Sunday, November 16, 2014

1965 – Race Track in Burlington Becoming a Reality

Burlington, Iowa (November 16, 1965) - A new racing oval, stymied by anti-race fans and lack of zoning ordinances, is finally a reality.

A three-eighths mile oval has been built by Samjac, Inc., near Middletown. The track has been laid out, but other work, such as construction of the grandstand and lighting is yet to come.

Samjac, operated by At Samberg, Gene, Ken, Rich and Mel Jackson, plans to have the track in operation by late April or early May.

Samberg tried unsuccessfully to place a track elsewhere in the county. He met with opposition from persons who claimed the autos would make too much noise, and raise too much dust.

The county Board of Supervisors refused to legislate in the case since Des Moines County has no zoning ordinances. Samjac has leased ground on the Don Guegeler property, just east of Middletown and about one mile north of highway 34.

The track operators plan to erect a grandstand to seat 3,100 people. In addition, a retaining wall of railroad ties and steel will be built in front of the stands.

A board fence will be placed around the track and the usual “out buildings” such as ticket offices and concession stands will be ready to do business by spring. Six light towers will be placed around the track perimeter.

Races are tentatively planned for Saturday nights in two classes.  There will be a modified division for more experienced drivers and a cadet section for rookies.

Modified cars may not have motors larger than 325 cubic inches and car bodies must retain their original styling. Cadet drivers will be required to face a claim situation.

While definite rules haven’t been ironed out, the track operators said under the claim rules, a winning car must be sold to anyone who claims it for a specified number of dollars.

“At some tracks the claim price is $150,” Mel (Sox) Jackson said. “We are thinking about raising the price. It is hard to build a race car for $150.”

Only cars manufactured between 1928 and 1948 will be permitted. If interest warrants, programs may be held twice a week, with cadets running one night and modifieds another.

Samberg said it is possible that motorcycle races will be staged Sunday afternoon. Also in the planning stage are late model stock car races. “We might be able to get hooked up with USAC (United States Auto Club); at the winter fair convention in Chicago,” Samberg said.

Another possibility is the three-quarter (TQ) midgets, a small car which uses a tiny engine such as the old Crosley passenger car.

The track was built on an old gully which was lined, with trees. All trees have been removed and the track has been graded.

The oval sets so that the first turn is northwest and the final turn is southeast. The grandstand will be built on the northeast side of the track. Pit area will be on the southwest side.

Cars will not be permitted on the infield during a race.

“The only things we will have out there are an ambulance, a fire truck and a couple of wreckers,” Samberg said. Spectators will have ample parking near the grandstand.

The five men, involved in the program, all have racing backgrounds. Samberg was president of the Mississippi Valley Speed Club jalopy circuit for several years. Ken and Gene Jackson were top drivers on the MVSC and Rich and Mel helped build and maintain the race cars.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Iowa International 300

by Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. - In modern dirt late model racing, 100 laps is about as long a feature race as you will find. These features usually ran as the conclusion to a two or three day event. Back when the International Motor Contest Association was in its prime, 200-lap feature events were very common and sometimes races were even longer.
One of the most famous of these races was the Iowa 300 held at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, usually around the Fourth of July. IMCA first sanctioned a 4th of July race at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in 1950, a 200 lap event won by Don White. From 1951 until 1956 the distance was increased to 250 laps with two wins by Ernie Derr and Jimmy Ward and the other two going to Shreveport’s Herschel Buchanan and Harlan, Iowa’s Johnny Beauchamp.
Beauchamp who totally dominated IMCA in 1956 and 1957 won the 1956 Iowa 250 before 23,000 fans. In fact the crowd was so large that National Speedway Promoter Al Sweeney ran out of tickets. After some anxious moments, he was saved by the promoter of a thrill show who happened to be in the infield and had a supply of tickets.

