116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Larry “Pokey” West stuck out like a sore thumb Friday night at Hawkeye Downs, where he was inducted into the 96-year-old track’s Wall of Fame. While a total of 10 drivers were honored, West had an RV loaded with friends and family parked near the entrance and the party in Pokey’s honor started hours before the races began.
“I’ve met more nice people at the racetrack than I have anywhere else,” said West, who started racing at Hawkeye Downs in the late 1960s when he purchased a 1956 Chevy for $3,500. The seat was located in the center with the gas pedal all the way to the right, the brake on the left and the shifter between the driver’s legs.
While West drove a truck hauling livestock — something he still does to this day — he relied on help from friends like Dick Wells, who drove for him during the day and did all of the welding on the car at night.
“I got out of the service in 1968 and started working on the racecar,” Wells said. “We’ve been friends ever since.”
With West falling in love with racing at Hawkeye Downs as a boy, he kept the legendary Linn County track in his rotation when the guys went racing three, four or five nights a week at Columbus Junction, West Liberty, Eldon, Boone and Tipton.
“It was excellent,” Wells said. “Every night you’d get home at midnight and get up and go to work at 5 a.m. and then do it again the next night.”
Along with support from his team, West had approval from his wife of over 40 years, Linda, who joined several friends and family members in celebrating her husband’s big day.
“It just makes me feel good,” West said with a giggle. “I didn’t know I was going to get as far as I did.”
But West did make it onto the Hawkeye Downs Wall of Fame, along with four other inductees from the 2021 class and five members of the 2020 group who weren’t able to celebrate their honors last season due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s awesome,” said West’s niece, Jodi Latcham, who fielded the call from Wall of Fame organizer Steve Day. “He deserves it.”
The 2020 Wall of Fame honorees are: Rollie Frinks, who won the Late Model Championship in 1988; Bill Kemp, who raced and worked as a flagman for Hawkeye Downs and also served on the wrecking crew; Dave Naylor, who won the Modified championship at Hawkeye Downs in 1997; Bill Rieken, Hawkeye Downs’ race promoter for the dirt track from 1983-89; and Stewart Salter, who served as a car sponsor and tech inspector while building cars for various drivers over the years.
In addition to West, the 2021 inductees are: Robert “Bob” and John “Bud” Burdick, who raced cars built by Bob’s father Roy, Bud’s brother; Red Dralle, who won his last feature race in 1994 and stopped driving so his son/crew chief, Rick Dralle, could start racing his own car; and Larry Svoboda, an official, a flagman and a race promoter at various race tracks including Hawkeye Downs.