By Kyle Ealy
Memphis, Mo – For seven years, it was one of the most popular year-end racing events in the Midwest. The Mid-America Nationals, held at the Scotland County Fairgrounds in Memphis, Mo., lured drivers and race fans from all over.
The first annual Mid-America ¼-Mile Nationals took place on September 17 and 18, 1976, offering a $6,500 purse. New Models, Sportsman and Hobby Stocks competed in heat races on Friday with semi-mains and championship features on Saturday night’s card.
Three out-of-staters would take home championship hardware.
The Late Models would time trial and a familiar racing name, Russ Derr of Keokuk, Iowa, was the fastest around the track with an 18.04 second timing.
Late Model heat winners were Jim Gerber of McCausland, Iowa, Lem Blankenship of Keokuk, Iowa, Steve Keppler of Marion, Iowa, and Larry Pipes of Kirkville, Mo. Sportsman heat wins went to Dan Lake of Washburn, Iowa, Larry Larson of Keokuk, Mike Benjamin of Keokuk, and Steve Becker of Norway, Iowa. Hobby Stock winners were James Cannon of Randolph, Ill., Dean Lindsay of Jacksonville, Ill., Steve Schneider of Keokuk and Kay Pierce of Hamilton, Ill.
Saturday saw semi-mains claimed by Larry Rummelhart of Riverside, Iowa (Late Models), Gary Trump of Kahoka, Mo. (Sportsman) and L.Z. Coleman of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (Hobby Stocks).
Dave Lindsay would grab the lead at the drop of the green of the Hobby Stock feature and never look back in winning the 15-lapper. Kay Pierce would take second while Tom Long of Payson, Ill., would finish third. Lyle Chancellor of Keokuk and Earl Pruitt of Marshalltown, Iowa, would round out the top five finishers.
The 25-lap Sportsman main event would see Larry Larson follow suit and lead from start to finish as well, holding off a stubborn Steve Becker to score the victory. Bob Marriott of Chillicothe, Mo., finished a strong third, followed by Mike Inman of Keokuk and Dan Lake.
The Late Model headliner saw Russ Derr, who started on the pole by virtue of his quick time, jump out front quickly and lead all 35 circuits in securing the win. Larry Pipes would slip by Lem Blankenship early in the contest and put pressure on Derr for the remainder of the race but “Pee Vee” would settle for runner-up honors. Blankenship would finish third followed closely by Jim Gerber and Steve Keppler fifth.
With 90 cars in attendance and fans filling the seats, the first annual Mid-America ¼-Mile Nationals was hailed a success and plans were being made for next year.
The second annual Mid-America ¼-Mile Nationals would take two weekends to complete. Originally slated for September 16 and 17, 1977, over 100 cars would compete in Friday’s qualifying heats, only to have early morning thunderstorms wipe out Saturday’s festivities. Officials postpone the semi-main and championships until the following Saturday, September 24.
Friday’s heat races saw some close-order racing in all three divisions. Darrel DeFrance of Marshalltown, Iowa, Jerry Meyers of Quincy, Ill., Jim Powell of New London, Iowa, Chopper Safely of Marion, Iowa, and Jim McClure of Cincinnati, Iowa, would score heat wins in Hobby Stock action. Sonny Findling of Kirksville, Mo., Kenny Fenn of Washington, Iowa, Joe Churchill, Harley Harrelson of Brashear, Mo., and Tim Swope of Waterloo, Iowa, earned Sportsman heat wins. Late Model heat wins went to Johnny Babb, Rex Stottlemyre of Chillicothe, Mo., Steve Becker, and Larry Pipes.
A week later, semi-main and championship features were run. Jack Evans of Keokuk (Hobby Stock), George Koontz of Memphis, Mo. (Sportsman) and Jim Gerber of LeClaire, Iowa (Late Model) started the evening off by winning their respective semi-mains.
Joe Churchill would make his long trip from Peosta, Iowa, pay off when the checkers flew in the Sportsman feature. Churchill would divide his time among three positions en route to the feature win. He spent the first 10 laps in third place, the second 12 circuits in second place and then made his move on lap 22, slipping past Kenny Fenn for the lead and the eventual win. Charlie Milligan of Keokuk tailed Churchill throughout the race and finished second followed by George Koontz of Memphis, Sonny Findling and Bob Findling of Kirksville, Mo.
Marshalltown, Iowa, pilot Dennis Stewart took the lead on lap 14 to capture the Hobby Stock title. Chopper Safely towed from Waubeek, Iowa, to finish a close second, just ahead of Terry Lyons of Virginia, Ill. Early leader Jim Powell took fourth and Rich McClure grabbed fifth.
