Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Note: With the 37th Annual Miller 100 set to go this Friday night, I thought it would be nice to go back in time and see how the Miller 100 has evolved over the years. A lot of great names have raced in this prestigous event and this year's will be no different. I hope you enjoy looking back....
1973 — Butch Hartman of Zanesville, Ohio, won the very first “Falstaff 100” at Hawkeye Downs Speedway on September 29, when it was a USAC-sanctioned event, leading all 100 laps. Two Keokuk, Iowa veterans, Ernie Derr and Ramo Stott, finished second and third. Only 13 cars started the feature that day with the average speed of the race 67.979 mph. The race took 44:19:00 to complete.
Rodney Combs of Lost Creek, W.Va., is congratulated by race promoter Keith Fleck after dominating the 8th Annual Miller 100.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Wendell Kuehn of Rochester, Minn., waves the checkers after winning the first to two late model features during the Ole Brua Memorial in Cresco, Iowa on June 29, 1974.
1974 - Wendell Kuehn of Rochester, Minn., emerged as the overall winner of the Ole Brua Memorial at the Howard County Fairgrounds in Cresco, Iowa on June 29. Kuehn fended off Ed Sanger to win the first 20-lap feature and then came from the rear to place third in the second 20-lap feature to take home $380 in cash and a diamond ring worth $1,100. The race was held in honor of IMCA driver Ole Brua who died one year earlier in a car-train crash in Rochester, Minn.1969 - Gale Card of Waterloo, Iowa dealt the rest of the late model stock car field an ace as he won the 25-lap feature before 8,000 fans at Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on June 28. Card out-dueled Lisbon, Iowa's Roger Dolan the last 21 laps in his 1968 Road Runner. Karl Sanger of Waterloo, Walt Carney of West Branch and Waterloo's Red Droste rounded out the top-five finishers.
1968 - Ron Brokaw of Corning, Iowa, drove an amazing race to win the super stock feature at Greenfield (Iowa) Speedway on June 29. Brokaw started 10th but was able to secure the lead on the third lap and place almost a half a lap lead between him and his nearest challenger. Varel Schmidt of Massena, Iowa took second followed by Corning's Sam Armstrong. Kay Whitehead of Clarinda, Iowa scored her second win in the "unusually" accident free powder puff race.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
Omaha, Neb. - It was a night of first's at Sunset Speedway on June 27, 1976. Kent Tucker of Aurora, Neb., made history with his first career win at Sunset that evening. He was also the first late model driver in victory lane this season not named Kosiski.
Bob Kosiski of Omaha had a five-week feature winning streak in the late model division heading into the night's program. After Kosiski's second victory, a $200 bounty was placed on his head but Kosiski kept winning. Three weeks later, the bounty was a whopping $600.
The 25-lap race turned out to be one of the most thrilling features that Sunset Speedway had seen in years, with the lead changing six times among four drivers, Joe Kosiski, Craig Spetman, Bob Kosiski and finally Kent Tucker.
At many times, the top eight cars ran bumper to bumper, side to side with Tucker finally passing Bob Kosiski on lap 20 to take the lead. Bill Martin of Council Bluffs, Iowa followed Tucker past Kosiski and gave chase until the apple farmer developed problems and dropped back with two laps left. Kosiski picked up the pace but was unable to extend the bounty for another week and settled for second. Fremont's Don Styskal took third, Spetman finished fourth and Paul Zdan rounded out the top five.
With the $400 regular night winnings and the collected bounty, Tucker should of taken home $1,000 but because of what flagman Poncho Goldsberry and association president Randy Sterner termed "rough driving" by Tucker and Martin earlier in the contest, they were both fined $25 after the feature thus leaving Tucker with a $975 payday instead.
This decision outraged some of Tucker's fans and upon hearing this coughed up $25 so his winnings could be an even $1,000.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Mount Pleasant, Iowa - They were called “Big Cars” back then and in the 40’s, 50’s and even into the early 60’s, when they came to town, it was a big thing. So big in fact, that the town of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa literally shut down.
