The death of Wanda Boness, the First Lady of auto racing in Pierce County, brings back memories of the motor sports track she owned with her husband, Dick, for 40-plus years.
Spanaway Speedway hosted virtually every kind of car racing – from NASCAR to demolition derbies. The couple sold the track in 2003 and the land became a housing development. Another melancholy day for car racing fans in the county came last month with the death of Wanda. She was 84.
Her passing July 17 was mourned by racing fans and friends on a Facebook page where Spanaway Speedway followers reminisce. Typical of the comments was one from Melissa Carr, who wrote, “Wanda was a wonderful woman and will be missed.”
Wanda’s daughter, Janette Nelson, said via Facebook that her mother put up “a valiant fight to do all she could to live” before choosing “comfort care rather than further treatments” toward the of her battle with illness.
Wanda and Dick, who’s among her survivors, retired to their home in Eatonville when they left their race track days behind. But their contributions to motor sports are well-chronicled. Here’s how the Boness legacy is recalled by Tacoma Athletic Commission:
“In 1956, Dick Boness and his brother, Fred Jr., convinced their parents, Fred and Nina, that the family dairy farm would be a good site for a race track. Dick prevailed and opened a seven-mile dirt track that fall. After being shortened and paved, Spanaway Speedway became the longest-lived racing facility in Pierce County.”
“Very few people have had the impact on any local sport that Dick and Wanda Boness had” on car racing in the county, the commission noted.
Along with giving local drivers weekly races, Spanaway Speedway hosted events for national organizations such as NASCAR and USAC. It also was an incubator for racers on their way to national prominence. Derrike Cope, a former Bethel High School student, honed his driving skills that later made him a Daytona 500 winner. Mike Bliss, who went on to become a USAC Silver Crown and NASCAR truck champion, raced midgets and supermodifieds at Spanaway.
Even the Indianapolis 500 had a connection. Tom Sneva, who won one of racing’s biggest events, and Davey Hamilton, who drove in it seven times, were Spanaway contestants in supermodifieds and midgets, respectively. Also among Spanaway Speedway’s alma mater are Ron Eaton, a west coast stock car legend, and NASCAR drivers Chad Little and Dirk Stephens. Virtually anyone who raced in the Northwest barreled around the Spanaway oval at one time or another.
At its peak, the track, which was located three miles east of State Route 7 on 22nd Avenue East in Spanaway, had racing four days a week – Sunday afternoons and Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. The programs included street stocks and hobby stocks, figure-8 and spectator drags.
Wanda and Dick ran the track as family-oriented entertainment. But it also was big business, an engine for the local economy. Some news reports put the track’s economic impact at an estimated $10 million a year for nearby restaurants, car parts suppliers, welding shops and motels.
Dick and Wanda broadened their ventures beyond Pierce County. Over the years, they built Olympia-Tenino Speedway (now South Sound Speedway) near Tenino and also operated tracks in eastern Washington (Ephrata) and Idaho (Stateline).
Olympia-Tenino is now South Sound Speedway and still a racing mecca. Its 2012 schedule runs through September. Its owners since the Boness’ have included Jerry Cope, the uncle of Derrike Cope.