Monday, March 30, 2009

WDRL Warriors

Ed Kosiski (9) leads a pack of late models into turn 3 at Davenport (Iowa) Speedway during World Dirt Racing League PolyDome Super Series action on March 30, 2003. — Chuck Gonzalez Photo

Sunday, March 29, 2009

1969 season openers; Droste, Weedon and West among winners

Red Droste 

by Kyle Ealy
Cedar Rapids, Iowa - Nothing beats the opening weekend of racing here in the Midwest. After a long winter, the roar of the motors, the new paint jobs, the smells coming from the concessions and the buzz amongst the fans in the stands send chills through a person's body. Whether you're a driver or race fan, it is as anticipated as opening day in baseball, the first kick-off in football or the opening tip in basketball.

The 1969 race season got off to a rolling start with some Midwestern racing legends taking opening weekend victories.

Probably the biggest of the openers was the Saturday night affair at the Benton County Fairgrounds in Vinton, Iowa. "The Old Master" Red Droste showed why he was the best short track driver around, wheeling his 1968 Chevelle to victory three times on the evening before a freezing but near capacity crowd at the quarter-mile. Droste banked $200 for the feature win and additional $50 for setting fast time. The redhead gave the fans a sneak preview of things to come for the season by setting fast time on the quarter at 17.73 seconds.

Several area drivers were unable to make it because they didn't have their cars ready. Chub Liebe of Oelwein, Bill McDonough of Cedar Rapids, Bill Zwanziger of Waterloo and Cal Swanson of Reinbeck were there but sat in the stands. 1968 Davenport and East Moline champ Ron Weedon of Pleasant Valley was unable to attend because of flood waters back home.

The night wasn't without it star power however. Young Curt Hansen of Dike challenged the master in time trials and grabbed the second spot with a clocking of 17.90 seconds. He was a strong contender in the feature before dropping out with mechanical problems later.

Del Stokke of Ames. driving a 1957 Chevy, took an early lead in the feature, holding Droste, Waterloo's Ed Sanger and Rhode's Danny Clement at bay for the first nine laps before "Fast Eddie" slid around Stokke and took the point. Sanger maneuvered his Chevelle in front of Droste for the next eight laps before the master roared into the lead. The redhead took it from there driving a beautiful race to the stripe.

Droste picked up the checkers with Sanger second, Clement third, Monticello's Tom Hughes, an Eastern Iowa favorite, in fourth and Dale DeFrance in fifth. Stokke, Lisbon's Bill Beckman (in a '57 Chevy convertible) and Dave Noble, making the trip all the way from Blooming Prairie, Minn., rounded out the top-eight finishers.

Heat winners were Al Iben of Monticello, Clements and Droste. Glen Martin of Independence was the semi-main victor. Other competitors that evening was Bill Barthelmes, Arlo Becker, Willy Klingfuss, A.E. "Doc" Mayner and Morey Willis.

Pokey West

The Mississippi Valley Speed Club hosted the other Saturday night opener in West Liberty, Iowa. Pokey West of West Chester, Iowa, made it a clean sweep by turning fast time (25. 78), winning the second heat race and grabbing the feature win.

Ron Prymek of Iowa City (25.94) and Mel Morris (26.20) turned in the next fastest times on the 1/2-mile oval. John Moss of Iowa City won the first trophy dash of the new season. In addition to West's heat win, Mike Niffenegger of Kalona, Moss and Wahle Brown of Rock Island also picked up victories. Bill Hopp of Muscatine was top dog in the semi-main. Other notables in attendance were Ron Hemsted of Lone Tree, Bob Helm of Rochester, Perry Beckler of Tiffin and Steve Fraise of Mt. Rose.

Sunday night's action brought a familiar face to victory lane. Defending champion Ron Weedon of Pleasant Valley, Iowa picked up where he had left off in the 1968 season, picking up the checkers in the modified feature. Like Droste and West, Weedon made it a clean sweep as well, taking fast time, the first heat and the main event. Ernie Speth, Lyle Behne, Lloyd Ewing and Jack Bailey were the top-five finishers.

Another weekend season-opening winner of note was Indianola, Iowa's Virgil Webb, who grabbed the winner's share of the purse at Stuart Speedway on Saturday night. Webb, driving a '57 Chevy, beat out Panora, Iowa's Larry Embrey (the first heat and Australian Pursuit winner), Joe Merryfield, Bill Geil and Dick Gustin, all of Des Moines. Bill Davis, also running out of the capital city, took the consolation win.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Midwest Racing Archives (This week in history - 1999)

March 27 - Don O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., picked up the feature win in the Northern All Star's 2nd Annual Indiana Icebreaker at Brownstown Speedway. A record 64 cars representing six states were in attendance for the 30-lap $2,000 to win event. O'Neal took command at the green and led flag to flag in grabbing his 21st career NALMS win. Dion Deason took runner-up honors with Jim Curry, Marty O'Neal and Scott James rounding out the top-five.

March 28 - Ronnie Wallace of North Platte started on the pole and led all 40 laps in winning the IMCA modified feature at the 6th Annual Spring Nationals at Beatrice Speedway. Wallace earned $5,000 for the victory. Dan Mueller of Griswold, Iowa took home second while Scott Hogan of Vinton finished third. Joren Boyce of Minot, N.D., and Johnny Saathoff of Beatrice rounded out the top five.

March 28 - Steve Carlson began defense of his Re/Max Challenge Series championship by winning the Coca-Cola 200 Classic at Rockford Speedway. Carlson took the lead on lap 181 with an inside move of Travis Kvapil as the pair raced off of turn two. Carlson averaged 56.63 mph on his way to the win. Al Schill Jr., Larry Middleton, J.R. Roahrig and Kvapil chased Carlson to the finish line.

March 29 - Hours after competing in the Re/Max Challenge Series event at Rockford Speedway, Al Schill Jr. of Franklin, Wis., was found dead in his garage from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning. He was 24 years old.

Curt Hansen was the man to beat in 1978

Curt Hansen

by Kyle Ealy
Cedar Rapids, Iowa - In the summer of 1978, every time Curt Hansen unloaded his familiar blue #9 Chevy Camaro, chances were pretty good that he was going home with the lion's share of the purse that evening.

