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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The IMCA Stock Cars at the North Iowa Fair

By Kyle Ealy
Mason City, Iowa – County fairs and the International Motor Contest Association.

Back in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, one of the main attractions of many county fairs in the Midwest was a visit from the IMCA stock cars or sprint cars.

You made darn sure you got there early on the day of the race to grab a good seat; because this was the only opportunity you’d get to see the stars and cars of IMCA. People came from near and far to see the big boys of auto racing competing at their hometown track.

One of the traditional stops for the IMCA stock cars was the North Iowa Fair in Mason City. Starting in 1951 and continuing until 1964, the half-mile provided plenty of chills and thrills for speed hungry spectators.

 
Art Combs would win at Mason City on August 19, 1951.
 
 

On August 19, 1951, Art Combs, a 29-year-old farmer from Emporia, Kan., driving a 1950 Oldsmobile, waged a terrific battle with Dudley Froy and Chuck Magnison for the last 80 circuits of the scheduled 200-lap race before emerging as the winner.

For the last 40 miles, it was Combs, Froy, an Englishman from Tucson, Ariz., and Magnison, a Minneapolis pilot, electrifying a crowd of 6,000 plus as they ran bumper to bumper, exchanging the lead numerous times. With about 10 laps remaining Magnison, driving a 1951 Hudson, fell behind the other two and Combs appeared a certain winner when, with several laps left, Froy blew out a tire on his ‘49 Plymouth.

However Magnison seemed to come from nowhere and pulled up on the leader to make a final bid on the last turn. Riding high, he pushed the throttle in a desperate attempt to overtake Combs, but scraped the fence and momentarily lost control of his car and finished second. Only 11 of the 21 starters finished the grueling 100-miler.
 


Wally Dahl of Minneapolis, driving a 1951 Hudson, would take top honors in the 100-mile stock car endurance on August 17, 1952. Dahl, in winning, set a new track record for the event as he covered the 200-laps in 1 hour and 52 minutes, nearly 8 minutes faster than the previous record.

Dahl drove his battered Hudson to the triumph, but it might be added that he had a new motor put into the car only days before Dahl was never worse than second place in the race and didn't make any pit stops in taking the event in record time. His victory was worth $500, a quarter of the total prize pot of $2,000.

Ralph Dyer of Shreveport, La., finished in second place, good for $400 in prize money. His finish was on the spectacular side. Completing lap 199 and entering turns one and two, his front right tire blew out but he three-wheeled his car around for the final three-quarters of the lap and hung on for second.
 
Shorty Perlick
 

Shorty Perlick, also of Minneapolis, was the tough luck driver of the day. Perlick led the event for 58 miles and appeared to be in command when he lost a front wheel coming down the homestretch and skidded into the pit area. He didn’t get back into action until 29 laps later and eventually withdrew when he saw no chance to finish in the money. 

As the 1953 season was winding down, Ernie Derr of Fort Madison was at the top of the IMCA stock car national point’s standings. He would solidify that spot after winning at the North Iowa Fairgrounds on August 15.

Ernie Derr beat out his brother-in-law, Don White, by just about a car length in the 100-mile race Saturday afternoon before an estimated 3,500 spectators. Derr drove a1952 Olds to beat out White, who wheeled a 1953 Olds.

Each was going hard for the first place money of $500 and as the race moved along they kept going faster and faster while lapping other cars in the field. Their speed was such that during the last half of the race they each were weaving through the field and covering each lap of the track in less time than the best qualifying time posted prior to the grueling race.

When the program started, it appeared it would be a bad day for racing. The track was wet and slippery and the cars could get no traction for about the first 25 miles during the light drizzle of rain. The field of 19 drivers eventually packed the wet stuff and it was a lightning quick surface the remainder of the way. Halfway through the race Derr held first spot and White was second with Herschel Buchanan of Shreveport, La., the only serious challenger. Buchanan placed third at the final flag in his 1953 Nash.

Johnny Beauchamp of Anita, Iowa, a relative newcomer to stock car racing, finished fourth in the race. However, a protest was raised that he did not have a regular stock engine in his 1952 Hudson. He refused to submit to a tear down of his motor and therefore forfeited his place in the race with all other finishers moving up a notch. Bill Bailey of Encino, Calif., driving a 1952 Hudson, inherited Beauchamp’s fourth place money.

Unfortunately, their were newspaper accounts of the 1954 race at Mason City, which prevents me from getting into details of the race. Thanks to Lee Ackerman, I discovered that Don White would earn the victory in the 200-lap, 100-mile endurance test on August 14.
 
