Friday, August 28, 2009

1972 - Zwanziger scores top honors at Osky

Waterloo, Iowa's Bill Zwanziger receives the feature trophy from Max Browneller as starter Jack Thompson presents the checkers after Zwanziger's late model victory at the Southern Iowa Fairgrounds in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Wednesday, August 30, 1972.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Midwest Racing Archives (This week in history)

Alan Vaughn waves to the crowd from victory lane after winning the Dirt Works Topless Nationals in Sedalia, Mo., on August 30, 2002.

2002 -Alan Vaughn of Belton, Mo., led all 30 laps but had to hold off Al Purkey of Coffeyville, Kan., by a car length to win the Topless Nationals at Sedalia, Mo.'s State Fair Speedway on August 30. Vaughn took home $2,500 first place money from the $20,000 purse. Skip Frye of Ely, Iowa took third, Gary Webb of Blue Grass, Iowa, fourth and Chad Lyle of Lone Jack, Mo., was fifth.

1987 - Kevin Gundaker (UMP late models) and Tony Weyant (winged sprints) were winners at Mid-States Raceway in White City, Ill., on August 28. Gundaker dueled Larry Phillips for half of the 25-lap feature before Phillips pulled out with mechanical failure allowing Gundaker pull away for the win. Ray Guss Jr., Ron Fisher, Dick Taylor and Bill Shaw rounded out the top five. Weyant cleaned house in the sprint as he won his heat, trophy dash and 25-lap feature. Donnie Beechler took runner-up honors while Randy Standridge, Manny Rockhold and Jeff Wiggs followed.

1975 - Tom Bigelow of Whitewater, Wis., and Joe Saldana of Lincoln, Neb., split a pair of features in the USAC-sanctioned sprint car races at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, Minn., on August 30 before 8,821 fans. Bigelow passed Johnny Parson of Speedway, Ind., on the last lap to win the 40-lap matinee while Saldana too the lead from fast qualifier Marv Carman of Union City, Mich., on the 33rd lap to win the 40-lap nightcap.

Joe Shear couldn't help but smile after winning his third straight Rockford Speedway championship on August 30, 1968.

1968 - Joe Shear of South Beloit, Ill., capped off his third consecutive Rockford Speedway point's title by winning the 75-lap season championship race on August 30. Shear took the lead on lap 15 and was never in trouble after that. For Shear, it was his eighth win of the season including the 75-lap mid-season championship and the Spirit of 76 special held on July 4th.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Remembering: Early NASCAR Truck Series Races in the Heartland

by Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. - Labor Day weekend the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be at the Iowa Speedway and that got me to thinking about some of the earlier Craftsman Truck races in the Heartlands. 

Of course, the Trucks have been running at the Milwaukee Mile and Indianapolis Raceway Park since the inception of the series. They have also been running at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill., and the Kansas Speedway for a number of years, but what about the other two tracks that they raced at for the first five years of the series? I-70 Speedway near Odessa, Missouri and Heartland Park Topeka, just south of Topeka, Kan. 

The NASCAR Trucks Series came into being in 1995, and on May 28, 1995, 26 trucks would enter the Western Auto 200 at the .543 mile I-70 Speedway near Odessa, Mo. The name of the series in 1995 was the NASCAR SuperTruck Series by Craftsman. Craftsman was not the only familiar name we find when we look back on the inaugural season of the series. Mike Skinner and Ron Hornaday, Jr. were regulars in that first truck season. Skinner would win the inaugural season championship with Hornaday third. While they may have left the series a time or two in between, they are still contenders for the Series Championship once again in 2009.

Mike Skinner won the inaugural NASCAR Supertrucks Series event at I-70 Speedway near Odesaa, Mo., on May 28, 1995.

