Thursday, May 26, 2022

1968 - Busson Wins Rain-Delayed Little 500

Karl Busson relaxes before the restart of the rain-delayed Little 500. He would lead the last 200 circuits to win the long-distance race. 

Anderson, Ind. (May 26, 1968) – Karl Busson of Toledo, Ohio, the 1967 International Motor Contest Association driving champion, took a giant step towards defense of his title by winning the two-day, rain-interrupted, tragedy-marred Little 500 sprint car classic on Sunday.

A downpour of rain halted the race after completion of 239 laps on Saturday, just 31 laps after a four-car pileup brought the second death of a driver in the 20-year history of the race.

Harry Kern, the 42-year-old chauffeur from St. Paul, Minn., died at St. John’s Hospital less than one hour after suffering head and chest injuries in the four-car wreck.

The accident started when Steve Lehnert of North Olmstead, Ohio, got sideways coming out of the second turn on lap 208. Kern slid into Leinert’s machine and was, in turn, hit by Cy Fairchild.

Fairchild’s car careened into the infield and about that time, Chuck Lynch of Springfield, Ill., crashed into Kern’s car, rode up and over the cockpit of the Minnesota sprinter and flipped one and a half times.

Lynch’s machine came down on its side, rolled up on the wheels and burst into flames. The fire was quickly extinguished, and Lynch scrambled from the car without being burned.

Both Kern and Lynch were rushed to St. John’s where Kern died of his injuries and Lynch was treated for cuts and bruises of the left arm and shoulder.

Busson was one of four drivers involved in a heated struggle for first place on Saturday night.

Don Nordhorn of Wadesville, Ind., a rookie in the race, jumped from his outside starting position in the first row to grab the lead at the drop of starter Woody Brinkman’s green flag.

Nordhorn led for the first six laps and then he, and Ray Wright of Elkhart, Ind., the polesitter, and veteran Jerry Richert of Forest Lake, Minn., played musical chairs for the lead.

It was Wright in front on lap 7 and Nordhorn back on top one lap later on the high-banked, quarter-mile asphalt oval. Wright hit the finish line first on both of the next two laps before Richert, who finished second twice and third once in three previous appearances, got into the act and took over on lap 11.

Wright had the nose of his sprinter in front on lap 12 before Nordhorn grabbed the lead on the 13th turn of the oval.

Nordhorn began increasing his margin and Busson was steadily working his way towards the front of the field. He moved into second on lap 41, and then caught and passed Nordhorn on lap 85 to take his first lead of the race.

Busson stayed in front until he made a pit stop on lap 228 at which point, Nordhorn took over the top spot once again.

Then, on lap 238, Nordhorn blew a motor in his car and Richert took over leadership with Wright in second and Busson trailing in third.

One lap later, the skies opened, and the race was halted, and the finish postponed until Sunday.

It was Richert, Wright, Busson, Nordhorn and Wes Stafford of Vincennes, Ind., in that order when the green flag dropped Sunday evening.

Nordhorn’s crew had installed a new motor overnight which permitted the promising rookie to be back in the lineup when the racing resumed.

Busson got around Wright on lap 266, and when Richert made a pit stop after completing 300 circuits, the Toledo veteran took over a lead he would not relinquish the rest of the race.

Nordhorn moved around Wright on lap 303 to take over the second spot but was black-flagged from the race on lap 357 when his car started throwing oil.

Just 10 laps prior to that incident, Richert, the perennial bridesmaid, moved into second place, and that’s where he finished, three laps behind Busson.

Wright finished third with Darl Harrison of Tiffin, Ohio, last year’s co-champion, coming home fourth. Jim Moughan of Springfield, Ill., was fifth with Benny Rapp of Toledo, Ohio, sixth as 14 of the original 33-car field was running at the finish.

The official time for the race was 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 15.17 seconds.

