On the record ... with Carol Fabrizius
MAPLE PARK – Carol Fabrizius is as surprised as anyone that stock-car racing and demolition derbies are still a weekly attraction 50 years after Sycamore Speedway first opened.
“So many people said, ‘They’ll never make it. Those kids will never make it,’” Fabrizius recalled. “They had their doubts about what we were doing. I guess we fooled them all.”
“Those kids” refers to Fabrizius, her late husband, Joe Fabrizius, and her brother Bob Oksas. The trio opened Bob-Jo Speedway for its first clay track motorcycle race on May 30, 1963. In subsequent years, the speedway changed its name to Sycamore Speedway, Oksas sold his share of the partnership to his sister and brother-in-law, and the track switched from hosting motorcycle races to car races.
Joe Fabrizius was killed in a freak accident at the speedway in 2001, in the only accidental death ever experienced there. Two Fabrizius daughters, Julie Andrews and Linda Gerace, now operate the track.
Carol Fabrizius, now 80, still lives within earshot of the speedway. She sat down at her kitchen table to reflect on a half-century of racing with MidWeek reporter Curtis Clegg.
MidWeek: Tell me about yourself and your history with the speedway.
Carol Fabrizius: We were young. We started out racing go-karts. That didn’t work out too well. We paid $10,000 to lay down asphalt for the track and it peeled right up. …We didn’t have any money to pay that $10,000 back so my husband thought we would start a motorcycle track. That was his love and that’s what he wanted and the people came but those people didn’t cover the expenses and insurance, so finally we had to drop (motorcycle races).
MW: As long as I can remember there has been a motorcycle dealer at the speedway.
CF: Yes, that has been probably about 58 years we have had that. We had it right here in our garage, and then the family across the road sold us a few acres at a time. As the years went by, the land got more and more expensive.
MW: Have all of your kids worked at the speedway?
CF: Our kids have always had a place to work and they are all hard workers. Even when they go to work somewhere else, (employers) will tell us how hard they work. …The speedway is like running a small city. You’ve got to make sure you have all your help on the track, in the pits, both gates, the beer wagon, both concessions, the tower, ticket sellers – there’s just a lot.
MW: Tell me about your husband.
CF: He loved motorcycles. He raced at Santa Fe Speedway (in Chicago) every Wednesday night. …That’s why he thought we could race motorcycles here. We tried for years but it just wasn’t cost-effective.
MW: Tell me about his death.
CF: We were just sitting here and I thought I’d go over and see if the girls were OK and pitch in if they needed me. It was just practice. …I left him sitting here eating supper and I was working a little bit and talking to the girls and someone ran over and said “Something terrible has happened to Uncle Joe! Come quick!” I guess a tire had come off a late-model car, and it went up in the air and came down on his head or shoulder and hit him. He was at Loyola (hospital) for a few days but there was no hope so we pulled the plug. That’s what he would have wanted. He made me promise him a thousand times that we wouldn’t keep him alive.
MW: How big is your family?
CF: I have eight kids, four girls and four boys, and then I have 20 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
MW: What roles do your kids have in running the speedway?
CF: Well, I sold it to my two daughters, Julie Andrews and Linda Gerace, and Linda’s daughter Tiffany manages the speedway.
MW: Are clay tracks common?
CF: No, asphalt is more common because clay is too much upkeep.
MW: Is clay less expensive to maintain?
CF: No, because calcium is expensive and you have to put that on. And your blue clay is so hard to find, especially the last couple of years because the construction people haven’t been digging to build new houses or strip malls or that kind of thing. We would keep our eyes open and our friends would help us out if they found a source of blue clay. It’s hard to find.
MW: You are technically in Maple Park. Why did you name it Sycamore Speedway?
CF: When Red Johnson was mayor of Sycamore, my husband went and asked him if we could change the name to Sycamore Speedway so people would know the location better, and he said, “Oh sure, that would be just fine.” So we changed it. My husband always said that Route 47 is like a wall. People in the east don’t ever come west of 47.
MW: Are there race drivers or fans who prefer the clay track experience?
CF: I think there are a certain amount of people who think that clay racing is the best but those are few and far between anymore.
MW: How far do some of your drivers come to race?
CF: I would say from about 30 to 40 miles.
MW: Were you involved with the filming of “At Any Price” at the speedway?
CF: No, but I did see the movie. I thought it was fine. I was surprised at all the little twists in the movie. I thought it was a racing movie but it wasn’t, it was a movie about a farm family and what they went through. I didn’t expect to see a murder in it.
MW: Did you imagine 50 years ago that you’d be sitting here now talking to a newspaper reporter about a half-century of racing?
CF: No. I don’t think anybody dreamed that we’d last 50 years, but we have been so lucky with people that have helped us along the way and made it possible.
MW: What is the secret to your success?
CF: Hard work. You don’t give up. We have had good times and bad times, like one year we had 13 rain-outs. …We have always had good employees that have stuck with us.
MW: As you look into the stands over the years, who do you see there? Is it mostly families, individuals or other groups?
CF: We try to keep it a family thing. Every once in a while we’ll get a group of guys in here who decide they want to drink too much beer, but we try to watch that really carefully. …I used to yell at drivers when we did payouts with their wives. We used to get some drivers (who used foul language) and I’d tell them, “If you don’t quit, I’m going to close this window and you’re going home without your pay.” They would listen to me. …We try to keep it family affair because I think it’s important for families to come together and enjoy things together.