Jim & Helen Utt – Promoters/Owners

Jim Utt

Jim Utt

By Chad Meyer

During the 1960’s, the racing scene was in full swing at the Algona track and local business owners Jim and Helen Utt became interested in the sport of racing. Jim’s first involvement in the sport of racing was a pit crew member of the “Flying Dutchman” team that had Gene Schattschneider as the driver.

Local modified drivers such as Jim Edgington and Les Wildin helped keep the local racing enthusiasm lit and it wasn’t long before the Utt’s jumped in as car owners.

Around 1962 the Utt’s started fielding a modified with St. Peter, Minnesota hot shoe Bobby Geldner behind the wheel. The Utt Electric #30 raced regularly at the half mile ovals in Fairmont and Jackson, MN until 1970. While Geldner went on to become a successful sprint car driver, it was behind the wheel of Utt’s modified that he honed his skills and helped build his legend at southern Minnesota speed plants. As a testament to their success, Utt earned the Top Mechanic award during the 1966 season at VFW Speedway in Jackson, Minnesota,

Utt Electric

An early Utt Electric stock car at Algona.

The Utt’s bought their first sprint car in 1970 from Humboldt, Iowa’s Wayne Funk. Sprint car ace Dick Forbrook of Morgan, MN spent nearly four years behind the wheel of the car. During that first year of sprint cars, it was not uncommon for them to race both the modified and sprint car, especially at the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa.

At that time, many sprint car teams started their racing season in Tampa during the Florida State Fair and Utt’s team was no different. One notable memory occurred in 1972 when Dick Forbrook’s plane was delayed to Florida for two nights, causing the team to look for a substitute driver. They were fortunate to have one of the best ever sprint car drivers in Jan Opperman fill until Forbrook could make it to the track.

Kossuth County Racing Hall of Famer Dick Forbrook piloted the Utt Electric sprint car at the Algona speedway in 1975. At season’s end, Forbrook was crowned the track champion.

Jim Utt Dick Forbrook

Dick Forbrook at the controls of the Utt Electric #30 at the Iowa State Fair Speedway.

It was also in 1975 when Jim and Helen did double duty by becoming the track promoters for the track in Algona along with fielding their sprinter for Edgington. This marked the return of sprint cars to the racing program at Algona. The Utt’s were supported well by the sprint car teams as the track fielded good car counts. That year proved to be Jim and Helen’s only year as promoters, however, as it was tough to support sprint cars in a community that had not raced that class of cars regularly.

After Forbrook, Des Moines, Iowa driver Ralph Blackett drove for Jim & Helen Utt from 1976 through 1977. Larry Kirkpatrick of Wood River, Illinois also drove their sprinter.

In 1978 the Utt’s bought a four-bar Trostle sprinter and had Gary Johnson as their driver. Johnson remained the driver for two years until he took the opportunity to become the flagman at Knoxville Raceway.

While running sprint cars, the race team traveled all of the United States to chase races. In the early 1970’s they ran Friday’s at Stuart, Saturday’s at Knoxville, Iowa and Sunday’s at the North Star Speedway in St. Paul, Minnesota. When the county and state fairs began in the summer, these events were added to their schedule as well.

Ralph Blackett against the tall cushion at Plant Field, Tampa, FL in 1976

Ralph Blackett against the tall cushion at Plant Field, Tampa, FL in 1976

They hit the county fair in Knoxville, Illinois and then traveled to county fairs in Chippewa Falls and Wausau, Wisconsin in the same weekend. Along with state fairs in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska, they raced at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia on both the half-mile and mile tracks. They also raced at the DuQuoin, Illinois mile track plus Shreveport, Louisiana and at Manzanita, Arizona for the Western National Sprint Car Championships

Some of the racing highlights for the Utt family include finishing third in the IMCA national point standings in 1976 with Larry Kirkpatrick at the wheel. With Dick Forbrook as their driver they were multiple feature winners of the Clay County Fair races in Spencer in the modified. Larry Kirkpatrick was the winner of the county fair race in Knoxville, Illinois. They also posted several top finishes at Knoxville Raceway. The Utt’s race team is certainly remembered for winning races, almost always finishing up front and having a lot of fun.

Jim Utt Larry Kirkpatrick

Jim Utt with driver Larry Kirkpatrick at Tampa, FL. John Mahoney photo.

Jim & Helen Utt retired from racing in 1980 when they sold out their sprint cars and equipment to a racer in Knoxville, Iowa.

While Jim and Helen Utt have passed away, they are remembered as caring people and for their generosity. Members of their crew appreciated that the Utt’s truly took care of them, especially when they were on the road. They also remember that after each year’s Clay County Fair, the Utt’s would host a barbeque and invited many racers, crew and teams to Algona.

That level of respect also came from competitors and fans who watched races while the Utt’s operated the Algona racing facility.

They are also remembered for running a successful business. Utt Electric helped start the careers of many electricians in the Algona and Kossuth County area. Former employees remember being treated like family, especially around the holiday’s when the Utt’s would host their annual dinner.