Saturday, July 22, 2017

1972 – Janey Wins Donnellson IMCA


Irv Janey


Donnellson, Iowa (July 22, 1972) – Irv Janey of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was in championship form at the Lee County Fair on Saturday night, as he came away the winner of the 50-lap feature for IMCA new model stock cars in the time of 23 minute and 32 seconds. Janey also set fast time in qualifying, speeding around the half-mile in 27.57 seconds.
Janey encountered problems in the first heat, yet went on to win the STP trophy dash and finish second in the pursuit race. He accumulated enough points to retain and even widen his lead over Gerry Harrison of Topeka, Kan., who had a terrible night.
Gordon Blankenship of Keokuk, Iowa, continued to run well as he won the first heat and took second in the main event. He is currently in fifth place in the standings, tightly bunched within 30 points of Jim Still of Liberty, Mo., who is now in third.
Vern Mondry of Lake Elmo, Minn., finished sixth in the feature and holds down fourth place in the official IMCA point standings, only seven markers ahead of Blankenship.
Carl Vander Wal of Ames, Iowa, finished fourth in the 50-lapper and has now moved from 12th to seventh in the standings.

Results –

1.     Irv Janey, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
2.     Gordon Blankenship, Keokuk, Iowa
3.     Thurman Lovejoy, Kansas City
4.     Carl Vander Wal, Ames, Iowa
5.     Roger Brown, Waverly, Iowa
6.     Vern Mondry, Lake Elmo, Minn.
7.     Dale Mewhorter, Albuquerque, N.M.
8.     Gary Brooks, Grand Prairie, Tex.
9.     Garry Truelove, Trimble, Mo.
10.  Joe Melichar, Albuquerque, N.M.

Friday, July 21, 2017

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


 
Ed Witzberger
 

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.”
 
 
Heidelberg Raceway
 

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.”

Thursday, July 20, 2017

1960 - From Jalopies to Stock Car Title is Nelson’s Goal


 

Racine, Wis. (July 20, 1960) – It all started at Pleasant Prairie – not too far from Racine – where some energetic sportsmen had constructed a race track.

What an afternoon it was…rain, rain and even more rain. The track was nothing short of a quagmire made even worse because the base for the track was a swamp.

This was where Norm Nelson, born January 30, 1923 started his racing career.

A career which could see him clinch his first career United States Auto Club late model stock car title. He could claim that crown this Sunday with a stellar performance in the 250-miler at State Fair Park.

It would be “according to script” to say that Nelson won that first jalopy race but he didn’t. In fact, his jalopy got bogged down and stuck in the mud on the main straightaway much to the amusement of the crowd.

Norm “stuck” with the jalopies that first year but during the winter indoor season of 1940-41, he turned to midget racing. In fact, he experienced a great deal of success in Chicago that winter. He would continue to pilot midget cars through 1951.

“But the racing bug really hit me by then,” Nelson would point out. “I couldn’t get enough driving if I stayed with midgets, so I started driving late model stock cars in 1948.”

That year Nelson “invaded” State Fair Park in Milwaukee for his first late model stock car race and he faired pretty well, finishing fourth. He would remain a fixture there. “I would rather drive at State Fair than any other track,” Nelson declared.

He would also turn to hot rods in 1949 and competed on State Fair’s quarter-mile track. Some three years later, hot rods would become a thing of the past and modified stocks would usher in a new era.

Without much doubt, Nelson’s modified stock car career would flourish for the next few years and this season he copped the modified stock car championship at Jim Smith’s Wilmot track (Kenosha County Fairgrounds).

His best previous season was a second place finish in 1950. 

Going into the final race of that season, Nelson held slim lead over Jay Frank for the title. In fact, the lead looked substantial; the only way Franks could beat him was to win the final race at Springfield, Ill., and Nelson on the sidelines. That’s just what happened; Nelson experienced mechanical issues before the green waved and Franks would score the victory, winning the title by 30 points over Nelson.

To finish second is a tremendous achievement but it was discouraging for Norm to be beaten out in the season’s final race because of mechanical failure.

Nelson remained optimistic and churned ahead…

In 1957 and ’58, Nelson would finish third nationally in late model stock cars. It looked like he was on his way again. But then came the disastrous year of 1959. He would have only one finish in eight attempts.

As the ‘60 season approached, Nelson, who always fielded his own race cars, was approached by Bill Trainor of Zecol-Lubaid Products of Milwaukee. Trainor “talked” Nelson into driving his 1960 factory-loaded Ford, an offer Nelson couldn’t refuse. It proved to be a wise decision.

