Friday, December 24, 2010

Bob Welborn - The King of the Convertibles

Bob Welborn

by Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. - In 1952 The Society of Autosport, Fellowship and Education (SAFE) was founded by Chuck Scharf. It started racing in the Chicago area but over the next couple of years expanded its operation. In 1955 the series toured the country as an all convertible series called the Circuit of Champions “All Stars.” In December of 1955 SAFE merged with NASCAR and in 1956 NASCAR started its own convertible series which ran through the 1959 season. When we look back on the NASCAR convertible series, one name comes to mind, Bob Welborn. Welborn was the King of Convertibles.

Bob Welborn of Denton, N.C., may have been too logical for his own good. He won the first NASCAR championship race ever held at the Daytona International Speedway. It was the first 100 mile preliminary championship. In winning, Welborn averaged 143.198 mph. At Daytona he never won much else.

Welborn started his NASCAR career racing modifieds at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem. Bobs’s first NASCAR Grand National event was on October 19, 1952 at Martinsville, Va., driving the J. O. Goode Plymouth he would finish 20th dropping out with steering problems. In 1953 he ran 11 Grand National events and recorded two top fives. In 1954 driving for several car owners he recorded only 1 top 5 and 3 top 10's. In 1955 driving for Julian Petty, Lee Petty’s brother, he started 32 of the 45 Grand National events and scored 9 top fives. He also picked up his first Grand National pole that year at Greenville, S.C.

It was in 1956 that Welborn found his niche in the newly formed NASCAR convertible series. Bob reasoned that the convertibles were going to take over the sport because the fans could see the driver. Bob got himself a Chevy factory ride when the company came into racing. Welborn would compete in 45 of the 47 events winning for the first time at the Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, N.C., on April 8, 1956 driving a 56’ Chevy. He would finish the season with 3 wins and the series championship. In 1956 Bob competed in only six Grand National events.

In 1957, behind the wheel of a 57’ Chevy, Welborn would once again rule the convertible series grabbing 9 poles while running all 36 events. He would win six times including 5 in a row and grab his second straight convertible series championship. Bob would compete in only 4 Grand National events in 1957 but driving his own car won his first Grand National event the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville on October 6.

The Bob Welborn chauffeured #49 Chevrolet was a top runner in the NASCAR Convertible Series - Photo courtesy of Lee Ackerman

In 1958, still behind the wheel of a 57’ Chevrolet, he dominated the 19-race schedule in the convertible series grabbing 6 poles and winning 8 events and his third straight series championship. He also had a great year in the Grand National ranks racing in just 18 events he scored 5 wins behind the wheel of Julian Petty’s 57 Chevrolet winning at Fayetteville, Martinsville, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Myrtle Beach.

By 1959 Welborn realized the convertible series was on its last legs having been rendered obsolete because of the superspeedways where the aerodynamics were simply not as good on convertibles. He did not compete for the title setting out the first two races and competing in only 11 of 15 events. Still in his faithful 57’ Chevy he won two more races and a pole. During his convertible series career Welborn competed in 111 events won 19 races, 18 poles and 3 of the 4 championships.

In the Grand National division that year he entered 29 of 44 events driving both a 57’ Chevy and a 59’ Chevy. He started the season with a bang wheeling Julian Petty’s 57 to a win in the season opener at Fayetteville. Then driving his own 59’ Chevy he won the 100 mile qualifier at Daytona to earn the pole. Unfortunately he retired after 75 laps with engine problems. Bob would record 5 poles that year winning 3 races as he added a late season win at Weaverville, NC.

From 1960 through 1964 Bob would race in 68 Grand National events scoring 14 top fives but no wins or poles. At the end of the 1963 season reasoning that racing at reached its plateau he retired He did run 3 races in 1964 with two top five finishes. Another reason was that he watched as his kind of race tracks disappeared and were replaced by the superspeedways. His forte was the short tracks and not the superspeedways. During his Grand National career he ran in 183 races scoring 9 wins and 7 poles. During his career he would hold over 20 track records in different divisions.

It is difficult to think of Bob Welborn without remembering the ever-present cigar in his month. That cigar was the key to the man. If it was small and frayed from chewing, Welborn had problems. If the cigar was new and full and he puffed on it, Welborn was doing well. But he was most dangerous when he held it in his fingers because even if he was talking he was also thinking and he had found an edge on you or other rivals.

In 1982, Bob was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame. He was also named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. Bob passed away on August 10, 1997. One thing is for sure when you think of the NASCAR Convertible Series, the first name that comes to mind is Bob Welborn.

Bob Welborn racks up another win. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

1967 - Al Miller: On Racing

From the Cedar Rapids Gazette

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (December 13, 1967) - Just a few thoughts with Christmas nearing and the New Year's just around the corner and – naturally – another auto racing season only a few short months away. 

