Saturday, July 30, 2016

Today in Racing History

Indiana's Chuck Gurney won the 40-lap USAC sprint car feature at Santa Fe Speedway in Hinsdale, Ill., on July 30, 1982. — Vince Mayer Photo 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

1963 - Lorenzen Captures Spectacular Volunteer 500

Fred Lorenzen enjoys a bevy of beauties in victory lane at Bristol

Bristol, Tenn. (July 28, 1963) - Pole-setting Fred Lorenzen out-horsepowered Richard Petty in the closing laps to take a 3-second victory worth $4,540 in the third annual running of the Volunteer 500 stock car race at International Speedway.
Lorenzen, driving a 1963 Ford, and Petty, driving a 1963 Plymouth were the only drivers of the 21 who finished the race to complete the scheduled 500 laps around the slippery half-mile track.

Jim Paschal, also driving a Petty Plymouth finished third. Ford-driving Marvin Panch finished fourth with David Pearson finishing fifth in a '63 Dodge.

Lorenzen, leader of the race three times for a total of 336 laps, took the lead away from Petty on the 320th lap when he beat him out of the pits after both drivers stopped for fuel while a piece of metal was removed from the backstretch under a caution flag.

Perennial favorite Fireball Roberts went out of the race on the 312th lap and was joined on the sidelines by the early leader Junior Johnson, on the 407th lap.

Roberts, spectacular in victory and defeat, entered the first turn too high, skidded into the retaining rail, flipped his car three times, skidded on the roof and came to rest right side up with flames under the hood. Roberts climbed out, dazed - but unhurt - and walked away.

Johnson, victim of mechanical miscues all season long, was stopped after 407 laps by a blown piston and a broken crankshaft. Johnson wound up in 22nd place with Roberts listed 29th in the final rundown.

Lorenzen started in the inside pole position with Roberts alongside and Johnson behind in the second row.

The portly-chicken farmer had said he would lead the race by the second lap – and he did. Lorenzen led the first time past the starter's stand but Johnson pushed his 1963 Chevrolet out front as the three went through the first turn the second time around.

Thirty-three laps later, Ned Jarrett tried to pull his 1963 Ford around Johnson going down the front stretch. Johnson nudged Jarrett with the right front of his car and, when Jarrett's car began to skid, shoved him into the retaining wall, sending Jarrett to the pits.

The caution flag was out for three laps as Jarrett limped around the track.

Nelson Stacy blew a tire entering the first turn on the 48th lap and brought out the second yellow flag while his car was moved and fuel cleared from the track where he slammed into the guard rail high in the turn.

The front-running Johnson lost the lead and the air in his right front tire simultaneously in the second turn on the 12th lap. Lorenzen sailed into the lead as Johnson caromed off the rail and pitted.

Rubber, rosin and other matter on the turn caught Roberts a lap later and gave him a ride along the rail at about the same spot Stacy and Johnson hit it. Roberts straightened his car up coming out of the second turn and continued.

Johnson tried to take the third turn a little too high on the 164th lap after coming out of the pits and spun again before moving down the front stretch.

Paschal, driving one of his best races ever, worked his way up from his 13th starting berth to second by the 210th lap. Two laps later his teammate, Petty, side slipped in the first turn and tapped leader Lorenzen up too high, causing him to spin into the wall. But the alert Lorenzen regained control after grazing the rail and kept his lead.

A piece of exhaust pipe on the track on lap 240 brought out the fourth caution flag. Lorenzen went to the pits for fuel and tires under the caution flag and Paschal was left with the lead - for one lap.

Nauseated by exhaust fumes and heat, Paschal pitted on the next lap for oxygen and Lee Petty took over. But by then Lorenzen was back on the track and easily regained the leader's role.


