As a teenager, Lincoln, Nebraska’s “Speedy” Bill Smith began dealing Model T Fords and raced flat-track motorcycles. He built his first track roadster – number 4x – in 1948 and competed with the Nebraska Hot Rod Racing Association.
Bill graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University, married Joyce, and opened Speedway Motors – one of the earliest American “speed shops” – all in one year, 1952. His degree was in teaching, but he wanted to be in the racing business, so with a $300 loan from his new bride, he started Speedway Motors in a 400-sq. ft. building.
That same year he built a 1934 Ford stock car with Woody Brinkman as his driver. Woody soon got in trouble with his wife over his racing so he recommended a young motorcycle racer to Bill. That recommendation would forever change Bill's life. Smith had some serious reservations about motorcycle racers, having been one himself, but Woody guaranteed this new kid would produce. The kid's name was Lloyd Beckman and together Smith and Beckman would go on to set records which remain unbroken.
In 1960-'61, Beckman chauffeured a Speedway Motors-prepped ’32 Ford Modified to 16 consecutive feature wins at Capitol Beach Speedway in Lincoln. By 1964, Smith was racing supermodifieds and in 1965 he brought out his first sprint car. During this time, Grady Wade, Keith Hightshoe and Joe Saldana successfully wielded the 4x cars. A young Jan Opperman won the Hawkeye Futurity, Rapid City, Odessa (Mo.), and Topeka and won the Big Car Racing Association (BCRA) Championship in 1969.
Opperman won three features in a row at the 1974 IMCA Winter Nationals in Tampa, Florida, and had wins in 1975 at Kansas City, Sedalia and Belleville on his way to securing a second BCRA championship and IMCA runner-up.
The 4x stormed the country’s dirt ovals during 1976; at that year’s televised Hulman Classic in Terre Haute, Indiana, Smith and Opperman outran 56 of the country’s best USAC sprint teams. "Speedy" Bill considered this the biggest win of his career. "We won the Knoxville Nationals with Wolfgang in 1978, but we were supposed to win so that was just another big payday," said Bill. "But at the Hulman Classic in 1976, those USAC guys didn't think we had a chance. Opperman was on his game and I had the car ready to win.
In 1978, with Doug Wolfgang, driving the now famous 4x car, the Speedway Motors sprinter garnered 26 feature wins from Minnesota to Texas and Florida to Washington. The biggest win during the year was the Knoxville Nationals, where Doug and Bill defeated a young Steve Kinser.
Among the drivers Smith employed other than those already mentioned: Don Brown, Roy Bryant, Shane Carson, Bob Coulter, Jay East, Larry Dickson, Thad Dosher, Don Droud, Jr., Cheryl Glass, Ray Lee Goodwin, Harold Leep, Ron Shuman and Gordon Woolley.
"Speedy" Bill Smith was tenacious, passionate, crafty and filled with ideas about how to better make the business work. He set high standards for those around him and demanded everyone's best effort all the time. Over the years, Smith and his Speedway Motors cars set records in drag racing, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, and, with the John MacKichan-built Speedway Streamliner, at Bonneville. In 2000, Speedway Motors moved to its current 520,000 sq. ft. facility on 42 acres in west Lincoln. Smith had opportunities to move to a more favorable part of the country, given that the speed and performance industry was headquartered in California, but his steadfast love for Lincoln, Nebraska, and the Midwest kept him and his business in his hometown his entire life. The company’s catalogs now total more than 1,000 pages and highlight more than 20,000 high quality parts for racers, rodders and auto enthusiasts. His list of awards won't fit this space, but include inductions into the following Halls of Fame: BCRA; High Banks; Hot Rod Magazine; National Sprint Car; Nebraska and SEMA.
Bill’s wife Joyce was as big a reason for Speedway Motors success as Bill. Joyce watched over the details of the business which left Bill free to develop ideas. She took care of the books and dealt with employees and customers. In many ways, Joyce was the reason that Speedway Motors enjoyed the customer loyalty it did. Eventually all four Smith children, Carson, Craig, Clay and Jason, became part of Speedway Motors.
In 1992, Bill and Joyce started the Smith Collection Museum, which has grown to 160,000 sq. ft. with 120 classic high performance and race cars; 600 engines and thousands of other examples of automobilia.
Joyce passed away in August of 2013 and Bill passed away in May of 2014. But with all four sons guiding Speedway Motors, the legacy of Bill and Joyce Smith will live on for a very long time.