Mike Skinner driving the GM Goodwrench Service Chevrolet #3 for owner Richard Childress would win the inaugural truck race at I-70, winning the race with an average speed of 69.830 mph. Dave Rezendes would drive the #7 Exide Batteries Ford to second with Butch Miller in the Raybestos #98 Ford coming in third. Other regulars in the series that first year were, spring car ace, Sammy Swindell in the #38 ChannelLock Tools Ford, off-road champion Walker Evans in the #20 Barbary Coast Dodge, Rick Carelli in the #6 TOTAL Petroleum Chevrolet, and former NFL Head Coach Jerry Glanville in the #81 Glanville Motorsports Ford. The purse for the Western Auto 200 that year was $145,550. 

Later in 1995, the series would make their may to Heartland Park Topeka where on July 29, 1995, 33 participants would battle it out on a 1.8 mile road course in the Heartland Tailgate 225. Ron Hornaday, Jr. driving the #16 Papa John’s Pizza Chevrolet would set fast time at 92.430 mph and go on to win the 60 lap event. Hornaday would lead the entire race except for laps 31-32 when race runner-up Joe Ruttman in the #84 MAC Tools Ford assumed the lead.

Other notable drivers in the field that day were third place finisher Terry Labonte in the #5 DuPont Refinishes Chevrolet, fourth place finisher Todd Bodine in the #61 Roush Performance Products Ford, sixth place finisher Darrell Waltrip in the #52 AC Delco Chevrolet and road racing star Tommy Archer in the #03 All American Race Car Museum Ford, who finished tenth. 

In 1996, the series changed its name to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and once again visited both I-70 and Heartland Park Topeka. On June 9, 1996, Ron Hornaday, Jr., set a new track record at Topeka, taking his #16 NAPA Brake Parts Chevrolet around the road course t 93.146 mph. Hornaday would lead the first seven laps before Mike Skinner took the point and led the remaining 70 laps in the 77-lap affair, on his way to winning the Lund Lock 225. The field was once again sprinkled with future stars as Jay Sauter finished fifth, Johnny Benson sixth, Ken Schrader seventh, Jeff Burton eighth, Darrell Waltrip eleventh, Rich Bickle twelfth, Kenny Wallace eighteenth and Wally Dallenbach, Jr came home 25th.

On July 27, 1996 the trucks made their second annual visit to I-70 with Butch Miller the fastest qualifier at 113.053 mph. Mike Bliss would wheel the Team ASE Racing Ford #2 to the win in a race that saw 9 cautions and 5 lead changes. Bliss would be followed by Mike Skinner, Rick Carelli, Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Bill Sedgwick.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series line up prior to the Western Auto 200 at I-70 Speedway on May 24, 1997. - Lee Ackerman Photo

Tony Raines would win the third Craftsman Truck race at I-70 when on May 24, 1997 he drove the #19 Pennzoil Dodge to victory lane in the Western Auto 200. Raines would collect nearly $30,000 of a $316,384 purse. Jimmy Hensley was second in the Cummins Engine Company Dodge, Chuck Bown third in the Exide Batteries Ford and Polesitter and new track record holder Rich Bickle, fourth in the Sears DieHard Chevrolet. On July 27, the trucks would race at the lengthened 2.1 mile road course at Topeka with Joe Ruttman setting fast time and winning the race in his LCI International Ford. The race would see 9 lead changes during the 81 lap Lund Look 275. Jack Sprague would finish second in the Quaker State Chevrolet and go on to win the Series Championship in 1997. 
Also in the field were road racer Dorsey Schroeder, Bobby Hamilton, Rick Crawford, Boris Said, Ron Fellows and the late Kenny Irwin. 

When the trucks returned to I-70 on May 23, 1998, the race was called the Yellow Freight 200, but the results were the same as the year before, as Tony Raines, once again took the Pennzoil #19 to victory lane, but this time it would be the Pennzoil Ford. Raines would also set a new track record in qualifying at 114.269 mph. Joe Ruttman would finish second and Mike Bliss third.