Herschel Buchanan
 

The 1955 race was billed just like the previous affairs before; 200 laps and 100 miles. But it would finally be called after 101 circuits on August 13. Numerous accidents, terrible track conditions and lack of light curtailed the event and the end couldn’t come soon enough for the 4,500 fans in attendance.

Herschel Buchanan of Shreveport, La., was flagged the winner of the event but his share of the purse was withheld because of a protest. Buchanan, driving a ’59 Thunderbird, had been locked in a duel with Bob Potter of Duluth, Minn., driving a 1955 V-8 Chevrolet.

Potter got the jump to lead at the beginning of the marathon and Buchanan would challenge Potter throughout, his front bumper never straying too far from Potter’s rear fender. On lap 66, Potter suddenly shot into the fence on the northeast curve of the half-mile oval.

Buchanan inherited the lead and was out front when the checkers dropped a lap after the midway point. Tiny Lund of Harlan, in a ’55 Chevrolet, was scored in second, Bill Harrison of Topeka, Kan., grabbed third in a ’54 Dodge, Roxy Dancy of Shreveport, La., in a ’54 Hudson took fourth and local favorite Ted Zieman, driving a ’55 Chevrolet, rounded out the top five.

But hold on a minute…

Potter would enter a protest that Buchanan was the cause for him going through the fence, bumping him from behind. Observers from the infield by the northeast turn backed up Potter’s omission, saying they witnessed Buchanan giving Potter a shove with the use of his front bumper. After some heated discussion, officials from IMCA would still declare Buchanan the winner of the race, despite adamant protests from Potter and others.

The program got off to a sour start and it would go downhill from there. A seven car pile-up ensued shortly after the green flag dropped in the feature, taking out notable such as Newt Bartholomew of Carlisle, Iowa, Dick Houdek of Wichita, Kan., and Bob Hilmer of Dysart. There was nearly an hour delay while crews repaired the fence and re-graded the racing surface. The yellow flag would wave eight more times before the race finally came to a finish.

 

Johnny Beauchamp of Harlan showed why he was the leader in the IMCA stock car national point standings earning his 19th feature win of the season on August 12, 1956.The “Flying Frenchman” dominated the 200-lap contest and won by nearly two laps over his nearest competitor, Lennie Funk of Otis. Kan.

An overflow North Iowa Fair crowd of between 4,000 and 5,000 with hundreds more watching the 100-mile race from the infield after all space was taken in the grandstand and bleachers.

Beauchamp was driving a 1956 Chevrolet while Funk was behind the wheel of a ’56 Dodge. Beauchamp’s winning time was 1 hour, 51 minutes and 20 seconds, which established a new record previously owned by Wally Dahl in the ’52 race. Even a multi-car pileup on the west turn early on in the feature couldn’t slow down the record-breaking effort.

The accident claimed four top contenders and certainly made Beauchamp’s march to victory lane that much easier. Knocked out of the running were; Chub Liebe of Oelwein, Bernie Hentges of Anoka, Minn., Don White of Keokuk, and Ted Zieman of Mason City. They had four of the five fastest times in qualifying, with Beauchamp no better than fourth in the group. White had won the night before in Burlington and Liebe was well in command of the race that day when the mishap occurred.

After that, Beauchamp and Funk were well ahead of the rest of the pack. To show how dominate Beauchamp was in the race; the last five laps he ran in the race were actually faster than his qualifying laps in time trials.

The Mason City Globe Gazette reported that the field of cars was not as big as expected and the program was delayed an hour. “That was probably due to the fact that many of the drivers were detained in their trip by the highway patrol. Many drivers were pulled over and ticketed for illegal towing of their race cars. One of the drivers had to pay a wrecker $25 to pull him from Iowa Falls in order to compete. At least eight others didn’t arrive in time even with the late start.” 

Beauchamp would give a repeat performance on August 10, 1957, not only winning the race, but regaining the lead at the top of the IMCA stock car standings. Beauchamp took advantage of early race mishap by Bob Burdick to claim his second straight North Iowa Fair victory.

Burdick, driving out of Omaha and the national point’s leader entering the program, was the victim of an early accident, which took him out of action. As he wheeled through the thick dust into the west turn on lap 9, Burdick piled into Don Lewis of King, Wis., and damaged his 1957 Ford so badly, he was unable to continue.  

Despite the dust, another record crowd of 5,200 saw the Saturday afternoon race, making it one of the larger crowds to witness a sports event in Mason City.

