You are about to hear a story of how a ride in a car would influence the future of this race car driver. Imagine drag racing at the age of five with your father in the family car, which was a 1938 Hudson. Hanging on for life, and loving every minute of it as his dad shifted through the gears. This family car was about to become a race car. In 1951 Dennis Housemanís dad, known as ďBunnyĒ, put a #1 on the car, and entered it in the Jalopy race at the Okoboji Speed Bowl racetrack in Okoboji, Iowa. This was Housemanís first race and destined to not be his last.
In 1954, Jackson Speedway held races every Sunday afternoon. Houseman grew up watching his dadís Hudson run against the Ford Flathead V8, Chevy, Plymouth Sixes, and later overhead V8ís. The drivers that influenced him the most were Ivan Tokle, Ronnie Kauffman, and Dick Forbrook, all of which raced his dadís car.
As a kid Houseman know that he wanted to race, but because of the rack rules he had to wait until he was 21-years-old. His opportunity came in 1968 when he was 22, and heard that a 1959 Plymouth Fury was for sale. This is when Maxís Top Hat Bar came into play. Max had a Plymouth car given to him as a payment for a $45 bar bill. He paid the bar bill, took the title, went to the shop and got it ready to race. Houseman would race the #18 in the sportsman class at Fairmont.
His very first race was in June of 1968. The day started having to come up with a car trailer at the last minute. What to doÖhe borrowed a tow bar, welded two angle irons on the front bumper, and off to the race he went. He arrived at the track late, and the race official said they were lining up the last heat race, to take the rear of the field. By the way, that put him 28th in the line-up. Thatís right, 28 cars in a heat race. More problems were on the wayÖwhen he put his helmet on the lens came out of his goggles. He started 28th and had not even driven a hot lap. This ought to be good. The green flag dropped and he went into turn one, put the brakes on and was getting further behind. Well, he then put the pedal to the metal and started passing. Things were looking good as he got up to around 10th place, then the right front wheel came off. His first race was over.
He had a great first year and placed in the runner up spot for season points. Not too bad for a $45 car. Racing at this time wasnít very expensive. He and his crew did most of the work themselves, and had great fun. His crew was John Reinhardt and Allen Hill.
In 1969 He raced in the Sportsman Class at Fairmont and in Redwood Falls. Later in 1969 Jackson Speedway added the Sportsman class to their racing program. Finally, he had a chance to race where he watched his dadís car race. He had many great memories of Jackson speedway as a kid. Now it was his turn to see what he could do with the long chutes and tight corners. In 1969 he did ok, but 1970 it was even better with finishing third in points. In 1971 he finally reached the top; he got his first championship at Jackson Speedway. He was proud to be able to share it with his dad, Bunny Houseman. Heíll never forget the look on his dadís face, he was grinning from ear to ear. His mom worried about her sonís safety and rarely ever watched her son race, but there was that night and she presented him with the trophy after winning the Feature. His dadís business, Houseman Oil/Riverside Sinclair, and Ohrtman Plastering owned by Bill Ohrtman sponsored the car every year he raced. Bill was a great friend and race fan. At this time Houseman would like to recognize and thank his pit crew, Rick Houseman, Terry Bonnickson, Steve Boggess, John Knode, and Larry Nath.
Also in 1971 he finished second with just a few points short of the championship and a track record of five straight Trophy Dash wins at the Redwood Speedway in Redwood Falls.
In 1972 he went on to Modifieds, then to Sprint cars in the mid 70ís. He drove the number 5 car for Wally Hecht of Jackson, and the number 33 car for Bill Smith of Worthington. He raced these cars at Hartford Speedway in Hartford SD, Jackson Speedway, and Husetís Speedway at Brandon SD.
In 1979, Houseman, along with John Murray, Gary Strube, and Gary Tostenson, formed a partnership. Sprinter number 19 was known as the Bud Light Special. In 1982 at the Jackson Speedway he set a number of records but came up short by placing second in points. Dick Trondson built the motors and Kevin Fraser was the head wrench. Housemanís team was coming closer to winning that championship. That same year he finished second at Husetís Speedway at Brandon SD.
In 1983 the rules changed to Unlimited Cubic inches. Again, Dick
Trondson built the engine and Kevin Fraser was the head wrench. They set a
number of records and won their first Sprint car championship. Housemanís pit
crew was John Murray, Gary Strube, Gary Tostenson, Don Seylar, and Jim Stough.
