Friday, April 29, 2016

1976 – This Week in Racing

Cedar Rapids, Iowa – Let's take a look back, 30 years ago to be exact, and see who the winners were this week in Midwest racing circles. It was season openers for many tracks.

Curt Hansen of Dike, Iowa, would hold off a bevy of “hot iron” to win the 20-lap super stock feature on opening night at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Wednesday, April 28. Hansen held off Mel Morris of West Liberty in the closing laps to collect the $500 top prize. A see-saw battle for third saw Roger Dolan of Lisbon overtake Bill Rice of Des Moines. Dave Allison of Des Moines was the sportsman main event winner.

Dick Trickle of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., brought the State Park Speedway crowd to its feet Thursday, April 29 when he became the unexpected winner of the season opener in Wausau, Wis. In a finish reminiscent of the Daytona 500, race leaders Mike Miller of Wisconsin Rapids and Tom Reffner of Rudolph appeared to be headed for a photo finish when the two suddenly skidded in turn four, allowing Trickle to sneak by for the lead and take the checkers.

At the season opener at Hawkeye Downs Speedway Roger Dolan and fast qualifier Bill Zwanziger of Waterloo would swap the lead on three different occasions before Dolan was able to secure the top spot and win the late model feature on Friday, April 30. Zwanziger would settle for second, followed by Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids, Curt Hansen and Don White of Keokuk.

Davenport Speedway also opened their season on Friday night with Duane Steffe of Colona, Ill., coming from his third starting spot to win the 20-lap late model feature. Gary Webb, Ronnie Weedon, Mike Niffenegger, Mel Morris rounded out the top five.

Johnny Ziegler of Madison, Wis., drove to victory in the 30-lap feature at Capital Super Speedway on Friday night Ziegler took the lead on lap 25 after starting tenth. A four-way battle developed for second place with Dave Watson getting the advantage over Joe Shear, Dick Trickle and Jim Sauter. 

Terry Bivins of Shawnee, Kan., fought Joe Wallace of Peyton, Colo., for all 25 laps before winning the late model main event at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Mo., on April 30. Dave Rupard of Grandview, Mo., came from last place to capture the modified sprint car feature over Gene Gennetten of Gladstone, Mo. Despite bad weather, a surprisingly large crowd of 4,000 race fans were in attendance. 

Roger Dolan would sweep the program at Eldon Raceway on Saturday, May 1, by winning the trophy dash, heat and 20-lap feature. Dolan was chased across the finish line by Pokey West of West Chester and Steve Fraise of Montrose. 

Tony Izzo methodically worked his way from the back of the field to win the 30-lap late model feature at Santa Fe Speedway in Hinsdale, Ill., on Saturday night. The Bridgeview, Ill., hot shoe shot his 1976 Camaro into the lead on lap 12 and warded off a brief challenge from Jim O’Conner and defending track champion Larry Jackson before finding himself in the winner’s circle.

George Barton of Ankeny would capture the late model feature at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on Saturday evening. The Boone, Iowa, race promoter also won the first heat before winning the 20-lap feature. Dave Farren of Des Moines drove his 1967 Camaro to an impressive victory in the sportsman feature. An estimated 8,000 spectators watched the season opener. 

Doug Wolfgang of Lincoln, Neb., was fast qualifier, finished second in the trophy dash, won the fourth heat and then capped a great night by winning the 25-lap super sprint car feature at the Marion County Fairgrounds in Knoxville, Iowa, on Saturday night. Piloting Dave Van Patten’s Chevrolet-powered sprinter, it was Wolfgang’s first feature win ever on the historic half-mile.

Jan Opperman, the ordained minister from Noxon, Montana, took the lead at the green flag and led all the way in winning the 6th annual Tony Hulman Classic in Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday afternoon, May 1. Pancho Carter, the 1974 USAC sprint car champion, spent much of the afternoon chasing Opperman but settled for runner-up honors. Bubby Jones, Dana Carter and Bruce Walkup rounded out the top five finishers. With a record $43,000 purse, the race was seen nationally on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

“Big” John Moss of Iowa City captured the late model feature at the West Liberty Fairgrounds on Saturday night before another large crowd on damp night. Moss overtook Jack Hall of Muscatine on a lap 11 restart and then held off a hard-charging Ron Weedon of Pleasant Valley to secure the win. Ron Pallister of Wapello exchanged the lead with Bob Kleindolph of Muscatine before winning an exciting sportsman main event.

Herb Shannon of Peoria, Ill., made the haul to the Jackson County Raceway in Maquoketa, Iowa, worthwhile by winning the 50-lap “Early Bird Special” on Saturday night. Shannon would endure a grueling battle with Jim Burbridge of Delhi, Iowa for most of the race. Burbridge would lead the affair for the first 34 laps before relinquishing the top spot to Shannon who would hold on for the $550 top prize.

Bill Martin of Council Bluffs play second fiddle to Bob Kosiski of Omaha in the heat and trophy dash but turned the tables and won the A-main at Sunset Speedway in Omaha, Neb., on Sunday, May 2. Second place finisher Kosiski finished ahead of Council Bluffs drivers Dave Chase and Ron Tilley. It was the season opener for the track and offered double points.