In the Late Model main event, Johnny Babb, no stranger to the Memphis track, jumped into the lead from his pole position and put on a driving clinic, leading all 40 laps to take the win. Larry Pipes would apply pressure throughout the race until his engine let go with 12 laps left. Waterloo, Iowa’s Joe Schaefer, who started near the rear of the 22-car field, would work his way steadily through the pack and finish second. John Miller of Keokuk, Jerry Pilcher of Bloomfield, Iowa, and Bob Widmar of Ottumwa, Iowa, would round out the top five.
Once again, wet weather would come into play, this time for the third annual Mid-America ¼-Mile Nationals, September 15-17, 1978. Friday’s qualifying heats went uninterrupted but rain midway through Saturday’s program would push features to Sunday afternoon.
Pokey West of West Chester, Iowa, was anything but slow over the weekend, winning his heat and taking home the top prize in the Late Model feature on Sunday afternoon. West started third in the main event and was running third behind early leader Mike Benjamin and Larry Pipes for the first 16 laps. After a restart, West passed Pipes for second and three laps later, slipped past Benjamin for the lead. West was in command when heavy skies let go and rain stopped the race on lap 37, which officials declared complete. Steve Fraise of Montrose, Iowa, who started 12th, made a spirited drive through the pack to overtake Benjamin for second place on lap 28 and finished a strong second. Pipes settled for third place, Jerry Pilcher, who started 18th, took fourth and Joe Churchill of Peosta, Iowa, who won the Sportsman title the year before, grabbed fifth.
Late Model heat wins went to Pipes, Benjamin, West and Jim Brown of Ottumwa, Iowa. Bill Early of Edina, Mo., won the rain-shortened semi-main on Saturday.
Kenny Fenn of Washington, Iowa, took the lead on lap 4 and roared to the Sportsman championship. Mike Inman of Keokuk took second while Dick Crane of Palmyra, Mo., ran third. Bob Marriott of Chillicothe, Mo., finished fourth and Leonard Hamlin of LaPlata, Mo., took fifth.
Hamlin, George Koontz of Memphis, Gary Tigges of Dubuque, Iowa, Fenn and Inman were heat winners. Larry Asher of Kirksville, Mo., won the rain-interrupted semi-main.
The Hobby Stock feature, after being rained out Saturday night, would be washed out again on Sunday, so the finish was given according to the line-up. Rod Uppinghouse of Payson, Ill., winner of the first heat, was awarded the win. Heat #2 winner Bob Hawks of Virginia, Ill., was second, heat #3 winner Jim Powell of New London, Iowa, third, heat #4 winner Rich McClure of Cincinnati, Iowa, fourth and defending champion Dennis Stewart of Marshalltown, Iowa, was fifth. Norwalk, Iowa, driver Rex Bonnett won the 8-lap semi-main.
The fourth annual event, held September 14-15, 1979, would bring a slight name change to the race. The ¼-Mile Nationals had now become the ½-Mile Nationals.
After extensive research, I found no reason given for the name change, except for the fact, according to Allan Brown’s America’s Speedways, Scotland County Speedway had always been half-mile track since 1950 until 1999 when it was shortened to its present size of a 3/8-mile.
Dan Nesteby of Waterloo, Iowa, would tow nearly 200 miles and it would pay off handsomely as he won the 40-lap Late Model headliner. Nesteby and defending winner Johnny Babb dueled early on in the race until Ron Jackson of Burlington, Iowa, got involved into the mix. Jackson would get past Babb and the battle between Nesteby and Jackson was on. The two would swap the lead several times until Jackson grabbed the lead on lap 38. Jackson could practically taste victory until a careless spinout on the backstretch let Nesteby slip by for the lead and the win. Jackson would recover to finish second while Babb hung on to third. Bob McCall of Ottumwa, Iowa, took fourth and inaugural winner Russ Derr finished fifth.
Jerry Pilcher, Nesteby, Babb, Jackson and Paul Carr of Ottumwa, Iowa, were heat winners while Randy Harrison of Memphis, took the 15-lap semi-main.
In a near-photo finish, Fred Knapp of Des Moines, Iowa, came out on top in the 25-lap Sportsman feature. Knapp had passed Jack Dunn of Keokuk for the lead on lap 11, only to exit the race with mechanical issues during a lap 14 caution period.
