Friday, August 28, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
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 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.
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
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Springfield, Ill. (August 18, 1972) - Al Unser of Albuquerque, N.M., pulled off the USAC sweep in his first visit to the Illinois State Fairgrounds, winning the 100-mile stock car opener of the doubleheader on Saturday, August 18 and the Tony Bettenhausen 100-mile championship dirt car finale on Sunday, August 19.
Driving Rudy Hoerr's '71 Ford, Unser soundly whipped the 30-strong stock car field after his strongest challenger, Jack Bowsher, retired his ailing Ford on the 44th lap. Despite seven lead changes, Unser's mastery of the one-mile dirt oval was exquisite. His 20 second advantage over Butch Hartman as the checkers waved might have been more. Only three other drivers, Hartman, Ralph Latham and Don White completed the distance.
Unser's quick one-lap (37:80) qualifying mark put him on the pole he led the bunched field into turn three where Jim Tobin promptly lost control of his '71 Dodge and caused an eight-car pile-up, which immediately brought out the red flag.
It took 40 minutes and cutting torches to get Jigger Sirois off the wall. There were no injuries but Tobin, Sirois, Verlin Eakers and Ron North were finished. Ramo Stott, Tom Klippel, Art Bormet and Joe Bodher restarted with three-lap "deficiencies".
On the complete restart Unser and Bowsher started some spectacular dicing until the Ohioan's motor gave out. Unser acknowledged later on that was the turning point in the race. Only Don White appeared strong at the finish but his leisurely pace early in the contest cost him that chance.
A paid crowd of 15,000 people were expecting a highly anticipated USAC vs. NASCAR battle but that never materialized. Tiny Lund's car was a late arrival and was never permitted a proper set-up and the highly popular Roger McCluskey had an ill-advised pit stop early on that put him a lap down before the quarter mark of the race.
Hartman's second place finish moved him into the lead in the point standings ahead of McCluskey by a faint 17 points.
On Sunday afternoon, the Viceroy Ford driver finished six second ahead of A.J. Foyt in the championship dirt car main event. Foyt was competing in his first race since a spectacular crash at DuQuoin a month ago. Lee Kunzman of Guttenberg, Iowa finished third.
Pacing the field at the start was Kunzman and Ronnie Burke. At the green Kunzman led Burke, Foyt and Ralph Ligouri into the first turn as crewman worked frantically to get Billy Vuckovich's car into the race. They were unsuccessful; the engine was vapor locked.
By the 10th circuit, the field was sorting itself out with both Foyt and Unser getting by Kunzman. Burke held on to fourth followed by Ligouri, Johnny Rutherford, Greg Weld, Sam Sessions, Bob Williams and George Snider. Another 10 laps sliced the last four drivers from the elite 10 and Tom Bigelow, Billy Puterbaugh, Rollie Beale and rookie Bill Englehart replaced them.
Foyt gave way to pressing Unser on the 28th lap but despite two yellow's that bunched up the field, he was not a contender. Duane "Pancho" Carter brought out the first caution when he looped his Rogala Offy in turn one on lap 13 and Sam Sessions stalled his King O' Lawn Special in turn four on the 74th lap. Three laps later, Burke's flirtation with fame came to an end when his oil line popped.
When the green dropped for the last time. Foyt gave it the old college try but without too much success. After the race, Unser graciously requested that 20,000 race fans in attendance acknowledge Foyt's comeback.
After Burke's retirement, little changed in the final results. Billy Englebart got his Conklin Chevy into eighth and Arnie Knepper coaxed a sick Elder Cadillac Chevy up to 10th. Bigelow's sixth place finish kept him his championship dirt car division lead intact.
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 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.
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-ups 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
Thursday, August 13, 2009
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.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Knoxville, Ill. - Tim Green of Carmichael, Calif. and Sonny Smyser of Lancaster, Mo. split a pair of National Speedways Contest Association sprint car features over the weekend at the Knoxville County Fair on August 6th and 7th.
Green, driving the Bob Trostle sprinter out of Des Moines, Iowa, won the Friday night 20-lap main event on the fast 1/2-mile fairgrounds dirt. Tom Corbin of Carrollton, Mo., led the first four circuits until he was passed by Green who led the remaining laps to score the win. Corbin took second despite a dropped valve in the late stages of the race. Manny Rockhold of Pekin, Ill. and Springfield's Jim Moughan put on the battle of the night finishing third and fourth respectively. They raced side-by-side throughout the event.
A couple of side stories made the evening a little more interesting. Cliff "Woody" Woodward of Kearney, Mo., made a triumphant return after two broken legs and a broken back sustained in a horrific crash at Knoxville, Iowa, just that past May.
The other story of the evening was a three-car crash between Bobby Ensminger of Burlington, Iowa, Jim Hetrick of Galdstone, Ill. and Randy Plath of Carmen, Ill. The three got tangled together heading down the backstretch and Ensminger's sprinter barely missed colliding with a pace car parked close to the judge's stand. Plath ran into the infield public address announcer's speaker. No was injured but at the same time, no one barely noticed because of the melee that occurred on the front stretch at the same time. Dave Kinsel of Springfield was upside down in turn four.
Green decided to head to Knoxville Raceway on Saturday night to compete in twin 20 lappers, which gave NSCA point leader Sonny Smyser his night to shine. Woodward, piloting a car owned by Roger Anderson of Burlington, led the first eight laps of the 20-lap affair until Smyser, in the Vielhauser sprinter from Kansas City, got past Woodard in turns one and two in a daring maneuver and led the rest of the way. An impressive showing by Woodard helped him finish second, Rick Howard of Kansas City took third and Jim Moughan, who spun early, battle back to claim the fourth spot.
After sweeping both 20 lap features at Knoxville Raceway on Saturday night, Tim Green reappeared at the Wapello County Fairgrounds in Eldon, Iowa on Sunday evening, August 8th for another NSCA-sanctioned event.
The 20-lap "A" main featured four lead changes with Jim Hetrick leading the first lap, Bob Thoman of Higginsville, Mo., the second round and Woodward taking charge until lap 11 when Green got past him and led the rest of the way for his third straight win in three nights. It wasn't as easy as it sounded as Woodward proved to be a pest the whole way, often running side-by-side with Green until the checkers. Smyser, Bobby Layne of Kansas City and Thoman were the top five.
Eddie Leavitt of Kearney, Mo., won his first of two Knoxville Nationals title at the Marion County Fairgrounds on August 9, 1975.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
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
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.
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.”
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.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
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.
Dick Hutcherson of Keokuk, Iowa scored two IMCA stock car wins; the first in LaCrosse 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.