The Mississippi Valley Auto Racing Association started operations in 1946 and like their bigger competitor, IMCA, scheduled events in small towns usually during that town’s county fair, hence the name “Fair Circuit”. Small towns like Davenport, Iowa, Kahoka, Mo., Aledo, Ill., and Sandwich, Ill., played host to these speed demon machines and standing room only crowds were the norm.
The MVARA made its first appearance in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and the Henry County Fair on August 8, 1948. The ½-mile track had been used primarily for horse racing throughout the years but Big Cars were the thoroughbreds on this day. Unfortunately, the day’s events off to a poor start. In the very first race, Merritt Wandling’s car crashed through the fourth turn guard rail taking out several posts. In the process, a piece of wood pierced Wandling’s abdomen. He was transported to the University of Iowa hospitals where he was pronounced dead. When the action resumed, Charlie Irons grabbed the feature victory.
On August 7, 1949, the Henry County Fair closed out its annual summer fair with another overflow crowd at the McMillan Park Amphitheater. It was said that not only were the stands at full capacity but fans who couldn’t find a seat found a spot on top of the nearby cattle barns. The main event on the crowd on their feet as local boy Dick Nau took the early lead and battled side by side with Roy Blinstrup. Nau’s engine finally gave up towards the end of the feature allowing Blinstrup to take the win.
The August 8, 1950 race saw another full house. It also saw a disqualification as Johnny Noble was first across the finish line with a hard charging Clair Peterson right on his heels as the checkers waved. A post-race inspection showed that Noble’s car did not meet MVARA specifications and Peterson was awarded the victory.
A young lanky driver from Brimfield, Ill., had also joined the circuit that season and left an impression on the Mt. Pleasant residents. He would go on to win the 1951 Mississippi Valley Auto Racing Association championship but would be more noted for winning the 1971 and 1972 IMCA sprint car titles. His name was Jerry Blundy.
Mt. Pleasant residents took their Big Car racing seriously. An advertisement in the August 6, 1951 Mt. Pleasant News stated that all retail stores would be closed on the day of the big race. Even store owners didn’t want to miss out on the action. Jack Biddison pulled double duty that evening. He not only took the 15-lap win but doubled as the announcer that afternoon when he wasn’t behind the wheel.
Over 3,500 fans filled McMillan Park on August 2, 1952. Herb Shannon, who would later go on to star in USAC and ARCA, made one of his first starts in a Model T flathead. Winning the race was Jimmy Vichetti of St. Louis over Jimmy Haines of Chicago and local favorite Dick Nau.
On August 1, 1953, race fans saw the good and the bad. Dick Nau finally won a feature on his hometown turf. What made his win even more interesting was Nau was entered as the “Masked Marvel” with a big question mark painted on the side of his car. It was a publicity stunt at it’s finest. The crowd was told that the masked driver didn’t have to reveal his identity unless he lost a race. Nau topped the time trials, won his match race, first heat and feature, thus he kept his mask on.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck once again. In the third heat Eddie Leutcher was leading on the last lap when he slowed for a turn. Dutch Morehouse went over Leutcher’s rear axle, causing Morehouse to flip violently. Morehouse was thrown from his car and bounced several times on the track. He died later of a skull fracture.
Another healthy crowd of 3,000 plus race fans showed up on July 31, 1954. The Mt. Pleasant News reported, “Fans filled the stands, lined the rails and were at overflow capacity in the infield”. Defending MVARA champion Roy Blinstrip of Rock Island, Rocky Williams of Peoria and current series point leader Ray Knepper of Belleville, Ill., were all in attendance. What also made the Mt. Pleasant race unique it was one of the few tracks in that period able to compete at night. James Wegscheider of St. Louis took the win. Hometown boy Dick Nau had given up driving duties and was now flagging the event.