Glenn Woodward of Des Moines would edge his brother, Leonard to capture his third consecutive late model feature at Stuart Speedway on Sunday evening. Glenn, who qualified for the feature through the consolation, had his work cut out for him having started 12th in the main event. Running the low side, he picked car after car off and then passed his brother would only a couple of laps left to score the victory.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

1975 - Hansen wins opener at West Liberty

West Liberty, Iowa (April 26, 1975) - A large crowd of nearly 2,500 fan braved cold and threatening weather to watch opening night of stock car racing at the West Liberty Fairgrounds on Saturday night.
Curt Hansen of Dike followed up his victory Friday night at Columbus Junction with the feature victory here in the wreck-marred windup.

Only 10 of the 19 cars that started the feature were still around at the end. Steve Keppler spun out in the fourth turn of the third lap and several cars smacked into him.

Going out of the race were Mel Morris, Duane Steffe, Jim Strube and Ron Weedon - all among the top drivers during the earlier racing. Keppeler remained in the race and wound up second to Hansen.

Strube, a newcomer to the circuit from Peoria, Ill., set a track record in his first time out in time trials. He recorded a 24.39 second clocking to break the old mark of 24.40 by Darrell Dake.

Despite a brief shower the track was in good shape, as eight drivers bettered 25 seconds in time trials.

Heat winners on the first night were Morris, John Moss and Steffe and Keppler won the semi-main.


Feature Results –

1.      Curt Hansen, Dike
2.      Steve Keppler, Marion
3.      Fred Horn, Marion
4.      Darrell Dake, Cedar Rapids
5.      Ken Walton, Cedar Rapids
6.      Ron Prymek, Iowa City
7.      Sam Reakes, Rockford, Ill.
8.      Duane Steffe, Colona, Ill.
9.      Dave Birkhofer, Muscatine
10.  Gail Brenner, Wilton
11.  John Moss, Iowa City
12.  Ron Hemsted, Lone Tree

Monday, April 25, 2016

1971 - Horn Protests, But Hutch Cops 200

Ron Hutcherson of Keokuk, Iowa accepts the trophy after winning the controversial Hawkeye 200 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. - Lee Ackerman Collection
Cedar Rapids, Iowa (April 25, 1971) - Ron Hutcherson of Keokuk gave himself a belated birthday present Sunday by capturing the Hawkeye 200 late model stock car race at Hawkeye Downs before a paying crowd of 6,212.

Fred Horn, though, found no reason to celebrate. The Marion chauffeur protested the results, contending he was the winner of the International Motor Contest Association annual classic.

However, National Speedways, Inc., officials disallowed the protest and Horn had to settle for second place in the 100-miler on the half-mile dirt oval.

Hutch and Horn finished on the same lap.

Third place went to Keokuk's young Mike Derr, 23- year-old son of Ernie Derr, the 11-time IMCA champion. It was a feather in Mike's cap as he completed 198 laps to papa's 195. Both drove 1970 Chargers. Ernie finished fourth, after experiencing rear end problems early in the race.

The point of Horn's protest began on the 93rd lap when a broken ball joint stalled Mel Morris of Atalissa in the third turn and the yellow flag came out.

Horn pitted his '70 Road Runner under the yellow, trailing Hutch, the leader, and Ernie Derr. Hutch and Derr hit the pits for fuel on the next lap and both were out quickly, nearly simultaneously.

"I know Hutch passed me while I was in the pits," Horn fumed, "but then I passed him in the pits. Then he passed me and I passed him and he never got around me again."

On the basis of the new automatic timing system, NSI officials ruled Horn had lost a lap while pitting under the yellow.

The margin of victory for Hutch and his 1970 Ford Torino Cobra was a mere nine seconds on the extremely dusty and rugged track. His time was one hour, 32 minutes and 35 seconds.

"I'm tired, but happy," smiled Hutch as he wiped the grime from his face. "This is a pretty good birthday present," he added, explaining. He turned 28 Saturday.

It was Ron's first race of the season and he allowed, "The first one is always tough! No, I didn't have any special strategy, except I wanted to stay in there tough at the start. I always run better late in the race.

"That's when the tracks usually get hard and slick and that's the way I like 'em. I had Goodyear tires on and they work better when the track is hard and dry ... We could have done without the dust, though."

Hutch, who picked up $800 for his triumph, was the third and final leader.

He took over from Irv Janey of Cedar Rapids ('70 Road Runner) on the 87th tour. Janey was flying up to that point and had led the pack for 57 laps. But a broken lower control arm took away hi steering and any chance of winning were shattered. The early leader was Gerry Harrison of Topeka, Kan., in a '71 Ford.

Horn topped the qualifying with a 25.54 second clocking for one lap, well off the Downs record of 24.57.

Thirty-two cars started the race. Only 12 were running at the finish.


Results –

1.   Ron Hutcherson
2.   Fred Horn
3.   Mike Derr
4.   Ernie Derr
5.   Butch Hall
6.   Bill Schwader
7.   Jerre Wichman
8.   Marv Powers
9.   Roger Brown
10. Dean Roper
11.  Vern Covert
12.  Dale Roper
13. Gordon Blankenship
14. Bill Wrich
15. Lefty Robinson
16. Dean Montgomery
     17.  Vern Mondry
18. Dave Goldsberry
19. Irv Janey
20. Thurman Lovejoy
21.  Mel Morris
22. Chuck Wicher
23.  Bill Moyer
24.  Jim Strube
25.  Terry Ryan
26. Gerry Harrison

