Don Prilipp – Owner

Tom Bigelow Don Prilipp

Tom Bigelow (center) stands in victory lane after winning a main event during the IMCA Winter Nationals at the Florida State Fair in 1967 driving for Don Prilipp.

By Chad Meyer

Don Prilipp started his race car building and ownership career at the young age of fifteen years old. The Renwick, Iowa high school freshman built his first race car, a 1937 Ford coupe with a flat head motor. The car was hauled to the Wright County Speedway located between Belmond and Clarion, Iowa in the back of his father’s grain truck. Prilipp’s first season lasted only until the halfway point as lack of funds and a few repairs put a damper on his foray into the sport.

A year later in 1954, Prilipp formed a lasting partnership with area farmer Rich Brock. Together, they built a car and put local driver Dick Clay behind the wheel. Even at a young age, Prilipp and his partner Brock spent considerable time and effort fabricating their racer. One of their early racing enhancements was to balance the internal components of their flat head Ford engine, by ‘borrowing’ the gram scale from the Renwick High School physics room. In addition to the Wright County Speedway, the team raced heavily at Sportsman’s Park in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

After becoming the General Manager of the farmer’s cooperative in Manson, Iowa, Prilipp took a brief hiatus from racing. The break didn’t last long. West Bend, Iowa hot shoe Leo Christensen had wrecked his primary car and was without a ride. Combining the craftsmanship and expertise of both Christensen and Brock & Prilipp, they soon had a car ready for the 1959 season. Their time together was short lived. In Christensen’s first night in the car, he was involved in an accident and the car was done for the year.

Don Prilipp

Don Prilipp stands next to his race car in the pits at Algona Raceway in 1961. At the time, Algona was a half mile track with the high school football field in the center of the speedway. Note the goalposts behind Prilipp.

In 1960, the race car was repaired, but took to the track with a V8 Chevy motor. With Fort Dodge, Iowa’s Bob Garrett behind the wheel, Brock & Prilipp raced the car in 1961 at the Algona race track, which was the first year the track had reopened.

After amassing several first place trophies, the Brock & Prilipp combination picked up steam during the ’63-’64 seasons. With Norm Baker as their driver, they raced extensively at Webster City and Mason City. When their schedule allowed, they also raced at Algona and at the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa.

In 1965, Brock & Prilipp built their first sprint car. IMCA sprint car up and comer Lonnie Jensen of Lincoln, NE was tabbed the driver and the team headed to Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for its first race.

After getting their feet wet in sprint cars, Brock & Prilipp raced all over the Midwest in 1966, running the IMCA county and state fair circuit. Norm Baker returned to the car and started the season; however, he left the ride partway through the year to run his family’s business. This opened the door for Waco, Texas driver Gordon Woolley to finish the season.

In what was Prilipp’s last season as a car builder and owner, 1967 proved to be the pinnacle. The team started the season with the goal of winning the IMCA National Championship. Future Indy 500 veteran Tom Bigelow was the driver as they started the season in Florida. At the time, the IMCA sprint car season started with two weeks of February racing during the Winter Nationals held at the Florida State Fair in Tampa. When the Winter Nationals concluded, Bigelow found victory lane once and the team left with the IMCA sprint car point lead.

Don Prilipp

Don Prilipp, left

In May, Bigelow qualified the car on the middle of the front row for the Little 500 in Anderson, Indiana. Even though Bigelow was having success in Prilipp’s car, he had aspirations of climbing the racing ladder to Indianapolis. Bigelow left the Brock & Prilipp ride in June to drive the prestigious Elder Cadillac USAC sprint car.

Another soon to be Indianapolis legend took over the driving duties as the team continued to race the full IMCA sprint car season. Guttenberg, Iowa’s Lee Kunzman drove the car the rest of the year, earning IMCA “Rookie of the Year” honors at season’s end at the Oklahoma State Fair in Tulsa and finishing well in the final point standings.

The following year, the race team succumbed to the demands of the busy businesses they had built. In 1968 Prilipp quit the sport of racing to concentrate on growing his trucking business.

He says a highlight of his career was winning many races at Belmond, Mason City and Webster City. The ultimate highlight for him was beating out 60-70 other race teams for a win during the IMCA Winter Nationals with Tom Bigelow in 1967 and leaving Florida with the IMCA points lead.

Norm Baker

Norm Baker wheeled the Brock & Prilipp #27 to its one of its biggest wins, the IMCA race at Sandusky, OH.

Prilipp (and Brock) had a knack for craftsmanship in building their race cars. They also had a knack for helping launch the careers of sprint car racings most successful drivers. Their first sprint car driver, Lonnie Jensen, was inducted into the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame in 1999.

Tom Bigelow went on to race in every Indy 500 between 1974 and 1982. He was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame (NSCHoF) in 1996. Lee Kunzman raced in several Indy 500’s and was a member of the 2006 NSCHoF class.

Other National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame inductees to drive for Prilipp include, Gordon Woolley, Jay Woodside, Dick Sutcliffe and Joe Saldana. Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame member Jim Edgington’s first sprint car race was in Prilipp’s car.

Today, Prilipp and his wife Sandy live in Algona and are semi-retired after exiting the livestock auction business in 2004. They have been lifelong supporters of the Kossuth County Fair. They spend their free time with family and their summers supporting the racing efforts of grandson Jake Simpson.