Don't know how well dear old Santa will take care of the drivers, or if all will remember to make at least one sporty resolution for 1968, so we'll offer a few suggestions:

*Verlin Eaker wants a new car for Christmas - with turn signals.
*Charlotte Reinhart resolves to keep the faith! 

*No more feature losses for Ernie Derr - so he doesn't have to pout.
*Please, Santa, a bigger judge's stand at Hawkeye Downs so the drivers and crews will be more comfortable watching the races.
*Mert Williams resolves to obey turn signals.
*Art Pickart wants more dough for his public relations work.
*The drivers' committee wants an interpreter for Homer Melton's pre-race meetings.
*The All-Iowa fair board wants spectators.
*Arlo Becker resolves to leave flagmen alone.
*Flagmen resolve to leave Arlo Becker alone.
*Hawkeye Downs’ scorers want security police protection.
*Red Droste wants love.
*Fans resolve to wear their "I Love Red" buttons.
*Darrell Dake resolves to win for a change.
*Car owner Larry Ryan promises to relieve Art Pickart of publicity duties.
*Tom Hughes wants a muscle-building kit.
*Johnny Beauchamp wants a ride - period!
*Bill McDonough resolves to wait for the green flag.
*Paul Bonnett resolves to try, try again.
*Homer Melton wants to return.
*John Schlemmer wants to break even again.
*Chuck Janey resolves to come out charging.
*Dean Montgomery wants Bill McDonough to honor his resolution.
*Young Cliff Blundy wants another set of beads.
*Ramo Stott wants to be No. 1 for a change.
*Lenny Funk wants Dick Hutcherson to mind his own business.
*Frank Winkley resolves to keep his "cool".
*Tony Dean wants to be a flagman.
*Bill Fletcher wants his official pace car back.
*Ford Motor wants to hire Darrell Dake.
*Lee Kunzman resolves to replace Mario and A. J. - that's Luigi and Beck, who operate the Go-Kart track in Guttenberg.
*Flagman Nick Nachicas wants a softer job.
*A membership in the "Keokuk Komets" club for Lem Blankenship. 

*Bill Zwanziger resolves to play "Follow the Redhead".
*Benny Hofer resolves to win a feature in 1968.
*Joe Lehman wants a brochure on racecar investments.
*Bob Hilmer wants bodywork on his "Dysart Destroyer".

We want to wish all a Merry Christmas and the best of racing seasons in 1968!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Northstar 500

The Minnesota State Fairgrounds 

By Kyle Ealy
St. Paul, Minn. – It was the IMCA stock car version of NASCAR’s Daytona 500. It was considered the granddaddy event of the IMCA stock car national circuit and a Labor Day tradition.

The Northstar 500 was so named because it consisted of 500 laps on the half-mile asphalt at the Minnesota State Fair. It was a true test of man and his machine, a long endurance encounter that was like no other.

For the first five years of the event, it also showcased two of IMCA’s best drivers, Ernie Derr and Ramo Stott. The epic battles they put on in this event, only added to their rivalry, which is legendary.

As you read last month, the Northstar 500 followed its sister race, the Northland 300. Because both races ran within a 48-to-72-hour period of each other, this took a toll on the drivers and their race cars.

It all began on Monday afternoon, September 7, 1964. The Northstar was originally scheduled as a 200-mile event, so it was aptly named, the Northstar 400. It was by far the richest prize of the year, with a total purse exceeding $10,000.

Dick Hutcherson of Keokuk, Iowa, won the $2,225 first prize in a race that was halted after 375 laps because of rain. "Hutch" would pilot his 1964 Ford to the win, his 21st of the season on the IMCA stock circuit, and his third win in four days at the State Fair. 

The 32-year-old full-time driver finished the race in 2 hours, 34 minutes, and 11 seconds as a standing room only crowd of 28,000 looked on. He drove a skillful race, taking the lead immediately and proceeding to lead all the way. He got pressure early on from both Ramo Stott and Ernie Derr, but Hutcherson would eventually finish three laps ahead of Stott, who was driving a 1964 Plymouth. 

After the race, Hutcherson would announce that he would be moving south and trying his luck on the NASCAR circuit. 

Ramo Stott

On September 6, 1965, Ramo Stott would take all the honors that day as the bid of another Keokuk driver, Ernie Derr, ended his afternoon in bad luck and frustration.

Stott completely dominated the inaugural event, leading the race at both the 200 and 400 lap portions of the feature and cashing in $4,500 when the checkers flew.

His success story was just the opposite of Derr's luck. Derr led through the first 154 laps and lost it to Stott while making a pit stop for fuel and a new tire. Back on the track, Derr fell farther back on the 214th lap when he hit an oil spot and spun out. And the race ended for him altogether on the 263rd lap when a tire blew out and he crashed into the wall. Derr was not hurt but his car could not continue.