It was a total team effort. Their sponsors were Houseman Oil/Riverside
Sinclair, Donovan Motors, Sheltrens Master Service, Whittenburg Distributing Ė
Bud Light, and Ohrtman Plastering.
Highlights in Housemanís racing career are being voted the Sportsman Driver of the year at Fairmont Raceway in 1968; his first year of racing, 1971 Sportsman Championship at Jackson Speedway, 1971 five consecutive Trophy Dashes at Redwood Falls, 1983 Unlimited Sprints Champion at Jackson Speedway, in 1983 raised over $10,000 for the Driversí point fund by selling billboards and poster ads, and in 1984 received the Slawson award for excellence in promoting racing at Jackson Speedway. In 1985 Houseman introduced the IMCA Modifieds, Stock Cars, and Hobby Stocks to this region, along with Enduro racing. At the 1986 Jackson Nationals he had a 15 year-old that entered the sprint car division, who later become one of NASCARís Champions. That driver was Jeff Gordon. In 1991 Houseman promoted the Race of Champions which included Rusty Wallace, Ernie Irvin, Jeff Bodine, Rick Wilson, Terry LaBonte, Bobby Allison, and Rodney Combs.
In 1970 Houseman was at Alta Speedway in Alta IA, and the cars were on the track and heading for the green flag. All of a sudden a horse came out of the number four corner and down the front straightway, his head in the air, strutting like he owned the track. Everyone was wondering if the drivers were going to be able to dodge the horse, or what would happen next. To everyoneís delight, the drivers all missed the horse, and it was taken back to the barn for a bale of hay.
One of the strangest things that happened during Housemanís tenure as a
promoter was during one the Jackson Nationals Hobby Stock A Feature, the cars
were going down the back straightaway when all of a sudden, one of them climbed
the turn three cement wall and landed on the other side in the trees. To keep
the show moving along, the car was left there. Later when the Modified feature
was on the track, the unbelievable happened. One of the Modifieds went over the
wall in the same spot, and landed on top of the Hobby Stock car. Houseman said
ďyes we had a double decker, and I thought it was Friday the 13th.Ē
Housemanís promoting career began in 1985 at the Fairmont Raceway. Further, 1985 was the last year that V.F.W. post 900 ran the Jackson Speedway. In the spring of 1986, the Jackson V.F.W. Racing Association voted not to operate the racetrack. The members were burnt out and times were hard.
Clair Gilmore of Jackson came up with the idea of forming the Jackson
Racing Association. With less than 30 days to the opening date Houseman was
hired and promoted racing the first year. The group was successful and showed a
profit. 1986 was the only year Houseman ran the track for the Jackson Racing
At the end of the 1988 racing season, the Jackson Racing Association had fallen on hard times, and were trying to sell their assets in the spring of 1989. Houseman had been contacted a number of times and asked if he was interested in buying the assets of the Jackson Racing Association. He took the challenge with the support of his father. He added Hobby Stocks, and I.M.C.A. Modifieds to run with the 360 Sprints. It took some time, but the car counts grew to 100 plus and the crowds grew. Houseman built a V.I.P. Suite, and the race night sponsor had use of the suite. He added an early spring race in April and a late fall race in October. In 1995 new track lights were installed. In 1999 and 2000 talks began about replacing the grandstand, concession stand, restrooms, and replacing the fencing. Houseman sold the racing business to Jon McCorkell in the spring of 2001. Tear down of the old facilities and replacement started at the end of the 2001 season and beginning of 2002.
In addition to promoting racing at Jackson and Fairmont, Houseman also promoted racing at Rapid Speedway in Rock Rapids IA, Murray County Speedway in Slayton MN, and at the Clay County Fair Raceway in Spencer.
Houseman would like to take this opportunity to thank the Jackson County Fair Board, County Commissioners, City of Jackson and Jackson Chamber of Commerce for their support of the Jackson Speedway. He would also like to thank V.F.W. Post 900 for their years of dedication and hard work. He also thanks the racers and race fans, his employees for their support and hard work, and his family for all of their support.
As a race fan, car owner, driver, and track promoter of the Jackson Speedway, Houseman is honored to be inducted into the class of 2012 Hall of Fame.