On August 23, 1998 at Topeka, Boris Said would set a new track record of 88.897 mph for the 2.1 mile course and Stacy Compton would drive the #86 Royal Crown Cola Ford to the win. Terry Cook would finish second in the event which saw 8 lead changes, Jimmy Hensley third and Jack Sprague fourth. 1999 would be the last time the trucks ran at either I-70 or Heartland Park Topeka. One thing would be the same at both races that year, the sponsor, O’Reilly Auto Parts. First it would be at I-70 on May 22nd, where Stacy Compton would set a new track record in qualifying at 114.759, but Jack Sprague would end up in victory lane in the #24 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolet in a race that saw 11 lead changes. Dennis Setzer in the #1 Mopar Performance Dodge was second and Andy Houston in the Cat Rental Store Chevrolet was third. Polesitter Stacy Compton would finish fourth. Boris Said set a new track record at 89.287 mph in the trucks last appearance at Topeka. The 75 lap affair would see 10 lead changes with Mike Bliss in the #99 Exide Batteries Ford taking the win. Bliss would be followed by Said, Jay Sauter and Rick Crawford.

In 2009 the trucks will invade another new short track in the heartland, with their first race at the beautiful Iowa Speedway. They will bring a new series sponsor in Camping World, but some things will still be the same. Old veterans from those first years of the series like Ron Hornaday Jr., Mike Skinner, Todd Bodine and Dennis Setzer will still be battling it out. One thing that has not changed and that’s the close competition and exciting racing the trucks provide the fans.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Midwest Racing Archives (This week in history)

1995 - Kenny Jacobs of Holmesville, Ohio, scored the win in the 32nd Annual Jayhawk Nationals at Thunderhill Speedway in Mayetta, Kan., on August 20. Jacobs got past Steve Kent of Fresno, Calif., on lap 12 and then used lapped traffic to his advantage to score the $6,000 victory. An estimated crowd of 2,500 people turned out to watch 31 racers from nine states compete.

Doug Herbst of Wausau, Wis., earned his first state championship by winning the 100-lap finale of the Red, White and Blue Series at Kaukauna, Wis., on August 20, 1989. 

1989 - Wausau's Doug Herbst won the battle and the war Sunday afternoon at Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna, Wis., August 20. Herbst powered past Green Bay's Scott Hansen on the 53rd lap and went on to win the 100-lap late model feature to complete the 17th Annual Red, White and Blue Series. Herbst, in the process, wrapped up his first-ever state championship series title.

Dave Ross of Jetmore, Kan., receives his trophy from Iowa State Fair secretary Kenneth Fulk of Des Moines after Ross won the 30-lap IMCA sprint car race at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Sunday afternoon, August 20, 1972. Flagman Larry Shipley presents the checkers in victory lane. — Morris "Beetle" Bailey Photo

1972 - Dave Ross of Jetmore, Kan., and Gene Gennetten of Gladstone, Mo., split a day-night IMCA sprint car doubleheader at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, on August 20. After qualifying fifth in time trials, Ross ran away with the afternoon feature on a dry-slick track that was to his liking. Gennetten, in his first time at the fairgrounds, nabbed the lead from Ray Lee Goodwin of Kansas City on lap 20 of the 50 lapper and then held off a determined Eddie Leavitt of Kearney, Mo., in the last three laps to score the $1,000 payday. 

1967 - It required two passes for Dean Montgomery of Milan, Ill., to become a feature winner in the IMCA late model stock cars at Quad City Raceway in East Moline, Ill., on Sunday night, August 20. The veteran nosed past early leader Lyle Behne of Moline on lap 13 of the 25-lap contest but that effort was erased when Jack Henson of Biggsville, Ill., lost a wheel bringing out the caution and bringing the field back to its original positions. Three laps later, however, Montgomery got around Behn and powered his 1967 Chevrolet into the lead for good.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ernie Derr; The King of IMCA Stock Car Racing

Ernie Derr (1) of Keokuk, Iowa races with Ole Brua during an IMCA stock car race. Derr would win 12 IMCA national championships

by Lee Ackerman 
Omaha, Neb. - Did you every watch, Back in the Day on the Speed Channel with Dale Earnhardt Jr.? That’s where Dale Junior hosts a series of old NASCAR Cup races from the 60’s & 70’s originally released as Car & Driver and hosted by Bud Lindeman. 

