ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF)–Rockford has lost a sports legend and a true treasure. Jody Deery, the longtime owner of the Rockford Speedway, has died. She has passed away at the age of 97.

“I enjoy my work. I really do,” said Deery in a previous interview with me.

There was no keeping Deery away from her beloved Rockford Speedway. She was a fixture there up until a couple years ago when her health began to decline.

She was known for her tireless work on the track working the ticket booth, and the concession stands, and greeting drivers after a victory. She was worked long hours in the speedway’s office in the Forest Hills Lodge. Deery was also known for her colorful jackets that she often wore to the tack on race days.

The Rockford Speedway opened in 1948. A few years later Jody and her husband Hugh packed up their large family and moved to Rockford from Indianapolis. They started working at the Rockford Speedway, and in 1964 they became the owners of it after much discussion.

Deery once told me, “We both took a lot of hours sitting at the kitchen table saying do we or don’t we?

They got the money to invest in the Rockford Speedway in part by selling their family car.

“That was a brand, new car, a station wagon,” Deery told me. “No money, but we did have this new car, and so we traded in the car for shares in the Speedway.” The Deery’s put their children to work at the track, all eight of them. The Deery’s were all about family. That is why nights at the Rockford Speedway were geared toward families and not simply to race fans.

“We try to keep saying we’re entertainment and try to keep it family. Do things for the family,” said Deery.  “You have to think of ways to entertain other than racing.”

Things like trailer races, rollover contests, toilet races, and fantastic fireworks displays.

Jody Deery was a pioneer in racing. She was one of the first women in the country to become heavily involved in the sport.

Deery once told me, “When we were first involved, women were not allowed in the pits. That was a no-no.” “I feel like a pioneer. because at the time my husband died, I think there was only two other women that were running a race track.”

As the area around the Rockford Speedway on Route 173 exploded with new businesses over the years, Deery had ample opportunities to sell the Speedway to developers. She couldn’t do it.

“If I was a really smart business person, and I let my head rule I would say, ‘Yes sell’, but my heart can’t do it.”

O the 70th anniversary of the Rockford Speedway five years ago Deery told me, “I’m so happy that I have had the experience of being here all the years that I have. Of course, I wasn’t here from the very beginning, but I have been here for many years, and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

NOTE: Deery’s husband Hugh died in 1984. Jody Deery was so highly regarded by NASCAR that she was a voting member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. She also worked as a nurse in her early years in Rockford, and she was active in the community serving on several boards.
Funeral arrangements are pending.