The next year, however, fortunes would be reversed and it was Derr with the good luck and Stott who couldn’t catch a break.

The race was extended another 50 miles bring the number of laps to 500, by far the longest race ever run on the Minnesota State Fair Speedway half-mile.

On September 5, 1966, Derr would show Stott and the rest of the field what the meaning of the word “dominance” was. Derr, piloting a 1966 Dodge, would lead 461 of the 500 laps, finishing the race in 3 hours, 30 minutes and 54 seconds. He would earn $2,200 for his herculean efforts.

Stott, plagued by two flat tires and a blown valve, was forced to make three unscheduled pit stops. He struggled around the final few laps at only 40 miles per hour to finish fifth.

Lenny Funk of Otis, Kan., in a 1964 Ford, was second and won $1,500. Dave Marcis of Wausau, Wis., would finish third, Bob Jusola of Mound, Minn., was fourth, followed by the ailing Stott. Eddie Harrow of Corpus Christi, Texas, Columbus Junction, Iowa’s John Mickey, Perry Cottingham of Inglewood, Calif., Jerry Kaufman of Minneapolis and Paul Feldner, Colgate, Wis., would round out the top 10 competitors in a race that saw only 15 of the 31 cars starting finish the endurance marathon.

You couldn’t blame Stott if he felt a little sad when the racing action at the Minnesota State Fair came to an end at the 1967 event. After winning the Northland 300 on Saturday, September 2nd, Stott would give a repeat performance on Monday afternoon, September 4th. All in all, he would leave the twin cities with over $4,000.

Ramo captured the 500-lap marathon with a brilliant performance before a packed house of 20,803. His time of 3 hours and 29 minutes for the 250-mile distance would set a world record. He would earn a hefty paycheck totaling $2,300.

“I'll drive this track any day,” quipped Ramo, who always had a smile on his face and a few quotables whether he won or loss. “I love this asphalt.”

Stott would start on the pole alongside Derr. There would be four lead changes via pit stops by both drivers with Ramo regaining the margin the second and final stops.

On Stott's 392nd tour, he lapped Derr coming out of the fourth turn. Stott was in the low groove when he and Ernie scraped and Derr almost became a casualty.

Stott, driving a 1967 Plymouth with a hemi-powered engine, would take the checkers almost two full laps ahead of Derr. Ole Brua of Albert Lea, Minn., Willie Crane of Springfield, Mo., and Bob Malechek of Marshalltown, Iowa would round out the top five.

Hometowner Buzz McCann, Dave Noble of Blooming Prairie, Minn., Roger Carlson of Hibbing, Minn., Blackie Wangerin of Minneapolis and Dick Oldham of Des Moines would finish out the top 10.

The following year, September 2, 1968, Stott would set two world's records in the Northstar 500, yet lose the race. Ramo's records were in doing 125 miles in 1 hour 39 minutes 15 seconds and 150 miles (300 laps) in 1:59.7. He had led from about the 100th lap to the 325th, when his engine blew.

Derr, running second for most of the event behind Stott, was in the right place at the right time and would win the race in world record fashion, 3 hours, 28 minutes and 38 seconds. Derr would collect $2,400 out of the $12,225 purse. Future NASCAR runner Dave Marcis of Wausau, Wis., would take runner-up honors.

1968 would mark the final year of the “Ernie and Ramo” show. Stott would seek greener pastures and start competing with the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) during the 1969 season, leaving Derr to continue on with his dominance of IMCA.

Sure enough, when the Minnesota State Fair rolled around the next year, the "Old Fox" did just that, and once again in world record time on September 2, 1969.

Ernie Derr accepts the trophy after winning the 1969 Northstar 500. Verna Winkley of Auto Racing, Inc., and IMCA secretary Bill Hitz make the presentation. 

Driving a 1969 Dodge Charger, Derr won the 500-lap stock car race and $2,600 on the last day of the Minnesota State Fair before a crowd of 16,862. Derr’s Charger was timed in 3 hours, 21 minutes, 51 seconds, dropping the 250-mile mark he set almost a year ago to the day.

Finishing behind Derr was Bob Jusola of Minneapolis, Fred Horn of Marion, Iowa, Ole Brua of Albert Lea, Minn., and Irv Janey of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The 1970 Northstar 500 will long be remembered for being filled with controversy and in the middle of it was none other than Ernie Derr.

Flash back a week before the actual race, on Aug 29th, Bud Helm of Brainerd, Minn., had finished second to Marv Marzofka of Nekoosa, Wis. in the Northland 300 (remember the “warm-up race”?) event at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, earning a tidy $1,275.

