The world famous dirt track continues to provide thrilling motorcycle racing
Of all the races in the American Flat Track series each year, none captures the imagination quite like the legendary Peoria TT. Road Dirt’s Steve & Karen Groth as well as Dean Phelps were on hand to capture this year’s AFT races at the fabled oval in the valley.
Located in the rolling countryside outside Peoria, Illinois, Peoria Park is owned and operated by the Peoria Motorcycle Club. The TT weekend they put on is one of the great American motorcycle races, and for years was part of the coveted Grand National Championship Triple Crown, which also included the Castle Rock TT and Ascot TT.
JD Beach leads the scrum on lap 1 in the Super Twins class, Peoria TT 2022. Photo by Dean Phelps.
It all began back in 1931, when brothers Bob and Bruce Walters along with Bruce’s wife, Gladys, moved to Peoria to take over a motorcycle dealership in the town. They had previously owned and operated a successful dealership over in Galesburg, IL, and were active in the local Galesburg Motorcycle Club. Upon arriving in their new home, the trio set about establishing a new motorcycle group for the riding community, naming it the Peoria Motorcycle Club.
Reigning 2021 Super Twins champ Jared Mees sliding through a corner at the Peoria TT. Photo by Steve & Karen Groth.
Sponsored by the dealership, the club started hosting local TT races, and in 1940 Bruce and company discovered and purchased an 80-acre plot of land south of town that was perfect for dirt track racing. Bruce once stated in a 1978 interview, “It was just a valley full of willow trees then, but I could see that if we cleared the trees we’d have a natural amphitheater with a race track for a stage.”
Max Whale catching air in the Singles Class at the Peoria TT. Photo by Dean Phelps.
The track quickly gained national attention and popularity with riders, and by 1947 the Peoria TT was sanctioned by the AMA, becoming one of the premier races on their yearly calendar. Names like Mert Lawwill, Dick Mann, Bart Markel, Kenny Roberts, Jay Springsteen, and Henry Wiles, among so many others, have raced and won gritty glory on the famous oval over the decades.
JD Beach looking through the corner at the Peoria TT. Photo by Steve & Karen Groth.
Yet the track is still operated much like it has from the beginning, which is part its appeal to both riders and spectators. The track has no grandstands nor seats. Fans bring their own chairs, blankets, food and drink, and take their place on the hillsides and along the fences that line the 5/8 mile course to enjoy the race action. Old school is still cool at Peoria Park.
#10 Johnny Lewis of the Moto Anatomy X Royal Enfield team in the Production Twins Class. Photo by Dean Phelps.
Riders love the challenging track. It features a long front straight as well as a long turn one. Exiting that turn is a blind jump with an equally blind landing that according to racers, has to be hit at speed. It makes for thrilling if not nail-biting racing, and spectacular views for the fans, teams and media both inside the track and along the fence.
Jesse Janish lofting it at the Peoria TT. Photo by Steve & Karen Groth.
This year, JD Beach pulled off a repeat victory in the Super Twins Class on his #95 Estenson Racing Yamaha. #33 Jesse Janish took a dominating win astride his Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson in the Production Twins Class, and Max Whale claimed the top step in the Singles Class aboard his #18 Red Bull KTM. Thrilling racing indeed.