Results –

1. Fred Lorenzen
2. Richard Petty
3. Jim Paschal
4. Marvin Panch
5. David Pearson
6. Joe Weatherly
7. Tiny Lund
8. Darel Dieringer
9. Rex White
10. Tommy Irwin
11. Bobby Isaac
12. Larry Thomas
13. Billy Wade
14. Cale Yarbrough
15. Bobby Johns
16. Neil Castles
17. Ed Livingston
18. Reb Wickersham
19. J. D. McDuffie
20. Worth McMillion
21. Major Melton
22. Junior Johnson
23. Bobby Keck
24. Jack Smith
25. Ned Jarrett
26. Mark Hurley
27. Louis Jones
28. Gene Elliott
29. Fireball Roberts
30. Jimmy Pardue
31. Bunkie Blackburn
32. Buck Baker
33. Curtis Crider
34. Nelson Stacy
35. G. C. Spencer
36. Chuck Buckabee

Sunday, July 24, 2016

1965 - Donnellson IMCA feature to Stott

Ramo Stott
Donnellson, Iowa (July 24, 1965) - Ramo Stott pushed his 1965 Plymouth to a fast victory over Ernie Derr and the rest of the field in the 50-lap feature race of the IMCA late model stock car races at Donnellson's Lee County Fair Saturday night.

Stott, of Keokuk, won the race with a time of 24 minutes and 46 seconds while Derr, also of Keokuk, finished next in his Dodge. Lenny Funk from Otis, Kan., was third.

In the fourth and fastest heat of the night, Stott barely beat Derr with a time of 2 minutes and 23 seconds.

Derr had the lead in the initial lap of the five-lap race, but Stott passed him in the second and stayed ahead. Bob Jusola and Blaine Morrow followed the leaders.

The first heat was a reverse of the fourth, with Derr winning and Stott coming in second. John Mickey ended up third and Lewis Taylor fourth.

Jusola took the second heat, with Funk, Don Hensley, and Thurmond Lovejoy trailing him.

Ole Brua claimed the third heat, as Morrow, Bill Gibson, and Leon Fellers came in behind.

Stott led the pack in the time trials with a 28.80 clocking and Jusola was second with 29.15.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

1969 – Czar at Heidelberg – He Rules with an Iron Hand

Heidelberg Speedway
by Phil Musick
Pittsburgh, Penn. (July 21, 1969) – In fulfilling is role as a czar, Ed Witzberger sometimes looks as out of place as Mamie Eisenhower at a pot party. He eats shrimp cocktail for lunch and wears expensive white-on-white dress shirts, but the air of hustler eludes him and he mostly looks like a new grandfather.

However, in a modest way, Ed Witzberger is a czar; a hard bitten absolute ruler of the district’s only major stock car track and the guy who pulled area auto racing from the doldrums. His policy is simple but effective; “I make all the decisions.”

Owner and operator of Heidelberg Speedway, the district’s major league stock car operation, Witzberger is mentally tough enough to say, “A driver here or there is expendable, but we have to protect the fans.”

In addition to Heidelberg, a half-mile paved oval he calls, “one of the best tracks in the East”, Witzberger also owns a budding goldmine, Pittsburgh Dragway, and the area’s other asphalt track, the quarter-mile Greater Pittsburgh Speedway. “Actually, me and the bank own Greater Pitt,” he remarked.

People involved in stock car racing describe the 54-year-old in terms that range from glowing to unprintable and he admits that he’s “made some enemies over time”. But even those who have denounced him hold Witzberger in respect because he is solely responsible for the recent surge in racing’s popularity in the district.

“He’s the dean in the tri-state,” says Verue Spencer, publisher of Tri-State Auto Racing News and probably the most devoted fan in the area. “He doesn’t just take. He also gives something back to the fans. Some promoters just take the money out with both hands.”

A successful coal operator in the 1940’s, Witzberger took over Heidelberg in 1954 and organized the drivers into the Pittsburgh Drivers Association. The sport had flourished locally ever since.

“The original owners built the track in 1947 and they were in financial trouble when I took over,” says Witzberger. In the last 15 years, Heidelberg has become a nationally-respected race track, but Witzberger claims he “doesn’t know how it came about”.

Hoot Martin, a 20-year veteran of area racing, has a good idea. “I’ve cussed Ed more that anyone at times,” he said. “But he wants better racing and he’s never been afraid to put out the money to get it.”

Four years ago, Witzberger shelled out $600,000 to pave Heidelberg, a move that has drawn the top cars and drivers from the Tri-State area to the half-mile track. It was a wise gamble. “We’re now profitable,” Witzberger explains. “But I have to get 15 grand every time we open the gates or I’m in trouble.”