Bob Cleburg of Rio, Wis., grabbed Big Car honors on July 31, 1955 before another crowd estimated at 3,000. The annual event had become so popular the MVARA Big Car’s had become the grand finale of the Henry County Fair.
Once again, on July 28, 1956, the Henry County Fair came to a close with another large crowd. Indiana’s Ray Duckworth had a huge lead in this affair until Freddy Lambach cut into that margin. Duckworth’s engine gave out on the final lap allowing Lambach to speed by for the win in a thrilling finish.
Although the MVARA didn’t close out the Henry County Fair in 1957, another large crowd and a field of 20 cars came together on June 29th. Another future Hall of Famer, Red Hoyle grabbed the victory. In that field was Barney Knaack possibly the biggest driver of all time. It was said that Knaack stood 6’9” and was somewhere in the vicinity of 300 pounds.
On June 28, 1958, Ken Rubright, driving Merle Heath’s Chevy, tangled with Jerry Blundy and Herb Shannon in the second heat severely damaging Rubright’s machine. He made lightning quick repairs and was able to win the feature. He would go on to win four times that season en route to the MVARA championship.
In 1963 and 1964, the last two seasons for the MVARA, they came back to Mt. Pleasant for one last hoorah. They scheduled a two-day show on July 26 and 27, 1963 with crowds reported at 1,100, far below the 3,000 plus the fair had turned out in it’s hey days. Rollie Johnson took the win on the 26th over Kenny Wines, Ed Frese and Rocky Williams. The next day that lanky kid Jerry Blundy grabbed top honors over Tom Custer and Gene Cunningham, driving a Ranger-powered car.
On July 25, 1964, the MVARA made their last-ever appearance. It seemed only fitting that it was the last day of the Henry County Fair as well. The crowd, maybe sensing the end of Big Car racing in their small town, came out in support to the tune of 2,300 paid spectators. Ed Frese timed in at 25:55, better than the 22 other competitors that showed this day. Frese made it a clean sweep, winning his heat, semi-main and the feature event over Kenny Higginson.
Like the quote says, “All good things must come to an end”. By 1965, the Mississippi Valley Auto Racing Association had disbanded and gone forever was Big Car racing in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa at the Henry County Fair.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Muscatine, Iowa's Brian Birkhofer scored his second Bud Open Late Model Shootout win of the young season at the Dubuque County Fairground on June 13, 2001.
The following night at the Dubuque County Fairgrounds, it was a young man from Muscatine, Iowa, that showed the way to victory lane. Brian Birkhofer displayed a little patience and used a mid-race caution to grab the checkers and $6,000 pay check.
Like Saturday night, Steve Boley grabbed the lead and showed his backside to the rest of the field until lap eight when Coralville, Iowa's Denny Eckrich nosed inside of Boley in turns 1 and 2, raced side by side down the backstretch and then managed to sneak by for the lead coming out of the fourth turn. Eckrich then opened up an insurmountable lead by over half a track, lapping cars left and right in the process.The first yellow of the night slowed the pace of the field, which was on lap 29. It proved to be a costly caution for Eckrich who had built such a huge lead.
Birkhofer had managed to secure the fifth spot when the caution came out and with no lapped cars to overcome, it was time to go to work. Advancing one position as a series of yellows fell on laps 33, 34 and 36, Birkhofer moved past second place runner Gary Webb to move within striking distance of Eckrich with a dozen laps to go. Birkhofer used several different lines in an attempt to get past Eckrich but found the cushion the best part on the track to make the winning move past Eckrich on lap 41.
