Jason Etherington


Bobby Grim Algona

The late Bobby Grim leads at Algona Raceway. Grim and the “Black Deuce” left a formidable impression on Jason Etherington.

Growing up on a farm 10 miles south of Algona, Jason Etherington’s first indoctrination to auto racing came during the 1940’s and 1950’s at the annual Kossuth County Fair. Then, families made the venture to town no more than once a week, and the Etherington family saved up to attend one day of the fair, usually race day.

Etherington fondly remembers being a youngster peering through the wire fence that separated the then half-mile speedway and Floral Hall, just off turn three. The late, great Bobby Grim slinging dirt from the knobby tires of the “Black Deuce” left an impression on him he never forgot.

He began to leave his mark on racing at Algona in 1966 when he returned to the area and became the news anchor at KLGA radio. In addition to covering local news, he hosted the weekly “Racer’s Roundup” radio show that aired Saturday’s at 11:00 a.m.

Track promoter Dwight Cook was a regular guest on Saturday’s, recapping the previous night’s races and previewing future events at the track. Often, Cook would bring a race driver in studio to comment on his night at the speedway.

Etherington and Cook built a mutual respect for each other after doing many “Racer’s Roundup” shows. In 1969, Etherington began filling in for Algona track announcer Phil Diamond, when Diamond needed time off.

When Diamond stepped away from the microphone in 1970, Etherington became the full-time voice of the Algona track. Etherington remained the track announcer, until the track’s closure in 1975. When track promoter Dick Simpson ran demolition derby events, races and other events during the fair after the tracks closure, Etherington was at the microphone.

He made $12 per week to be the announcer, saying that you did it out of love of the sport more so than for the money. At the time, the Algona track was a high-banked quarter-mile speedway and the judge’s stand was literally on the edge of the front stretch. The chief starter of the race, stood directly in front of the stand. It was not uncommon for cars to spin out of control and bump into the stand where the track officials worked with the flagman scurrying out of the way.

Etherington recalls one year towards the end of his track announcing career that he worked three tracks on three consecutive nights. He started his weekends working for promoter Dwight Cook at the Friday night races in Algona, traveled to Denison on Saturday’s and worked for promoter Dick Simpson at the track in Alta.

The wildest night he recalls behind the microphone was a special event at Denison that featured an increased purse and a giant car count. With more money on the line more than 150 cars signed in the pits. He remembers that after qualifying, about 30 cars started the A main, another 30 or so made up the B feature and the remaining 100-plus cars were put in ONE C feature.

In that wild C feature, they started lining cars up at the finish line and the string of two-by-two rows went back to turn two on the big half-mile track. Etherington swears that race alone took over two hours to finish.

Though the sport was amazingly safe during that time period, even with primitive safety gear compared to today, the most concerned he was for a driver occurred when the throttle stuck on Gene Schattschneider’s car. Gene went head-long, wide open into the cement wall at the end of the back straightaway. After several tense moments, the silent crowd watched with amazement as the driver crawled out from the wreckage.

The three-night-a-week track announcing schedule took a bit of toll on Etherington. When the Algona track reopened in the mid-1980’s, Daryl Brayton persistently tried to lure him out of retirement, offering significantly more money than when he last announced. Remembering the late nights, and his full-time job at KLGA, Etherington politely refused.

Etherington says he was fortunate to call the action during one of the best periods for Algona Raceway. He also had tremendous respect for the officials he worked with. He considered Dorthy Simpson a big sister who looked after everyone and could certainly hold her own in a sport that then was very much male dominated.

Etherington enjoyed working for promoters Dwight Cook and Dick Simpson and had tremendous respect for both. He says today, we are spoiled with technology. Imagine the challenge corner-worker Larry Sowers had communicating with the flagman without radios?

In 1992, KLGA owner George Allen sold the station. Shortly after, Etherington retired after 26 years of broadcasting, ending his involvement with news and race programming on the radio.

He leaves a legacy of local racing coverage, a commitment to local news, enthusiasm at the track and his endless hours of covering the fair and its motorsport events.

Jason Etherington joins five others as 2013 Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame inductees. They will be formally recognized on August 3rd.