Former Fairbury American Legion Speedway race director, Rusty Allen, 60, of Pontiac, passed away early Thursday morning (Nov. 7, 2013) at the OSF Richard L. Owens Hospice Home in Peoria, after a yearlong battle with cancer.
Allen’s passion for racing began during the 1970’s when he began helping out, legendary competitor Jack Tyne. Allen began racing in 1983 in the Six- Cylinder class and won the 1988 Fairbury American Legion Speedway track championship. Rusty hung up his helmet in 1991 and worked in various capacities at FALS before taking over as race director in 2002. During his time at the helm, the track was voted UMP track of the year in 2006 and 2007.
Sherri Schmidgall, a former Fairbury Fair director and a member of the race committee worked alongside of Allen for 10 years, coordinating the weekly races at the American Legion Speedway. Schmidgall recalled the memories, “Rusty had a true love and passion for the sport of racing and through our years together on the race committee he taught me so much. His dedication to making FALS the best dirt track around was amazing. He always had his “list” of what needed to be done on race day down to the smallest detail. Rusty wanted to make sure the fans got to see the best racing possible. By Sunday morning, the “list” was already started for next week’s race. He was a true friend to many and will be dearly missed.”
Former track flagman, Mark Habb, remembers how their friendship grew during the course of their time working at the track. “I went from not knowing Rusty, to him being one of my dearest friends. Over the course of 12 years, I worked with him while I was on the race committee and fair board. When he first began promoting, our relationship continued to grow as I got off the board and transitioned to a track worker and finally became the track’s flagman for the last several seasons. Some would say he ruled with an iron fist, but he knew that “wishy washy” would get you nowhere in that line of work. Rusty was a major part of taking FALS from a very mediocre track to a nationally known track, with a well-respected reputation. I have mixed emotions, because I will miss him greatly, but I do know Rusty came to know Jesus Christ as his lord and savior before he passed. Because of this, I know he has no suffering, no pain, and most of all, no cancer. He is home, where we are all created to be.”
Art “Fireball” Fehrman, a Santa Fe Speedway legend and promoter of the Illinois Vintage Racing Series, credits Allen with giving his series a break, they needed. “Rusty gave our series the first chance to race in 2006. He was a man of his word, all on a hand shake. His word was as good as gold. When we lost Jack Tyne, we were all sad and wept together. When times were tough, he always told me, don’t worry about anything, I have my checkbook in my back pocket and he was serious with his dry sense of humor and then his warm smile. We talked about three weeks ago, about how much the series has grown in eight years. None of it would have been possible without Rusty Allen. My heart is broken and I will forever be grateful for our friendship.”
Allen stepped down at the speedway following the 2012 season and was replaced by current race director, Matt Curl. Curl commented, “Rusty’s legacy will continue from the leadership and dedication he so much gave to the track. The bright smile and warm welcome will never be forgotten by all of his “racing family.”
In some of the tributes to Rusty, he gets credit for making Fairbury
American Legion Speedway one of the nation’s premier race tracks. Rusty
would be the first to tell you, from the lady’s that tend to the flowers
on the fairgrounds, to an entertaining announcer, and a loyal group of
drivers and fans, it takes a team effort to make Fairbury what it is
today. I also have to thank Rusty. He gave me an opportunity to cover
the races eight years ago and along the way, it has opened a few doors
for me. I will forever be grateful to Rusty Allen.