likely to be found in its grandstands (and the food trucks that come along with them), the horseracing track is where the action really is. This is especially true in the last few years, as the speedway repurposed itself into a more family-friendly entertainment facility while maintaining its original appearance. The track still holds on to its reputation as one of the most exciting sports venues, however, making it a popular location for wedding proposals and anniversaries.
If you’re looking to visit the Iowa Speedway this year, here’s some helpful info on when to go and what to expect. Visit the site in the early morning hours before the crowds hit. You’ll have the place to yourself and won’t have to worry about missing a turn because of traffic. Better yet, get a ride with a friend who works there and gets you in for free!
If you want to take the trip to remember, be there in the early morning hours before the crowds hit. You’ll have the place to yourself and won’t have to worry about missing a turn because of traffic. Better yet, get a ride with a friend who works there and gets you in for free!
Combining The Two
Located just a few miles from the center of Des Moines, you’ll find a third venue that combines the speedway and horseracing track. The Capitol Classic Car Auction returns to Des Moines this year, giving locals and visitors alike the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the most famous cars in history. The auction will be held at the horseracing track, with cars being driven from the speedway’s lot to the front entrance of the park. This location is a great place to be on a summer evening, as you’ll be able to see the sun set over the plains at a stadium that’s been the home of some of the most exciting races in American history.
It’s clear that the venues in Des Moines have something special about them. Combining the two can make for a memorable event, as you’ll get to see some incredible racing action at an old-fashioned family-friendly venue. If you get the chance, be sure to check out all three venues and their respective stages of the State Fair of Iowa. You’ll have a blast!