Results –

1. Karl Busson, Toledo, Ohio
2. Jerry Richert, Forest Lake, Minn.
3. Ray Wright, Elkhart, Ind.
4. Darl Harrison, Tiffin, Ohio
5. Jim Moughan, Springfield, Ill.
6. Benny Rapp, Toledo, Ohio
7. Bernie Graybeal, Shelbyville, Ky.
8. Jack O’Donnell, Fullerton, Calif.
9. Wes Stafford, Vincennes, Ind.
10.Johnny Auxter, Lindsay, Ohio
11.Cliff Cockrum, Benton, Ill.
12.Steve Lehnert, North Olmstead, Ohio
13.Roger West, Joliet, Ill.
14.Ron Perkins, Bethalto, Ill.
15.Don Nordhorn, Noblesville, Ind.
16.Bill Harter, Hagerstown, Ind.
17.Bobby Black, Taylorsville, Ind.
18.John Wallace, Madison Heights, Mich.
19.Lee Kunzman, Guttenberg, Iowa
20.Gene Roehl, Chicago, Ill.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

1976 – All Hansen in Doc Hunter Classic

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (May 25, 1976) - Curt Hansen was going, going and Darrell Dake was just plain gone.

Yes, bittersweet memories of Tuesday night’s inaugural Doc Hunter Classic stock car race at Hawkeye Downs should provide racing buffs with heady conversational tonic for some time.

Hansen, the Dike hot shoe whose boyish good looks belie his 31 years and 13 seasons on the dirt track circuit, started on the pole for the 35-lapper and immediately opened a lead that sometimes stretched to an eighth of a mile.

He put so much distance between himself and the rest of the field that the ground made up by second-place finisher Roger Dolan of Lisbon and third-place Ed Sanger of Waterloo seemed paltry by comparison.

Hansen owns his own ride, a 1975 Camaro, along with his father and brother and he was quick to give them full credit for his $1,000 payoff winning the All-Iowa Fairboard’s dedication race for the new half-mile dirt oval.

“I smashed the car Sunday at Waterloo, and the frame was in terrible shape. We had it on the frame machine all day Monday and when we quit working on it late Monday night, we had almost given up hope for competing in this race,” he explained.

“In fact,” added the Dike, Iowa, flash, “we really didn’t have the car in proper working order until three o’clock this afternoon (Tuesday). We rushed around so fast that I though all through the race that we probably had missed tightening a bolt somewhere and something would break.”

“The car has been running very well and even though we haven’t won too many features this year, we’ve been more consistent and always in the top three or four finishers.”

All was not sweetness and light, however, and controversy swirled around on of the Downs’ most popular drivers, hometown hero Darrell Dake.

Dake had apparently secured himself a spot in the trophy dash by posting the eighth fastest time in trials (Hansen was the leader at 25.20 seconds) and proceeded to steam away from the field to earn that prize.

During the heat races, though, it was determined that Dake had taken three green flags in time trials and only two are allowed. Therefore, his car was stricken from the feature field because his first time trial was too slow.

Relegated to the consolation, Dake breezed away from the pack to win that 15-lapper.

“I took my first green flag trial, but on the second, she slipped out of gear and I pulled off,” explained Dake, who readily admitted that he had indeed, gone out a third time.

“Rules are rules, I guess,” said a bitter Dake. “But I won’t be back here Friday night for the regular program.”

“I’m going back to Davenport where the track is 100% better.”

Dake had missed the last two Downs’ Friday night programs attributing that to the poor physical condition of the rebuilt oval.

Ironically, the local favorite furnished a gentlemanly gesture after winning the trophy dash, presenting it to Doc Hunter himself. The race was dedicated in Hunter’s name for his longtime affair with racing at Hawkeye Downs.

Hansen disagreed that the track was as bad as Dake maintained.

“It may be a little rough but it’s going to take a year for it to settle. You can’t build a track overnight and expect it to be letter perfect. At least you can pass and that’s important from a fan’s standpoint.”

Only 15 cars started the feature and one of those was Keokuk, Iowa’s Ramo Stott, who seldom will miss an opportunity to run at the Downs. A paid crowd of 2,940 watched Red Dralle of Waterloo, Mike Frieden of Fairfax and Duane Steffe of Colona, Ill., win heat races.

