Ray “Cannonball” Curtis

By Chad Meyer

Ray "Cannonball" CurtisBorn in Tunkhannock, Pa and raised in Ontario Center, NY, the late Ray “Cannonball” and Carol Curtis moved to Bode, IA in 1967. After serving in the US Navy from 1958 – 1961, he began a life-long obsession in the trucking industry, and was an owner operator most of his life.

While many that remember Curtis race at Algona assumed the nickname “Cannonball” came from his racing exploits, the truth is he had the name well before moving to Kossuth County.

“In the ‘60’s there was a popular TV show called Cannonball Express that featured a GMC “Bubble Nose” truck, just like what Cannonball drove. His friends coined the name after seeing the show,” Carol  remembers.

After moving to the Algona area, it took only one trip to the speed plant in Algona for him and Carol to be hooked on racing.

The first night at Algona Raceway, Ray watched Gene Schattschneider win a race with a wheel missing from his car. “Ray thought that was fantastic,” Carol said. “I just knew he was going to want to get a race car for himself.”

His first car was Chevy that had a previous life in the Schattschneider racing stable. Carol recalls his first race was in Algona, and in all the years they raced, Cannonball only missed one night at that track.

Ray "Cannonball" Curtis

L to R: Larry Jenson, Allen Fortburg, Greg Jensen, Ray “Cannonball” Curtis.

“I remember one night Cannonball had us take the car to Algona, because he was on the road and was worried he wouldn’t be back in time for the races. I was sitting in the grandstand and Denny Hovinga had trouble with his car and he came charging up the stands asking if he could borrow the car for the night,” she said.

“We were good friends with him, and I figured Hovinga was about the only driver Cannonball would let drive,” she said.

Carol remembers many great battles at the Algona track. She says he won many heat races and trophy dashes, and had many top feature finishes.

“I don’t know how many times we finished second in the points,” she said. “One year, we were only a few points behind Hovinga on the final night. Cannonball tried everything to pass him for the win and the championship.” After realizing he couldn’t pass him, she says Curtis pushed Hovinga across the finish line. “That really rattled Hovinga after race,” she laughs.

Ray "Cannonball" Curtis

Cannonball, #55, heads high to avoid a spinning Bruce Sommerfeld (50) and another driver.

Curtis put an emphasis on fun, and made sure the whole family got involved with identical matching outfits to wear to the races and the converted an old city bus into a crew transporter.

Curtis retired from racing in 1974. The couple moved to Loveland, Colorado for five years, before moving to Phoenix in 1985, soon making their home in New River, Az.

Cannonball passed away at the age of 70 in 2010 after a long battle with cancer.

Even today, all a race fan has to do is say “Cannonball”, and the veterans of the sport know exactly who they are referring to. He leaves behind a legacy of succeeding in a sport he lived for every day of his career.

Ray “Cannonball” Curtis joins five others as inductees into the Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame in 2013.