Monday, April 18, 2016

1976 - Bettenhausen wins at New Bremen

Gary Bettenhausen
New Bremen, Ohio (April 18, 1976) – Indiana’s Gary Bettenhausen passed Tom Bigelow of Wisconsin on the 38th lap of the 40-lap race to take the victory in yesterday’s United States Auto Club (USAC) Sprint Car feature at New Bremen Speedway
The early laps of the 40-lap feature saw Johnnie Parsons, also of Indiana, in the lead from the green flag. Charging from his second row starting position Marietta, Ohio’s Larry Dickson brought his “Polak Sprinter” up to challenge Parsons by lap nine, but could not manage to get by the evasive Parsons.
By lap 12 Bigelow began to make his move, getting by both Dickson and then Parsons to take over the lead on lap 28. Close on Bigelow’s tail, Bettenhausen in the Willie Davis “Spirit of Syracuse” sprinter, quickly got by Dickson and Parsons in one sweep and went to work on Bigelow, finally getting by him on lap 38 for the win
Bigelow, in the “Elder Cadillac” sprint, finished second, with Dickson, who got around Parsons on lap 30, hanging onto third spot.
The race was run in 11 minutes, 59.70 seconds, bettering the old mark of 14:43.35 for a 40-lap feature by 2 and a half minutes, to set a new record on New Bremen’s half mile pavement.
Bettenhausen’s win was his 34th USAC sprint car feature victory of his career, making him second only to Dickson (with 41) in USAC sprint feature checkered.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The River City Supernationals

By Kyle Ealy
Cedar Rapids, IA – In the summer of 1994, two men got together and decided to organize a touring series for modifieds. Based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the United States Modified Series (USMS) was created in late 1994. Co-founders Daniel Danielski and Doug Sheckler were no strangers to the racing game, having formerly worked for IMCA in Vinton, Iowa.

“We just decided it was time to strike out on our own,” Danielski said. “When we held our first event (in September of 1994), we had 128 cars turn out, so we knew we were on to something.”

Danielski was quick to point out that the USMS was a racing series, not a sanctioning body. Because of that, any modified from any sanctioning body including IMCA, Wissota, UMP and NASCAR, were eligible to compete.

“With this series, as it is now, we have a normal payoff of $2,000 to the main event winner and a $50,000 point fund to be distributed at the end of the year,” Danielski said. Even with the late start (to the ‘94 season); we averaged about 70 cars at our first five events by attracting the local drivers and about 10 or 20 of our regulars who are trying to make every race.”

Most of the events were scheduled for the central part of the country, including Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Danielski hoped to branch out as the series became more established.

“We want it to be national in scope,” he said. “This is not a regional class of cars. There are over 4,000 of these cars out there from coast-to-coast.”

Encouraged by their early success, Danielski and Sheckler mapped out a 19-race schedule for the 1995 season and also announced a special year-end event with a bigger than usual purse for September. It was determined that Burlington, Iowa would be the sight of that event.

The race seemed to hit a snag before it was even run. As it turned out, the event was scheduled the same weekend as another big race for modifieds, the IMCA Super Nationals in Boone, Iowa. While some made a big deal out of it, Sheckler didn’t see a conflict.

“I think we're drawing more of the UMP and NASCAR-type cars,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of those types of cars throughout our series. I know we're getting a lot of cars from Illinois, where there aren't any IMCA tracks anyway.”

Sheckler didn’t think having the competing shows on the same night lessened the appeal of either event. “That's not a concern," he said. "They’ll (IMCA) have more than their fair share of cars for their weekend of racing and we’ll have plenty also. There is more than enough to go around for everyone.”

With that said, the first annual River City Supernationals became a reality on September 10-11, 1995.

When the USMS drivers pulled into Burlington, Iowa, the series had shown a competitive balance, with 10 different drivers having won a USMS “A” main out of the 13 total events run.

The top prize ($10,000) was the largest payoff on the USMS circuit in its inaugural season. Only the top four drivers in the point standings, Kelly Shryock of Story City, Iowa, Mike Chasteen of Peoria, Ill., John Allen of Chanute, Kan. and Klint Pursley of Locust Grove, Okla., had won more than $10,000 for the ENTIRE season.

With a total two-day purse of over $35,000, 102 drivers from 10 different states showed up for the weekend. The River City Supernationals was already a success and the first green flag had not been waved yet.

In addition to some of the top modified hot shoes in attendance, it was also able to lure some top drivers from other divisions of racing.

Ray Guss Jr., the NASCAR Central Region point’s leader for late models, was one of those drivers who showed up to flaunt his skills behind the wheel of a modified. It would turn out to be a good move…

Guss, the veteran driver from Milan, Ill., got past Ryan Dolan, then overtook Ron Jones and then held off both through lapped traffic the rest of the way to claim the $10,000 winner's check.

“This is unbelievable,” Guss said. “I came here just hoping to do decent. To take home a win is unreal. I’ve won a lot of late model races but this is by far my biggest win ever.”

Guss started the modified feature on the inside of the fourth row. But he didn't stay there for long. Guss put his plan into action from the start. While most of the drivers stayed toward the top of the track, Guss saw the opening and went to the bottom. By the end of the first lap, Guss had moved up to fourth.

Guss stayed on the bottom to get around Ryan Dolan on lap five, and then set his sights on race leader Ron Jones. Jones held off Guss for 22 laps before Guss made his move.

Guss suddenly went to the high side in turns three and four of lap 23 to get past Jones, who got caught behind a lapped car. That was the only break Guss would need on this cool fall night.