Well, I’m going to take you back even further as we go look at the International Motor Contest Association Stock Car Series that competed primarily at the county and state fairs from 1949 through 1977. 

Specifically, we are going to take a look at the king of the series, Ernie Derr. When you meet Ernie Derr, you see this small, quiet man and you if didn’t know better you would say he probably lived a quiet life. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

While Ernie has always been quiet, and to himself, his accomplishments in auto racing and the International Motor Contest Association in particular, simply go off the charts. 328 feature wins and 12 championships in IMCA alone, what else needs to be said. It didn’t matter what brand of car it was, in 1951 he won in a Mercury, then it was Oldsmobile’s for several years, then a long run with Pontiac’s, then a year with Plymouth’s, and then he simply steamed rolled the competition in his Dodge.

Ernie Derr drove Mercury's, Oldsmobile's, Pontiac's, Plymouth's and Dodge's (shown here) with equal success in the IMCA stock car ranks.

Ernie Derr was born November 29, 1921. While known as the part of what this author calls the “Keokuk Connection”, he actually lived for many years in nearby Fort Madison.

He got his start in racing in 1950 after watching brother-in-law, Don White race and thought “it looked like a good way to make a dollar.” That year he finished 17th in IMCA points running only a few races. On July 1, 1951, Ernie won his first IMCA race winning the prestigious 250-lap feature at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in his Mercury and went on to finish 5th in the points.

In 1952, this time behind the wheel of an Oldsmobile, Ernie won 7 IMCA features and finished second in the points. In 1953 Ernie won his first of 12 IMCA championships, winning 15 races in his Oldsmobile beating out brother-in-law Don White for the title.

In 1954 Don returned the favor edging Ernie for the title. In 1955, Ernie decided to try ARCA as well as IMCA and went on to win six events with that series. He was also in fifth place in IMCA in September 1955 with several wins, when IMCA stripped him of his points for running an unsanctioned race. He would win a total of 11 ARCA races in a limited ARCA career.

In 1957 he returned to compete more regularly with IMCA and won several racing finishing fourth in points. In 1958, brother-in-law, Don White edged Derr out for the championship, with Ernie picking up 13 wins in a Pontiac.

In 1959, Ernie Derr would move to the front of the pack again, wheeling his Pontiac to 30 series wins and the Championship. He followed that up with Championships in 1960 & 1961 with 22 & 21 wins respectively.

In 1962, Ernie drove his Pontiac to a fourth straight series championship, winning 28 of 51 races including 8 in a row. For this phenomenal feat he earned $19,289.

In 1963 and 1964 he would finish third in the points to Dick Hutcherson and Ramo Stott. From 1960 thru 1964, Keokuk drivers would finish, 1-2-3 in IMCA points.

In 1964 Ernie switched to a Plymouth. 1964 was a perfect season for the Keokuk Connection of Derr, Dick Hutcherson and Ramo Stott. The three of them combined to win all 56 IMCA stock car races held that season.

In 1965, Ernie Derr switched to a Dodge and as they say the rest is history. Seven straight IMCA championships and domination of the IMCA series, with only fellow Keokuk native, Ramo Stott able to give Derr a run for the points title. During one three-year period, 1964 to 1966, Keokuk drivers (Derr, Stott & Dick Hutcherson) won all but two races in IMCA and at one of those races, they were not in attendance.

Like some NASCAR stars, there were races that Ernie had trouble winning. One of those was the Iowa International 300. Ernie had actually won the race in 1951 (his first ever IMCA win) and again in 1953, but those races had been 250 lap affairs. In 1957, the race was extended to 300 laps and gremlins always seemed to bug Derr at the 300.

In 1966, he finally got rid of the gremlins and won the Iowa International 300. Once Ernie got things figured out, you were in trouble. He would win the event every year through 1971, the year he retired from full time racing.

Ernie Derr accepts the checkers and the trophy for winning the Iowa 300 at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa in 1969.