The Dike, Iowa, speedster raced regularly at four tracks during the '78 campaign. He started with Oskaloosa on Wednesdays, then Cedar Rapids on Friday, over to Des Moines on Saturday and closer to home at Waterloo on Sunday. At the end of the season, he had won the late model point's championships at all four facilities. Not too many drivers can lay claim to an accomplishment such as that.

In addition to those four track titles, he won numerous "specials" throughout the season as well. Three of those victories really stood out for Hansen.

The first was his win in the prestigious Falstaff 100 at Hawkeye Downs Speedway. The sixth annual event was one of the top paying events on the Midwest circuit, with the purse nearly $10,000 and the winner taking home $2,300.

A stellar field of 43 late models showed up competing for 28 spots in the 100-lap feature. Lisbon, Iowa's Bill Beckman captured the pole that evening with a time 24.299 on the half-mile but when they lined up the cars for the feature event, he couldn't have been too comfortable looking over his right shoulder. Sitting there in the front row with Beckman was none other than Mr. Hansen himself. Hansen, driving a car built by anther legend Ed Sanger, took the lead from the onset and never looked back in winning the event before a crowd of 7,000.

Another track that was a favorite of Hansen's was the super 1/2-mile at the Wapello County Fairgrounds in Eldon, Iowa. The annual Pepsi-Mountain Dew Special took place there and Hansen took the victory over fellow competitor Ed Sanger and 39 other top hotshoes.

The third and final "big" victory happened on a track that was a little smaller (1/3-mile) but another favorite of Hansen's none the less. Tunis Speedway in Waterloo held their annual Coke Special. A little luck came into play for Curt in this race. Hansen won the first heat, which drew him the pole for the $750-to-win feature. As the saying goes, Hansen "blew the doors of the competition" in the 40-lapper picking up an additional $200 in lap money.

Hansen mentioned that while he preferred the bigger tracks, Tunis always kept him alert and tested his reflexes. "A shorter distance," Hansen remarked, "is also a test of a driver's ability."

Hansen showed fellow drivers that he was a steady performer with finishes no lower than second or third on most nights. But it was not his second and third place finishes that made him popular with his fans. It was his ability to win the big race.

With his tremendous success in 1978, there was no doubting Curt Hansen's ability as a late model driver.

1980: Rodney Combs wins three big ones in Iowa

Rodney Combs

by Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. — One of the most versatile drivers in racing in the 1970s and ’80s was a Loveland, Ohio, native known as “the Rocket,” Rodney Combs. Combs had success on the asphalt, winning the ASA National Championship in 1975 and 1977. Later he would take to the dirt tracks moving to Lost Creek, W.Va., and become one of Dirt Late Models’ leading stars of the era.

A multiple time winner of the “Hillbilly 100,” Combs would win 14 NDRA races and would be the 1983 NDRA National Champion. Later he would run in all three of NASCAR’s leading divisions with limited success. In 2001 Combs was a member of the inaugural class of inductees into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame.

In 1980 Combs came to Iowa for three big races and with a combination of skill and lady luck walked away with wins in all three.

The first stop for Combs was on June 7 at the Davenport Speedway. The race was a part of the “Iowa State Dirt Track Championship” and on Saturday, one round of qualifying was completed before the rain set in. It was all Combs needed as he blew away the four-year-old track record by over one and one-half seconds, stopping the clock at 24.10 seconds. Close behind in qualifying was Don Hobbs of Bloomington, Ind., with a 24.15 with Omaha, Nebraska’s Joe Kosiski clocking at 24.37 seconds.

On Sunday, while the heat races were going on, Combs made an engine change and it proved to be the right choice. Heat races were won by Kevin Gundaker of St. Louis, Don Hoffman of Des Moines, Johnny Johnson of Morning Sun and Bill Zwanziger of Waterloo with Dan Dickey of Packwood taking the consolation.

But it would turn out to be a long feature. Twice the drivers were pulled off the track during the feature because heavy dust made it impossible to see. The track was watered several times and calcium chloride was put on the track and packed in. Finally, the track surface was in good shape. Combs would lead all 101 laps of the “WZZC 101” feature, and take the win.

Perhaps an even more impressive run was that of Tom Helfrich of Haubstadt, Ind., who finished second after running the last 60 laps on seven cylinders. Don Hoffman would lead the Hawkeye state contingent with a third-place finish, followed by Nebraska’s Joe Kosiski, Johnny Johnson, Dick Schiltz, Leon Plank and Ed Sanger rounding out the top eight.

Two days later on June 10, it was off to Hawkeye Downs and the eighth running of the “Miller 100.” An estimated 6,000 fans were on hand for the event. Fifty-one cars took time with Winona, Minnesota’s Lance Matthees setting quick time at 23.475 seconds. Combs, was right behind at 23.545 seconds followed closely by Dick Schiltz, Tom Hearst, Leon Plank and Roger Dolan. The 28 fastest would go to the “Miller 100.”

Denny Osborn of Cedar Falls won the dash with heats going to Dave Sidwell of Iowa City, Curt Hansen of Dike, Mike Niffenegger of Kalona and Don Hoffman of Des Moines. Ken Walton of Viola would win the B.

Feature time would prove interesting. It was one of those races that seemed like it would never get going and after it did, went off very smoothly. Before they could get a lap in, there was a big pile-up that eliminated defending race champion Verlin Eaker of Mechanicsville and Dan Dickey of Packwood. Restart number one got a lap in before another wreck would eliminate Larry Wasserfort of Cedar Falls. Restart number two, still with only one lap in the books would see Mike Niffenegger of nearby Kalona eliminated from the action.

After they got the bugs worked out, the feature turned into an almost green white checker affair. Tom Hearst grabbed the lead from the outside pole with Matthees second. By lap 20, Combs had gotten around first Matthees and then Hearst for the lead. Combs would end up stretching his lead to nearly a half lap over Hearst and later Schiltz before lap race yellows tightened the field.

It really didn’t matter though, as Combs would race off to a straightaway win over Hearst.