Promoter Al Sweeney called the scheduled 200-lap race at 101 circuits, citing the racing surface was too dusty and too dangerous to continue. Beauchamp’s winning time for the 50.5 miles completed was outstanding; 55 minutes and 11 seconds.  

Taking second in the race was Lennie Funk of Otis, Kan., who like Beauchamp was driving a 1957 Chevrolet. Funk was lapped by Beauchamp on the 100th turn of the race. Close behind and taking third and fourth in covering 99 laps were Don White of Keokuk and Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids. White and Dake both drove Fords.

Anyone of the estimated 4,000 racing fans who saw the 100-mile MCA stock car race at the North Iowa Fair on August 9, 1958, had something to brag about afterwards. They could have boasted they witnessed the fastest 100-miler in the history of the International Motor Contest Association (up to 1958). That covered lot of territory back then - from Florida to Canada.

 

The man who performed the act was Don White, the IMCA national stock car point leader. He smashed the listed mark by nearly a minute - a little more than 50 seconds to be exact. The Keokuk speedster was driving a 1958 Ford.

White whizzed the 200 laps at better than a 60 mile per hour clip on the fast track as he went inside, outside and up the middle in easily whipping all but two other drivers. His time was 1 hour, 38 minutes, and 3 seconds. The old mark, set at the Minnesota State Fair in 1956, was 1 hour, 38 minutes, and 53 seconds set by Johnny Beauchamp of Harlan.

White was so dominant, he took a 30-second pit stop to take on more gasoline and didn’t even miss his place in line. But at the time he held a 2-lap lead over his brother-in-law Ernie Derr and Bob Burdick of Omaha.

Derr and Burdick finished second and third respectively, each covering 199 laps. In the fourth position was Scott Cain, a newcomer from Santa Monica, Calif., and he covered 192 laps of the half-mile dirt oval.

White also set a local record in the half-mile qualifying with a mark of 28.56 seconds. The old mark was held by Beauchamp last year at 29.81 seconds.

Another record of sorts was set as well that afternoon. According to promoter Al Sweeney of National Speedways, Inc., no caution flags flied that afternoon, the first time that had ever (or never) happened in a 100-mile race, Sweeney remarked.

Again, for a lack of information, I don’t have much in the way of details for the race that occurred on August 15, 1959. Ernie Derr won the 200-lapper with a fast improving Bob Kosiski of Omaha earning second and a rising star by the name of Dick Hutcherson taking third. Thanks again to Lee Ackerman for the that information.

There would be no IMCA stock car races at the fair in 1960. Modified stock cars (rained out) and Aut Swenson’s Thrillcade would be the feature auto attractions that year.

The IMCA stock cars would return to Mason City in 1961. On Saturday, August 19, Ernie Derr would solidify his bid for a fourth national championship. The talented driver with the good handling car (a 1961 Pontiac) doubled down, winning the 25-lap feature in the afternoon and then scoring the victory in the 100-lap nightcap.

A crowd estimated at 2,000 saw the afternoon sprint show. The evening affair, which was under the lights at the Mason City fairgrounds for the first time, drew an estimated 4,500 racing enthusiasts.

In the 50-mile nighttime finale, the fans almost witnessed an upset. Derr posted quick time in qualifying (28.48) and the Keokuk star proceeded to take the early lead. Chub Liebe would press Derr and on lap 25, the Oelwein veteran nudged ahead of Derr and was off to the races.

Liebe had his car hooked up on this day, building up a commanding lead on Derr and the rest of the field. Unfortunately, Liebe’s bid for first prize would fall 8 laps short. The rear end on his car would break, slowing Liebe to a snail’s pace and allowing Derr and the rest of the field to catch up. Derr would pass Liebe as he pulled into the infield.

Derr collected $415 for the victory, his eighth of the ’61 season. Bob Reynolds of Edmonds, Okla., took second, Mert Williams of Rochester, Minn., grabbed third, Eddie Harrow of Corpus Christi, Tex., finished fourth and Buzz McCann of St. Paul, Minn., rounded out the top five.

Derr set a track record for the 50-mile race of 46 minutes and 6 seconds, more than five minutes under his own mark set in May of this year of 51 minutes and 19 seconds. Derr also set a qualifying time of 28.48 seconds to start the afternoon. To show how fast they were going at night, Liebe actually turned one lap in the 50-mile race of 26.91 seconds. The Friday night rains helped the track and it was in near perfect shape by Saturday night.