From there Birkhofer opened up a comfortable lead, winning by 20 car lengths in the end. It was already his second "Shootout" victory of the young season.The previous night's winner and runner-up, Aikey and Miller, followed Birkhofer past Eckrich to finish second and third respectively. A disappointed Eckrich settled for fourth and Gary Webb took fifth.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Monday, June 1, 2009
1987 - The largest crowd in nearly 20 years jammed the grandstands and the pit area to watch NASCAR star Kyle Petty compete in the late model division at Marshalltown Speedway on June 5. A standing room only crowd of 2,600 watched Petty, driving a car owned by Frank Jorgeson of Carroll, Iowa, race to a 11th place finish in a feature won by Jeff Aikey of Cedar Falls.
1982 - John Stevenson from St. Paul, Minn., won the winged sprint car feature and Bo Smith of St. Charles took his fourth late model feature win of the season at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill., on June 4. Stevenson grabbed the lead at the green and was never challenged. Smith battled fellow front-row starter Fred Strobe until Strobe retired to the pits midway through allowing Smith to claim the victory.
1976 - Ron Bergsma of Richmond, Wis., battled wheel to wheel with Jimmy Hendges of Kenosha and then held off defending champion Dick Colburn of Muskego to win the 25-lap super modified feature at Kenosha County Speedway in Wilmot, Wis., on June 6.
by Lee Ackerman
Let’s take a little trip back in time to a hot bed of racing in Western Iowa. To Harlan, and to a mechanic, who’s cars won races from the local scene to NASCAR and most levels in between. His name was Dale Everett Swanson.
Dale Swanson was actually born in Monona County, Iowa, in 1918 in a little town called Castana. In his youth, he moved with his family to a farm near Mondamin, Iowa, and in 1936 graduated from Mondamin High School. Later the family moved to a farm near Harlan where Dale continued to farm. In August of 1941 Dale married Phyllis Kohles and in 1942 they moved to Harlan where Dale would operate gas stations and auto repair businesses.
In the late ’40s, Dale got the racing bug. After the war, racing had started up again at the Shelby County Fairgrounds and Dale tried his hand. He soon found that although he prepared good race cars, he lacked driving skills. It just so happened that another driver was struggling as well, he was a good driver, but his cars were not reliable. So the two decided to team up, Dale preparing the cars and the other driver would drive. That drivers name was Johnny Beauchamp. It didn’t take long and the pair was winning, something they would do a lot over the years. First, in hot rods, Dale even promoted a hot rod race at Harlan. Soon the pair was winning hot rod races all over western Iowa and Nebraska.
In 1950, they moved to the coupes and won most of the races in which they were entered. In 1951, they won the championship at Playland Park Speedway. About this time, Swanson built a second car for another Harlan area driver, DeWayne “Tiny” Lund. Swanson cars dominated races in the area, with Beauchamp in the No. 55 and Lund in the No. 5. At some point the team just wore out and decided to take a break from racing. I asked Dale Swanson Jr., where the number 55 came from. He said, “Well one night Dad had a very good night playing craps, he kept winning when two fives came up, so he decided that would be the number on his race car.”
In 1955, an individual named George Short decided he wanted to go IMCA racing. So he hired Dale as the crew chief and Johnny Beauchamp as the driver. They raced a ’55 Chevy with the familiar No. 55 on it. On August 16, they won their first IMCA feature at the Crawford County Fairgrounds in Denison, Iowa. On August 21, they won again at Wausau, Wis. They would win five races that first year and finish sixth in IMCA points despite getting a late start to the season. In 1956, with Chevrolet support Dale became the car owner as well as the chief mechanic and the two decided to run the entire IMCA Stock Car schedule. The results were overwhelming! Forty-three wins as they ran away with the championship.
In 1957 they successfully defended their IMCA championship winning 32 races and pulling away to another championship after an early season battle with Roy and Bob Burdick. It was a promoters dream, Chevrolet versus Ford. Before that season started, Dale spent time at the General Motors facilities building cars for General Motors to run in NASCAR. One of those cars, the No. 50 owned by Hugh Babb finished second in the 1957 beach race at Daytona Beach driven by who else, Johnny Beauchamp. During this time Dale found time to open a Johnson Outboard Marine dealership in Harlan. It was a business he would continue until his death.