He has piled up a total of 1,360 points, benefitted by victories at Milwaukee and Du Quoin, Ill., not to mention several runner-up finishes so far this season. Nelson also won a Midwest Auto Racing Club event at Columbus, Ohio. Although MARC and USAC worked together this season, the first place finish didn’t add to his totals.

He has scored more than 6,000 national championship points in and ranks sixth in the all-time rankings. In 37 late model stock car races, he has earned more than $27,000.

What race furnished the biggest thrill for Nelson?

“Certainly, my wins at State Park and Du Quoin this season rank right up there but my biggest thrill came at State Fair in 1955 when I came through with a victory and then blew a tire some 200 feet later. I slammed into the south wall and demolished my car. That was a close one.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

1969 – Williams Banks Knoxville Dollars




Knoxville, Iowa (July 19, 1969) – After a month’s absence from the super modified circuit, Bob Williams of Independence, Mo., returned to racing on Saturday night and did it in the Williams’ tradition.
From the outside of the front row, Williams jumped into the lead in the 25-lap feature and won going away with the rest of the field scattered throughout the lapped traffic.
The victory was Williams’ fourth of the year, was worth $600 and earned him the super-modified mid-season title at the Marion County Fairgrounds half-mile track.
A crowd of well over 5,000 race fans enjoyed watching Williams and Earl Wagner of Pleasantville, Iowa, duel side-by-side for the first 15 circuits before Williams opened daylight and Wagner got tied up in lapped traffic.
Williams would cruise to the easy win while Wagner would settle for second. Dick Sutcliffe of Kansas City, Joe Saldana of Lincoln, Neb., and Ray Lee Goodwin, also from Kansas City, would round out the top five.
Only one accident marred the feature when Eddie Leavitt of Kearney, Mo., would tag the turn three wall but he was unhurt.
Joe Saldana turned quick time during qualifying with a 22.43 second showing on the half-mile.
Earl Wagner would win the trophy dash, while heat winners were Ray Lee Goodwin, Earl Wagner and Eddie Leavitt. Ron Jackson of Burlington, Iowa, would win the consolation.
It was the first night of super-modified racing at Knoxville in three weeks because of the recent string of bad weather.

Monday, July 17, 2017

1984 – Allison Wins Rockford All-Star 100


NASCAR star Bobby Allison made a successful trip north by winning the All-Star 100.



Rockford, Ill. (July 17, 1984) – Stock car racing superstar Bobby Allison came up north and showed some of the Midwest’s best stock car drivers the short way around Rockford Speedway as he wheeled his 1984 Pontiac Firebird to victory in the 7th annual All-Star 100 on Tuesday night.
The eighth stop on the ASA-ARTGO Challenge Series late model tour saw the 46-year-old from Hueytown, Ala., capture his first ever feature on the Midwestern stock car circuit.
Using the low side of the high-banked quarter-mile, Allison piloted the Jerry Gunderman-owned mount into the lead on the race’s 82nd circuit slipping underneath some of the Midwest’s top stock car competitors on his way to the front, including Joe Shear, Dick Trickle, Bobby Dotter and Don Leach.
With only two laps to go, the race’s fifth and final yellow waved for what appeared to be oil on the racing surface. Allison, suffering from a flat tire, drove hard to fight off the challenges Leach and Jim Weber in those closing laps.
Streaking down thee straightaways, Allison would almost come to a halt in the corners, almost giving back the lead to Leach a couple of times. Coming down for the checkered flag, Allison and Leach, along with Weber, battled wheel to wheel looking for the win.
Trailing the top three at the checkers were Dotter, Shear, Ken Lund, Larry Schuler, Tracy Schuler and Steve Murgic who the only cars still running from a feature field of 20.
A brief, solemn ceremony was held prior to the event to honor Rockford Speedway owner Hugh Deery, who passed away on July 14.

Results –

1.    Bobby Allison
2.    Don Leach
3.    Jim Weber
4.    Bobby Dotter
5.    Joe Shear
6.    Ken Lund
7.    Larry Schuler
8.    Tracy Schuler
9.   Steve Murgic
10.   Dick Trickle
11.   Mike Barlass
12.   Scott Hansen
13.   Al Schill
14.   Frank Gawlinski
15.   Rich Bickle Jr.
16.   Ricky Bilderback
17.   Mark Martin
18.   Mel Whalen
19.   Bobby Weiss
20.   Randy Merriman

Sunday, July 16, 2017

1961 - Pete Folse Takes 30-lap Feature at Fairgrounds


Pete Folse

 
Terre Haute, Ind. (July 16, 1961) - Pete Folse of Tampa, Fla., two-time national driving champion, led all the way in winning the International Motor Contest Association's 30-lap Hoosier Sweepstakes yesterday at the Vigo County Fairgrounds.
 