For any of you old-timers out there who were fortunate enough to follow the IMCA stock car series back in the 50’s and 60’s, you know as well as anyone it was big news across the Midwest when someone from Keokuk, Iowa, DIDN’T win a race. It was that rare…

So, on Sunday evening, August 12, 1962, some major news was produced when the “Big Three”, Ernie Derr, Ramo Stott and Dick Hutcherson, all showed up at the North Iowa Fair, raced their cars that evening, and none of them were in victory lane at the conclusion of the race.
 
 

The winner of the feature race of the day’s doubleheader was Mert Williams of Rochester Minn., a five-year veteran on the circuit who always did well but not enough to dent the monopoly held by the Keokuk trio.

It appeared that it would be another typical “Big Three” day. Derr was the winner in a 25-lap sprint affair during the afternoon. In the evening, he won a 10-1ap preliminary race in the record time of 4 minutes and 43 seconds to snap a mark he had set a year ago. And Stott, in the afternoon, had set a new qualifying mark of 28.15 seconds for the half-mile oval.

Under the lights, Stott led the 100-lap, 50-mile feature until the 36th lap when mechanical failure forced him from the race. Chub Liebe, who almost won the year before, also dropped out. That left Derr alone – almost - with the lead and Williams close behind.

Like Liebe the year before, Derr looked like he had the race in the bag. Although Williams was still in his rear-view mirror, the always smooth driving Derr looked to be in total command. But on the 94th lap, Ernie would start to slow with differential trouble. To the delight of the race fans, Williams sped his 1962 Pontiac by the ailing Derr and a few laps later, was in victory lane. Williams, no stranger to the Mason City track, was the toast of the town.

Gil Haugen of Sioux Falls, S.D., in a 1961 Plymouth was second and Eddie Harrow, the Texas champ from Corpus Christi in a 1962 Ford, was third, Jerry McCredie of Keokuk, took fourth and Derr managed to limp home in fifth.

There would be no IMCA stock cars for the 1963 North Iowa Fair and unbeknownst to everyone at the time, when the popular series rolled into Mason City on August 16, 1964, it would be for the last time.

It would be only fitting that the most dominant driver in IMCA stock car series history win the very last North Iowa Fair race. And Ernie Derr would go out with a bang…

The “Keokuk Komet” would have another field day that Sunday and when he had finished his afternoon and evening series of wins and record smashing, Derr loaded his 1964 Plymouth on his truck and banked $870 in prize money from promoter Frank Winkley.

It was your typical Ernie Derr day at the office; in the afternoon he led off by setting a new qualifying record of 26.03 seconds. This was well under the mark of 26.8l set by Dick Hutcherson. Hutcherson, the point leader on the IMCA circuit, did not compete in the Mason City races.

Also on the afternoon program, Derr set a pair of dash records in winning. The first came over five laps at 2 minutes and 21.85 seconds and the next when he took the 25-lap feature in 11 minutes and 33.87 seconds.

But his day wasn’t finished. During the evening show, before about 3,200 racing fans, Derr copped a 10-lap heat event to get loosened up for the big 100-lap feature race. Then the record smasher went out and took the windup in 44 minutes and 40 seconds, not a record but still an excellent performance.

Lennie Funk, the Otis, Kan., farmer, gave Derr a good run. He was second to Derr in the qualifying, won a heal race and placed second to Derr in the feature in the afternoon. He was set to challenge Derr in the 50-miler.

And that’s what Funk did – for a while. Derr, starting on the pole position, led for 19 laps with Funk right on his tail. Derr hit loose dirt high on the southwest corner of the track and Funk shot in front.

Driving a 1964 Ford, he held the lead until the 44th lap when he got into some loose dirt himself on the northeast corner and Derr recaptured the lead. It was Derr all the way from that point and Funk had to go to the pits on the 83rd lap because of low oil, lost three laps and finished seventh.

Ole Brua of Albert Lea, Minn., took second in the 50-miler and actually gave Derr a run for his money in the last 10 laps. Bob Jusola of Mound, Minn., finished third, Dick Steffens of Minneapolis took fourth and Jim Washburn of Keokuk rounded out the top five.

Even though the modifieds and hobby stocks would be the headliner at the North Iowa Fair starting in 1965 and for years to come, the IMCA stock cars would always be remembered for bringing star power to the half-mile in Mason City.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

1965 – Race Track in Burlington Becoming a Reality

Burlington, Iowa (November 16, 1965) - A new racing oval, stymied by anti-race fans and lack of zoning ordinances, is finally a reality.

A three-eighths mile oval has been built by Samjac, Inc., near Middletown. The track has been laid out, but other work, such as construction of the grandstand and lighting is yet to come.