In 1958, campaigning a partial IMCA season without General Motors support, the Swanson-Beauchamp combo won four races and finished fourth in the points. In 1960, the two combined to run nine races in the NASCAR Grand National Division (now the Cup Series). They made their debut at the new Charlotte Motor Speedway in the inaugural running of the “World 600”. They finished second to Joe Lee Johnson. They would have five top-10 finishes in those nine races with the highlight being a win at the Nashville Fairgrounds on August 7, 1960 in a rain-shortened event.
In 1961 Beauchamp would drive the No. 73 Swanson car in one of the 100-mile Daytona qualifiers. It was during this race that Beauchamp and Lee Petty (principles in the controversial first “Daytona 500”) would both be hurled over the guardrail in a frightening accident that pretty much ended Lee Petty’s racing career. His car destroyed, Dale worked on Smokey Yunick’s pit crew for the 1961 “Daytona 500.” Marvin Panch ended up winning the race for Yunick.
In 1962, Swanson and Beauchamp would team up to win one last race together, the prestigious “Iowa International 300” at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. During this time Sonny Morgan would occasionally drive for Swanson. In 1964, Dale opened a new automotive business in Harlan, and discontinued racing operations in order to grow the business. He would later return to racing at what he called “hobby racing” Dale would pass away in January 1996, but the Swanson racing legacy would live on, thru his son Dale, Jr. who was involved in racing for many years, and it still lives on today through his grandson, Ken, who currently lives in Charlotte, N.C., and has worked on a number of top NASCAR teams.
I’ve always been amazed by the logistics of racing back in the day, and one of my favorite stories is a story related to me by Dale Swanson, Jr. On July 3, 1956, IMCA ran an afternoon-evening doubleheader in Jamestown, N.D. The Swanson-Beauchamp team won both events. The next day, they were to run an IMCA race in Topeka, Kan. (Remember there was no such thing as Interstate Highways back then).
Dale made arrangements with his cousin, Russell Smith, an over the road trucker, to pick up Dale, Jr. in Harlan and meet him at Columbus around three or four in the morning. Well about seven or eight in the morning, Dale shows up with the race car, seems that Dale had decided to work on the race car in Jamestown after the races.
Off they went to Topeka, getting there just in time as the crews were already ironing in the track and they had to wait to get into the infield. Since they towed the race car, the first thing Dale had to do was put the drive shaft back in the race cars. That almost proved to be a serious problem as after jacking the car up with one of those old frame screw type jacks, and getting under to put the drive shaft in, the car tipped over almost trapping Dale, fortunately the car tipped the other way.
As for the race, Beauchamp was running away with it, building a several lap lead much to the disappointment of Promoter Al Sweeney who pleaded with Dale to slow Beauchamp down because he was ruining the show. Dale Jr. said, “I don’t know the exact words my father used but it was a definite NO.” The Dodge Dealers of Topeka had put up a $500 bonus if a Dodge could win the race. Toward the end of the race, another driver in a Dodge hit Beauchamp in turn two and put him through the cyclone fence. They got the car back to the pits and made sure it was Ok and sent Beauchamp out to finish the race. Beauchamp ended up winning the race despite a broken right front motor mount. The motor was riding on the fuel pump and cross member. Dale Jr. says, “We use to solder copper tubing rings to the radiator so if the fan hit the radiator it would skid on the rings and not cut into the tubs and drain the water. The fan was running on these skids at the end of the race.”
One final thought on Dale Swanson. If you see old pictures of Dale at the track, you will see that he always carried a trucker type wallet in his back pocket, attached to a chain. In the old days, they paid off the races in cash, and you can bet that with all the success Dale Swanson had, that wallet was always pretty full. The other drivers use to kid him and call him moneybags, with good reason.