In 1957 the race was increased to 300 laps and was often called the Iowa International 300 as sports cars were allowed to compete against the stock cars. The three things I find fascinating about this race was the distance, the inclusion of sports cars, and the size of the crowds. This story will concentrate on the years from 1957 thru 1973 when the race was 300 laps in distance. One thing that is interesting to note about the Iowa 300 is that while he won the race twice at a shorter distance, Ernie Derr, the dominate force in IMCA stock car racing did not win the 300 in the first nine years of its running, however, when he finally won in 1966 he won it six years in a row. Some of the more exciting Iowa 300’s are recalled below:

On July 14, 1957, the first 300-lap Iowa International was ran at the Iowa State Fairgrounds before a crowd of 10,000 fans. Bill Chennault driving a Chevy set a new track record in qualifying at 29 seconds flat. Forty-one cars turned out for qualifying with the fastest 33 making the race. Four sports cars entered the International with only 2 making the race and neither of those would be a factor. Omaha, Nebraska’s Bob Burdick driving his dad’s Ford won the first Iowa 300 holding off two time defending IMCA champion Johnny Beauchamp and former IMCA champion Don White. Burdick pocketed a huge amount for those days, taking home $1,000 in winnings.

1958 saw a first, as Loyal Katskee of Omaha, Nebraska drove his Ferrari to fast time of 28.86 seconds and went on to finish fourth in the race. Katskee would later become the only sports car driver in IMCA stock car history to win a series race when he drove his Ferrari to the win on the mile at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia in August, 1958. As for the race itself, it turned into an accident filled event with only 15 of the original 33 starters finishing the race. The race was filled with spectacular spin-outs, broken axles and spindles, blown tires but fortunately no serious injuries. The two most serious being Bud Burdick with a badly sprained ankle as a result of his car hitting the first turn after a blown tire, and Bob Potter being forced to the pits with heat exhaustion. Frank Richards, forced out earlier in the race, drove relief for Potter in his 57’ Chevy Convertible and came home in fifth position.

The most spectacular event of the afternoon happened on lap 154, when second place runner and former IMCA champion Johnny Beauchamp’s Chevy caught on fire after being hit by a pierce of metal from the track, which severed the gas line and caused flames to shot up all over. Beauchamp showed tremendous courage in bringing the car to pit lane and avoiding an incident on the track. At the end of 300 laps and after 14 yellow flags, it was Don White driving his Ford into victory lane. The combination of White’s driving skills and Paul Newkirk’s mechanical genius, made the pair unbeatable. Defending race champion Bob Burdick was second a lap down followed by Frank Lies of Wichita, Kansas.

In 1959, Darrell Dake put an end to his long string of bad luck by driving his convertible to a win before 13,500 fans. Dake gradually worked his way through traffic from his eighth starting position and took the lead on lap 154 from Lenny Funk who had battled Bob Kosiski for the first fifty laps for the lead before Kosiski’s Thunderbird retired with overheating problems. Funk held on for second and future NASCAR star Dick Hutcherson was third. Perennial IMCA champion Ernie Derr qualified poorly and then retired on lap 124 with a punctured oil pan.

The 1963 edition of the race proved plenty of excitement for the more than 14,000 fans in attendance. First of all there was the much anticipated return to Iowa of Daytona 500 winner Tiny Lund. The brand new Zecol 63' Ford brought in for Lund, however failed to qualify and Lund drove Darrell Dake’s car for the first part of the race challenging leader Ramo Stott throughout the first 116 laps for the race lead before relinquishing the ride back to Dake on a pit stop. Stott seemed in control until he lost a wheel 32 laps later and retired. Pole sitter Dick Hutcherson, like Stott, a member of the Keokuk Connection, set quick time but blew an engine on lap three, and Ernie Derr the other member of the Keokuk Connection missed the race after totaling his car at Topeka a couple days before. This gave the lead and the race to IMCA regular Chub Liebe of Oelwein, Iowa as he picked up the biggest win of his career.