Following Hearst were Don Hoffman, Dick Schiltz, Denny Osborn, those five being the only cars on the lead lap. For the second time in two days the Rocket had bagged a win in Iowa.

In September, Rodney Combs would return to Iowa for the third running of the “Yankee Dirt Classic.” This time he would need a little luck to win. First of all, the Friday night segment of the Yankee was rained out, so the show was made a Saturday-Sunday event. Overcast skies and cool temperatures would contribute to a smaller than expected crowd.

On Saturday night Combs took up where he left off by setting a new Hawkeye Downs track record in qualifying. Combs turned a lap of 22.265 seconds breaking the track record set in July by Dick Schiltz. Schiltz would show his mastery of the track by setting second quick time at 22.389 seconds. Johnny Johnson, Tom Hearst, Billy Moyer and Roger Dolan would round out the six locked into the front of the feature. Billy Moyer would win the dash for the six fastest cars.

Most of the nearly 60-car field, returned for action on Sunday. Kevin Gundaker, Fred Horn, Dick Potts, Jim Curry, John Connolly and Leon Plank won the six heat races. Council Bluffs, Iowa’s Dave Chase would win the consolation race over Larry Wasserfort.

The six-car inversion from time trials placed Roger Dolan on the pole. Dolan would grab the lead from the start of the race and lead until nearly the halfway point when Leon Plank made a thrilling pass to go from third to first. Plank then held the lead through lap 97. On the 98th lap Combs edged ahead of Plank by inches at the finish line, with Plank back out ahead as the two drivers took the white flag. With Combs running the outside and Plank running the inside, the two battled for the win, but two lapped cars gave Combs the advantage on the outside and he raced across the finish line to claim his third Iowa win in a row.

Combs gave Plank a lot of credit. “He (Plank) drove a heckuva race, I’ve lost races the same way, it could have gone the other way,” said Combs.

The win was worth $5,000 plus some lap money for Combs, who became the first non-Iowan to win the “Yankee Dirt Classic.” An obviously dejected Plank would have to settle for second followed by Roger Dolan, Dick Schiltz, Kevin Gundaker, Jim Curry, Fred Horn, Dave Chase, Kenny Walton and Mike Wallace. Fourteen cars would finish on the lead lap.

For Rodney Combs, the Ohio native and Lost Creek, W.Va., resident, visiting the Hawkeye state in 1980 turned out to be very rewarding. In 1982 Combs would head south to NASCAR to begin a fairly lengthy career, racing in all three of the major divisions of the sport before ending his NASCAR career in 1997. In the following years, Rodney would return to racing Dirt Late Models, but strictly on a limited basis. Just recently, Combs showed he still had it, as he qualified for the feature at “The Dream” and finished 14th.

I would like to dedicate this column to the memory of the late Tom Emery. Tom was a resident of East Dubuque and an avid race fan. He passed away last year and thanks to the kindness of his wife, Mary Ann, yours truly is now honored to be in possession of his 30-year collection of Hawkeye Racing News.

A big thanks goes out to the Emery Family.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Move over baseball; the midgets come to the Astrodome

A.J. Foyt won the 100-lap feature for the USAC midgets at the Astrodome. 

by Kyle Ealy
Houston, Tex. - Former Chicago Cubs player and then color analyst Mark Grace was calling a National League play-off game in the Astrodome in Houston, Tex. and he made a statement that will forever be etched in my memory. “Look at this; a National League play-off game and the place isn’t even full,” he remarked. “But get a tractor/truck pull, a race or a rodeo in here and they pack the place.”

I had to look back to see when, if ever, there was an auto race there. Sure enough, Gracie knew his Astrodome history. The first race was held in 1969, a USAC midget doubleheader on March 8th and 9th. Gary Bettenhausen and local Iowa hero Lee Kunzman split the winnings in the inaugural USAC Midget Astro Grand Prix.

However, it was the 1970 event that stood out. The second annual event, before a crowd of 21,432 race fans, turned into one of the wildest races in midget history, as the drivers started cutting into the infield, one by one, until all but one driver was running well inside of the planned ¼-mile track. By the time USAC officials regained control of the race, by stopping it on the 66th lap, the pole of the track had moved a measured 54 feet into the infield and the outside of the track was the pole of the planned oval.

Thus, the race ended under a cloud of uncertainty as several drivers protested the finishing positions. The finishing positions changed several times before a final finish was posted the very next day.

Twenty-six cars took Shim Malone’s green flag for the start of the $25,000 race but before the field even took the green, the large field tangled on the backstretch during the four-abreast parade lap with 10 cars ending up either stalled, spun out or sitting on top of one another. Only Johnny Rutherford’s mount was unable to restart and Lloyd Ruby’s midget had dropped out on the pace lap with a broken rear suspension. No one was injured despite the fact that Jim McElreath had a car practically sitting in his lap.

On the drop of the green Dave Strickland took the lead with Billy Vukovich in tow. The star of the early laps was Bruce Walkup, who forged from his 13th starting position to find his way to the third spot by lap five. He surged past Vukovich a lap later and then dove under Strickland for the lead.

While the fans were watching Walkup take command of the top spot, Houston's native son A.J. Foyt was also on the move, taking third from Vukovich and then sliding past Strickland on lap 19. By the 25th marker Walkup maintained a small distance over Foyt.

By this time, the field of midgets was cutting the infield badly, throwing the tires that were sunken into the ground as pole markers on the track. Officials threw the yellow at lap 52 to try and regain some control of the race but it was to no avail and the green waved again on lap 55. Vukovich, chopping farther and farther into the infield, sped past both Foyt and Walkup on lap 57 to take the lead with Foyt following past Walkup.

On lap 59, Foyt managed his way past Vukovich for the lead but Billy wasn’t having any of that and banged his way back into the lead on the very next lap. The yellow came out on lap 64 with the red flying just two laps later to discuss the ever-shifting track.

USAC officials and drivers huddled while fans waited as USAC midget supervisor Bob Stroud ruled that any driver cutting the infield would be disqualified. After a half-hour timeout, the race finally restarted.