The following Saturday, September 5th, Helm went one better, beating Jim Sauter to the finish before 12,469 in the State Fair's 200-lap event, with Ernie Derr and Ron Hutcherson in the third and fourth spots.

Helm's triumph so incensed the veteran Derr that he walked over to Helm's hauler after the race and actually threatened to keep the Brainerd driver from winning the big Labor Day 500.

“He as much told me he was going to do it, especially if I was winning the race,” Helm disclosed. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”

On Monday afternoon, September 7th, Helm was winning. Not only was he winning, he was dominating the event, having established four new world records with his marks after 50, 75 and 400 laps (two hours, 41 minutes, 36 5 seconds for the latter).

Helm was in the lead and was about to pass Derr for the THIRD time on the 290th lap. The flagman waved the blue flag for Ernie to move over and allow Helm to pass. Derr moved down as ordered while Helm tried to catch a groove of rubber to help him go high (but not too high) on the turn.

From most eye witness accounts, Derr raced Helm extremely hard as the two drivers entered turns one and two and as they entered turn three, Derr "drifted" high and caught Helm on the bumper sending the veteran Minnesota driver into a spin. Helm avoided hitting the wall but a puff of smoke from his engine ended Helm’s afternoon.

“He tried to put me into the wall on that corner (turn one) and the next two. I didn't hit the wall, but he spun me on down the track on the third turn," Helm reveals, adding, “Most people thinking the over-revving (8,000 rpms) when he spun me was what led to my engine's giving out.”

It first got Derr a black flag penalty of five laps, but when his crew began going after track officials, he was promptly told to park his car for the rest of the race. The sold-out crowd showed it’s displeasure by yelling every name in the book at Derr as he pulled to the infield.

Ron Hutcherson of Keokuk, Iowa, sitting in the third spot, took over and held on for the $3,000 first prize. Irv Janey of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was second, Mert Williams of Rochester, Minn., was third, Norm Setran of Minneapolis fourth and Bill Nelson of Minneapolis fifth.

Helm finished sixth for $650 but for the big three days of racing, he finished second on the money list.

Ron Hutcherson accepts his trophy after winning the 1970 Northstar 500.

Derr was heavily censured by beat writers covering the State Fair races. Charley Hallman of the St. Paul Dispatch headlined his article: “Derr Disgrace in Race Rhubarb” with an added caption, “Iowan Slams Helm; Pit Crew Jumps Official”.

Said Hallman, "When starter Jake Bozony informed Derr that he was going to be penalized five laps for rough driving, Derr's crew went at Bozony like a group of wild men — and in clear view of the 11,000 race fans. Bozony was soon down on the ground and the public address announcer began screaming for assistance."

Another columnist for the same newspaper, Don Riley, wrote; “If the IMCA has an ounce of courage and integrity it will ban Iowan Ernie Derr for at least six weeks on the racing circuit — and black ball him for next year’s fair. The indefensible aggression he showed to Bud Helm could have been tragic and his pit crew’s ridiculous attack on track officials should ground this ornery, surly competitor until he learns the fair is not Derr’s own personal playground.”

Despite Riley’s plea and outcry from quite a few race fans, Derr was not suspended following the race and was allowed to continue on in his quest for a national title. When the season ended in late October, Derr would indeed clinch his sixth straight title and 11th overall.

A week later, however, IMCA officials would slap Derr with a fine of $500 and place both him and his crew on one-year probation. IMCA secretary Bill Hitz, in a prepared statement, said, “Derr was fined for "rough driving in an IMCA race at the Minnesota State Fair on Labor Day.”

The statement continued: “In addition, a one-year probation period was given to Derr and his pit crew for roughing up an IMCA official after the black flag was given.”

Derr, reached by telephone in Keokuk, said he has 30 days to appeal the action. “I'm not sure what I'll do,” he said. "But I think they sure made a mountain out of a mole hill.”

According to earlier reports, Derr pulled into the pits after receiving the black flag and flagman Jake Bozony motioned that he wanted to talk to Derr.

Derr reported he planned to load the car and leave. He said Bozony walked to his pit area and tried to hand him a note indicating that he (Derr) could return to the race on lap 300. Derr said he pushed the note back to Bozony and walked away. Apparently, one of Derr’s crew members stepped in front of Bozony. Gene Van Winkle, co-promoter of the race, had said Bozony was not shoved or pushed to the ground.

When the 1971 Northstar 500 rolled around on Monday, September 7th, several of the pre-race favorites fell victim to either accidents or mechanical failure.

A seven-car accident at the end of the first lap eliminated new fan-favorite Bud Helm from contention along with six other cars.

The yellow flag went up again when another favorite, Marv Marzofka of Nekoosa, Wis., blew an engine on the 13th lap and had a minor collision. He had set a track qualifying record of 21.62 seconds around the half-mile oval.