For reasons unknown to the author, the 1965 Iowa 300 was an exception to the rule, in that it was held on May 23, instead of the traditional July date. Future ARCA champion and Daytona 500 pole sitter Ramo Stott picked up $1,100 in winning the 2 hour and 35 minute affair over (who else) rival Ernie Derr.

Ernie Derr in victory lane at Des Moines, 1969

The 1969 version of the race is most noted for the sweltering heat, as 10,500 fans sweated their way through a nearly 2.5 hour event. Tiny Lund had returned again from NASCAR and was aboard Dick Johnson’s 67' Ford and after starting toward the back of the 30-car field made it to fourth before hitting the wall and retiring from the event. IMCA veteran Ole Brua, along with Ron Hutcherson and Fred Horn pushed Ernie Derr all the way to the finish, but in the end, the cagey veteran Derr prevailed with Horn second and Brua finishing third.

Ramo Stott breaks while leading the 71' Iowa 300

On July 11, 1971 more than 11,000 fans were treated to a classic battle between two old rivals and members of the Keokuk Connection. After Governor Robert Ray waved the green flag as the honorary starter, Ernie Derr and Ramo Stott put on one of their many classic battles. For 250 laps the two rivals ran wheel to wheel until Derr hit the wall between turns 3 and 4 and was forced to pit to change a tire. Stott built up a four lap lead and had the race in hand until lap 295 when he broke the whole left front wheel assembly and was sidelined with only four laps remaining. Ernie Derr would come back and win his sixth straight Iowa 300. Derr and Stott were so far ahead of the competition that Stott still managed to finish second in the 35-car field. Michael Petrucci of St. Paul, Minnesota rounded out the top three.

On July 9, 1972 IMCA sanctioned its last Iowa 300 at Des Moines and it was a day Gerry Harrison of Topeka, Kansas would just a soon forget. Harrison blew a tire on lap 288 while leading the event and handed the win to Fred Horn of Marion, Iowa. Harrison was not the only victim that day as Irv Janey (who would win the 1972 IMCA championship) also had trouble while leading. Janey was leading the race on lap 129 when his transmission gave out. Earlier he had set fast time. Harrison was able to recover for second and Gordon Blankenship, another Keokuk driver (who would be the 1973 IMCA champion) ran third in the final edition of this classic race.

The final 300-lap affair was actually renamed the Firecracker 300 and defending IMCA champion Irv Janey of Cedar Rapids won the July 4 race, winning the event over Mike Derr (Ernie’s son) and future IMCA champion Ferris Collier.

Like the IMCA season point battles, the Iowa 300 was dominated by driver from Keokuk. Ernie Derr who finally won the 300 in 1966, then won it six straight times before retiring. His chief rival in IMCA for many years, Ramo Stott was a three time winner of the event and Don White (Ernie Derr’s brother in law) and Dick Hutcherson, also won the event giving the Eastern Iowa river town, 11 wins in 17 Iowa 300’s.

So the next time you go to a 100-lap Dirt Late Model feature and think it’s a long race, just remember the days of the Iowa 300.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

1987 - Kemp quite a racer in his own right

Burlington, Iowa (October 23, 1987) - Larry Kemp has proven to be a successful racing entrepreneur, winning awards while wearing the hats of both owner and promoter at 34 Raceway and the Donnellson Dirt Track.

What many local racers don't realize is that their weekly competitions are being conducted by a man who once used to win races — as a driver in the Cedar Rapids area.

“I think some of them think I’m just some guy that came along,” Kemp laughed.

Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Keith Knaack. Knaack currently serves as team manager for the Helen Rae Special, car # 73 driven by Phil Barkdoll on the Winston Cup circuit. Prior to that, he managed the team of NASCAR standout Dave Marcis.

Nearly 30 years ago, Knaack and Kemp campaigned stock cars together at tracks in central Iowa.

“We were more or less doing it for fun,” Knaack explained. “We would fall into the eighth to 12th place cars on the average, without even trying very hard. And if anybody fouled up ahead of us, we’d sneak up a few spots.

