It takes a lot of guts—and passion— to take over a world-famous racetrack with absolutely no experience in running one. But that’s exactly what Washington County resident Bill Kniesly did in September 2020 when he purchased Salem Speedway. And it’s been thriving ever since.
Bill says he wants to bring back the “old-fashioned family-fun racing experience” which is evident throughout the property. He’s improved the campground area and lowered ticket prices to make it more affordable for families. Kids under 12 get in free, and on drag racing nights tickets are only $5 for adults. “Where else can a family get five hours of great fun for only ten dollars?” Bill quips. He’s also brought in a food truck serving barbecue dinners from Top Notch Barbecue, based out of Pekin.
One of the most historic tracks in the country, Salem Speedway was built in 1947 as a dirt track but quickly transitioned into asphalt. Some of the biggest names in motorsports have raced here—Mario Andretti, A. J. Foyt, Tony Stewart, and Jeff Gordon, just to name a few. And what makes this track so appealing? “It’s the high banks,” explains Bill. “The banks are 33-1/2 degrees, which makes the track very steep, and very fast.” Last year on a national broadcast, Jeff Gordon talked about Salem Speedway and commented on just how tough a racetrack it is.
This year’s lineup includes 15 events that run April through the end of October. April 10 kicks off the season with a mud drag at the campground; April 25 is the first race on the track. In October, the Halloween 200 is the largest and most prestigious street stock race in the country. “We’re giving $10,000 to the winner of the 200,” Bill says, “and it’s the largest street stock purse in the nation.” Born in Lafayette, Bill has lived in Salem most of his life. He’s passionate about his community and is eager to do his part in supporting local businesses by drawing spectators in from all over Indiana and neighboring states.
“I don’t plan on ever leaving Washington County,” says Bill. “My childhood memories of the area are what still make Washington County so special today. Playing outside in the woods, and everyone knows each other. It’s a very rural community feel.”
Outside the track, Washington County’s 326-acre Delaney Creek Park is a draw for outdoor enthusiasts with an 88-acre lake as its centerpiece.
For history buffs, there’s the John Hay Center, a complex dedicated to preserving the area’s history; and Beck’s Mill, a historic grist mill built in 1864.
Overnight lodging options include the Cobblestone Hotel & Suites, Knights Inn, and The Destination B&B.
“I travel several times throughout the year,” Bill says, “but the best part of every trip is crossing that county line— knowing I’m home again.”
For more information, go to www.salemspeedway.com or www. washingtoncountychamber.org