Samjac, operated by At Samberg, Gene, Ken, Rich and Mel Jackson, plans to have the track in operation by late April or early May.

Samberg tried unsuccessfully to place a track elsewhere in the county. He met with opposition from persons who claimed the autos would make too much noise, and raise too much dust.

The county Board of Supervisors refused to legislate in the case since Des Moines County has no zoning ordinances. Samjac has leased ground on the Don Guegeler property, just east of Middletown and about one mile north of highway 34.

The track operators plan to erect a grandstand to seat 3,100 people. In addition, a retaining wall of railroad ties and steel will be built in front of the stands.

A board fence will be placed around the track and the usual “out buildings” such as ticket offices and concession stands will be ready to do business by spring. Six light towers will be placed around the track perimeter.

Races are tentatively planned for Saturday nights in two classes.  There will be a modified division for more experienced drivers and a cadet section for rookies.

Modified cars may not have motors larger than 325 cubic inches and car bodies must retain their original styling. Cadet drivers will be required to face a claim situation.

While definite rules haven’t been ironed out, the track operators said under the claim rules, a winning car must be sold to anyone who claims it for a specified number of dollars.

“At some tracks the claim price is $150,” Mel (Sox) Jackson said. “We are thinking about raising the price. It is hard to build a race car for $150.”

Only cars manufactured between 1928 and 1948 will be permitted. If interest warrants, programs may be held twice a week, with cadets running one night and modifieds another.

Samberg said it is possible that motorcycle races will be staged Sunday afternoon. Also in the planning stage are late model stock car races. “We might be able to get hooked up with USAC (United States Auto Club); at the winter fair convention in Chicago,” Samberg said.

Another possibility is the three-quarter (TQ) midgets, a small car which uses a tiny engine such as the old Crosley passenger car.

The track was built on an old gully which was lined, with trees. All trees have been removed and the track has been graded.

The oval sets so that the first turn is northwest and the final turn is southeast. The grandstand will be built on the northeast side of the track. Pit area will be on the southwest side.

Cars will not be permitted on the infield during a race.

“The only things we will have out there are an ambulance, a fire truck and a couple of wreckers,” Samberg said. Spectators will have ample parking near the grandstand.

The five men, involved in the program, all have racing backgrounds. Samberg was president of the Mississippi Valley Speed Club jalopy circuit for several years. Ken and Gene Jackson were top drivers on the MVSC and Rich and Mel helped build and maintain the race cars.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Iowa International 300


by Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. - In modern dirt late model racing, 100 laps is about as long a feature race as you will find. These features usually ran as the conclusion to a two or three day event. Back when the International Motor Contest Association was in its prime, 200-lap feature events were very common and sometimes races were even longer.
 
One of the most famous of these races was the Iowa 300 held at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, usually around the Fourth of July. IMCA first sanctioned a 4th of July race at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in 1950, a 200 lap event won by Don White. From 1951 until 1956 the distance was increased to 250 laps with two wins by Ernie Derr and Jimmy Ward and the other two going to Shreveport’s Herschel Buchanan and Harlan, Iowa’s Johnny Beauchamp.
 
Beauchamp who totally dominated IMCA in 1956 and 1957 won the 1956 Iowa 250 before 23,000 fans. In fact the crowd was so large that National Speedway Promoter Al Sweeney ran out of tickets. After some anxious moments, he was saved by the promoter of a thrill show who happened to be in the infield and had a supply of tickets.

In 1957 the race was increased to 300 laps and was often called the Iowa International 300 as sports cars were allowed to compete against the stock cars. The three things I find fascinating about this race was the distance, the inclusion of sports cars, and the size of the crowds. This story will concentrate on the years from 1957 thru 1973 when the race was 300 laps in distance. One thing that is interesting to note about the Iowa 300 is that while he won the race twice at a shorter distance, Ernie Derr, the dominate force in IMCA stock car racing did not win the 300 in the first nine years of its running, however, when he finally won in 1966 he won it six years in a row. Some of the more exciting Iowa 300’s are recalled below:

On July 14, 1957, the first 300-lap Iowa International was ran at the Iowa State Fairgrounds before a crowd of 10,000 fans. Bill Chennault driving a Chevy set a new track record in qualifying at 29 seconds flat. Forty-one cars turned out for qualifying with the fastest 33 making the race. Four sports cars entered the International with only 2 making the race and neither of those would be a factor. Omaha, Nebraska’s Bob Burdick driving his dad’s Ford won the first Iowa 300 holding off two time defending IMCA champion Johnny Beauchamp and former IMCA champion Don White. Burdick pocketed a huge amount for those days, taking home $1,000 in winnings.