On the restart, Foyt once again claimed the top spot with Vukovich and Walkup following. Walkup passed Vukovich for the runner-up spot on lap 69 and set out after Foyt. On lap 78 Vukovich got the black flag by USAC officials for cutting into the infield and he and car owner Leonard Faas jumped all over officials at the start-finish line with Vukovich eventually packing up his helmet and leaving the Astrodome.

While Faas was still arguing, his other car, driven by Walkup, was bumped by Sam Sessions, who he was lapping, and bounced into the front stretch crash wall head first. Walkup was uninjured but finished for the night.

On the ensuing green, Foyt would again take the lead, a lead he wouldn’t relinquish all the way to the checkers. Driving his Green Offy Special owned by Marc Edwards, it was yet another rung added to his long victory ladder. The triumph was worth $5, 475 in money and prizes.

Former USAC Midget National champ Bob Wente would take runner-up honors in the Knepper Offy while the third spot was taken by Bill Puterbaugh in the King O’Lawn Special. Fourth spot went to Hank Butcher in the Johnson Offy and rounding out the top-five was defending national champion Bob Tattersall in the Stroud Offy.

Racing at the 8th Wonder of the World was short-lived. Almost three years to the day (March 11, 1972) the last race was run there, a 100-lap affair with Gary Bettenhausen winning once again.

Results -

1. A.J. Foyt
2. Bob Wente
3. Bill Puterbaugh
4. Hank Butcher
5. Bob Tattersall
6. Dave Strickland
7. Mel Kenyon
8. Lee Kunzman
9. Chuck Weyant
10. Tom Bigelow
11. Sam Sessions
12. Bruce Walkup
13. Billy Vukovich
14. Jigger Sirois
15. Merle Bettenhausen
16. Mike Mosley
17. Gary Bettenhausen
18. Jim McElreath
19. Gary Irwin
20. Roger West
21. Johnnie Andersen
22. Mel Cornett
23. Arnie Knepper
24. Mike McGreevy
25. Dick Pole
26. Jimmy Caruthers

Midwest Racing Archives (This month in history)

Joe Shaheen waves the checkers for the final time at Springfield Speedway in 1987. At Shaheen’s funeral in 1989, the cortege made a final lap around the quarter-mile before heading to the cemetery, as Joe had requested.

1999 - Freddy Smith outdueled Ronnie Johnson and 60 of the best late models in the country and went on to win the Mountain Dew/Spring Thaw 100 at the new Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn., on March 6th. With the win, Smith takes the lead in the Big Johnson Late Model National Championship points standings in which he finished sixth in 1998.

1989 - The racing community mourned the deaths of two promoters in the Midwest. Former Marshalltown Speedway promoter Cliff Chambers passed away on March 1st after battling cancer. He was only 49 years old. To this day, the season championship at Marshalltown is named the Cliff Chambers Memorial in his honor.

1989 - Racing pioneer Joe Shaheen, who owned and operated Springfield (Ill.) Speedway passed away on March 15th at the age of 84. Shaheen purchased a dairy farm east of Springfield, carved out a track and began his promotion in 1947 and continued until failing health forced him to close the track in 1987.

1984 - In a surprise announcement, Rockford Speedway President Hugh Deery made it official that the quarter-mile facility would be sanctioned by NASCAR during the 1984 season. The NASCAR flag still waves at Rockford to this day. "This is the biggest news for Rockford Speedway in 25 years," stated Deery. "We are proud to welcome NASCAR to Northern Illinois and we are confident the Winston Racing Series will bring even greater national attention to Rockford Speedway".

1984 - Doug Wolfgang scored the most wins (4) but Steve Kinser claimed the overall points title in the All-Star Circuit of Champions Florida Winter Sprint Series February 6-18. Kinser took the crown by a mere two points (613-611) over Lee Osborne. Wolfgang, Bobby Allen and Tim Green rounded out the top-five point finishers.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Frank Winkley: A Promoter in the Fast Lane

Frank Winkley 

by Lee Ackerman

In the glory days of the old IMCA, for many years just about all the IMCA sanctioned events were promoted by one of two groups, National Speedways, Inc., under the direction of Al Sweeney, and Auto Racing, Inc. headed by Frank Winkley. The two were constantly at war with each other, guarding their contracted drivers with a jealous hand. One example was Emory Collins. Collins drove for NSI prior to World War II, but after the war Collins signed with ARI because, as Collins, put it, “part of the agreement included a percentage of the front gate receipts.”

In 1958, Bobby Grim was headed to a Winkley-promoted event. In order to stop him, Sweeney actually paid “his driver” first place money not to go. Despite their constant warring, the two helped make the IMCA one of the premier sanctioning bodies in the world. Both men were inducted into the IMCA Hall of Fame in 1971. Al Sweeney was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1991, Frank Winkley in 1993.

In 1949, the IMCA started to sanction Stock Car races. They would continue to sanction these races (which would evolve into late models in the 70’s) until the end of the original IMCA at the end of the 1977 racing season. During this period, Frank Winkley would become an innovator in stock car racing.

Frank R. Winkley was born in 1907, and learned about promoting races in 1925 from driver-turned-thrillcade-operator Aut Swenson, who like Al Sweeney was a protégé of legendary promoter J. Alex Sloan. Winkley, or “Wink” as he was known, would promote 50 to 75 (Big Car and/or Stock Car events) annually for IMCA. Wink was a complex individual; on the one hand he enjoyed reading and quoting the classics, on the other hand, he was a wide-open, hell-bent-for-leather individual, who enjoyed life to the fullest. Don Riley once said of Wink, “He was completely honorable, and completely without fear.”

Wink would be the first to tell you that it was a team effort that made his Auto Racing, Inc (ARI) organization run smoothly. First and foremost, that team was headed by his wife Verna. The 1957 IMCA Yearbook says of Verna Winkley, “The real power behind the throne of ARI is pert Verna Winkley. Widely known as one of the best, if not the best scorekeepers in the racing business, Verna Winkley traveled over 50,000 miles a year helping husband, Frank in the management of ARI. It was not uncommon for her to manage one ARI show, while Frank was off managing another on the same date. In addition, she was a seamstress, making her own clothes, designing the uniforms worn by ARI personnel, and even turned out complete flag sets for the officials to use during the races.”