In 1969, Ernie won 25 of the 30 IMCA features, including the last 12 races of the season. Also, that year Ernie was joined on the IMCA circuit by his son Mike, and later son Russ would also compete in IMCA. Mike would go on to win several IMCA events and would battle fellow Keokuk resident, Gordon Blankenship for the 1973 IMCA Championship, losing to Blankenship by just five points.

Following the 1971 season and perhaps realizing that he had done it all, Ernie Derr cut back on his racing endeavors and ended his career at the Fall Jamboree in Knoxville in September 1977. During those last seven seasons, Derr would win 145 out of 245 races contested in the IMCA stock car series.

From 1971 through 1976 Ernie would campaign a limited schedule with the United States Auto Club competing against the likes of five-time series champion Butch Hartman, two-time series champion and winningest driver in USAC Stock Car racing, Don White, 3-time series champion Norm Nelson, former nemesis and 1975 USAC champion Ramo Stott, as well as Al Unser, Roger McCluskey and Tiny Lund. Ernie would log three wins and at least 8 runner-up's and almost always was in the top 5.

Ernie Derr would run only one NASCAR Cup event (then called Grand Nationals). That would be on August 2, 1953 at the Davenport Speedway in Davenport, Iowa. He would finish well done in the running order of that 200-lap event.

Of course, in 1953, NASCAR was just another series. One wonders what would have happened if Ernie would have lived closer to the heart of NASCAR. Ernie still lives in Keokuk and keeps busy around the property he owns, and as always, he doesn’t say much. He doesn’t have to; his accomplishments say it ALL.

In June, 2005, with the help of Ernie’s son Mike, I got to spend some time with Ernie. I had been told that Ernie was not very easy to talk to, but he finally relented and for about 45 minutes he shared some of his experiences with me, and then it was time to mow the lawn. That and 45 minutes with brother-in-law Don White early in the day, doesn’t seem like a lot of time to learn much about a person, but combined with some comments made by son Mike, it was enough. “Dad simply outworked them.” That and being a very good and smart driver, I think were the secret to Ernie Derr’s incredible success.

Monday, August 17, 2009

1973 - Thomas grabs Super Modified victory at 34 Raceway

Mike Thomas grabbed top honors at the 1973 Midwest Super Modified Short Track Championships at 34 Raceway Park in Burlington, Iowa, on August 18, 1973.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Midwest Racing Archives (This week in history)

Danny Lasoski of Dover, Mo., piloted the Beef Packers #83 to victory in the 38th Annual Knoxville Nationals on August 15, 1998.

1998 - "We did it! This is the greatest day of my life," yelled Danny Lasoski from victory lane after he scored his first Amoco Knoxville Nationals win on August 15. After battling side-by-side for the last 20 laps, Lasoski passed Sammy Swindell on the last lap to pull of the thrilling win. Jac Haudenschild passed Swindell coming out the fourth turn to take runner-up honors and Swindell settled for third.

Bobby Allen grabbed top honors in the 25-lap sprint car feature at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa on August 17, 1986.

1986 - Bobby Allen of Hanover, Penn., won the 25-lap winged sprint car feature at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, on Sunday afternoon, August 17. Johnny Herrera of Albuquerque, N.M., took the early lead and led the first five laps before spinning out on the sixth. Allen took over from there and was never challenged on his way to pocketing $2,000. Rick Ungar of Memphis, Tenn., took second and Max Dumesny of Warranmbool, Australia grabbed third.

Tom Reffner of Rudolph, Wis., powered his Ed Howe AMC Javelin to feature win number 56 on the season, winning at State Park Speedway on August 14, 1975. He would finish the season with an amazing 67 victories.

1975 - "The Blue Knight" Tom Reffner won his 56th feature of the season by out dueling NASCAR star Bobby Allison in State Park Speedway's 100-lap Race of Champions in Rib Mountain, Wis., on August 14. Allison took the lead in his Camaro but drifted high on the 39th circuit allowing Reffner to move his AMC Javelin into the lead and eventually the win. Mike Miller would also get by Allison to take second while Allison settled for third.