1958 saw a first, as Loyal Katskee of Omaha, Nebraska drove his Ferrari to fast time of 28.86 seconds and went on to finish fourth in the race. Katskee would later become the only sports car driver in IMCA stock car history to win a series race when he drove his Ferrari to the win on the mile at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia in August, 1958. As for the race itself, it turned into an accident filled event with only 15 of the original 33 starters finishing the race. The race was filled with spectacular spin-outs, broken axles and spindles, blown tires but fortunately no serious injuries. The two most serious being Bud Burdick with a badly sprained ankle as a result of his car hitting the first turn after a blown tire, and Bob Potter being forced to the pits with heat exhaustion. Frank Richards, forced out earlier in the race, drove relief for Potter in his 57’ Chevy Convertible and came home in fifth position.

The most spectacular event of the afternoon happened on lap 154, when second place runner and former IMCA champion Johnny Beauchamp’s Chevy caught on fire after being hit by a pierce of metal from the track, which severed the gas line and caused flames to shot up all over. Beauchamp showed tremendous courage in bringing the car to pit lane and avoiding an incident on the track. At the end of 300 laps and after 14 yellow flags, it was Don White driving his Ford into victory lane. The combination of White’s driving skills and Paul Newkirk’s mechanical genius, made the pair unbeatable. Defending race champion Bob Burdick was second a lap down followed by Frank Lies of Wichita, Kansas.

In 1959, Darrell Dake put an end to his long string of bad luck by driving his convertible to a win before 13,500 fans. Dake gradually worked his way through traffic from his eighth starting position and took the lead on lap 154 from Lenny Funk who had battled Bob Kosiski for the first fifty laps for the lead before Kosiski’s Thunderbird retired with overheating problems. Funk held on for second and future NASCAR star Dick Hutcherson was third. Perennial IMCA champion Ernie Derr qualified poorly and then retired on lap 124 with a punctured oil pan.



The 1963 edition of the race proved plenty of excitement for the more than 14,000 fans in attendance. First of all there was the much anticipated return to Iowa of Daytona 500 winner Tiny Lund. The brand new Zecol 63' Ford brought in for Lund, however failed to qualify and Lund drove Darrell Dake’s car for the first part of the race challenging leader Ramo Stott throughout the first 116 laps for the race lead before relinquishing the ride back to Dake on a pit stop. Stott seemed in control until he lost a wheel 32 laps later and retired. Pole sitter Dick Hutcherson, like Stott, a member of the Keokuk Connection, set quick time but blew an engine on lap three, and Ernie Derr the other member of the Keokuk Connection missed the race after totaling his car at Topeka a couple days before. This gave the lead and the race to IMCA regular Chub Liebe of Oelwein, Iowa as he picked up the biggest win of his career.

For reasons unknown to the author, the 1965 Iowa 300 was an exception to the rule, in that it was held on May 23, instead of the traditional July date. Future ARCA champion and Daytona 500 pole sitter Ramo Stott picked up $1,100 in winning the 2 hour and 35 minute affair over (who else) rival Ernie Derr.

 
Ernie Derr in victory lane at Des Moines, 1969


 
The 1969 version of the race is most noted for the sweltering heat, as 10,500 fans sweated their way through a nearly 2.5 hour event. Tiny Lund had returned again from NASCAR and was aboard Dick Johnson’s 67' Ford and after starting toward the back of the 30-car field made it to fourth before hitting the wall and retiring from the event. IMCA veteran Ole Brua, along with Ron Hutcherson and Fred Horn pushed Ernie Derr all the way to the finish, but in the end, the cagey veteran Derr prevailed with Horn second and Brua finishing third.

 
Ramo Stott breaks while leading the 71' Iowa 300
 


On July 11, 1971 more than 11,000 fans were treated to a classic battle between two old rivals and members of the Keokuk Connection. After Governor Robert Ray waved the green flag as the honorary starter, Ernie Derr and Ramo Stott put on one of their many classic battles. For 250 laps the two rivals ran wheel to wheel until Derr hit the wall between turns 3 and 4 and was forced to pit to change a tire. Stott built up a four lap lead and had the race in hand until lap 295 when he broke the whole left front wheel assembly and was sidelined with only four laps remaining. Ernie Derr would come back and win his sixth straight Iowa 300. Derr and Stott were so far ahead of the competition that Stott still managed to finish second in the 35-car field. Michael Petrucci of St. Paul, Minnesota rounded out the top three.

