- Associated Press - Friday, August 21, 2015

QUINCY, Ill. (AP) - Gus Traeder can be found wearing one or more of his numerous hats on any given day.

He is a storyteller with few equals. Once Traeder reels you in, his hold can be almost hypnotic.

He also is a master salesman and promoter. Always has been, always will be.

Though he will politely decline most compliments that come his way, Traeder always has been an innovator. For most of his life, Traeder - who will turn 90 early next month - has been a step ahead of most of those around him.

That was true in his business ventures, and especially obvious whenever karting has been involved. Traeder introduced Quincy to karting and helped the city become one of the sport’s meccas.

His long involvement with the sport, which dates to the early 1960s, came to a formal end at the 14th annual Vintage Kart Olympics at TNT Kartways in West Quincy, Missouri. It’s an event that both Traeder and his son Terry, 63, a former world karting champion, created.

They are stepping away - at least in an official capacity - from the sport that has occupied much of their lives for the past 58 years.

“It’s just time,” Traeder said.

Fittingly, the last event he will help promote is called “The Final Act.”

Always a salesman, always a promoter, always a showman.

Always has been, always will be.

Wide World of Sports visited in 1962

No better example of all of Traeder’s talents is his longstanding career in karting and the impact his interest in the sport has had on Quincy - and will continue to have long after he steps away. The sport actually is enjoying a rebirth in terms of local interest, thanks in part to the addition of a karting program this year at Quincy Raceways, but it owes its local glory days of past, present and future to Traeder.

Traeder’s keen sense of incorporating the community into such an interest is the stuff of legends, and his innovative approach to building and developing the sport has been second to none. Shortly after his arrival in Quincy more than 60 years ago, Traeder was introduced to a “go-kart” through his day-job position with one of the local department stores.

Within a few years, Traeder was developing the sport of karting at the grassroots level in West-Central Illinois, Northeast Missouri and Southeast Iowa through the promotion of races and building of what would eventually be known as TNT Kartways in West Quincy. The site was known as TNT Speed and Sport Center in its early years. Traeder and his wife, Fern, first established the facility in West Quincy in 1961.

Traeder has long said one of the achievements he is most proud of is when “ABC Wide World of Sports” came to West Quincy in 1962 to televise one of the national championship karting races at the site. Traeder already had become active in the major national karting organizations and would remain a key player for decades to come.

“Everyone always kidded me that karting got on live national television before (NASCAR’s) Daytona 500 did,” he said.

Traeder went on to serve as an analyst for ESPN during its telecasts of karting events in the network’s early days of operation.

A grand time at the Gran Prix

Traeder may be best known in Quincy and around the karting world for his “Gran Prix of Karting,” an annual event at South Park for 32 years until a decline in entries caused him to end the event after the 2001 competition.

Gran Prix entries fell from a high of 625 for the 25th anniversary in 1994 to 130 in 2001. Only the race’s first year drew fewer entries (80) than 2001. During its glory years, the Gran Prix was known virtually from coast to coast as the sport’s showcase competition.

“This was America’s greatest karting event,” Traeder said. “To win a race at the Gran Prix was harder than winning a national championship event.”

Keith Freber, who at the time was a third-generation president of Margay Racing Products in St. Louis and one of four major U.S. kart chassis manufacturers, heaped some mighty praise on the South Park event during a visit in 2000.

“This is our Indy 500. It’s what the Grand Prix of Monaco is to Formula One Racing,” Freber told The Herald-Whig.

Gus and Terry Traeder took the plaudits in stride. They already knew how unique the winding road course through South Park was, and they also knew how the nationwide karting community felt about Quincy.

“We would do unique stuff here and … make the karters feel special,” Terry Traeder said.

TNT was host of national events

One of the high points of Traeder’s career came with the 50th anniversary of the TNT site a few years ago. It was an opportunity to pause and appreciate the facility that eventually led to the South Park Gran Prix and the uptown races in downtown Quincy.

Traeder said TNT Kartways still holds the record for hosting the most national-level karting events.

The original TNT facility, whose grandstands bore a miniature resemblance to the fabled NASCAR track in Darlington, South Carolina, drew up to 2,000 onlookers for some of its national and world competitions, not to mention attracting drivers who went on to bigger and better things on the national stage.

Lake Speed, Mark Dismore, Scott Goodyear called TNT home before graduating to NASCAR and IndyCar racing. Jamie McMurray, another TNT graduate, went on to win the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

“That’s just a few of the great drivers who raced there,” Terry Traeder said. “There were many, many more.”

The history of the South Park Gran Prix is considered a part of national karting lore, while its accompanying event, the 14 years of racing on the downtown streets of Quincy, became a part of the city’s heritage.

“We have survived a lot through the years, including a couple of floods,” Traeder said. “The flood in 1993 was especially rough. It wiped everything out, but we never gave up. We just kept on going.”

‘The flood disintegrated everything’

A work barge that swept through the infamous levee breach on July 16 that year, just north of Bayview Bridge, initially knocked over some gasoline storage tanks behind the Ayerco Convenience Center, triggering a spectacular fire that, in turn, burned portions of the Traeders’ nearby buildings.

“Then a big work barge hit our buildings,” Traeder said. “It was like a whirlpool effect. It just kept spinning around, knocking our buildings down.”

The barge later sank near the old Burlington Northern Railroad depot.

The Traeders owned five buildings on their property immediately west of the Ayerco business, including the half-mile asphalt race track that had been used for numerous world-class karting events. All of this was devastated in the flood.

“The flood disintegrated everything,” Traeder said. “The only thing left standing was the flagpole. We lost more than probably anybody in West Quincy.”

Traeder estimates his family lost about $1.5 million in buildings, merchandise and business. The family had flood insurance on the buildings but got back only about $300,000.

“We didn’t get everything out, because I always thought that the levee would never break,” Traeder said. “I really felt that it would hold.”

The Traeder family had been operating a golf car business in one of its buildings. Another building was leased to Bryan Smith, who had recently bought a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership the Traeders had been operating.

After the flood, Smith moved his motorcycle business to Illinois, while the Traeders rebuilt the track and pit area to carry on a national racing schedule in 1994. That’s when the track site became known as TNT Kartways.

The Traeders moved their TNT Golf Car Equipment Co. into the former Davis Cleaver building in Quincy.

“They raised the flood insurance rates so high that it was impossible for us to go back there,” he said. “This last flood was a disaster, and Terry didn’t want to go through that again.”

First inductee into Hall of Fame

The family initially suffered a setback when the 1973 flood swamped West Quincy, but they moved back afterward and made the business bigger and stronger. But after the 1993 disaster, the family decided to bring back only the race-track operation.

“It sure changed our lives,” Traeder said.

When interest in events such as the South Park Gran Prix and the downtown races eventually waned, Traeder initiated the Vintage Kart Olympics, which has been acknowledged in national publications as the finest of the sport’s nostalgic competitions.

So it was no surprise when five years ago that Traeder was the first inductee into the Vintage Karting Hall of Fame at the New Castle Motorsports Park in New Castle, Indiana.

Traeder has always looked at the vintage events as more of a reunion than a competition. They have allowed him and hundreds of others from across the nation to gather in a city that will always be synonymous with the sport’s halcyon days. When they gather, the talk is often of yesteryear.

“Karting is not what it once was,” Traeder said. “Times change, and everything runs its course.”

But like always, Traeder has managed to stay one step ahead on that course.

That’s a trademark of a good promoter - and an even better innovator.


Source: The Quincy Herald-Whig, https://bit.ly/1SR0wZH


Information from: The Quincy Herald-Whig, https://www.whig.com

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