Others on the ARI team included, Milan “Jake” Bozony of Minneapolis, who was considered one of the most colorful and efficient starters in the business. Nick Nachicas, also lived in Minneapolis and the “Gregarious Greek” worked in various capacities at ARI. Starting with billposting (that was a major advertising technique at the time) to track preparation, before graduating to promotion, publicity work and later announcer.

The team also included Tom McGeehan, announcer “Moke” Cosby, Bernie Carlson, Bob Bengston, as well as wives, Pat Bozony and Flo Nachicas just to name a few.

As ARI was headquartered in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, most of the events they managed and promoted were in the Northern part of the United States. The biggest of these would be the annual Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, but also included Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids, Grand Forks State Fair, the North Dakota State Fair in Minot, the Interstate Fair in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, the Steele County Fair in Owatonna, Minnesota, the South Dakota Fair in Huron and the Red River Fair in Fargo.

ARI did have southern venues as well, especially the Louisiana State Fairgrounds in Shreveport (where the season usually started and finished for the stock cars), the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson, the Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma Free State Fair in Muskogee.

In 1956, Winkley came up with two innovations in stock car racing. The first was introduced on May 6 at Shreveport. It would be the split feature. These events would call for two (usually 100 lap features) with the best average finish of the two features determining the overall winner. Time trials would determine the starting positions for the first feature. Then, the cars were started in the second race (without servicing), in reverse order to how they finished the first feature. In the first split show at Shreveport, Johnny Beauchamp would win the first feature, and Don White the second. White with a fifth in the first feature and first in the second feature was the overall winner.

On September 30, 1956, Winkley took the split feature concept to a higher level, when he staged the Gopher 500 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. It would be 2-two hundred fifty lap features. 42 cars would take time trials to determine the 33 cars that would start the race. A crowd of 28,312 fans showed up at the fairgrounds to watch this historic event. The race itself would have three winners. Johnny Beauchamp (who won an incredible 43 IMCA features in 1956) set fast time and then went on to set several track records in winning the first 250 mile segment. In the second 250 laps, it was NASCAR invader Marvin Panch taking home the win. Beauchamp looked like a sure overall winner, but while running second to Panch he retired from the second segment with a blown piston. Don White with a fifth and a third was the overall winner.

In 1957, Winkley pleased with the success of the Gopher 500 staged another 500 lap race. On September 29, he held the Hawkeye 500 at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids. This race however, was 500 continuous laps. Johnny Beauchamp claimed the pole in the Dale Swanson #55 Chevy and led 33 cars to the green flag. The race saw 13 lead changes and lasted 4 hours 26 minutes and 55 seconds but at the end it was Beauchamp in victory lane.

In 1967, Winkley started promoting races at the Twin City Speedway and Hawkeye Downs as a “feeder circuit” to IMCA. But the gypsy in him could not stay in one place long enough, he needed the open road and a souped-up car.

Winkley once said, “I have only one prayer. That when I go, I don’t go in bed. I want to be behind the wheel of a fast moving car. That’s how I’ve lived.” Wink would get his wish. In late July of 1968, Wink lost his life, when his souped-up convertible went out of control on a highway, enroute to one of his far off races.

His wife Verna would continue the promoting business for one more year under the name of International Racing, Inc.

Frank Winkley lived his life, and lost his life in the fast lane, but he left his indelible and long lasting mark on auto racing.

I would like to thank Tom Schmeh and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame for letting me use materials from their bio on Frank Winkley.

Remembering When; The IMCA Stock Cars at Knoxville

                                                                         Ramo Stott

by Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. — The Marion County Fairgrounds in Knoxville, Iowa, is and has been for a long time the Sprint Car Capital of the World. But occasionally, the Sprint Cars have given way to those guys with fenders on. Such was the case back in the heyday of the old IMCA Stock Car Series. The series visited what was to become the legendary Knoxville Raceway six times in eight years and the races were fast and furious.

On August 7, 1959, the series made their initial visit to Knoxville and a fast track provided for the setting of two new IMCA records. Future NASCAR star Dick Hutcherson of Keokuk would set fast time of 27.49 seconds edging out Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids. Heats went to Bob Kosiski of Omaha in his Thunderbird, Bruce Nystrom of Oshkosh, Wis., in a Chrysler and Bill Harrison of Topeka in a Pontiac.

Then they turned the wick up as Ernie Derr of Keokuk set a new IMCA record for 10 laps when he won the dash in 4 minutes 31.50 seconds. Lee Pickney of Des Moines won the consy and then it was feature time. Darrell Dake driving a ’57 Chevrolet convertible got the lead early on in the race and with constant pressure from Hutcherson and Derr went on to win the 50-lap main event, setting a new IMCA record of 22 minutes and 59.78 seconds for 25 miles in the process. Following Dake, Hutcherson and Derr were, Newt Bartholomew, Sonny Morgan and Bob Kosiski.

The IMCA Stock Cars did not return to the Marion County Fairgrounds again until May 27, 1962, and this time it was for 200 laps. A crowd of 3,500 fans was on hand and they were treated to the some of the fine points of racing strategy.

Chub Liebe of Oelwein, Iowa, brought his Ford in for service, early in the race, long before necessary, and was out fast and soon picked up the leaders. Several drivers stayed out too long and ran out of gas while leading or near the front. Those included John Mickey, Ernie Derr and Johnny Beauchamp. Mickey’s problems were compounded when his crew mixed filler cans and put water in his fuel tank taking him out of the running.

Liebe reassumed the lead and was holding off a closely pursuing Beauchamp, when on the 198th lap, Beauchamp ran out of gas and Liebe sailed to the win. Liebe covered the 200 laps in 1 hour, 33 minutes, and 49.63 seconds. Dick Hutcherson was second, Beauchamp third, Mert Williams fourth and Rookie Gil Haugen fifth.

On May 18, 1963, the series returned to Knoxville and Columbus Junction, Iowa’s John Mackey started things off with a bang as he drove his Gene Stewart tuned ’63 Pontiac to a new one lap IMCA record in qualifying with a lap of 25.60 seconds. Ernie Derr and Buzz McCann also broke the old record.

