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Prather's Speedway

Local Racer Russell "Breezy" Breese

Small, local, dirt racing tracks can probably be traced back to the chariot races held in the Roman coliseum. Horse races were held in Sycamore in the 1800’s on a dirt track just west of the intersection of Borden and Somonauk streets. Sycamore Speedway (a dirt track) has been in operation for 50 years. Its history, according to nationalspeedsportnews.com, began as Bob-Jo Speedway where go-carts raced. The name originated from the brothers-in-law who owned the track, Bob Oksas and Joe Fabrizius. In 1963, stock car races began to be held there. In 1970, the brothers changed the name to reflect the proximity to Sycamore. It remains one of the most popular dirt racing tracks in the area.

Prather Speedway (aka Prather’s Track, Prather Field) was a half-mile dirt track Marvin Prather built in a field he owned in DeKalb near where he had built a popular baseball field. In 1948 it was his idea to bring racing to DeKalb. Unfortunately two racing deaths, plus complaints from his neighbors, closed the track about two years later.

The Sycamore True Republican dated April 20, 1948, reported he had signed a contract with the Chicago Racing Association to provide midget racing cars for the track. The inaugural race was held Sunday, July 11, 1948. On June 18, 1949, the field became a boxing venue. The DeKalb Daily Chronicle reported that the bout between Jerry Heath and Ray Bloyd brought the approximately 300 people in attendance to its feet when the boxers fought the final two rounds displaying “wild slugging and not-give-an-inch attitude.”

The first racing death occurred on Sunday, June 19, 1949. Nineteen-year-old George Frank of Elgin, IL died when, during a collision with Glen Taylor of Rochelle, Frank’s safety belt snapped and he was thrown 50 feet into the track infield. Newspaper accounts reported that Frank seemed to be having difficulty straightening out after a curve and Taylor was unable to avoid the crash.

Later that same year, 54-year-old hot rod driver Bill Seaman of Lockport, IL, was killed. Jim Korbin of Killen, AL, described Seaman’s death on www.kalracing.com. “Bill Seaman was lapping the field and some green horn kid kept cutting him off. They flagged the kid over and Bill I guess thought all was well for a pass. Just as Bill went around, the kid cut him off again and they jumped wheels. Bill’s car went up on end and went into a row of railroad ties buried on end. He was smashed down into the cockpit and killed. The guy had buried the ties to keep the race cars out of his orchard! I remember Bill as a nice guy who had been around and had nothing to prove.”

In March 1950, the area received 7.41” of snow and 1.71” of rain. Melting and runoff resulted in a five acre “lake” just north of the racetrack. Property owners sought a permanent injunction to prevent future flooding of their property alleging that when the racetrack was constructed, drainage tile was destroyed. That lawsuit was followed about 45 days later by a second one filed by seventeen neighboring property owners seeking a perpetual injunction to stop all race activity citing noise, dust, damage to their property, crowd parking on private property without permission , and depreciated property value. Nevertheless, the racing season opened in May. After the July 4th racing event Prather announced the track would close because he was unable to get it properly watered to reduce dust. Prather Field became the premier baseball venue when it enlarged and added lights. The park is now part of the DeKalb Park District and is named after Marvin Prather.