However, Knapp re-entered the race at the rear of the field as the green flag waved and started making his way through the pack. Meanwhile, George Koontz of Memphis had started to challenge Dunn for the race lead. By lap 20, Knapp had made his way back up front to make it a three-car battle. Knapp would get by Koontz for second, but as the white flag waved, Dunn, Knapp and Koontz were virtually side-by-side. As the trio reached the backstretch, Knapp edged ahead of Dunn and Koontz and as they came out of turn four, Knapp was slightly ahead of Dunn as they could see the checkered flag waving. Knapp would beat Dunn by less than a foot at the finish line with Koontz right on their bumper. Sonny Kindling of Kirksville, Mo., would finish fourth followed by Mike Klinkhammer of West Branch, Iowa.
Heat winners in the Sportsman class were Dunn, Kenny Fenn, Knapp, and Corrie Stott of Keokuk. Carl Storms of Montrose, Iowa, won the semi-main.
The Hobby Stock would be anti-climactic as Darrel DeFrance of Marshalltown, Iowa, was an easy winner, leading all 15 circuits. Challenging hard but not changing positions were Earl Pruitt of Marshalltown, Dino Rodish of West Des Moines, Smoke Wilson of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Steve McCartney of Kirksville, Mo.
Hobby Stock heat winners were DeFrance, Pruitt, Rodish, and Wilson, while Rick McClure of Cincinnati, Iowa, won the semi-main.
The fifth annual Mid-America ½-Mile Nationals saw two new winners and one repeat performance on September 19-20, 1980. Ron Jackson of Burlington, Iowa (Late Models) and Chopper Safely of Marion, Iowa, won titles at Memphis for the first time while Kenny Fenn of Washington, Iowa, scored his second Sportman championship.
Jackson, driving his #11 Camaro, started on the pole position via his heat win and jumped into the lead at the drop of Chuck Downing’s green flag and never let off the gas pedal, leading all 40 laps. Jackson was so dominant, in fact, he lapped nearly the entire field, except for second through fifth place. Chasing Jackson every lap of the way and finishing runner-up was Johnny Johnson of Morning Sun, Iowa. Tony Stewart of Washington, Iowa, last year’s winner Dan Nesteby of Waterloo, Iowa and Jim Brown of Ottumwa, Iowa, rounded out the finishers still on the lead lap.
Friday night heat winners were Jackson, Sonny Findling of Kirksville, Mo., Johnson and Mike Klinkhammer of West Branch, Iowa. Gordy Blankenship won Saturday’s semi-main.
The Sportsman main event saw two Iowa drivers fighting it out for the win. Kenny Fenn grabbed the lead at the onset but Jim Hollenbeck of Burlington, Iowa, tried his best to keep up with the wily veteran. Despite several caution flags that bunched up the field, Fenn had too much horses under the hood and pulled away every time on his way to the 30-lap victory. Hollenbeck would hang on for second, followed by semi-main winner Ronnie Armstrong of Kahoka, Mo., Lynn Richards of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and Keith Allen of Donnellson, Iowa.
Sportsman heat winners were Rick Germar of Red Oak, Iowa, Fenn, Hollenbeck, and Carl Storms of Keokuk.
Chopper Safely would win the Hobby Stock feature rather handily, leading all 20 laps, although Henry DeLonjay of Quincy, Ill., kept it close in taking second. Dale DeFrance of Marshalltown, Iowa, was third, Daryl O’Haver of Kirksville, Mo., grabbed fourth and Russ Hamilton of Eldon, Iowa, rounded out the top five.
Over 90 cars from five states took to the Scotland County Fairgrounds’ half-mile for the sixth annual Mid-America ½-Mile Nationals on September 18-19, 1981, and Iowans took home hardware in all four divisions.
An intense duel in the Saturday night Late Model finale saw Rocky Hodges of Des Moines and Andy Claiborne of Shawnee Mission, Kan., battle throughout the 25-lapper. By lap 8, both drivers were lapping slower cars in the 18-car field. A lap 15 caution cooled the two hot shoes only momentarily, as when Gene Holt’s green flag waved again, Claiborne shot to the lead with Hodges hot on his tail. On lap 21, Hodges would power by Claiborne for the lead and despite some bumping and banging, would hold on for the win. A disappointed Claiborne would settle for second. Jerry Pilcher of Bloomfield, Iowa, would sneak by David Hammond of Camanche, Iowa, on lap 19 for third-place honors. Hammond and Sonny Findling would round out the top five.
Late Model heat winners were Hammond, Claiborne and Hodges. Mike Klinkhammer of West Branch, Iowa, won the 15-lap semi-main.
Darrel DeFrance made the long haul from Marshalltown, Iowa, worthwhile, as he captured his heat and the 20-lap Sportsman main. DeFrance grabbed the lead from Tim Swope of Waterloo, Iowa, on lap 4 and continued to pull away for the win. Denny Banks of Washington, Iowa, would get past Swope to take second while Swope settled for third. Dick Crane of Palmyra, Ill., and Bruce Hanford of Davenport, Iowa, took fifth.