Mechanical difficulties left front-running Tom Reffner of Rudolph, Wis., to head for the pits after dominating a good portion of the event. Jim Sauter of Necedah, Wis., took the lead from Reffner on the 232nd lap and held off the persistent challenge of Bob Jusola of Burnsville, Minn., to win.

A crowd of 11,017 watched the racing windup at the Minnesota State Fair.

Sauter's time was 3 hours, 28 minutes, and 35 seconds, and he won $3,250 in prize money. Jusola. who finished 9.2 seconds and about a half lap behind Sauter, won $1,800. “Mr. Controversy” Ernie Derr was third and won $1,500, followed by Mert Williams of Rochester, Minn., who won $1,000. Defending champion Ron Hutcherson came in fifth and won $800.

It was survival of the fittest in the ’71 event as only 16 of the 40 starting cars finished the race.

1972 was the year of Dick Trickle. No one could stop him as he was on his way to topping Ramo Stott’s national record of 58 feature wins in a season. When he arrived in St. Paul, Minn., at the end of August, he was only four wins short.

On August 27th, Trickle would set fast time and easily win the 300-lap “warm-up” race for win #55 establishing himself as the pre-race favorite for the 500-lap marathon.

On race day, Trickle set fast time (21.56) and continued his dominant performance but still needed a little luck to score the win. He would survive five unscheduled pit stops and an empty gas tank Sunday to win on Sunday afternoon, September 4th by three laps over Dick Strang of Minneapolis in 3 hours, 22 minutes and 35 seconds. Dave Chase of Council Bluffs, Iowa would take third followed by Rich Somers of Stevens Point, Wis., and Les Anderson.

The Wisconsin Rapids driver was forced into the pits several times when his hood kept popping up. Later, he would be forced to coast his 1970 Mustang in for refueling with seven laps to go after building up a five-lap lead.

Victory #56 was worth a record $4,500 out of $17, 500 total purse for Trickle who would go on to amass 67 feature wins on the season, a record that has yet to be broken.

Sadly the 1972 Northstar 500 would be the last 500-lap event for the IMCA stock car division and it would be the last IMCA-sanctioned event ever at the Minnesota State Fair.

For the next few seasons, the USAC stock car and NASCAR late model divisions would be the Labor Day headliner at the fair. Starting in 1978, the American Speed Association (ASA) and ARTGO Series would be the main attraction for the next 17 years.

While there would be many 200, 300 and 400 lap races in those series, there would never be another marathon 500-lap race run again.

There would only be one Northstar 500.

Monday, December 6, 2010

1963 - Thirteen a Lucky Number for Bowsher

Jack Bowsher of Springfield, Ohio earned three consecutive ARCA national driving titles in 1963, 1964 and 1965 when he amassed a record 54 series victories in three seasons, still third on the all-time win list.

Toledo, Ohio - The Midwest Association for Race Cars (MARC) enjoyed one of it's most successful season in 1963 and it's final one under the MARC banner with plenty of fierce competition throughout the year. From now on the organization headed by John Marcum and Frank Canale will be known as the Auto Racing Club of America (ARCA) and will operate in a larger geographical area.

In 1963 new car action, Jack Bowsher of Springfield, Ohio turned in a strong and consistent performance, driving his 1963 Ford to a record 13 feature victories on the 34 date schedule. He also placed second on six occasions and third place three times, amassing 3,375 points, a MARC record and exactly 600 more than runner-up and defending champion Iggy Katona of Willis, Mich., earned during the campaign.

Katona captured four main events in his own 1963 Ford and led third place Dick Freeman of Dayton, Ohio in the final point tally. Freeman posted two feature wins behind the wheel of Ken Phillips' 1963 Mercury. Jim Cushman, like Bowsher and Freeman, a graduate of the Ohio super modified ranks, wound up fourth, driving Jack Russell's 1963 Plymouth.

Cushman had three main event wins with fifth place finisher Earl Balmer taking two feature wins as did Jesse Baird. Drivers who scored a single win include Wimpy May, Keith Ploughe, Ken Reiter, Les Snow, Bob Reynolds, Buddy Ward, Johnny Roberts and Ernie Derr.

Final Point's Standings

1. Jack Bowsher - 3375

2. Iggy Katona - 2775

3. Dick Freeman - 2475

4. Jim Cushman - 2220

5. Earl Balmer - 1465

6. Keith Ploughe - 1370

7. Wimpy May - 1340

8. Dick Dunlevy - 1225

9. Doug Easton - 1205

10. Bobby Watson - 1175

11. Paul Parks - 945

12. Mike Klapak - 900

13. Jerry Norris - 810

14. Paul Wensink - 790

15. Blaine Kaufman - 780

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

1978 Iowa Track Champions

Boone Speedway – Boone, Iowa
Promoter - George Barton
Late Model: Tom Bartholomew, Waterloo, Iowa
Sportsman: Denny Rosenberg, Grimes, Iowa
Street Stock: Ron Cochran, Marshalltown, Iowa

Buena Vista Speedway – Alta, Iowa
Promoter - Dick Simpson
Late Model: Arnie Braland, Boone, Iowa
Roadrunner: Stanley Kramer

Davenport Speedway – Davenport, Iowa
Promoter – Bill Schwader
Late Model: Tom Hearst, Wilton, Iowa
Sportsman: Garry Kerres, Edgington, Ill.