A capacity crowd of 10,000 watched as Ernie Derr took an early lead and would set a new record for 50 laps at 21 minutes 46.1 seconds. When Derr pitted on lap 55, Ramo Stott assumed the lead in his little ’63 Plymouth and was bound and determined to keep it. He did and along the way set a new track record for 200 laps of 1 hour, 31 minutes, and 10.95 seconds. Fellow Keokuk resident Jim Washburn was second in a Ford, followed by Bob Reynolds of Edmond, Okla., Chub Liebe and Ralph Wilhelm of Milwaukee.

The May 2, 1964, race at Knoxville can be summed up in one name. Dick Hutcherson! Hutch started things off by driving his Ford to a new IMCA one-lap record of 25.44 seconds.

In the feature, Hutcherson was pressed all the way by fellow Keokuk driver Ramo Stott. The results were record setting as Hutcherson set new IMCA marks for 50, 75 and 100 miles turning the 200 laps in 1 hour, 29 minutes, and 47.29 seconds. Stott was right on Hutcherson’s bumper the whole way and finished second. Gil Haugan of Sioux Falls was third, Bill Thomas of Lake Elmo, Minn., fourth and Roland Wilson of Bedford, Iowa, fifth.

Ernie Derr may not have always won on the first trip to a new race track but eventually he would figure it out. At Knoxville that happened on May 1, 1965. Qualifying second to rival and fellow Keokuk resident Ramo Stott, Derr went on to pick up his first IMCA win at Knoxville touring the 200 laps in 1 hour, 31 minutes, and 39.5 seconds. Stott held on for second with Ron Hutcherson driving his Ford to a third place finish and giving Keokuk a one-two-three sweep. Bob Jusola of Mound, Minn., was fourth and Lenny Funk of Otis, Kan., fifth.

The IMCA Stock Cars would make their final visit to Knoxville on May 14, 1966 for the running of the “Hawkeye 200.” It was time for somebody to be a repeat winner, and it was no surprise that the driver would be from Keokuk. Ernie Derr set fast time at 25.74 with Ramo Stott second at 26.07. In the feature, however, it was Ramo Stott in his Plymouth taking top honors as he turned the 200 laps in 1 hour, 31 minutes, 48.54 seconds. Ernie Derr was second, Ed Negre of Monett, Mo.; the STP dash winner was third, with Lewis Taylor of Shawnee, Kan., and Bill Moore fifth.

While the IMCA Stock Cars would never return again to Knoxville and the Sprint Cars would make Knoxville a household name in racing, the Stock Cars provided the fans in Marion County with some exciting and fast paced racing.

1972 USAC win at Milwaukee established Don White as owner/driver

Don White of Keokuk, Iowa

Cedar Rapids, Iowa - All through the 1960’s Don White of Keokuk, Iowa, ranked among the finest stock car drivers in the country.

White was as dominant as driver was on the USAC stock circuit in the 1960’s, winning titles in 1963 and 1967 and finishing in the top-three in points in most other years.

One of White’s favorite tracks on the USAC circuit was the Milwaukee Mile. Starting in 1960, it wasn’t unusual to see White’s smiling face in victory lane. Between 1966 and 1970, White dominated the competition there winning three times in 1966 and twice in 1968, ‘69 and ’70.

White didn’t know it at the time but his 150-mile victory at the “Mile” on August 16, 1970, would be his last for a while. For most of those successful years, White piloted a car built and owned by the legendary Ray Nichels.

In 1971, White decided to strike out on his own and discovered it wasn’t as easy as an owner/driver. White struggled mightily the whole season and instead of the usual wins and top-five’s that he was accustomed to he was having trouble finishing in the top-10 and sometimes not even finishing at all.

A month long stretch during the dog days of July and August got even hotter with finishes of 29th, 36th, 19th, 31st and 18th. White’s first year of being an owner/operator wasn’t anything to write home about. For the first time since 1965, Don White didn’t win at Milwaukee.

He was determined to see it through…

The 1972 season started with optimism and after a 100-lap victory at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa on May 27 and another victory at the Springfield (Ill.) Mile on July 4th, he seemed to be building up steam.

White took that momentum into Milwaukee on July 9th for the “Miller Lite 200”. Starting on the outside second row, White ran a solid race for 200 laps eventually finishing where he started behind eventual winner Roger McCluskey, Jack Bowsher and fellow Keokuk Komet Ramo Stott.

A little over a month later, again in Milwaukee on August 20th, White qualified fifth, made his way to the front and actually led 15 laps before dropping out on lap 143 of the 200-lap affair with a broken water pump. He finished a disappointing 25th. A week later at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, White qualified 8th only to be taken out in an accident on lap 64. He would finish 21st.

With only two races left on the ’72 USAC tour, White was eager to finish out what had been an up and down season on a positive note. The September 10th race at Milwaukee, the “Governor’s Cup 250” the site of many triumphs, was White’s last chance.

On what turned out to be a cloudy day with intermittent rains, White, driving his 1970 Dodge Charger, put himself in great position qualifying in 6th position. Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Bobby Unser set fast time and a new track record for the event at 33.074 seconds (108.847 mph) in his 1970 Plymouth Superbird.

Unser had fared quite well on the USAC circuit this season and he bolted to the lead at the drop of the green flag. His afternoon would come to a close quite quickly however as a connecting rod in his Hemi broke only eight laps into the affair.

Jack Bowsher, who had started on the outside front row opposite Unser took charge with Roger McCluskey (started 3rd) and White right on his tail. Those three would exchange the number one position through the early going and two yellow flags for oil until the first yellow for a light rain came out on lap 95.

After five damp laps, the field resumed speed with USAC point’s leader Butch Hartman and Bowsher’s Ford teammate Whitey Gerken, enjoying the advantage. By lap 123, rain began to fall again and 10 more laps were lost before the track was dried.

Bowsher assumed the point on the lap 133 restart and would proceed to lead for the longest period of the race, 49 laps, until he made his fourth pit stop. Hartman’s 1972 Charger was the next to lead but when he pitted for fuel, it was “Mr. Milwaukee” Don White, who was running a close second, that inherited the lead on lap 213.