Safety and fan comfort are the bane of the stubby promoter’s existence, and he’s had some bitter words with drivers whose thinking is, “it could never happen to them”.

“We have to have safety for the race fans,” Witzberger explains, “but the drivers often resist us.” The resistance has often gotten violent and Witzberger says that his full-time safety director Walt Velte “has gotten a fat lip or two and a few black eyes.”

Czars historically don’t take no for an answer and Witzberger is not one to break with tradition. “I never change my mind once I make a decision. Even if I’m wrong, it stands. It has to be that way.”

Heidelberg in the future could be the scene of major races on the Grand National circuit, although Witzberger and officials of NASCAR are friendly enemies.

“I like the NASCAR people,” Witzberger mentioned. “I could bring a NASCAR race here – bring the big-name drivers here tomorrow if I wanted to. But NASCAR wants drivers to pay a year’s membership fee and they also want to raise pit fees. It wouldn’t be worth it to anyone for one race, and that’s what it would be – one race.”

For the present, Witzberger will continue to play Napoleon at Heidelberg, where he plans on making more improvements.

“I’ve never take a dime out of the track. It all goes back into the operation,” he remarked. “Of course, when I retire, I’ll have something.”

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

1972 - Babb Wins Thursday Night Rain Date at Osky

Johnny Babb
Oskaloosa, Iowa (July 20, 1972) - John Babb of Ottumwa made a clean sweep at the Southern Iowa Speedway here at the fairgrounds Thursday night.

Babb won every race he entered starting with the first 10-lap super stock heat and finishing the evening with the feature win. There was no stopping John as he had his little red #41 Pontiac Firebird out front every lap.

In his second feature win here this season, Babb grabbed the lead at the start from his pole starling position and never relinquished it to take the victory. The wait of one night (because of rain) didn’t dampen the Firebird and John’s spirits any. Joe Merryfield of Des Moines came up from his fifth row starting position to place second. Bill McDonough of Cedar Rapids finished third just ahead of Curt Hanson of Dike and Ron Hemsted of Lone Tree.

Following Babb’s extra wide lead in the first heat was McDonough, Dan Clement of Rhodes and George Barton of Ankeny.

Irv Janey of Cedar Rapids, driving the John Moss #1 car, won the second super stock heat. Janey was on Ron Hemsted’s bumper until the very last lap. On the second turn Janey managed to slip under Hemsted when he went a little high to take over the lead and the win. Don Hoffman of Des Moines was third followed by Larry Wasserfort of Waterloo.

The third heat was just like the temperature - hot. Curt Hansen came out on top in that one. It was a bumper to bumper battle all the way with Sanger in the lead and Hansen and Merryfield right in there nipping at Sanger’s bumper. On the white flag lap Hansen overtook Sanger for the victory. Sanger and Merryfield finished second and third as they came across the line side by side. Chris Maurer of Colfax placed fourth.

John Babb set a torrid pace for the field in the Australian pursuit event. With Babb out front and everyone attempting to catch him; not a single car was eliminated from this single file race. At the finish behind Babb were: McDonough, Hoffman and Merryfield.

Red Dralle of Waterloo, after a four-week absence captured the 10-lap semi-main.

Dralle led from wire to wire. John Meyer of Brooklyn and Ron Prymek of Iowa City were second and third respectively. Gary Johnson of Newton held down second spot until the eighth lap came in fourth. Bob McCall of Ottumwa placed fifth with Joe Schaefer of Waterloo and Bob Bonzer of Liscomb following.

Results –

Heat #1 – Johnny Babb, Ottumwa
Heat #2 – Irv Janey, Cedar Rapids
Heat #3 – Curt Hansen, Dike
Australian Pursuit – Johnny Babb
Semi-Main – Red Dralle, Waterloo
Feature –

  1. Johnny Babb
  2. Joe Merryfield
  3. Bill McDonough, Cedar Rapids
  4. Curt Hansen
  5. Ron Hemsted, Lone Tree
  6. Chris Maurer, Colfax
  7. George Barton, Ankeny
  8. Red Dralle
  9. John Meyer, Brooklyn
  10. Larry Wasserfort, Waterloo