Eldon Raceway – Eldon, Iowa
Promoter – Claus Stricker
Late Model: Bill Rice, Des Moines, Iowa
Sportsman: Mike Benjamin, Keokuk, Iowa

Hamilton County Speedway – Webster City, Iowa
Promoter – Don Cryder
Late Model: Bob Shryock, Estherville, Iowa
Sportsman: Steve Coe, Ames, Iowa

Hawkeye Downs Speedway – Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Promoter – Al Frieden & Jim Brown
Late Model: Curt Hansen, Dike, Iowa
Sportsman: Mark Liebfried, Rickardsville, Iowa
Street Stock: Smoke Wilson, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Independence Motor Speedway – Independence, Iowa
Promoter – Vern Weber & Jack Hunt
Late Model: Gary Crawford, Independence, Iowa
Sportsman: Gary Tigges, Durango, Iowa
Roadrunner: Scott Braun, Cedar Falls, Iowa

Iowa State Fairgrounds Speedway – Des Moines, Iowa
Promoter – George Barton
Late Model: Curt Hansen, Dike, Iowa
Sportsman: Denny Rosenberg, Grimes, Iowa

Marshalltown Speedway – Marshalltown, Iowa
Promoter – George Barton
Late Model: Darrell Sells, Waverly. Iowa
Street Stock: Arvid Borchers, Marshalltown, Iowa

Midway Downs Speedway – Charles City, Iowa
Promoter – Rick Baker
Sportsman: Mike Krall, Waterloo, Iowa
Street Stock: Wencie Baker, Shell Rock, Iowa

North Iowa Speedway – Mason City, Iowa
Promoter – Marion Robinson
Late Model: Don Hoffman, Des Moines, Iowa
Sportsman: Dutch Van Wygeern, Hollandale, Minn.
Street Stock: Lee De Vries, Hollandale, Minn.

Shelby County Speedway – Harlan, Iowa
Promoter – John Beaman
Late Model: Randy Sterner, Blair, Neb.
Hobby Stock: Mel Sorenson, Omaha, Neb.

South Iowa Speedway – Oskaloosa, Iowa
Promoter – Dale Gegner
Late Model: Curt Hansen, Dike, Iowa
Sportsman: Jim Anderson, Des Moines, Iowa

34 Raceway – Burlington, Iowa
Promoter – Dale Gegner
Late Model: Roger Dolan, Lisbon, Iowa
Sportsman: Kenny Fenn, Washington, Iowa
Semi-Super Stock: John McClure, Burlington, Iowa

Tunis Speedway – Waterloo, Iowa
Promoter – Claus Stricker
Late Model: Curt Hansen, Dike, Iowa
Sportsman: Larry Schmidt, Hampton, Iowa
Roadrunner: Scott Braun, Cedar Falls, Iowa

West Liberty Raceway –West Liberty, Iowa
Promoter – Dale Gegner
Late Model: Roger Dolan, Lisbon, Iowa
Sportsman: Mark Keltner, Morning Sun, Iowa

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

ARCA Takes to the Dirt in Nebraska

Andy Hillenburg (11) races with Tim Steele (16) at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb., on June 25, 1995. Hillenburg would win the 1995 series title and Steele would claim the ARCA championship three times in his career. - Photo courtesy of Lee Ackerman

by Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. - On June 24 & 25, 1995 drivers from thirteen states descended on I-80 Speedway near Greenwood, Nebraska for a race sanctioned by the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA). This would be the first and so far only appearance by ARCA in the Cornhusker State. ARCA is a stepping stone to NASCAR. Many drivers have went on from ARCA to successful careers in NASCAR, the most notable being 1968 & 69 ARCA champion, the late Benny Parsons who would win the 1973 Winston Cup Championship. While most of ARCA’s races are run on asphalt tracks, they still occasionally run a race on the dirt. Several Midwest dirt track stars were entered in the event and for the most part made a good showing. The event would carry a purse of $98,390.