Fifteen laps later, rain began to fall again and from then on it became academic. Gordon Johncock was just two-car lengths behind White when the green finally came out after 247 of the scheduled 250-lapper, but he was unable to overtake the veteran of 49 career USAC stock car victories.

Due to the rain and numerous yellow flags, White’s average speed was 84.784 mph. White was the victor in a see-saw battle between seven drivers and Mother Nature to collect $6,968 in winnings.

But more importantly for White, it was a victory that proved his worth as a car owner and builder.

A $100 car puts two Iowans in the Winston Cup; Barkdoll & Knaack look back

Phil Barkdoll

Vinton, Iowa - It sounds almost like a script to a movie. Not quite a comedy, not quite drama, more like one of those “feel good” type of stories that Hollywood puts out once in awhile.

In 1981, Keith Knaack and Phil Barkdoll were giving each other the business. Knaack at the time was promoting races at the track in Vinton, Iowa, while Barkdoll was the announcer who had just purchased his first racecar for $100.

Keeping in mind that at the time Barkdoll was rated 67th in All Iowa Points in the street stock division, which was not terribly impressive. Barkdoll showed up at Knaack’s office one day with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek and proclaimed, “I think I’m ready for Daytona.”

“I really didn’t think at the time he even knew where Daytona was,” Knaack joked. “So I just told him if he thought he was hot, let’s just go to Daytona.” Over the next few weeks, the two got to teasing each other so badly that Keith decided to put an end to it. “Eventually I picked up the phone and went searching for a racecar,” said Knaack.

Knaack proceeded to call all over the United States in search of a race car. One finally turned up, in of all places, Keokuk, Iowa, in the garage of Ramo Stott. Stott was a NASCAR veteran who won the pole position at the 1976 “Daytona 500”.

With $2,500 in their pockets and another $5,000 they had borrowed, the two made the trip to Keokuk and bought themselves a racecar; a 1979 Dodge. The car had already seen some action on the ARCA circuit, so at least it had some racing miles on it. The car came with two engines that were immediately rebuilt and scores of friends pitched in to volunteer their time.

“It was like an old-fashion barn raising,” Barkdoll mentioned. “Everyone pitched in and helped us when we needed it. The only thing anyone got for helping out was their name on the car.”

According to Knaack. Phil Barkdoll still didn’t know where Daytona was. Barkdoll insisted he knew where it was but didn’t know what it was. Eventually the new race team made their way to Daytona. They pulled into the pits about the same time Barkdoll was stricken with a severe case of reality. “Phil walked through the gate and just looked at me.” He remembers, “He just asked me, ‘What have you gotten me into’?”

By this time veteran Ramo Stott had joined the team. Stott gave the group some experience and some great advice. “I had to hand it to Phil; he had no experience on asphalt, let alone a 2.5-mile track. He listened to what Ramo told him and went out and qualified at 176 miles per hour,” Knaack said, looking back.

Phil Barkdoll had just left the dirt tracks of Iowa and found himself starting in the 35th position in an ARCA event at Daytona International Speedway.

Unfortunately, the team was running low on funds. They blew one engine in practice and had to have it rebuilt. They also learned that they would need more tires. “When we got there we had one set of tires, so we tried to figure out how many laps we could run in practice and still have enough left on the tires to run a race,” Knaack recalled.

The race was scheduled for 80 laps and the team from Iowa kept their fingers crossed they could go on one set of tires. One small piece of debris would shred a tire and bring immediate end to the race. “I think we drove through three wrecks,” Barkdoll said. “We never punctured a tire and finished 11th that day.”

Barkdoll would run several more ARCA events before trying his hand in Winston Cup competition. Again he turned a lot of heads when he qualified 16th in the 1984 “Winston 500” at Talladega.

His career through the Winston Cup circuit has enjoyed many high points. Barkdoll qualified for the 1987 “Winston 500” at Talladega, the first Winston Cup field where all 40 cars clocked in at over 200 miles per hour

Barkdoll was able to move into the Winston Cup circuit thanks to a lot of financial help from Helen Rae, a woman from Phoenix that had owned a chain of retail stores in Iowa and also in Phoenix. Barkdoll was showing Helen Rae a film of one of his races. She replied, “Why is everyone going faster than you?”

Barkdoll explained to her the “racing facts of life”.

"Money," was the reply.

“How much money would it take to have you run as fast as everyone else?” he responded. With that, Helen Rae Motorsports was formed.

It was because if the association with Helen Rae that Barkdoll was able to run many Winston Cup events between 1984 and 1990. Both the Daytona and Talladega tracks saw the Helen Rae car a lot. “It never would’ve happened without Helen Rae,” Barkdoll said. “She was what kept us here.”

“She was fantastic for the sport,” Knaack added. “She was the first woman team owner in the history of Winston Cup and also the first woman to own two Winston Cup teams.” Rae entered two cars at selected events during the 1988 campaign with Barkdoll in one car and Wisconsin native Dave Marcis in the other.

Barkdoll's last attempt at Daytona as a driver was in 1997. That year, he qualified 25th fastest on pole qualifying day. That speed was fast enough to earn the 38th starting position after he failed to finish in the top 15 of his Twin 125. However, SABCO Racing’s #42 Bellsouth Chevrolet for Joe Nemechek failed to qualify for the race. Team owner Felix Sabates bought Barkdoll's #73 for Nemechek, leaving Barkdoll on the sidelines, but richer as a result.

Never again did anyone suggest that Phil Barkdoll “Doesn’t know where Daytona is”.

Fleck Sales and a charity race that became the Miller 100

Consolation winner Jim Burbridge, fast timer Curt Hansen, Keith Fleck, main event winner Verlin Eaker, and trophy dash winner Ed Sanger at the 1979 Falstaff 100. - Kyle Ealy Collection

by Lee Ackerman
Cedar Rapids, Iowa - In 1973, Keith Fleck decided to have Fleck Sales sponsor a race at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids that would raise money for a charity. The race would be a way of getting his brand name (Falstaff) out in front of the public. This would lead to a tradition that still goes on today. That first event was a United States Auto Club sanctioned 100-lap event stock car race called the Falstaff 100. The event would carry the name Falstaff 100 for several years before switching to the Miller 100, a name the race still carries.