Ken Gritz won the Super Modified Championship at Knoxville Raceway. 

1969 - Kenny Gritz of Lincoln, Neb., fought off the pain of burns to his face and won the Knoxville Super Modified Championships at the Marion County Fairgrounds in Knoxville, Iowa on August 16. Burned earlier in the day when sparks from welding torch ignited a gas tank fumes, Gritz overtook fellow Lincolnite Jan Opperman on the 27th lap and took the checkers with a comfortable lead. Opperman, Bob Williams and Ray Lee Goodwin, both of Kansas City, and Kenny Weld of Thomasville, Penn., rounded out the top five. Unfortunately, Gritz enjoyed the biggest win of his career for a short time. Just 16 days later, Gritz was killed in a sprint car crash at the Nebraska State Fairgrounds in Lincoln on September 1.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Midwest Racing Archives (This week in history)

Rick Aukland was all smiles after winning the USA Nationals 100 at Cedar Lake Speedway on August 9. 1997.

1997 - Rick Aukland of Fargo, N.D., became the 13th different winner on the Hav-A-Tampa Dirt Racing Series tour with a rousing win in the USA Nationals 100 at Cedar Lake Speedway in New Richmond, Wis., on August 9. Aukland slipped by Bill Frye of Greenbrier, Ark., at the start-finish line with two laps to go and then motor away for the victory. Donnie Moran of Dresden, Ohio, snared second, Frye settled for third, Rick Eckert of York, Penn., fourth and Wendall Wallace of Batesville, Ark., rounded out the top five.

1987 - Rocky Hodges of Des Moines became the first driver to win both the Jayhawk Sprint Car Nationals and the Jerry Weld Memorial during the same season on August 16 -17. At Lakeside Speedway, Hodges started from the pole in the Jayhawk Nationals and rode the high groove to perfection holding off Jeff Swindell and then two-time winner Jimmy Sills to score the decisive victory. The next night at I-70 Speedway, Hodges had to work through the field from his fifth row starting position. Hodges grabbed the top spot from race leader T.J. Giddings on lap 11 and kept the rest of the field at bay. In all, Hodges collected $10,000 for his two wins, including a $3,000 bonus for capturing both events.

Eddie Leavitt of Kearney, Mo., won his first of two Knoxville Nationals title at the Marion County Fairgrounds on August 9, 1975.

1975 - Eddie Leavitt of Kearney, Mo., won the 30-lap National Super Sprint Championships at the Marion County Fairgrounds in Knoxville, Iowa, on August 9. Even though the 32-year-old pilot won by three-quarters of a lap over Roger Rager and nearly lapped the rest of the field, Leavitt slammed into the wall on the 29th circuit damaging his car. "I got into some rough dirt in turn four and lost control, Leavitt said. "The rear axle was bent and the car really vibrated on the last lap. I was really worried that I wasn't going to make it." Rager, Rick Ferkel, Fred Linder and Jan Opperman would round out the top five finishers.

1969 - Marv Marzofka of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., made an extra $200 but it was hometown boy John Ziegler that walked away with two wins at Capital Super Speedway in Madison on August 7 -8. Race promoter Sam Bartus offered $200 to any driver who could break the 20 second barrier and Marzofka toured the 1/2-mile in 19.96 seconds. Ziegler dominated the 50-lap mid-season championship on Thursday night and then fought off Ed Hume and Dick Duerst to win on Friday evening as well.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

1959 - A Frank Winkley short story

Even upside down in a sprint car, Jim Hurtubise had a sense of humor.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa - This Friday at Hawkeye Downs, the late promoter Frank Winkley will be inducted into the Wall of Fame. Mike Heffron of St. Paul, Minn., who worked with Winkley and will be accepting on Frank's behalf, shared an amusing story with me recently that happened at Hawkeye Downs 50 years ago.