Al Sweeney and his National Speedways Inc., promotion along with 45 of the top sprint car drivers and their machines invaded what was normally USAC territory with an IMCA sprint car program at the fairgrounds on Sunday afternoon.
 
Folse, the outstanding performer in the program, also won the trophy dash, his heat race, and turned in the fastest qualifying lap. His winning time in the feature event was 13 minutes and 8 seconds.
 
In addition to the spray of dirt and the sound of engines there was a touch of beauty at the track. Miss Indiana of 1961, Miss Kathleen Jane Burke of Terre Haute, was on hand to kiss the winner and present the IMCA Inaugural Trophy.
 
Folse, handling the controls on his Bardahl Offenhauser Special, owned by Hector Horore, took the lead from his pole position and finished a good seven seconds ahead of his closest competitor.
 
Cecil Beaver of Bedford, Ind., was second and Buzz Rose of Compton, Calif., finished third in the feature field of 16 drivers. Beaver drove a Chevrolet and Rose an Offenhauser.
 
Finishing behind the top three in the money were Buzz Barton of Tampa, Fla.; Arnold Knepper of Belleville, Ill.; Jerry Richert of Forrest Lake, Minn.; Harold Leep of Wichita, Kans.; Johnny Leverenz; Duke Hindahl of Pekin, Ill.; Gerald Daniels of St. Paul, Minn.; Eddie Frese of Quincy, Ill.; and Hershel Wagner of Hickman Mills, Mo.
 
Only 11 cars finished the race. At stake was a purse valued at better than $3,100 plus accessories and championship points. Folse, who qualified in 24.14 seconds - more than a full second faster than the next best qualifier - blazed from his last place start to head man in the first lap of the first heat race and won going away in 3 minute and 4 seconds. Behind him were Daniels, Jerry Blundy of Galesburg, Ill., and Barton.
 
Each heat race went seven laps. Richert captured the second heat race ahead of Beaver, Wagner and Leverenz in 3 minutes and 4 seconds despite a yellow flag delay when Roger Hegg of Minneapolis crashed into the retaining wall. Hindahl finished in front in the third heat with Knepper, Rose and Jim McElreath also qualifying. Hindahl's time was 3 minutes and 8 seconds.
 
Folse then returned to win the four-car, five-lap trophy dash in 2 minutes and 12 seconds. Behind him were Johnny White of Warren, Mich.; Blundy and Leverenz. Leep won the special consolation event of 10 laps which provide fans with the most excitement.
 
Jerry Shumaker of Wichita, Kan.; Gordon Wolley of Waco, Tex.; and Johnny Rutherford of Fort Worth, Tex., were runner-ups.
 
Twenty cars were entered in the consolation event and only 10 finished. Six cars spun on the second lap which caused the red flag to be displayed and a restart ordered. Two more cars were forced to retire after spins on the first lap after the second start. Dale Breedlove of Waco, Tex., added to the action when his Chevrolet caught on fire.
 
The 3,500 race fans who turned out to view the “invaders” expressed nothing but praise for the handling of the program, which was slowed by a light shower after the consolation. They also gave out high marks for the caliber of drivers competing on the IMCA circuit.
 
Results –
 
1.    Pete Folse
2.    Cecil Beavers
3.    Buzz Rose
4.    Buzz Barton
5.    Jerry Blundy
6.    Herschel Wagner
7.    Arnold Knepper
8.    Ray Duckworth
9.    Duke Hindahl
10.  Harold Leep
11.  Jerry Richert
12.  Jerry Daniels
 
 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Hawkeye Downs Speedway - 2017 Wall of Fame

 
Photos Courtesy of Kyle Ealy
 
July 14, 2017
 
Dudley Fleck presenting awards -
 
Alan "Gadget" Sheppard

Blackie Lyons

Curt Martin

"Rockin" Randy Lockwood

Ron Hutcherson

Sylvia Dopler
 
Wall of Fame Class of 2017
 
Grand Marshall Ramo Stott