Results –

1. Curt Hanen, Dike
2. Roger Dolan, Lisbon
3. Ed Sanger, Waterloo
4. Bill Zwanziger, Waterloo
5. Bill Beckman, Lisbon
6. Bill Rice, Des Moines
7. Fred Horn, Marion
8. Dan Dickey, Packwood
9. Ramo Stott, Keokuk
10.Dave Chase, Council Bluffs

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

1969 – 7,100 See Hilmer Win at Des Moines

A happy Bob Hilmer is joined by co-promoters Johnny Beauchamp (left) and Homer Melton after his victory in Des Moines. – Beetle Bailey Photo

Des Moines, Iowa (May 24, 1969) – Bob Hilmer of Dysart guided his smoking 1965 Chevelle to victory in the wild, 25-lap late model stock car main event before an estimated crowd of 7,110 at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Saturday.

Hilmer developed engine trouble early on in the feature and his exhaust streamed a thick trail of white smoke throughout the accident-marred event.

However, he managed to fend off Keokuk’s Lem Blankenship in the final laps to gain the triumph.

There was a four-car pileup on the fifth lap, started when a 1967 Chevelle driven by Tom Stewart of Washington careened into an identical model drive by Joe Alsin. Stewart’s car spun out of control and flipped twice. He escaped injury.

Bill Moyer of Des Moines, driving a Corvette, and Roger Dolan of Lisbon, piloting a Plymouth Roadrunner, were the others involved in the mishap. They also escaped unharmed, but their cars were damaged extensively.

Don Hoffman of Des Moines won his second straight sportsman feature. He pulled away at the start in his 1957 Chevrolet and was never threatened throughout the 15-lapper.

Results –

Sportsman –

1. Don Hoffman, Des Moines
2. Larry Embrey, Panora
3. Lynn Komrie, Van Meter
4. Gary Jones, Des Moines
5. Ed Perryman, Des Moines
6. Dick Gustin, Des Moines
7. Carl Vander Wal, Ames

Late Model –

1. Bob Hilmer, Dysart
2. Lem Blankenship, Keokuk
3. Irv Janey, Cedar Rapids
4. George Barton, Ankeny
5. Dean Montgomery, Milan, Ill.
6. Bill McDonough, Cedar Rapids
7. Dick Oldham, Des Moines
8. Lyle Behne, Rock Island, Ill.
9. Bud Kohl, Cedar Rapids
10.Bill Schwader, Davenport

Monday, May 23, 2022

1982 – Burgess Takes Dr. Pepper Title

Steve Burgess scored his first career ARTGO victory at La Crosse. - Kyle Ealy Collection

West Salem, Wis. - Steve Burgess of Eau Claire, Wis., couldn’t have picked a better time for his first ARTGO Racing feature win.

Burgess, the 1978 ARTGO rookie of the year, won the first of two 50-lap events and took runner-up honors in the second 50-lap main to claim the overall title at the 8th annual Dr. Pepper 100 at La Crosse Interstate Speedway on Sunday.

Jim Back of Vesper, Wis., led the field of 20 cars to the green and maintained the point until lap seven when Burgess slid past Back and started building a healthy lead. On lap 12, Tom Reffner slammed the backstretch wall hard after getting tangled with Joe Shear bringing out the race's only caution.

Running in the second spot was fast qualifier and defending ARTGO champ Dick Trickle, although he was being hard-pressed by Jim Sauter of Necedah, Wis. Trickle’s charge to the front ended on lap 19 when a clogged fuel line sent him to the pits. Sauter took over the second spot but was no match for Burgess for the remainder of the race. Burgess crossed the finish line 2.7 seconds ahead of Sauter when the checkers dropped. Beloit’s Joe Shear finished third after his near miss with Reffner, Ted Musgrave of Grand Marsh, Wis., took fourth and Jim Weber of Roseville, Minn., rounded out the top-five.

