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Speedway Motors History

Our history can be traced to the childhood of our founder, "Speedy" Bill Smith. Born in the beautiful midwestern town of Lincoln, Nebraska, Bill developed an early passion for performance. He chased after speed. It’s where we got our roots and it’s what keeps us going even today.

That need for speed started with Bill racing motorcycles as a teenager in the late 1940s, then transitioning to cars in 1948. In 1952, as a young entrepreneur, Bill opened one of the Midwest’s first speed shops and named it Speedway Motors, borrowing $300 from his soon to be bride Joyce and creating a business with family values, right from the get-go. Their store grew in popularity, with a reputation for quality products, great service, and low prices. That’s the foundation that holds us strong nearly 70 years later and keeps us growing.

Speedway Motors 1950s

As a racer, owner and promoter—depending on the year—Bill’s racing endeavors helped keep the Speedway Motors name out in front of racers. His purple 4x stock cars were familiar sights on dirt tracks throughout the Midwest and were regular winners with drivers like Lloyd Beckman at the wheel. In 1956, Bill and employee Bob McKee built one of the first Pontiacs in NASCAR, which was driven by future Hall of Famer DeWayne "Tiny" Lund. Drag racing also took off in the '50s, and Bill successfully campaigned cars powered by Ford Flatheads and newer Oldsmobile, Chevy, and Chrysler V8 engines. During this same time, Bill began experimenting with fiberglass as a means for building lightweight racecar bodies—a move foretelling things to come. But Speedway Motors isn’t just about racing. We’re about helping our customers build their dreams. If you wanted to go fast, you came to us to soup up your street-driven ride. If you wanted your car to be dressed up, “just like in the magazines,” we sold floor-mounted shifters and Fenton's "Hollywood" dual exhaust packages, and just about anything you might find plated in chrome.

Speedway Motors 1960s

By the 1960s, we were becoming an established name in motorsports and the hot rod community. Our 10-page catalog and ongoing racing involvement attracted enough business to us to expand into a larger facility in 1962, adding an engine and muffler shop. We began the decade as a dominant force in the local racing scene. The company-sponsored 4x sedan, built by "Speedy" Bill and driven by Lloyd Beckman, won a record 16 features in a row at Lincoln's Capitol Beach Speedway and took home the Nebraska Modified Racing Association championships in 1960 and '61. The same car won the 1961 IMCA Five State championship in Spencer, Iowa. On the street, T-bucket roadsters were all the rage, thanks in part to the roadster driven by Edd "Kookie" Byrnes on the TV series 77 Sunset Strip. This is where Bill's early experience in fiberglass paid off. He already had 'glass T roadster bodies in production and as the trend exploded he was able to pair them with new purpose-built frames to create some of the first "kit" packages in rodding. In 1968, Bill met a young racer from California named Jan Opperman who was looking to race sprint cars. Few people wanted to take a chance on this wild-looking long-haired kid, but Bill put him in a sprint car in 1969, where he went on to win the 1969 Big Car Racing Association (BCRA) championship. This was just the beginning of a very successful relationship between Bill, our company and Opperman.

Speedway Motors 1970s

The 1970s were a busy decade around here, especially on the track. In 1971, Lloyd Beckman won the NMRA championship and finished runner-up in the BCRA. Jan Opperman continued to be a force to be reckoned with, winning three features in a row at the 1974 IMCA Winter Nationals in Tampa, Florida. The following year he earned his second BCRA championship and took IMCA runner-up honors. In 1976, Opperman made history by outrunning 56 of the country's best USAC sprint teams on his way to winning the Hulman Classic. Dubbed "The Race that Changed the World," Opperman's victory was a huge shot in the arm for so-called "Outlaw" racers. A couple years later, Doug Wolfgang earned 26 feature wins and won the 1978 Knoxville Nationals—the Indy 500 of sprint cars—driving Bill's 4x car. The 1970s saw a resurgence in street-driven hot rods as the National Street Rod Association was formed and grew in popularity. We were an early supporter of the organization, and today we are recognized as the oldest vendor at the annual Street Rod Nationals. In addition to our popular T-bucket kits, we began offering reproduction '32 Ford roadster bodies and many other fiberglass street rod parts, not to mention frames, chassis components, and countless other pieces to help street rodders build safe, reliable cars. In 1977 and '78, Bill Smith served on the board of directors of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). Our continued success and growth encouraged yet another move in 1978, this time to a larger complex. The new facility helped improve order processing and shipping time and set the stage for even more expansion in the decades to come.