Qualifying was held on Saturday, June 24 with Midwest star Bob Hill of Story City, Iowa the 1993 NASCAR Busch All-Star Tour Champion setting fast time at 82.988 miles per hour in the Clement Monte Carlo. Harris DeVane of Cuthbert, Georgia qualified second in his Ford Thunderbird, Eric Smith of Bloomington, Illinois put his Thunderbird in third place, and Washington, Missouri’s Ed Dixon a veteran of the Midwest dirt tracks qualified his Pontiac Grand Prix fourth. Beatrice driver Johnny Saathoff (who would go on to become one of the nation’s best modified drivers) qualified in 15th starting position in Bob Hill’s back up car, and Leon Zeitner of Omaha qualified Steve Kosiski’s Olds Cutlass in 23rd place. Kosiski was racing Friday and Saturday at the Route 66 Shootout in Joplin, Missouri.

On Sunday, June 25 a crowd estimated at 4,500 turned out at I-80 despite threatening weather, which included a short rain delay, to watch the ARCA Conoco 200. In support action, Joe Kosiski of Omaha won the 25-lap dirt late model feature. A field of 36 drivers was scheduled to take the green in the Conoco 200 with local star Steve Kosiski relegated to starting last because someone else had to qualify his car.

Pole-sitter Bob Hill grabbed the lead and led the first 37 laps before retiring with a broken axle. Hill would return to the race many laps down and complete 177 laps finishing the race in 26th place. After the race Hill would say, “We were just cruising. The car was good. I was just putting in laps; I wasn’t pushing it at all. It just broke apart.” Fourth starting Ed Dixon of Washington, Missouri another dirt track specialist grabbed the lead and held the lead until pitting on lap 113 under the yellow flag. Frank Kimmel of Jeffersonville, Indiana, who would become "Mr. ARCA" in later years by winning 8 ARCA Championships(and he’s still going strong) assumed the lead. Kimmel held the lead until Dixon got by him on lap 149 and held on for the win.

The drive of the day was put on by Omaha’s Steve Kosiski as he roared thru the field from his last starting position passing cars left and right and had moved all the way up to third by the he also pitted under yellow at lap 113. Kosiski came out of the pits in seventh place and by lap 173 was back up to third place where he entered into a battle for second place with Kimmel. In the closing laps of the race, Kosiski said, “I just got a nice roll coming off the corner and carried it in far enough to put me along side him.” Kosiski went on to take the position from Kimmel.

At the end of the race it was Dixon, Steve Kosiski, Kimmel, Harris DeVane of Cuthbert, Georgia, and Concord, North Carolina’s Andy Hillenberg rounding at the top five. Hillenberg who won the ARCA Daytona 200 to start the season would take his Fast Track Driving School Chevrolet on to the 1995 ARCA National Driving Championship in his rookie season with the series.

Ed Dixon (shown here earlier in the year at Daytona) of Washington, Mo., would win the ARCA-sanctioned Conoco 200 at I-80 Speedway on June 25, 1995.

Dixon commented after the race, “It was a slick race. We had a little rain fall, but it tacked up real well and it just ended up great.” Kosiski commented after the race, “Practice, when I wasn’t here, kind of made everybody gun shy to run the middle and the top. I could see the track was different from what I was told. So I rode the middle of the track and with everybody kind of hugging the bottom, the drivers had to set and brake for each other. I just went around them.”

Other notable drivers who participated in the event were Tim Steele, the 1993 ARCA Champion (he would also later win the championship again in 1996 and 1997). Steele qualified his Ford Thunderbird in 25th starting position. The Cooperville, Michigan native would have to settle for a 23rd place finish as his Thunderbird expired with engine failure after 188 laps.

Bobby Bowsher of Springfield, Ohio, the 1992 & 1994 ARCA Champion faired better as he qualified his Ford Thunderbird in 9th starting position and ended up running all 200 laps logging a 6th place finish.

The race lasted 1 hour 43 minutes and 25 seconds with Dixon’s margin at the checkered flag being about 1 second. There were 8 cautions for a total of 42 laps with Hill, Dixon, Kimmel and Dixon again being the only race leaders.

Friday, November 19, 2010

1954 – Slater, White Crowned I.M.C.A. Champs

Minneapolis, Minn. (UP) - Bob Slater of Kansas City, Mo., and Don White of Keokuk, Iowa, today were named winners of the 1954 International Motor Contest Association speedway car and stock car championships.

Slater outpointed Bobby Grim of Indianapolis in the Speedway Car division 2,950 to 2,635. White narrowly defeated defending champion Ernie Derr, White’s his brother-in-law and also from Keokuk, 2,892 to 2,795 for the stock car title.

Officials for the International Motor Contest Association said more than 200 drivers competed in I.M.C.A. events in 18 states and Ontario, Canada in 1954.

Trophies and a cash fund of $4,000 will be distributed to the 10 top point leaders in each division at the annual International Motor Contest Association meeting in Chicago on November 27th.

Slater and White each will receive $500 awards.