July 5, 1959 - "A one-day rain delayed sprint car date ... Under the lights ... Second heat ... On the start Jim Hurtubise comes up fast and runs over Mickey McCormick's rear wheel and flips out over the backstretch fence ... I'm in the judges stand with Winkley who reacts to the accident by jumping, rather than climbing down the stairs, (nearly breaking a leg), runs across the infield and over the fence ... I'm in hot pursuit, but had a hard time keeping up ..."

"In those days there were railroad tracks running parallel to the backstretch ... Maybe they're still there (they are) ... Wink and I and two crewmen got to Jim about the same time ... The car is upside down, straddling the railroad tracks ... The fuel tank was split ... fuel was running down into the cockpit ... Jim was barely visible ... Frank bent down to see if "Herk" was conscious ... he was ... Frank told him to release his belt and they would lift the car off him ..."

Hurtubise, always the comedian, replied, "'Better hurry up Frank ... I just heard a train whistle'" ...

Monday, August 3, 2009

The "Mid-Summer Midget Classic" at Eagle Raceway

by Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. — Every year since 1978 around the 1st of August they run the Belleville “Midget Nationals” at the historic and lightning fast Belleville High Banks in Belleville, Kan.

For many years starting in 1987, the pre-Belleville Midget show in the area was held at Eagle Raceway just east of Lincoln. It was called the Pepsi “Mid-Summer Midget Classic.” Looking back at the event, we find that a number of participants in that race have gone on to become household names in NASCAR.

California's Ron "Sleepy" Tripp grabbed top honors at the inaugural Pepsi Mid-Summer Classic in 1987 and twice at the Belleville Midget Nationals (1985, '87).

The inaugural show was won by a driver from Costa Mesa, Calif., by the name of Ron (Sleepy) Tripp. Tripp was anything but sleepy; he would win nine USAC National or Western Region championships along with the Belleville “Midget Nationals” in 1985 and 1987. In 1988, Wisconsin’s Dean Billings took the win and the following year the event was sanctioned by USAC, and another USAC Midget legend, Robby Flock of City of Industries, Calif., won the “Mid-Summer Classic.” Flock would win four USAC National or Regional Championships and the 1996 Belleville “Nationals.”

Before paving his way to NASCAR fame, Jeff Gordon was an accomplished USAC midget pilot who would win the Mid-Summer Classic, the Belleville Midget Nationals and USAC national midget championship in 1990. - Joe Orth Photo

On July 31, 1990, the stars of USAC returned to Eagle and the winner was a young California native, living and racing out of Pittsboro, Ind., by the name of Jeff Gordon. Gordon would go on to win the Belleville “Midget Nationals” and the USAC National Midget Championship in 1990, and would eventually leave USAC for NASCAR. I think you probably know the rest of story.

Tony Elliott, of Indiana won the 1991 race and then went on to be a mainstay in USAC open wheel racing for many years winning two national championships. In 1992 and 1993, the “Mid-Summer Nationals” saw its first repeat winner, as Page Jones, son of the legendary Parnelli Jones won back-to-back “Mid-Summer Classics.” Page would also win the Belleville “Nationals” in 1993 and was a rising star in open wheel racing until his career was cut short by a bad accident in a Sprint Car at the “4-Crowns Nationals” at Eldora Speedway.

On August 2, 1994, another young Indiana hotshoe, from Rushville, Ind., would win the race. Tony Stewart would go on to become one of the most versatile drivers in racing, winning national championships in all three of USAC’s premier divisions in 1995, the first driver to do so. He would later campaign in the Indy Racing League, before leaving for NASCAR and a storied career. Stewart has not forgotten his roots and still campaigns the short tracks. While most Nextel Cup drivers were looking forward to their first competition of 2007 during Daytona “Speedweeks,” Stewart already had two wins in midgets, winning indoor races at the Fort Wayne Coliseum, as well as his second “Chili Bowl” in Tulsa, Okla., in January.

California’s Cory Kruseman took the 1995 Pepsi “Classic” and would go on to win the “Chili Bowl” in 2000 and again in 2004. In 1996, the event was a two-day affair with wins posted by Colorado Midget legend Dave Strickland Jr. and Tracy Hines. Hines, later won USAC Silver Crown and Sprint Car titles and was a regular in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for a while. He also won the “Chili Bowl” in 2005.