Speedway Motors 1980s

In 1983, we purchased the Mr. Roadster company, expanding our line of components and accessories for street rods. Two years later, Hot Rod magazine featured our new '32 Lo-Boy roadster kit on its cover—not once, but twice—while completing a five-month buildup series. The Lo-Boy was a rodding innovation at the time, combining the classic '32 Ford roadster lines with a contemporary frame design in easy-to-assemble kit form. Hot Rod called it "a kit that will create newfound interest in hot rodding by appealing to the pocketbooks of entry-level enthusiasts." Decades later, the kit remains a popular Speedway Motors offering. In 1987, we acquired two more companies: Beverly Hills Pedal Car and Safety Racing. The pedal car company became Blue Diamond Classics, focused on selling vintage-style pedal cars, restoration parts, accessories, and graphics. Bill also teamed up with General Motors Engineer Ed Mosher in 1988 to create the "Coors Extra Gold Draft" $1 million '32 Ford Roadster, a high-tech showpiece powered by a jet helicopter turbine engine. With independent front and rear suspensions, four-wheel steering, countless electronic features, and a curb weight of just 990 pounds, the state-of-the-art roadster showed just how far street rods could go at the time. Coors toured the sleek black roadster around the nation for three years. One of Bill’s proudest accomplishments was realized in the ‘80s as his four boys started returning to work in the business. In 1982, Carson Smith, Bill's oldest son, became crew chief for Speedway Motor's famed 4x sprint car, and 55-year-old driver Lloyd Beckman wheeled it to the track championship at Lincoln's Midwest Speedway. In 1989, Carson and his youngest brother, Jason, fielded a Lola-Chevrolet in the American Indycar Series championship.

Speedway Motors 1990s

The '90s kicked off with a bang when we made a record-setting blast across the Bonneville salt. During the 1990 Speed Week, builder John MacKichan and driver Tim Schulz pushed the bright red Speedway Motors streamliner to 326.17mph, a new record for a small-block Chevys. This was an early indicator that it would be another great racing decade for the company. In 1992, Danny Wallace won 29 feature races and the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) championship in a Speedway Motors-built IMCA Modified, a car that had been featured on the cover of Stock Car Racing magazine earlier the same year. Beyond the oval track, we got involved in the fabled Pikes Peak Hill Climb. First, Carson Smith designed the "Winged Wonder," which Robby Unser piloted to wins in 1992 and '94. Next, Carson designed a Chevrolet Motorsports-backed S-10 pickup, which won the Pikes Peak truck class in 1995 and '96. After Chevrolet introduced an all-new Corvette in 1997, Carson created a version that won the unlimited class at Pikes Peak in 1998. Like most hot rodders, "Speedy" Bill has always been a collector. Throughout his years of racing and rodding he had quietly amassed an incredibly extensive collection of aftermarket parts, race engines, cars, toys, and automotive memorabilia. In 1992, these acquisitions were formally organized into the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed, a federally recognized 501(c)3 museum dedicated to preserving significant artifacts of American racing and performance history. If you visit our main campus in Lincoln, you can visit this remarkable attraction!

Speedway Motors 2000s

We raced into the new Millennium headfirst by moving into a new corporate campus in Lincoln. The 520,000 sq. ft., 46-acre facility would allow the company to continue to grow, while the technologically advanced call center and warehouse provided the capacity to process and ship record numbers of orders without sacrificing our signature speedy delivery. By this time, we were recognized as America's Oldest Speed Shop®. Our Lo-boy roadster kit, first introduced in the mid-1980s, showed its staying power by serving as the basis for Street Rodder magazine's popular SpeedRodder build-up series in the early part of the decade. Interestingly, the car would go on to be honored as one of 2001's "100 Best" by Rod & Custom magazine. "Speedy" Bill's personal '57 Chevy custom rod, built by local craftsman Dale Boesch, received the same honor. "Speedy" Bill, meanwhile, found himself being inducted into various motorsports and hot rodding Halls of Fame. After more than five decades in business, our continued growth and success were the result of the business principles we were founded upon: giving car enthusiasts quality components at affordable prices with quick delivery and courteous service. We purchased AFCO Performance group in 2008. This expanded our incredible line of house brand products, while also adding a distribution center in Indiana.

Speedway Motors 2010s

This decade was one of change. Bill always said, "The smart guy will outsmart himself. The lucky guy will run out of luck. The money guy will never have the desire. But hard work will take you anywhere you want to go!" He lived that way until his dying day in 2014, passing less than a year after his beloved wife Joyce left us in 2013. Every one of his sons had returned to the business, and they continue to grow Bill’s legacy. We purchased Camaros and Classics in 2015, expanding our Muscle offering, while our in-house engineering team launched G-Comp—a brand dedicated to making modern handling & high-tech engineering possible for anyone with a garage. These two powerhouses helped form our Muscle market-specific catalog, first mailed in 2016. In 2019, two more big changes came our way: we launched a brand new look for Speedway Motors and we started shipping packages from our second distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona, providing faster shipping to all of our West Coast customers.

And Today!

Today, Speedway Motors remains a family business and we consider our customers part of that family. Throughout our history, growth, expansion, new product lines—we’ve focused on you—our customers. Because like you, we’ve spent some of our favorite weekends turning a wrench and leaning into the final turn.

As fellow gearheads, we get it. We’re here to make your dreams a reality. Our inventory gives you the parts you need to get the job done and our staff gives you the knowledge you need to feel confident doing it. When you finally finish a project and you’re ready to hit the road, we’re right there with you. Cheering from the pit and sharing your excitement. Whether you’re under the hood or behind the wheel, Speedway Motors is always right by your side. As long as you’re driving your dreams, we love riding shotgun.

Welcome to the family.

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