On July 9, 1972 IMCA sanctioned its last Iowa 300 at Des Moines and it was a day Gerry Harrison of Topeka, Kansas would just a soon forget. Harrison blew a tire on lap 288 while leading the event and handed the win to Fred Horn of Marion, Iowa. Harrison was not the only victim that day as Irv Janey (who would win the 1972 IMCA championship) also had trouble while leading. Janey was leading the race on lap 129 when his transmission gave out. Earlier he had set fast time. Harrison was able to recover for second and Gordon Blankenship, another Keokuk driver (who would be the 1973 IMCA champion) ran third in the final edition of this classic race.

The final 300-lap affair was actually renamed the Firecracker 300 and defending IMCA champion Irv Janey of Cedar Rapids won the July 4 race, winning the event over Mike Derr (Ernie’s son) and future IMCA champion Ferris Collier.

Like the IMCA season point battles, the Iowa 300 was dominated by driver from Keokuk. Ernie Derr who finally won the 300 in 1966, then won it six straight times before retiring. His chief rival in IMCA for many years, Ramo Stott was a three time winner of the event and Don White (Ernie Derr’s brother in law) and Dick Hutcherson, also won the event giving the Eastern Iowa river town, 11 wins in 17 Iowa 300’s.

So the next time you go to a 100-lap Dirt Late Model feature and think it’s a long race, just remember the days of the Iowa 300.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

1987 - Kemp quite a racer in his own right

Burlington, Iowa (October 23, 1987) - Larry Kemp has proven to be a successful racing entrepreneur, winning awards while wearing the hats of both owner and promoter at 34 Raceway and the Donnellson Dirt Track.

What many local racers don't realize is that their weekly competitions are being conducted by a man who once used to win races — as a driver in the Cedar Rapids area.

“I think some of them think I’m just some guy that came along,” Kemp laughed.

Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Keith Knaack. Knaack currently serves as team manager for the Helen Rae Special, car # 73 driven by Phil Barkdoll on the Winston Cup circuit. Prior to that, he managed the team of NASCAR standout Dave Marcis.

Nearly 30 years ago, Knaack and Kemp campaigned stock cars together at tracks in central Iowa.

“We were more or less doing it for fun,” Knaack explained. “We would fall into the eighth to 12th place cars on the average, without even trying very hard. And if anybody fouled up ahead of us, we’d sneak up a few spots.

That became our lifetime work then. Now, we both are in business to help racing become fun for everybody else,” said Knaack, who also serves as publisher for the Hawkeye Racing News as well as race director for the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA).

Upon his graduation from Linton High School in 1959, Kemp and his 1933 Ford coupe went racing. It was a time he fondly remembers.

“It was pretty tough back then with 60 or so cars there all in one class,” he recalled. “We (Kemp and Knaack) started out sharing the car. I drove it Saturday at Cedar Rapids and he drove it Sunday at Waterloo.”

“It was all late models back then so we had to run against the top racers in the state of Iowa,” Knaack acknowledged.

By 1964, Kemp had graduated to a 1955 Chevrolet. That same year, however, he also added a wife, Kathleen, and his racing career was destined to become short-lived.

“I got married and then I just stopped driving,” Kemp explained. “I got upside down one night when she was pregnant and that bothered her a little bit, so then I got started in the officiating.”

Kemp’s new duties included acting as flagman, scorer, track official and nearly everything else at various racing venues throughout Iowa.

“I worked at a bunch of different tracks,” he stated. Kemp soon got into track promotion, a match made in heaven for both Larry Kemp and the sport of racing. In 1981, Kemp came to 34 Raceway as promoter for then-owner Johnny Johnson. In 1985, he purchased the track from Johnson.

The rewards have been many - some on a national scale. During the past three years, Kemp has received three major awards from Racing Promoters Monthly magazine during its February banquet in Daytona, Fla.

In 1984, 34 Raceway was honored for the nation’s Outstanding Weekly Promotion. In both 1984 and 1986, Kemp was named one of eight regional Promoters of the Year nationwide, and was a finalist for national Promoter of the Year honors on both occasions.

“Since we got into the promoting thing, we’ve been thoroughly successful,” Kemp said. “It’s something I like to do and something I plan to keep on doing for a while.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

1968 –Wathen and Norris Team Up To Capture First Salem 500


Roy Wathen, shown here at Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville Ky., won the inaugural Salem 500 with the help of Jerry Norris. - John Potts Photo
 
 
Salem, Ind. (October 20, 1968) – Roy Wathen of Louisville, Ky., didn’t have any idea he could do it, but he did.