Once in the lead, the veteran knew what to do. He maneuvered his car through lapped traffic to get as many cars between himself and Jones as possible. Jones and Dolan each gave chase, waiting for Guss to make a mistake.

It never happened…

Guss pulled away in the final laps for the victory. Dolan got by Jones on lap 43 to finish second and take home $5,000. But the night, and the big paycheck, belonged to Guss.

The whole weekend turned out to be extremely popular with both the drivers and the fans. Impressed with the numbers from the pits and the grandstands, it was deemed a successful venture for Danielski and Scheckler and plans for the second annual River City Supernationals were already being laid out for 1996.

When the River City Supernationals rolled around the next year, September 7-8, over 150 modifieds were expected to compete for the $12,000 first place prize out of a whopping $35,000 purse.

Word had gotten out about this big-paying modified show and it was not only drawing interest on the local level, but on the national stage as well. Both The Nashville Network and ESPN were on hand for the weekend, taping highlights of the race and the event.  

Back was the defending champion, Ray Guss, Jr., as was runner-up Ryan Dolan. Ron Jones of Elk River, Minn., winner of three USMS features in the series’ second season was also on hand. Kelly Shryock, the current USMS point’s leader, was there as was 34 Raceway’s modified track champion, Bill Roberts.

Other drivers of note entered that year were John Allen, Clint Homan, and John Bull, Jim Sandusky, Scott Boles, Dean McGee, Darrell McGee, Bruce Hanford, Thad Wilson, Jim Roach and Lynn Monroe. Another late model pilot, Rob Toland, the three-time defending track champion at 34 Raceway, was giving it the old college try.

For Ryan Dolan, he was a year older and a year wiser. And when the checkers waved on the championship feature on Saturday night, Dolan was $12,000 richer.

Dolan, who watched Guss pass him and go on to win the inaugural Supernationals, had set his sights on returning to Burlington with one goal in mind; winning the 50-lap feature and collecting the winner's check.

Dolan earned the pole position on Friday night, thus avoiding the heat races and qualifying races on Saturday. Dolan took advantage of his starting position, leading the last 42 laps to capture the win. Ron Jones would finish second while late model ace Joe Kosiski of Omaha, Neb., was third. Guss would experience problems with his car and was never a factor.

“We've been planning to come back here and win this race ever since we finished second last year,” Dolan said. “I really didn't think about the money at all during the race. I just wanted to win. But the money is a nice part of it.”

Mike Karhoff of Quincy, Ill., started the feature alongside Dolan in the front row. Karhoff squeezed between Dolan and Davenport’s Bruce Hanford on the start and quickly grabbed the early lead with Hanford taking second from Dolan.

Karhoff held the lead through an early caution, as Dolan got around Hanford for second after the restart. Jones, meanwhile, also got past Hanford two laps later and closed in on Dolan for second.

Dolan made his move two laps later, going to the high side of the track to get around Karhoff in turn two for the lead. Karhoff and Jones battled for second while Dolan continued to work the cushion to his advantage.

Dolan worked his way through lapped traffic as Jones followed with Kosiski working his way into third. But Dolan proved to have too much for Jones and Kosiski on this night.

Dolan maneuvered through traffic, working the high side and holding on for the win.

“It would have been tough to catch him,” Jones said of Dolan. “Maybe if there were 100 more laps he would have run out of fuel before me. It would have been awful tough to catch him.”

The River City Supernationals would be short-lived, however, as ’95 and ’96 would be the only two years the blockbuster event was run. A year later, Danielski and Scheckler would sell the series to another former IMCA official, Todd Staley of Webster City, Iowa.

Staley would add a “T” to the series name, make it one the most successful racing series in the nation and moved the grand year-end event to Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley, Minn. This year, 2015, will mark the 17th season for the Featherlite Fall Jamboree.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Nebraska Hot Rod Racing Association

A Sunday afternoon of racing begins at Hastings, Nebraska

by Lee Ackerman
Papillion, Neb. - If you think auto racing is a dangerous sport today, let me tell you about the good old days. Well maybe just the old days. Have you ever seen a movie where two young guys go drag racing down the street in their souped up deuce coupes? Let’s go back to the late 40’s and early 50’s and I’ll tell you about the Nebraska Hot Rod Racing Association.

It all started in Hastings in 1948 when a group of hot rod owners got together to form a racing association to race on dirt tracks. That first year they ran a series of exhibition races during Big Car (Sprint Car) show.

In 1949 the association started holding their own races with the first being held at Hastings in June. Now you have to remember this was back before you could order a race chassis from a manufacturer and these cars were pretty crude. Guys just took old cars or hot rods and started chopping. Out came the cutting torches and they started cutting away.

Safety features were almost non-existent. Some of the cars had a roll bar behind the drivers, but that was about it. Later some drivers put bars in front of them. The reason for these bars was that some of the fairground tracks they raced on had fences (both wooden and wire) and those fences could decapitate a driver if he had the misfortune to drive through them.

In the few short years of the association’s existence, they raced at tracks in Hastings, Fairbury, York, Nelson, Broken Bow, Holdrege, Beatrice, North Platte, Ord, Osceola, Wahoo and Franklin. They also raced at least twice at Riverside Speedway (also called Blue Heron) which was located just across the South Omaha Bridge in Iowa. In addition, they held events at tracks outside of Nebraska at tracks in Belleville and Concordia, Kansas and Savannah, Missouri.