That became our lifetime work then. Now, we both are in business to help racing become fun for everybody else,” said Knaack, who also serves as publisher for the Hawkeye Racing News as well as race director for the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA).

Upon his graduation from Linton High School in 1959, Kemp and his 1933 Ford coupe went racing. It was a time he fondly remembers.

“It was pretty tough back then with 60 or so cars there all in one class,” he recalled. “We (Kemp and Knaack) started out sharing the car. I drove it Saturday at Cedar Rapids and he drove it Sunday at Waterloo.”

“It was all late models back then so we had to run against the top racers in the state of Iowa,” Knaack acknowledged.

By 1964, Kemp had graduated to a 1955 Chevrolet. That same year, however, he also added a wife, Kathleen, and his racing career was destined to become short-lived.

“I got married and then I just stopped driving,” Kemp explained. “I got upside down one night when she was pregnant and that bothered her a little bit, so then I got started in the officiating.”

Kemp’s new duties included acting as flagman, scorer, track official and nearly everything else at various racing venues throughout Iowa.

“I worked at a bunch of different tracks,” he stated. Kemp soon got into track promotion, a match made in heaven for both Larry Kemp and the sport of racing. In 1981, Kemp came to 34 Raceway as promoter for then-owner Johnny Johnson. In 1985, he purchased the track from Johnson.

The rewards have been many - some on a national scale. During the past three years, Kemp has received three major awards from Racing Promoters Monthly magazine during its February banquet in Daytona, Fla.

In 1984, 34 Raceway was honored for the nation’s Outstanding Weekly Promotion. In both 1984 and 1986, Kemp was named one of eight regional Promoters of the Year nationwide, and was a finalist for national Promoter of the Year honors on both occasions.

“Since we got into the promoting thing, we’ve been thoroughly successful,” Kemp said. “It’s something I like to do and something I plan to keep on doing for a while.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

1968 –Wathen and Norris Team Up To Capture First Salem 500

Roy Wathen, shown here at Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville Ky., won the inaugural Salem 500 with the help of Jerry Norris. - John Potts Photo
Salem, Ind. (October 20, 1968) – Roy Wathen of Louisville, Ky., didn’t have any idea he could do it, but he did.

Wathen, with some help from relief driver Jerry Norris, also of Louisville, won the $2,000 first prize in the initial running of the Salem 500 for the Automobile Racing Club of America late model stock cars.

“I had no intentions of winning when I got here,” said a smiling Wathen after the 250-mile event on the high banks of the half-mile Salem Speedway. “But everything seemed to break right.”

What broke right for the Wathen-Norris team was most of the other cars in the $12,500 race. Only 12 of the 37 starters finished, with one of them, Paul Wensink’s 1968 Ford, completing only 313 laps. He wound up at 187 laps – or 93.5 miles – back.

When Norris got behind the wheel in relief of Wathen’s 1966 Chevrolet, there were about 150 laps to go and he was some 12 laps behind.

“It wasn’t that I was fatigued,” Wathen said. “But I had driven some 350 laps and my neck was sort of stiff and Jerry was there, so I let him take over.”

And through a series of misfortunes to the leaders, Norris wound up winning the race by a whopping seven laps over Clyde Parker of Farmington, Michigan.

First, Benny Parsons, the 1968 ARCA national champion, blew a tire, which ultimately knocked the oil pan off of his 1968 Ford and sent him to the sidelines on lap 419. Parsons was 5 laps ahead at the time.

Then Iggy Katona of Willis, Mich., moved into the lead. But the six-time ARCA champion, who had a 6-lap lead, developed engine woes and had to make an unscheduled pit stop.

And when Katona’s car wouldn’t start, Bill Lemon of Markleville, Ind., in a sportsman-like gesture, gave him a friendly push in his ’68 Ford. By the time Katona got his car fired up, Cleo Ashley of Warren, Mich., driving a ‘67 Mercury, had taken over the top spot on lap 439.

