Iowa’s Cedar Falls Raceway has a rich history dating back to 1964 when they first broke ground on the facility, eventually opening its doors for business the following year. The track was first called Northeast Iowa Timing Association, better known as NEITA, which also served as its original sanction before switching over to the nationally known IHRA and most recently NHRA, which the track joined three years ago.
Not surprisingly, the track was originally constructed as a quarter-mile facility, with a shocking amount of shutdown. “We’ve got a quarter-mile racing surface and a half-mile of shutdown!” says track manager Justin Kruse, whose parents, Joe and Deb Kruse, bought the track from Scott Gardner’s group in 2014.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #159, the Sportsman Issue, in August of 2020.]
Over time, as preference shifted from the quarter-mile to the eighth-mile, Cedar Falls has adjusted by contesting all their bracket point races on the eighth-mile, saving a select few events for the time-honored distance of 1,320 feet.
Cedar Falls is also gaining notoriety in the region as a place to come for some big-money bracket racing, namely the SFG Promotions events. “We’d like to set the precedence of being the big-money bracket track in Iowa,” Kruse explains. Cedar Falls and SFG have collaborated in recent years to present races paying as much as $50,000 to win, along with multiple 20-granders.
As for their marquee fan favorite event, look no further than the ultra-popular Night of Fire, which was extended in 2020 to a two-day affair that featured nitro nostalgia cars, Fuel Altereds, Ozark Mountain Super Shifters, the Shockwave Jet Truck, plus twin $5k events for the bracket racing contingent.
The Kruse family is intent on improving the overall facility and growing their local sport, while continuing to capture the family atmosphere that the track is famous for. “Multi-generation families still gather and race here and that’s the atmosphere we want to continue carrying on,” Kruse says.
Recently, Justin and his family stumbled upon some of the track’s earliest timing equipment in one of their buildings and were astounded at how far the track had advanced from the days of hand-written tickets, etc. “Every year at our Mopar race, we also hold a NEITA reunion to celebrate the track’s rich history, and those guys who raced here back in the 1960s and 1970s will sit and talk for hours about the old days,” smiles Justin, who recalls how he himself made his very first pass down a dragstrip right here at Cedar Falls in 2004, racing a 1983 Olds Cutlass with a mild tuneup before making a giant leap into a Super Pro dragster.
Another colorful member of the Cedar Falls family is tech director Steve Drinkwine, a self-described East Coast Italian boy who relocated to Iowa and treasures the love and friendship of the Midwest racing scene. “Test and Tune sessions are the best because you’re gonna get to see the best of the best and the worse of the worse!” he chuckles.
Just when Drinkwine thought he’d seen everything, a guy recently came rolling up through the staging lanes driving a 18-wheeler tractor. Another night someone showed up driving a creepy-looking hearse! “I said to the guy, ‘You better not have a body in there!’” Thankfully, he did not.
Among the most memorable racers I met while at Cedar Falls was Waterloo, Iowa, resident Tom Roschen, whose beautiful 1974 Plymouth Duster is featured as this month’s column photo. Back in 1975, Roschen was serving in the military while stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, when he bought his classy Mopar from the original owner, who bought it new the year before.
“A short time later a guy came in the barracks bragging about how fast his car would run at the local dragstrip in Clarksville, Tennessee, so naturally I had to take the Duster out there and see what it’d run!” recalls Roschen. “I was pretty much hooked instantly…this was 44 years ago.”
Obviously, the car was his daily driver when this all started, but then Roschen got fancy and began transporting it to the track with a tow bar before eventually building a homemade open trailer. All these years later the car has been back-halved (entirely by Roschen) three times and he now hauls the car around in a nice enclosed trailer. The factory 360ci engine has long since been replaced with a 528ci big-block Mopar powerplant. Amazingly, the car still sports the factory paint, stripes and vinyl top, all of which still show extremely well.
Roschen has relocated a number of times over the years and his trusty Plymouth has gone with him through all of life’s challenges and changes. He says he couldn’t imagine his life without the satisfaction of drag racing, and he’s entered his Plymouth at no less than a dozen tracks around the country. Heck, he even met his wife, Vicky, while racing right here at Cedar Falls!
While in Iowa, I heard stories from seasoned pros like Roschen, as well as the hopes and dreams of people like Mike Benson, another Waterloo resident, who was exactly one week away from entering his first bracket race ever!
While some folks are counting the seconds until the next NEITA reunion so they can relive the past, others are moments away from bumping into the beams for the first time and with hearts pounding, watching in slow motion as the yellow bulb begins to make its descent, thus creating an addiction they’ll not soon kick.