Chuck Sears of Hastings, Neb., was one of the top drivers in the NHRRA. - Bob Mays Collection

Many of the best drivers from the NHRRA have been inducted into the Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Those include 1949-1950 NHRRA champion Gordie Shuck of Edgar, 1951-52 champion Andy Anderson of Hastings, Frank Brennfoerder of Lincoln, Jim Gessford and Chuck Sears of Hastings and Bill Smith of Lincoln. Other drivers who had success in the hot rods include Curley Wadsworth, Gaylord Heiger and Bob Rager.

On occasion these drivers would be joined by out of state drivers such as future NASCAR stars Johnny Beauchamp and Tiny Lund from Harlan, Iowa. Such was the case late in the 1949 racing season when the Hot Rods made two trips to the Gage County Fairgrounds in Beatrice.

On Sunday, August 28, 1949 a larger than capacity crowd estimated at more than 2,500 fans packed the Gage County Fairgrounds for their first look at the “Hot Rods.” Several hundred folks were also watching from beyond the southeast corner. After, time trials drivers and pit crews passed the hat to these spectators raising another $40.63 which was added to the purse. The total purse for the day was $717.23 a good size purse for 1949.

The drivers were greeted with a spongy and rough track but they made the best of it in time trials. Johnny Beauchamp of Harlan, Iowa would turn laps several seconds faster than the Hot Rods had turned at Hastings the week before. Beauchamp set fast time of 33.2 seconds with Edgar, Nebraska’s Gordie Shuck having second fastest time at 33.7 and Howard Madsen turning a lap at 33.9 seconds. Also in the field was another future NASCAR star in DeWayne (Tiny) Lund of Harlan as well as Billy Smith of Lincoln, who has since become known to the racing world as simply “Speedy Bill.”

The first race of the day was a match between the two fastest cars Beauchamp and Shuck. The two battled it out with Beauchamp getting the win and $21.54, Shuck got $14.34. The next race was for the seven slowest cars and it would be Oscar Warford of Ord, Nebraska winning the event over Norman Shaffer.

Dale Swanson and Johnny Beauchamp in the Hot Rod days

The next event found the six fastest cars racing (with Shuck temporarily sidelined with car problems). Beauchamp won win that event with Jim Kucera of Ord second and Dick Richardson third. Howard Madsen would then win the consolation event with Billy Smith running second. The last race before the feature had the six fastest cars in an inverted start. This provided lots of excitement as Beauchamp passed a car a lap to take the win with Shaffer and Worford rounding out the top three.

The last race found the fastest eight cars going for 10 laps, twice the distance of the previous events. This event Beauchamp ran into more than he could handle as Shuck had returned to the action and he would hold off Beauchamp in a heated battle to the win. Following Shuck and Beauchamp were Warford, Shaffer and Kucera. Beauchamp ended up being the day’s big money winner with $200.81

VFW officials apologized for getting things off to a slow start but it was their first attempt at race promoting. They said they would learn through experience just like the drivers who were mostly young men of 18 or 19 years of age.

Bob Rager of Lincoln, Neb. - Bob Mays Collection

On October 2, 1949 the “Hot Rods” returned to Beatrice Fairgrounds where a crowd of about 1,200 fans in the grandstand plus another 1,000 watching for free on the adjoining railroad tracks had returned to see these crazy young men again. Beauchamp would once again set fast time in the Dale Swanson Hot Rod with a lap of 30.08 seconds with Shuck tripping the clocks at 32.1 seconds.

This time in the match race or trophy dash which this time included several cars, it was Shuck’s turn to take home the win in another closely fought battle. Keith Holster of Lincoln would win the second race which pitted six of the faster cars. Max Schlagel of Lincoln was second and Leonard Colhorst of Beatrice third.

Norm Plouzek of Crete would nose out Beatrice’s Mark Clausen in the slower heat with Billy Smith finishing third. The winner’s race was next and again it was a Beauchamp-Shuck battle with Beauchamp coming home just in front of Shuck with Del Whitcomb of Beatrice third. The 10 lap feature would once again be a battle between Beauchamp and Shuck with Beauchamp getting the best this time. Keith Holster, Max Schlagel and Mark Clausen would round at the top five. Beauchamp would leave Beatrice this time the feature winner but his earnings for the day were just $94.22.

The Hot Rods would continue to race for another two or three years but by 1953, the car counts were dropping and many drivers opted to race either in the new United Motor Contest Association for sprint cars or raced coupes and sedans in stock car races. But back in the day it was those “Daredevils and their flying Jalopies.”
Frank Brennfoerder of Lincoln, Neb. - Bob Mays Collection

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The USAC Stock Cars at Du Quoin (1960 – 1969)

By Kyle Ealy
Du Quoin, Ill. – It’s been a Labor Day Weekend tradition for over 60 years; stock cars competing on the “Magic Mile” dirt oval at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds in southern Illinois.

Beginning in the early 50’s stock cars raced on the historic fairgrounds under the American Automobile Association (AAA) rules and still continue to this day, racing with the sanctioning body of the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA).

But we’ll focus on what many still believe were the heydays of this event, the stars and cars of the United States Auto Club (USAC).

Beginning in 1956 and ending with its demise in the early 80’s the USAC stock cars brought an exciting brand of racing to Du Quoin and with it, some legendary names.