The inaugural Falstaff 100 was held on September 29, 1973 (after a number of rainouts) and saw the legendary Butch Hartman of South Zanesville, Ohio drive the Hartman’s White and Autocar Dodge to the victory. That victory would help propel Hartman to a third straight USAC national championship. 

The event lasted 44 minutes and 19 seconds and paid a total purse of $13,650. Ramo Stott set on the pole with a lap of 26.43 seconds. At the end of 100 laps only three cars remained on the lead lap, Hartman, and Keokuk, Iowa drivers, runner-up Ernie Derr and polesitter Stott.

In the following years the event would be a dirt late model event. Winners over the years included Bill Zwanziger in 1974, Ed Sanger in 1975, Curt Hansen in 1976 and Fred Horn in 1977. In 1978 they would run the sixth version of the race and the last one that would be called the “Falstaff 100”.

A sellout crowd of more than 7,000 fans showed up to watch 43 late models compete for the 28 guaranteed starting spots in the Falstaff 100. The event would pay $2,300 to win, with a total purse of nearly $10,000.

Bill Beckman of Lisbon would set fast time at 24.299 seconds and qualifying in the number two spot was the blue #9 of Curt Hansen. Joe Merryfield of Des Moines would win the dash with heats going to Denny Miller of Cedar Rapids, Stan Stover of Reinbeck, Ed Sanger of Waterloo and Verlin Eaker of Mechanicsville. Stover would take the 20-lap consolation event defeating Davenport’s Gary Webb.

The race itself turned out to be a little anticlimactic as Hansen grabbed the lead on the first lap and held the lead for the entire 100 laps. With Hansen solidly out front, the action turned to the battle for second and that went down to the wire with Council Bluffs’ Bill Martin passing Gary Crawford of Independence on the last lap to finish second. Crawford, Freddie Horn and Roger Dolan would round out the top five.

On June 5, 1979 the seventh edition of the race took place but under a new name. It was still a Fleck Sales sponsored charity event but the title beer had been changed from Falstaff to Miller, the name the event still carries to this day. Over 60 late models signed in time trials. When everybody had run through the clock over 30 cars were within a second of the leader. Defending race winner Curt Hansen of Dike set the fast time at 24 seconds flat followed by Mike Niffenegger, Leon Plank and John Connolly.

It the six-lap, 8-car trophy dash which featured a totally inverted start, it was seventh fast qualifier and front row starter Ed Sanger picking up the win. Heat went to Denny Miller, Ron Pallister, Ron Boyse, Joe Merryfield and Ken Walton. Delhi’s Jim Burbridge won the consolation race over the ageless one, Glen Robey of Omaha.

The Miller 100 would start straight-up based on time with Hansen on the pole, flanked by Niffenegger, Plank and Connolly in the second row with Grand Island, Nebraska’s Clayton Petersen, Jr. and Mechanicsville’s Verlin Eaker in row three.

At the drop of the green, Mike Niffenegger grabbed the lead from his outside pole starting position. Polesitter Hansen would fade from the start and the man on the move would be 1978 Yankee Dirt Classic winner Verlin Eaker. Eaker grabbed the lead from Niffenegger on lap 42 only to give it back for the next three circuits. After that it was all Eaker as he regained the lead and never gave it up. Leon Plank also ran a strong race for a while before following off the pace and finishing sixth.

The race was run relatively caution free, with some controversy caused after Ed Sanger spun on lap 91. Sanger was allowed to restart in third and in the end, it was decided that both Sanger and Don Hoffman would be paid third place money. The order at the end of 100 laps was Eaker, Niffenegger, Sanger, Hoffman, Hearst, Walton and Plank.

The big winner of the 1979 Fleck promotion was the American Diabetes Association, Iowa Chapter. Each year the proceeds of the event would go to a different charity and the 1979 race would bring the total proceeds given to charity since its inception at almost $50,000.

In 1980, one of the best dirt late model drivers in the country showed up for the eighth running of the Miller 100. Rodney Combs fresh off a win in Davenport two nights earlier decided to try and take some more cash back to West Virginia. An estimated 6,000 fans were on hand for the event. 51 cars took time with Winona, Minnesota’s Lance Matthees setting quick time at 23.475 seconds. Combs, was right behind at 23.545 seconds followed closely by Dick Schiltz, Tom Hearst, Leon Plank and Roger Dolan. The 28 fastest would go to the Miller 100.

Denny Osborn of Cedar Falls won the dash with heats going to Dave Sidwell of Iowa City, Curt Hansen of Dike, Mike Niffenegger of Kalona and Don Hoffman of Des Moines. Ken Walton of Viola would win the B.

Feature time would prove interesting. It was one of those races that seemed like it would never get going and after it did, went off very smoothly. Before they could get a lap in, there was a big pileup which eliminated defending race champion Verlin Eaker of Mechanicsville and Dan Dickey of Packwood. Restart number 1 got a lap in before another wreck would eliminate Larry Wasserfort of Cedar Falls. Restart number 2, still with only 1 lap in the books would see Mike Niffenegger of nearby Kalona eliminated from the action.

After they got the bugs worked out, the feature turned into an almost green-white- checker affair. Tom Hearst grabbed the lead from the outside pole with Matthees second. By lap 20, Combs had gotten around, first Matthees and then Hearst for the lead. Combs would end up stretching his lead to nearly a half lap over Hearst and later Schiltz before late race yellows tightened the field. It really didn’t matter though, as Combs would race off to a straight-away win over Hearst. Following Hearst were Don Hoffman, Dick Schiltz, Denny Osborn, those five being the only cars on the lead lap. For the second time in two days the Rocket had bagged a win in Iowa.

The tradition of the charity race at Hawkeye Downs still exists to this day with the annual running of the Miller 100 now on a paved Hawkeye Downs. According to Fleck Sales President Dudley Fleck nearly $300,000 has been contributed to various charities over the years. In addition to providing funds to many deserving charities, the annual event has provided many hours of thrills and excitement to race fans.