Reffner managed to piece his 1981 Superamerica Camaro back together for the nightcap. Twenty-two late models took the green with Mike Miller of Wisconsin Rapids grabbing the top spot. Making his first start of the ’82 season, Miller led the first 17 laps before Burgess, fresh off his first win, passed Miller and grabbed control on lap 18.

Burgess stayed up front until lap 24 when Reffner took command. Four cautions slowed the action in the second 50 lapper. On lap 16 Jay Sauter backed into the walls between three and four with his dad Jim spinning coming off of turn four at the same time. The second caution came on lap 26 when Trickle’s fuel overflow hose came loose spilling fuel on the track

A couple of laps later Al Schill, winner of the ARTGO season opener at Rockford, smacked the wall hard in turn three. The final yellow came out on lap 37 when Jim Weber spun his Camaro in turn one while battling for position with Musgrave.

Through all the stoppages, Reffner managed to hold off a determined Burgess to claim his first ARTGO victory since 1979. Burgess held on to second, which gave him the overall title, Jim Sauter took his second third-place finish of the day, Mark Martin of Batesville, Ark., settled for fourth and Ted Musgrave rounded out the top-five.

J.J. Smith of Appleton, Steve Holzhausen of Bangor and Mel Whalen of Shakopee, Minn., took 15-lap qualifying heat wins and Jim Johnson of Bangor grabbed the 20-lap semi feature. Trickle was fast qualifier at 19.435 seconds around the 5/8-oval.

Results –

Feature #1 –

1. Steve Burgess
2. Jim Sauter
3. Joe Shear
4. Ted Musgrave
5. Jim Weber

Feature #2 –

1. Tom Reffner
2. Steve Burgess
3. Jim Sauter
4. Mark Martin
5. Ted Musgrave

Sunday, May 22, 2022

1971 – Wise wins Little 500

Herman Wise proudly displays his trophy after winning the Little 500. 

Anderson, Ind. (May 22, 1971) - Herman Wise, taking the lead on the 152nd lap, led the rest of the way to win the 23rd annual “Little 500’’ sprint car classic Saturday night at Sun Valley Speedway.

Wise took over from Chuck Amati, who had taken the original lead, and opened up a formidable gap. The Atlanta, Georgia, driver had brief relief from Bill Burks Jr. of Marion, Ill., but hopped back in the car a few laps later when the race was stopped due to an accident.

The mishap came on the 405th lap in which Bill Tennill, Shelbyville, Ky., became the second driver to die of injuries suffered in the “Little 500”. Tennille’s car collided with Chet Johnson’s machine on the third turn after Johnson had smashed the wall. Pinned in the wreckage, Tennill, 26, was pronounced dead on arrival at St. John’s Hospital.

Amati finished third behind Bill Cassella of Weirton, West Virginia. Fourth was Benny Rapp, Toledo, Ohio, who started from the pole and challenged midway through before dropping back. Johnny Albrechtsen of Winnipeg, Alberta, Canada, was fifth, followed by Buzz Gregory, Indianapolis, the only former winner in the field, with relief help from Cliff Cochran of Benton, Ill. Ray Wright of Elkhart, Ind., was seventh.

The fatal wreck was only the second in “Little 500” history. Harry Kern of St. Paul, Minn., died as a result of a collision in the second turn of the 1967 race.

Wise, driving a Chevy-powered machine, started from the fifth qualifying spot in the middle of the second row. He quickly moved into second place and trailed Amati until the early leader made his first pit stop on lap 152.

It was a rags-to-riches finish for Wise, who finished dead last in the 1970 “Little 500” chase. Wise is a former veteran of the United States Auto Club sprint car circuit.

Chuck Amati led from the first lap until he pitted on lap 152. A lengthy fuel stop put in back in the field, with Wise taking over the top spot. Wise would pit 50 laps later, getting in and out in good order and holding off Albrechtsen to maintain the lead.