Katona, however, regained the lead on lap 468 and four laps later, Ashley tagged the fence on the north turn with a mighty wallop. “The car simply fell apart, Ashley said afterwards. “The gear shift came off in my hand, the clutch was out and my cotton-pickin crew kept signaling for me to come to the pits. Hell, I couldn’t have if I’d wanted to."

On lap 487, Katona’s engine up and died. Although the gallant Lemon tried twice more – for a total of 8 laps – to get him started, the effort was to no avail as Norris swept into first place and stayed there.

“Boy,” said Norris. “Was I surprised – and glad – when the pit crew told me I was ahead.”

Les Snow of Bloomington, Ill., the second fastest qualifier behind Parsons, led the first 180 laps before he and Parsons made scheduled pit stops. Jesse Baird of Louisville, Ky., inherited the lead briefly before pitting his ’66 Dodge and Snow regained the advantage on lap 216 when a blowout sent him back to the pits. The rear suspension failed on his ’67 Plymouth a few laps later and he was finished for the day.

Baird, who was sidelined until lap 323 with clutch problems, actually spun on his first stop into the pits, accidently hitting a bystander and sending the poor fellow flying through the air. Somehow – the man wasn’t hurt – and that was as close to an injury all afternoon long.

Jim Robinson of Albany, Ind., finished third; Katona amazingly got the engine fired up and back on the track to finished fourth; and Ashley, after “falling apart”, got his car pieced back together well enough to scrounge up a top five finish.

The race, which drew an estimated 7,500 fans, was the largest crowd in quite some time.

Results –

  1. Roy Wathen/Jerry Norris, Louisville, Ky.
  2. Clyde Parker, Farmington, Mich.
  3. Jim Robinson – Albany, Ind.
  4. Iggy Katona, Willis, Mich.
  5. Cleo Ashley, Warren, Mich.
  6. Bill Kimmel, Clarksville, Ind.
  7. Don Violet, Urbana, Ohio
  8. Namon Martin, Cleveland, Ohio
  9. Wayne Trinkle, Jeffersonville, Ind.
  10. Bob Thomas, Louisville, Ky.
  11. Benny Parsons, Detroit, Mich.
  12. Doc Kinsey, New Philadelphia, Ohio
  13. Dave Dayton, Indianapolis, Ind.
  14. Tom King, Anderson, Ind.
  15. Andy Hampton, Louisville, Ky.
  16. Bill Lemon, Markleville, Ind.
  17. Curtis Turner, Roanoke, Va.
  18. Ron Kudek, Westland, Mich.
  19. Jesse Baird, Louisville, Ky.
  20. Paul Wensink, Deshler, Ohio

Saturday, October 18, 2014

1964 - Hutcherson wins late model feature at Downs’

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (October 18, 1964) - Dick Hutcherson, current IMCA late model stock car champion, drove his 1964 “fastback” factory Ford to victory in the 35-lap late model feature Sunday afternoon at Hawkeye Downs.
He turned in the fastest time trial (25.69) and started on the pole position. On the first lap, Jerry Reinhart, East Moline, crashed through the fence on the backstretch, but was not injured.
On the restart, Mert Williams, Rochester, Minn., jumped off to an early lead, and by the third lap, was a half-lap in front of Hutcherson. But luck was not with the Rochester driver, as he left the track with a flat rear tire going into the fourth lap.
Hutcherson then took the lead, but Darrell Dake, Cedar Rapids, handicapped by a badly sprained right hand, moved alongside and the two drove side-by-side in a dead heat for 10 laps.
Results –
  1. Dick Hutcherson, Keokuk, Iowa
  2. Darrell Dake, Cedar Rapids
  3. Jim Gerber, Long Grove
  4. Red Droste, Waterloo
  5. Bill Zwanziger, Waterloo
  6. Del Williams, East Moline, Ill.
  7. Stan Stover, Reinbeck
  8. Jerry Draper, Rock Island, Ill.
  9. Ron Prymek, Iowa City
  10. Al Iben, Monticello