Big-name racing stars such as Marshall Teague, Jerry Unser and Fred Lorenzen (twice) were winners of the race as the 50’s came to a close.

We’ll start our story on September 3, 1960

Norm Nelson of Racine, Wis., would usher in a new decade of stock car racing at Du Quoin by winning the 100-mile event that day, dominating the race throughout and winning handily.

Nelson would win the 100-lapper in 1 hour, 11 minutes and 15 seconds, breaking the old mark of 1 hour and 16 minutes set by Lorenzen the year before. Nelson banked $2,009 of the $11,640 record purse. 

Paul Goldsmith of St. Clair Shores, Mich., would set a new track record in qualifying, touring the mile in 46.42 seconds, which would draw him the pole position for the start of the race. Goldsmith would lead the race for the first 14 laps building up a comfy half-mile lead, when his motor when kaput and he was forced to retire for the afternoon. Nelson would inherit the lead and never look back.

Don White of Keokuk, Iowa, made a strong run, progressing through the field and moving by Rodger Ward for third place on lap 30 and taking over the second spot on the 38th tour from Tony Bettenhausen. White drove a steady race the rest of the afternoon until his motor ran afoul on the white flag lap. Bettenhausen would seize the opportunity to take runner-up honors, nearly three quarters of a mile behind Nelson at the checkers. Ward would hold on to third, John Rostek of Fort Collins, Colo., was fourth and Elmer Musgrave of Niles, Ill., rounding out the top five.
Paul Goldsmith would win the Du Quoin 100-miler in 1961, '62 and '65.

Goldsmith would come back with a vengeance the next year, and on September 3, 1961, would set qualifying and race records before a crowd of more than 22,000. Goldsmith shattered his own time trial mark he set the year before, circling the track in 44.07 seconds and then win the race in 1 hour, 10 minutes and 18 seconds, beating Nelson’s mark of 1960.

The race itself would be a tremendous duel between Goldsmith and Rodger Ward, with no other driver ever in contention. Ward would take the lead from Goldsmith on lap 4 with Don White, Eddie Sachs of Cooperstown, Pa., and Len Sutton of Portland, Ore., and defending race winner Nelson right behind the front-row starting duo.

The top five raced in a snug formation for the next 18 laps until White dropped out on lap 19, followed by Nelson on lap 29 and Sachs near the midway point, lap 48. By that point, Ward, Goldsmith and Sutton had lapped nearly the entire field and the race had settled down to a two-car tussle between Ward and Goldsmith.

It seemed just a matter of time until Goldsmith would pass Ward as he dogged Ward's back bumper lap after lap. Finally, on lap 63, Goldsmith saw his opening on the north turn and sped to the lead never to be in danger gain as he gradually opened up distance on Ward.

The outcome was not unexpected as Goldsmith won easily, extending a point’s lead that would eventually propel him to his first USAC national crown, and collecting a whopping $5,000 out of a record purse of over $15,000. Ward would hold on to second after a spirited battle, Sutton would claim third, Dick Rathmann of Roselle, Ill., fourth and Bill Cheesbourg of Tucson, Ariz., in fifth.

Race fans, impressed by the ’61 contest, would turn out in record numbers on September 2, 1962. “This is the biggest crowd ever for any event at the fair,” remarked one Du Quoin official as he surveyed the huge crowd of an estimated 23,000 people who paid their way into three grandstands.

The center grandstand, which held 12,000 people, and the 6,500 capacity south stands were packed. The north stands, which seated 3,500 people, were almost overflowing. Hundreds of other fans watched free of charge from the turns, as did the usual gallery of fans who built platforms on truck beds outside the south fence.

The size of the crowd was reflected by the total purse of $20,309, which compared with a 1961 record of $15,100 and a 1960 record of $11,640. The total purse, when accessory prizes were included, set a world record for a stock car race.

Rodger Ward would draw the pole position with a qualifying time of 41.29 seconds in a 1962 Pontiac but it was defending race winner Paul Goldsmith taking the lead when Ward went high going into the north turn on the first lap. Goldsmith would never look back, winning by half a lap over the rest of the 27-car starting field. Goldsmith’s winning time was comparable to his run the year before at 1 hour, 12 minutes and 54 seconds.

Don White, driving a ’62 Ford, was the only other driver on the lead lap and finished second. Dick Rathmann would lead a trio of Illinois drivers with a strong third place showing with Herb Shannon of Peoria and Sal Tovella of Addison following behind.

Gary Bettenhausen #99 and Mario Andretti #4 lead the field to green in 1963. - Doug Dempsey Collection

On Sunday afternoon, September 2, 1963, Norm Nelson, driving a 1963 Plymouth, would nip Goldsmith by a mere .70 seconds to win his second 100-miler at Du Quoin. Nelson took the lead on lap 11 and never relinquished it, winning in a time 1 hour, 13 minutes and 19 seconds.

Goldsmith would challenge Nelson numerous times in the final 20 laps, but “The Great Dane” fought off every advance. Nelson would earn $3,824 in prize money and collect another 200 points in his march to the USAC stock car national championship (which Don White would eventually win).

NASCAR star Curtis Turner and Don White would take third and fourth, both driving ’63 Fords, while Herb Shannon of Peoria, Ill., who set a new track record the day before in qualifying (40.44 seconds), would round out the top five.

Another standing room only crowd watched Joe Leonard of San Jose, Calif., set a new qualifying mark of 39.34 seconds on Saturday and then go on to victory in the 100-mile race on Sunday, September 6, 1964.