Wise continued to set a blistering pace as the track started to take its toll on man and machine. Amati would have gas consumption issues, Bill Cassella blew a tire, and Bobby Kinser blew an engine, though he managed to get back into the race later.

Oil deposits on the track made the going slippery. Albrechtsen dropped out of contention before lap 350 was completed. Polesitter Benny Rapp, meanwhile, set a steady pace and moved into second place.

Rapp began losing ground on Wise around 400 laps and Cassella, Amati and Albrechtsen passed him within the next five circuits. While Wise was completing his 405th lap, Chet Johnson smashed the wall and Bill Tennill car careened up over him, pinning Tennill in the wreckage. The race was stopped while Tennill was freed from his machine and transported to St. John’s Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Results –

1. Herman Wise, Atlanta, Ga.
2. Bill Cassella, Weirton, W.Va.
3. Chuck Amati, Greenfield, Tenn.
4. Benny Rapp, Toledo, Ohio
5. Buzz Gregory, Indianapolis
6. John Albrechtsen, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
7. Ray Wright, Elkhart, Ind.
8. Bob Kinser, Bloomington, Ind.
9. Kenny Simpson, Bedford, Ind.
10.Dan Bowlen, Bloomington, Ind.
11.John Luderman, Reading, Mich.
12.Dick Jones, Whitewater, Wis.
13.Dave Scarborough, Largo, Fla.
14.Dick Sutcliffe, Greenwood, Mo.
15.Bobby Sitz, Arcola, Ill.
16.Bill Harter, Hagerstown, Ind.
17.Johnny Auxter, Lindsey, Ohio
18.Dick Gaines, Seymour, Ind.
19.Jack O’Donnell, Fullerton, Calif.
20.Bill Tennill, Shelbyville, Ky.
21.Chet Johnson, West Terre Haute, Ind.
22.Sheldon Kinser, Bloomington, Ind.
23.Ron Larson, White Bear Lake, Minn.
24.Jim Hines, New Castle, Ind.
25.Casey Jones, South Bend, Ind.
26.Oscar Fay, Mishawaka, Ind.
27.Elmo Smalley, Waverly, Ohio
28.Bernie Graybeal, Shelbyville, Ky.
29.Jerry Powell, Indianapolis
30.Bill Hughes, Jim Thorpe, Penn.
31.Mark Caldwell, Bunker Hill, Ind.
32.Bob Skinner, Muncie, Ind.
33.Jerry Blundy, Galesburg, Ill.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

1973 - Offy Engine at Knoxville

Mel Cornett

Knoxville, Iowa (May 21, 1973) - Hey sprint car buffs! Remember the good old days when Offenhauser-powered racers cackled around Iowa’s dirt tracks, making enough racket to compare with two or three of today’s stock block engines?

Bobby Grim’s almost unbeatable Black Deuce probably rattled windows for blocks around the State Fairgrounds when he competed. And if he got a good bite of the track, anything within too feet behind it was splattered with dirt.

That was back before the Offy went the way of steam locomotives and whooping cranes - as far as sprint cars are concerned. There just aren’t many around anymore. There too expensive.

Well, Offy lovers, there is at least, one still in action. But its days are numbered.

A. J. Watson, chief mechanic for Mike Mosley’s Leader Card Specials at Indianapolis, recently knocked the dust off an Offy engine he’s had around for several years and put it in a sprint car.

It will compete at the United States Auto Club races at Knoxville, Iowa’s Marion County Fairgrounds on Saturday night June 2.

Ford Motor Company had a hand in getting this Offy “back on the road.”

“I got a good deal on the engine,” Watson said in a telephone interview from Indianapolis Sunday. “When Autolite (a Ford subsidiary) went out of the business of supporting racing, I bought it for $1,500.”

“Autolite used it for testing, and it was still in good shape. It. would cost $12,000 to buy the same engine today. They’re hand made. A Chevy engine costs about $2,000.

“Mr. Wilke (Ralph Wilke, president of Leader Cards of Milwaukee, Wis.) decided he wanted a sprint car this year as well as the Indy cars.”

