Horse, bicycle, motorcycle and automobile racing have a long Boone history. The county fairgrounds in Ogden, organized in 1878, had an oval race track, and there were tracks on the south side of Boone in the early years of the 20th century. But it was in 1903, with the establishment of the Northside Driving Park, that racing really became an important community entertainment.
Located between 22nd and Linn Streets on the northern edge of town, it was, according to the Boone News Republican “established primarily for horse racing… but was used for many attractions,” including automobile and motorcycle racing as well as fairs, amateur and semi-pro baseball and football games and circus entertainments.
In the early 20th century, horse racing was popular in Iowa and the newspaper reported that “Boone was in a circuit with neighboring counties.” During racing season, strings of race horses were sent to various tracks throughout the state, including the Northside Driving Park.
As automobiles gained importance, car races became increasingly common. The Northside Driving Park hosted the first automobile races in Boone. Cars sped around the quarter mile oval dirt track at an exhilarating 52 mph. A vintage photograph shows cars lined up at the start of a race as early as Aug. 9, 1910.
Photographs in the collection of the Boone County Historical Society also record motorcycle racing at the Northside Driving Park. On Aug. 12, 1914, both motorcycle and automobile races were held, with a motorcycle race headlining the day’s events. Laurie Good, in a 1978 article in the Boone County Historical Society’s Journal Trail Tales, noted that once a race between a race car and an airplane was held at the park. On Aug. 9, 1911, the park became the site of the landing of the first airplane, piloted by Jimmie Ward, in Boone.
The park also was home to the Boone District Fair, a forerunner of the later Achievement Shows and Boone County Fairs. In season, circuses set up camp at the driving park. Once, the newspaper reported that a thunderstorm broke up a circus performance.
“There are many who can remember one occasion when Barnum and Bailey were showing at the driving park that a severe electrical storm, accompanied by a strong wind, came up just as the gates were opened for the evening show. The lions started roaring, the elephants started weaving and the ladies started running. There was no performance that evening.”
In her article, Good observed that prior to WWI a “primitive jitney bus,” driven by Henry Fibikar, transported people from Boone to the park. The driving park operated until 1919 when it was sold.