Spectators would witness a sensational battle between A.J. Foyt and Rodger Ward for the first 30 laps of the race. Foyt, driving a 1964 Dodge, and Ward, piloting a ’64 Mercury, would pass Leonard on the start and proceed to trade paint for the next 25 laps, going back and forth for the top spot.

Foyt, experiencing tire trouble early, would eventually have to pit during caution on lap 30 ending what could have been a classic tussle between two of the best. Ward would continue to lead for another 10 laps until Len Sutton of Portland, Ore., took over, who would then give way to Leonard at the midway point as the three drivers remain tightly bunched. 

Unfortunately for Ward, he would get caught up in one of those “wrong place, wrong time” sequences when Eddie Meyer of Glenview, Ill, rolled his 1964 Ford, and when Lloyd Ruby and Gary Bettenhausen swerved to avoid Meyer, they collected Ward, retiring all three for the rest of the afternoon.

After the clean-up, Leonard and Sutton, both driving ’64 Dodges, would continue to run one-two for the last 40 circuits with Leonard winning by a comfortable margin when the checkers flew. His time of 1 hour, 18 minutes and 50 second (82.1 miles per hour) was almost 3 minutes off the record pace set in 1961.

Foyt, who was not among the top 10 cars at the midway point, put on a racing clinic for the last half of the contest. The 29-year-old Texan, known for his fierce driving, passed car after car in the battle for also-rans and would finish an impressive fifth behind Leonard, Sutton, Bobby Marshman of Pottstown, Pa., in a 1964 Ford, and defending race winner Norm Nelson in a 1964 Plymouth.

The near record crowd would produce a Du Quoin State Fairgrounds record purse of $23,650, of which Leonard would cash in on $4,343 of it. That record would stand for less than 24 hours as the USAC champ car race on Labor Day would produce a $24,050 purse.

After being banned from USAC competition for competing with a rival circuit (NASCAR) in 1964, Paul Goldsmith, now driving out of Munster, Ind., was itching to reclaim his Magic Mile crown upon his return in 1965. And that’s exactly what he did…

On September 5, Goldsmith went out and simply picked up where he left off, leading the last 85 laps and leaving everyone in his rearview mirror. In winning his third 100-miler at Du Quoin, Goldsmith collected $4,303 of the $23,120 purse in a time of one hour, 16 minutes, 4 seconds, the slowest since 1959. He averaged 78.8 miles per hour in his 1965 Plymouth.

The 22,000 plus fans who bought every available seat at Du Quoin waited until 4 p.m. for the race to get started without benefit of time trials. The 27 drivers got their pole positions by a drawing while heavy trucks pounded the race course from early morning to make the race possible.

The most excitement of the race came at the starting line when Bobby Isaac, starting on the inside of row two behind polesitter Gary Bettenhausen and Mario Andretti on the front row, gunned his 1965 Dodge to the soft inside part of the track to shoot into the lead.

Isaac, Goldsmith, Jim Hurtubise, A.J. Foyt and Bettenhausen held the first five positions after 10 laps already marked by several pit stops and stalls by other cars. Isaac went to the pits after 15 laps and eventually dropped out of the race at 50 laps.

All the drivers except Goldsmith had troubles as the soft, muddy conditions took a toll on man and his machine. Through the last half of the race less than half the starters were on the track most of the time and only 10 were running at the finish.

Don White of Keokuk, Iowa had been the man to beat on the USAC stock car circuit in August of 1966 winning three straight races on three one-mile tracks. He scored a victory at the Milwaukee Mile on August 18th, the Allen Crowe Memorial at the Springfield (Ill.) Mile on August 19th and the State Century race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on August 26th. 
The crowd is arriving and the stock cars are getting ready for the 1966 race.

So, when White and 1966 Dodge Charger pulled onto the track at Du Quoin, Ill., on September 4th, there was no reason to believe that he was going to lose there either. Before another standing room only crowd of 21,000 fans on a warm Sunday afternoon, White won the pole position with a qualifying mile run of 39.45 seconds and then won the 100-mile test by leading wire to wire. Norm Nelson of Racine, Wis., driving a 1966 Plymouth, finished five seconds behind White as the number one and two drivers in the USAC point’s standings lapped every other car in the race.

White’s Plymouth stable mate, Jim Hurtubise made it a three-car race early. Hurtubise ran second to White briefly but pulled into the pits after 29 laps and never got started again. He finished last in the 25-car field. Nelson had white within his sights during the whole race but was never able to get within reach to muster a charge.

White’s winning time of one hour, nine minutes, and 50.42 seconds was a new race record at Du Quoin at an average speed of 85.910 miles per hour. Paul Goldsmith had set the old record of 1 hour, 10 minutes and 18.52 seconds in 1961 in a Pontiac.

White’s victory was worth $4,337 of the $23,000 purse. Nelson got $3,000 for second; Billy Foster $2,443 for third; Sal Tovella $1,500 for fourth; and Bay Darnell $1,286 for finishing fifth.

An interesting side note to the ’66 event; there was not a single General Motors product among the 25 starters in what was strictly a Dodge-Chrysler-Ford contest.

Despite White’s Du Quoin victory and his four-race winning streak, it would be Norm Nelson in first place in the point standings and he would eventually lay claim to the 1966 USAC stock car national title, his second straight and third overall.