Wathen, with some help from relief driver Jerry Norris, also of Louisville, won the $2,000 first prize in the initial running of the Salem 500 for the Automobile Racing Club of America late model stock cars.

“I had no intentions of winning when I got here,” said a smiling Wathen after the 250-mile event on the high banks of the half-mile Salem Speedway. “But everything seemed to break right.”

What broke right for the Wathen-Norris team was most of the other cars in the $12,500 race. Only 12 of the 37 starters finished, with one of them, Paul Wensink’s 1968 Ford, completing only 313 laps. He wound up at 187 laps – or 93.5 miles – back.

When Norris got behind the wheel in relief of Wathen’s 1966 Chevrolet, there were about 150 laps to go and he was some 12 laps behind.

“It wasn’t that I was fatigued,” Wathen said. “But I had driven some 350 laps and my neck was sort of stiff and Jerry was there, so I let him take over.”

And through a series of misfortunes to the leaders, Norris wound up winning the race by a whopping seven laps over Clyde Parker of Farmington, Michigan.

First, Benny Parsons, the 1968 ARCA national champion, blew a tire, which ultimately knocked the oil pan off of his 1968 Ford and sent him to the sidelines on lap 419. Parsons was 5 laps ahead at the time.

Then Iggy Katona of Willis, Mich., moved into the lead. But the six-time ARCA champion, who had a 6-lap lead, developed engine woes and had to make an unscheduled pit stop.

And when Katona’s car wouldn’t start, Bill Lemon of Markleville, Ind., in a sportsman-like gesture, gave him a friendly push in his ’68 Ford. By the time Katona got his car fired up, Cleo Ashley of Warren, Mich., driving a ‘67 Mercury, had taken over the top spot on lap 439.

Katona, however, regained the lead on lap 468 and four laps later, Ashley tagged the fence on the north turn with a mighty wallop. “The car simply fell apart, Ashley said afterwards. “The gear shift came off in my hand, the clutch was out and my cotton-pickin crew kept signaling for me to come to the pits. Hell, I couldn’t have if I’d wanted to."

On lap 487, Katona’s engine up and died. Although the gallant Lemon tried twice more – for a total of 8 laps – to get him started, the effort was to no avail as Norris swept into first place and stayed there.

“Boy,” said Norris. “Was I surprised – and glad – when the pit crew told me I was ahead.”

Les Snow of Bloomington, Ill., the second fastest qualifier behind Parsons, led the first 180 laps before he and Parsons made scheduled pit stops. Jesse Baird of Louisville, Ky., inherited the lead briefly before pitting his ’66 Dodge and Snow regained the advantage on lap 216 when a blowout sent him back to the pits. The rear suspension failed on his ’67 Plymouth a few laps later and he was finished for the day.

Baird, who was sidelined until lap 323 with clutch problems, actually spun on his first stop into the pits, accidently hitting a bystander and sending the poor fellow flying through the air. Somehow – the man wasn’t hurt – and that was as close to an injury all afternoon long.

Jim Robinson of Albany, Ind., finished third; Katona amazingly got the engine fired up and back on the track to finished fourth; and Ashley, after “falling apart”, got his car pieced back together well enough to scrounge up a top five finish.

The race, which drew an estimated 7,500 fans, was the largest crowd in quite some time.

Results –

  1. Roy Wathen/Jerry Norris, Louisville, Ky.
  2. Clyde Parker, Farmington, Mich.
  3. Jim Robinson – Albany, Ind.
  4. Iggy Katona, Willis, Mich.
  5. Cleo Ashley, Warren, Mich.
  6. Bill Kimmel, Clarksville, Ind.
  7. Don Violet, Urbana, Ohio
  8. Namon Martin, Cleveland, Ohio
  9. Wayne Trinkle, Jeffersonville, Ind.
  10. Bob Thomas, Louisville, Ky.
  11. Benny Parsons, Detroit, Mich.
  12. Doc Kinsey, New Philadelphia, Ohio
  13. Dave Dayton, Indianapolis, Ind.
  14. Tom King, Anderson, Ind.
  15. Andy Hampton, Louisville, Ky.
  16. Bill Lemon, Markleville, Ind.
  17. Curtis Turner, Roanoke, Va.
  18. Ron Kudek, Westland, Mich.
  19. Jesse Baird, Louisville, Ky.
  20. Paul Wensink, Deshler, Ohio