by Kyle Ealy
Rockford, Ill. - Veteran Whitey Gerken of Chicago lapped the field, developed engine problems and lost the lead, regained it and then held off a 22-year-old hard charger to win the 3rd Annual National Short Track Championships at Rockford Speedway on September 29, 1968.
Gerken took the early lead in the 200-lapper when reigning NSTC champion Marlin Walbeck dropped out with mechanical problems. The hard-charging Gerken then drove "flat-out" around the high-banked 1/4-mile asphalt and proceeded to lap the entire field by lap 90. Just when everything was going Gerken's way, his engine decided to, in Gerken's words, "get sick". At this point, competitors saw the opportunity to unlap themselves and it looked like anyone's race and Gerken started steadily losing positions.
On lap 124, defending Rockford track champion Joe Shear grabbed the point and started to build himself a comfortable lead. As Shear stretched his advantage, Dan Pzriborowski of Savage, Minn., slipped by an ailing Gerken to take the runner-up spot.
Just as it looked like Shear was going to run away with it all, smoke started coming from the back of his 1967 Chevy and on the 185th lap, his rear-end let go, sending him to the pits and putting Pzriborowski in command with about a straight-away advantage on Gerken and some lap traffic in between. But hold on...
A few laps later, Pzriborowski became involved in some lap traffic in front of him and grazed the unforgiving wall cutting a tire and sending him to the pits to look for a new one. This put Gerken back into the lead with young Shakopee, Minn., sensation Larry Smith breathing down Whitey's neck.
On the backstretch of lap 199 and also on the final lap, Smith got by Gerken but the old pro took the lead back in the third and fourth turns on both laps and took starter Jack Heiman's checkers by a car length.
Gerken went home $1,745 richer for his efforts.
Keokuk. Iowa's Ramo Stott claimed the $100 bounty for breaking the track qualifying record. He turned the 1/4-mile in :14.90 seconds but didn't fare well as he had hoped as he lost six laps early as a result of a blown tire.
Saturday night's events saw Joe Shear and Jim Back split the twin-50's. In two new events, Dick Trickle won the "Race of States" and Erik Johnson claimed the "Race of Champions" contest.
Over 10,000 race fans watched 115 of the Midwest's top drivers over the two days.