When the USAC boys of summer rolled into Du Quoin on September 3, 1967, it was White at the top of the point standings and he was looking to wrap up the title.

When the checkered waved, it was the ‘66 national champ, Norm Nelson, winning the race and ‘66 Du Quoin winner Don White being crowned as the 1967 USAC stock car driving champion. The real story, however, was how White clinched the championship…

White was the fastest qualifier at 39.54 seconds in his 1967 Dodge Charger but after leading only a dozen laps, he smashed into the north fence and his car was disabled. White quickly went searching throughout the pit area looking for someone who was willing to give up their car. White needed to gain more points; the money wasn’t his primary concern. He found someone who was willing to split…

“You take the money and I’ll take the points," White told Al Unser in the pits a few minutes later. So White took Unser’s 1967 Dodge Charger and finished sixth. The 80 points he gained gave him a total of 2,698 for the season and put him out of reach of second place Jack Bowsher, who had 2,064 points with only one race left.

Nelson, driving a 1967 Plymouth, never appeared on his way to victory until the last few minutes of the race when leader Parnelli Jones, driving a 1967 Ford, and A. J. Foyt, another Ford man, were both forced to the  pits on the 92nd  and 96th laps with right rear flat tires.

Nelson made his mandatory pit stop early in the race and was running well behind the leaders until they also took advantage of caution periods for pit stops. Nelson led from lap 42 until lap 58 until Jones passed him to take the lead.

Don White (1) and Al Unser (5) lead the field to green in the 1968 contest. - Doug Dempsey Collection

A record breaking crowd waited patiently Sunday, September 1, 1968 until a 4:15 p.m. starting time to see Don White win his second career USAC stock car race at Du Quoin State Fair over a slow track.

Rains which forced cancellation of Saturday’s midget races also left the track muddy early Sunday morning. Trucks - and even a helicopter - were used to dry the track for a belated start, which saw 32 entries begin the 100-mile test.

The crowd of 21,500 put up a record purse of $31,265 for the drivers to split. A slight increase in admission prices this year made it possible for the purse to jump from the previous record of $23,400 set the year before.

The time trials were much slower than usual as drivers had to exercise caution on a tracked packed on the inside and outside but fairly soft down the middle. White would win the pole position with a qualifying time of 41.49 seconds, which was well off the record time. Only seven qualifiers, however, bettered 45 seconds in qualifying times.

The race itself provided loss and less excitement the further it went and the more apparent it became that White would be the winner without much challenge.

Butch Hartman flashed to the early lead by passing White and Al Unser of Albuquerque as all three drove 1968 Dodges. Hartman’s lead lasted only three laps before he rammed Jim Perry of Indianapolis into the south inside rail. Hartman’s car was damaged and he left the race.

After the caution flag was lifted on the ninth lap, Unser took the lead with White, Foyt, Parnelli Jones in a 1967 Dodge and Roger McCluskey in a 1968 Plymouth in hot pursuit.

Unser led until he made a pit stop on the 29th lap to fall back to fourth. White and Foyt would run one-two the remainder of the race, except for one brief lead change on lap 76 when White pitted only to regain the top spot when Foyt had to stop for his mandatory stop.

The winning time of 1 hour, 18 minutes and 11 seconds was at a speed of 76.73 miles per hour, way off the marks (1:09:50/85.91 mph) set by White during the ’66 race.

Ed Hoffman of Niles, Ill., put a monkey on Roger McCluskey’s back on September 1, 1969 - and that monkey’s name was A. J. Foyt.

With McCluskey comfortably in first place and only 16 miles from a Du Quoin State Fairgrounds record payday, Hoffman stalled coming out of the south turn. The caution flag went up until Hoffman’s car could be removed. As the field circled the track under the caution, everyone in the house watched Foyt, who had been running in the second position for 33 miles, inching closer and closer to McCluskey’s rear bumper, waiting for the green flag to wave.

When the green flag waved with only 11 miles to race, Foyt was driving on McCluskey’s tail pipe. After they hit the east straightaway, Foyt’s Ford Torino was on the rail with McCluskey’s Dodge Charger beside him.

They raced head and head at full throttle at more than 100 miles per hour for a quarter of a mile until they readied the north turn. McCluskey knew that no driver goes full throttle around the turns at Du Quoin, but A.J. Foyt isn’t just any driver.

McCluskey eased up entering the turn and Foyt didn’t even let up on the gas – and that was the race. They went 10 more laps before Foyt, who won his first USAC big car championship race at Du Quoin in 1960, claimed his eighth triumph at Du Quoin. It was the first time he had won in the stock cars after six previous wins in big cars and one in sprints.

Foyt won the pole with a record qualifying time of 38.71 seconds and defending race champion Don White was almost as fast at 38.75. Both broke the race record of 39.34 by Joe Leonard in 1964. Foyt and White had provided all the early fireworks until White tagged the north wall and exited after 37 miles.

A record purse of $31,597 and a paid attendance of 19,407 brought Foyt a $5,473 payday. McCluskey earned $3,746 for his runner-up finish, Al Unser collected $2,593 for taking third, Bill “Whitey” Gerken of Villa Park, Ill., $2,017 for fourth, and Verlin Eaker of Cedar Rapids, Iowa took home $1,729 for fifth.

The 60’s had ended with Norm Nelson, Paul Goldsmith and Don White dominating the Magic Mile. The 70’s would see a batch of new faces in victory lane at Du Quoin…