#117: Kankakee County Speedway

Jake LaMore is out and Bill Yohnka is in as your guest host for this thunderous edition of Kankakee Podcast! For several years now, Yonka has been the announcer for the races that take place every Friday night during the summertime at the Kankakee County Speedway. If you follow Bill on social media, you know just how passionate he is about those races.

With Yonka in the driver’s seat, he guides us through the history of the speedway with flagman Jim Whittington. Then, the speedway’s current promoter, Billy Knippenberg, hops in the passenger seat and tells us how races almost came to a complete stop at the Kankakee County Fairgrounds in 2021.

Strap in because this ride goes fast and could get a little bumpy!

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About Kankakee County Speedway

The Kankakee County Speedway has endured multiple name changes over the decades, and believe it or not, its location has changed as well.  From its birth in 1940’s, with no champions on record, racing was held at the old fairgrounds at Horse’s Old Fair Park, on North Indiana Ave. by the Schuyler quarry next to Bradley. Prior to that, racing was contested throughout Kankakee County as early as the 1900’s.

Racing was held at the current Kankakee Fairgrounds Speedway from 1949-1959 on the half-mile.  However, at the conclusion of the 1959 season, the track closed due to a driver’s strike for one year only to resume racing in the Kankakee area at Sugar Island Speedway in the early ’60’s.  Racing continued at the Sugar Island Speedway from 1961-1966, before moving back to the current fairgrounds site as Kankakee Speedway from 1967-1984 under Wayne Etzel and company.  Then from 1985-1987 it returned to Kankakee Fairgrounds Speedway under Glenn Moren, and from 1988-1999 it returned back to Kankakee Speedway under the Izzo Family.  From 2000-2004, the O’Connor Family promoted the Kankakee Motor Speedway, before the Osterhoff Family took over in 2005 when it was known as Kankakee Valley Motor Speedway.  Sherri Heckenast & Family took the reigns in 2006-2007 and returned it back to Kankakee Motor Speedway. Tom Smith promoted the facility from 2009 to 2021, Billy Knippenberg Jr. took over the reigns in 2022.

Meet Your Guest Host

Bill Yohnka, who many have dubbed “Mr. Kankakee,” currently serves as the Executive Director of the Kankakee Riverfront Society. Previously, he has served as Economic Development Director for the City of Kankakee as well as The Community Engagement Specialist for Kankakee School District #111. Yohnka is also a morning radio host for X-Country 106.5 FM on top of also serving as the announcer at the Kankakee County Motor Speedway. A lifelong Kankakee resident, Yohnka hopes to leave his hometown better than how he found it.

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