Another driver who has gone on to national prominence won the 1997 “Classic.” Jason Leffler would follow up his win by also winning the Belleville “Nationals.” Leffler would become a three time USAC National Midget champion as well, winning a USAC Silver Crown championship before moving on to NASCAR.

California’s Ricky Shelton would win the 1998 version of the race. In 1999 it was Dave Darland passing Dave Strickland on the final turn to take the win. Darland would become a mainstay of USAC open wheel racing winning championships in all three major USAC series.

In 2000, yet another future star would grace victory lane at the “Mid-Summer Classic.” Enumclaw, Wash.’s Kasey Kahne would not only win the “Classic” but also the Belleville “Nationals” in both 2000 and 2001 and the USAC National Midget championship in 2000. Kahne would also move on to NASCAR as the driver of the #9 Ray Everham Dodge.

In addition to drivers that have won the “Mid-Summer Classic”, many other named drivers participated in the race, including “Indianapolis 500” veteran Johnny Parsons Jr., former USAC star J.J. Yeley, who in 2003 tied Tony Stewart’s record of winning all three premier USAC championships in the same year. Ironically, they were teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing. 

The late Kenny Irwin, Jr., would race in the “Classic” and go on to win the 1996 USAC Midget championship. He would move to NASCAR and become a star in the Cup series before his tragic accident at New Hampshire Speedway.

The late Kenny Irwin Jr. would compete in the Mid-Summer Classic and claim the 1996 USAC midget national title.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

1963 - Hutch, Stott share IMCA stock car spotlight

Cedar Rapids, Iowa - Ramo Stott and Dick Hutcherson grabbed wins on a three-day swing through the Midwest as the IMCA stock cars made appearances at the Louisa County Fairgrounds in Columbus Junction, Iowa, Interstate Fairgrounds in La Crosse, Wis. and the Southern Iowa Fairgrounds in Oskaloosa, Iowa at the beginning of August in 1963.

Ramo Stott took top honors in the 25-lap IMCA stock car feature in Columbus Junction, Iowa on August 2, 1963.

Track records fell by the wayside in Columbus Junction on Friday, August 2. Ramo Stott of Keokuk, Iowa, driving a '63 Ford, won the 25-lap event, setting a new track record of 12:05.48 on the flat 1/2-mile dirt track. He was followed by Dick Hutcherson, also of Keokuk, driving a '63 Ford, and Bill Moyer of Des Moines, piloting a '62 Ford. John Jones and Moyer won heats, John Mickey, driving a '63 Pontiac grabbed trophy dash honors while Chub Liebe of Oelwein, Iowa took the consolation.

Two nights later, on Sunday, August 4th in La Crosse, Hutcherson won both features, a day/night doubleheader. Hutcherson set fast time, won his heat, the trophy dash and the 25-lap feature in the afternoon tilt. Later that evening, he scored the second heat win and then held off Liebe and Stott in the 100-lap main event.

Dick Hutcherson of Keokuk, Iowa scored two IMCA stock car wins; the first in La Crosse on August 4th and the second at Oskaloosa on August 6, 1963. "Hutch" would go on to win his first of two IMCA national championships that year.

The IMCA circuit made its way back south once again and took to the half-mile at Oskaloosa on Tuesday, August 6th. The track was hit with four inches of rain on race day but Southern Iowa Fairboard president Paul Van Zee managed to get the track in race shape before the evening's events got underway.

The track was so heavy Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids, behind the wheel of a '63 Ford, was a full five seconds off the track record. In the feature race, Hutcherson grabbed the lead from the onset and dominated the 100-lapper. Defending IMCA national champion Ernie Derr of Keokuk, got within four car lengths of Hutcherson at one point and was closing the gap when a near spin-out on lap 81 set him back half a lap. Derr, Stott, John Mickey and Bob Reynolds rounded out the top-five finishers.