Friday night Sportsman heat winners were DeFrance, Banks, Swope, and Crane. George Koontz of Memphis won the semi-main.
Rick Gustin of Des Moines led flag to flag in the Hobby Stock finale. Steve McCartney of Kirksville, Mo., passed Larry DeFrance of Albion, Iowa, midway through the 15-lapper to claim second while DeFrance held on for third. A pair of Quincy, Ill., drivers, Henry DeLonjay and Rich DeWeese, finished fourth and fifth respectively.
DeWeese, Gustin, and DeFrance were Friday night heat winners and Dean Franks of LaBelle, Mo., was the semi-main winner.
A fourth division was added to the Mid-America Nationals with Compact Modifieds also on the card. Wendell Folkerts of Albia, Iowa, dominated the class, steering his AMC Gremlin to an easy feature win.
The seventh annual Mid-America ½-Mile Nationals would see three new winners in victory lane as once again, rain shifted the program towards an extra day of competition.
Two inches of rain on Friday evening postponed preliminary heat races to Saturday night and Sunday afternoon featured championship main events. Despite that, the event drew over 75 cars from four states.
Hobby Stocks took to the track first on Saturday and heat winners were Henry DeLonjay of Quincy, Ill., Charley Baker of LaBelle, Mo., and Randy Uppinghouse of Payson, Ill.
Andy Claiborne of Shawnee Mission, Kan., would come from his last row starting position to claim the first Late Model heat and hometown driver Lynn Monroe roared home to victory in the second. In the third late model heat, Ron Pallister of Wapello, Iowa, put his Corvette into victory lane.
Dick Crane of Palmyra, Ill., won the first Sportsman heat race while Tim Swope of Elk Run Heights, Iowa and Jeff Aikey of Cedar Falls, Iowa, scored wins in the second and third heats respectively.
Semi-main winners on Sunday afternoon were Danny Foxall of Colchester, Ill. (Hobby Stock), Jim Hollenbeck of Burlington, Iowa (Sportsman) and Corky Roach of St. Louis, Mo. (Late Model).
After a see-saw battle to begin the Hobby Stock feature, Randy Uppinghouse would finally get by Danny Bowen of Hurdland, Mo., on lap 13 and go on to claim the top prize in that division. Bowen would hang on for second while John Crear of Middleton, Iowa, would grab third. Rod Smith of Monmouth, Ill., was fourth and Bruce McCartney of Kirksville, Mo., was fifth.
After numerous years of running successfully at the ½-Mile Nationals but no trophy to show for it, Dick Crane left no doubt that the 15-lap Sportsman championship feature was his for the taking. Crane led wire-to-wire in a dominating performance. Tim Swope would give chase but settle for second while Tom Long of Payson, Ill., finished third. Jim Hollenbeck came from the rear of the field to grab fourth and Lonnie Heap of Macomb, Ill., took fifth.
Ron Pallister would take home the lion’s share of the Late Model purse by capturing the 40-lap feature. Pallister, who started inside of the second row, battled Lynn Monroe early on for the top spot before finally securing the lead and sailing to victory. Bob Lekander of Burlington, Iowa, would get by Monroe and take runner-up honors. Bill Beuer of Wapello, Iowa, would also get by Monroe as the laps were winding down and finish third. Monroe would hold on to fourth place while Darrel DeFrance of Marshalltown, Iowa, rounded out the top five.
Mike Whaley of Carlisle, Iowa, put his AMC Gremlin out front on the first lap of the Compact Modifie feature and never looked back in winning handily. Terry Peterson of Agency, Iowa, was second and defending winner Tim Folkerts of Albia, Iowa, was third.
Information and results were hard to obtain for the eighth and final Mid-America ½-Mile Nationals, held on September 16-17, 1982. While no recap was found, Ida May Van Genderen, who penned a column for Hawkeye Racing News named “Racing Ramblings” reported that 75 cars were entered in three divisions of racing.
Ida May reported that Friday night was definitely a “heavy coat” night while Saturday evening was a “shirt sleeve” type of evening. She also reported that the program moved along quite well on both nights and drivers obeyed starter George Koontz’s flags.
Andy Claiborne of Shawnee Mission, Kan. (Late Model), Dave Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa (Limited Late Model), and Bill Schubert of Burlington, Iowa (Street Stock), were winners on Saturday night.
In 2004, Scotland County Speedway, under the direction of promoter Todd Staley, revived the event, dubbing it "The Mid-America Nationals”, featuring the United States Modified Touring Series and USRA B-Modifieds, Stock Cars and Hobby Stocks.