So, we got one and I decided to stick the Offy engine in it. As far as I know, it is the only Offy-powered sprint car in the country.”

Because it is handmade, most parts are expensive to replace. “If I had to put a new crank in it, it would cost $2,500,” Watson said. “A crank for a Chevy engine costs $75 to $100. That’s why Offenhauser motors are no longer used in sprint cars.”

“If this one blows, I won’t replace it.”

Mel Cornett, 38, of Milwaukee, Wis., is the driver. “The Offy engine has 255 cubic inch displacement,” he said. “A Chevy (the most popular and economical stock block engine used in sprint cars today) has 305 and has more horsepower.”

“But, if I can start up front and really push it. I can do all right. I’ve won heat races in our last three outings. My best finish in a feature was ninth.”

Knoxville promoter Marion Robinson says the one-half mile dirt track there should be ideal for the Offy.

“Since it’s a night race and the track will have plenty of moisture, it should be able to get a good bite up high,” he explained. “If it does, look out.”

The car’s number is 98. But, it won’t be necessary to check that identification. Just listen. You’ll know when King Offy goes by.

Editor’s note: Mel Cornett would win the USAC 40-lap feature at Terre Haute, Ind., on June 10, 1973. It would be the last time that a sprint car, powered by an Offenhauser motor, would win a USAC-sanctioned sprint car race.

Friday, May 20, 2022

1972 – 12,557 See Fairgrounds’ Opener to Hoffman

Don Hoffman

Des Moines, Iowa (May 20, 1972) – A record crowd of 12,557 watched Des Moines’ Don Hoffman pilot his 1972 Monte Carlo to the late model stock car feature victory Saturday night in the season opener at the State Fairgrounds.

Virgil Webb of Des Moines survived three restarts and a duel with Larry Embrey of Grimes to take the 15-lap sportsman feature.

The crowd – 12,557 – was the largest ever for a Saturday night weekly program.

Hoffman, who led the time trials with a 26.53-second clocking on the half-mile oval, grabbed the lead early on in the 25-lap main event and held it through two cautions to post the victory over Marion’s Fred Horn and John Connolly of Delhi.

The sportsman feature was stopped three times – all due to mishaps before the first lap was completed. The field was reduced from 15 to 11 when the race finally got past the first lap.

Bill Lundington of Des Moines and Webb were sportsman heat winners.

In the 12-lap sportsman semi-main, won by Embrey in a 1965 Chevrolet, only two cars were remaining at the finish – the winner and Ed Perryman of Des Moines in a 1956 Chevrolet.

Bob Bonzer of Liscomb and Fred Horn of Marion were late model heat winners while Joe Merryfield of Des Moines won the semi-main.

Results –

Sportsman –
Heat #1 – Bill Ludington, Des Moines
Heat #2 – Virgil Webb, Des Moines
Semi -main – Larry Embrey, Grimes
Feature –
1. Virgil Webb
2. Larry Embrey
3. Bill Ludington
4. Mike Pinckney, Des Moines
5. Dave Farren, Des Moines
6. Ken Gerhart, Des Moines
7. Cliff Van Zandt, Des Moines
8. John May, Des Moines
9. Ed Perryman, Des Moines
10.Jim Brooks, Des Moines

Late Model –

Time Trials – Don Hoffman, Des Moines (26.53)
Heat #1 – Bob Bonzer, Liscomb
Heat #2 – Fred Horn, Marion
Semi-main – Joe Merryfield, Des Moines
Feature –
1. Don Hoffman
2. Fred Horn
3. John Connolly, Delhi
4. Dick Oldham, Des Moines
5. Bob Bonzer
6. Don Davidson, Des Moines
7. Jerry Roberts, Prairie City
8. John Carlson, Ankeny
9. Lefty Robinson, Des Moines
10.Victor Dicks, Des Moines
11.Bugsy Vincent, Nevada
12.Joe Merryfield
13.Phil Reece, Des Moines
14.Larry McGee, Woodward
15.Bill Davis, Des Moines