Speedway Car Division -

1. Bob Slater, Kansas City, Mo. –2,950
2. Bobby Grim, Indianapolis, Ind. – 2,635
3. Marvin Pifer, Adrian, Mich. – 2,435
4. Jimmy Campbell, Bates City, Mo. – 1,806
5. Jud Larson, Kansas City, Mo. – 1,715
6. Stan Callaway, Hialeah, Fla. – 1,299 (Deceased)
7. Jim McWhitney, Anderson, Ind. – 1,185
8. Hershel Wagner, Independence, Mo. – 1,160
9. Richard Amick, Muncie, Ind. – 1,150
10. Don Branson, Champaign, Ill. – 1,146

Stock Car Division –

1. Don White, Keokuk, Iowa – 2,892
2. Ernie Derr, Keokuk, Iowa – 2,795
3. Herschel Buchanan, Shreveport, La. – 2,163
4. Bill Harrison, Topeka, Kan. – 1,551
5. Bob Potter, Duluth, Minn. – 1,165
6. Tubby Harrison, Topeka, Kan. - 741
7. Robert Peterson, Chicago, Ill. - 571
8. Robert Narber, Cedar Rapids, Iowa - 521
9. Dominic Perlick, Minneapolis, Minn. -503
10. Chris Skadal, Des Moines, Iowa - 460

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

1974 - Keokuk; that means “champion”

From the Des Moines Register – November 17, 1974

Keokuk, Iowa – Keokuk is not exactly a name that conjures up visions of famed auto races, like the names of Indianapolis or Daytona or Atlanta or Ontario, Calif.

But this southeastern Iowa town of nearly 15,000 persons has produced at least one national stock car champion in each of the past 17 years and 20 in the past 22 years - 25 championships in all.

Say the word "Keokuk" anywhere on the nation's stock car racing tracks and most of the drivers will know that you are talking about the home of champion drivers.

How did Keokuk produce so many champions - more than most big cities in the nation?

Perhaps it all started in 1948 when Don White became interested in stock car racing while watching his father Gene work on cars in his garage.

The younger White started by driving a "Junker” at Burlington and two nearby Illinois tracks,

Then one night he went up to Davenport to watch the prestigious International Motor Contest Association races. White decided right there, "That's for me."

Ernie Derr was bitten by the racing bug next and it wasn't long before the White - Derr battles on the-track became widely publicized and this attention apparently sparked an interest by others in Keokuk.

The two aren't winning as many races as they once did but Derr, who will be 53 on November 29th, - still hasn't quit.

White, 48, is trying to extend his achievement of being the all-time feature winner in the United States Auto Club (he has won 50) stock car circuit.

The auto racing "disease" continues to spread in Keokuk. Gordon Blankenship was a strong contender for a second straight International Motor Contest Association title but finished second.

Gordon (28 years old) and Ron Hutcherson (31) who has captured a third straight Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) championship are the young lions now.

Two of Derr’s boys, Mike and Russ, both in their 20s, are the youngest drivers from Keokuk to be involved in national competition.

Mike, a teacher at Central Argyle High School, lost the IMCA championship by a mere five points to Blankenship last year.

Dick Hutcherson (42), who now builds stock cars in Charlotte, N.C., opened his career at the Keokuk track in 1956 and started racing late-models in 1959.

"I bought a 1957 Pontiac from Ernie for $1, 500," he recalls. "I won the first two races in 1959 and beat Ernie in the second one."

Dick may be the best driver ever at Keokuk, although that subject would spark one tremendous argument. He won IMCA championships in 1963 – 64 and then was asked by the Ford Motor Co., to compete in NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Racing). Dick, who has never finished below third in point standings at any time during his career when he raced full-time, was third in 1965 and second in '67 in NASCAR points.

Ramo Stott (40) had some wild races with Dick at Keokuk's quarter-mile track back in the '50s. In IMCA competition Stott was always a bridesmaid, never a bride. But when he left for ARCA in 1970, he proved he could be a champion, capturing titles that year and in ‘71.

Ron Hutcherson, Dick's brother, followed Ramo to ARCA and continued the Keokuk trend of winning championships.

Not all Keokuk drivers credit White and Derr for their interest in racing. Gordon Blankenship and his brother Lem report their interest stemmed from helping Stott work on his jalopy racer in the '50s.

"Their dad, Pete Blankenship, lived near the Keokuk track, explains Ramo. “I left my car at their place and Pete and the boys helped me work on it when we weren't playing pinochle. Racing was a lot more, fun in those days."

When Lem grew up, he worked in Ramo's shop and later drove one of Ramo's late model cars in USAC.

Jerry McCredie, Jim Washburn, Darrell Bradley, Mick McMahan and Eldon Sheffler also are among Keokuk drivers who have been involved in national racing competition.

Derr, who has won more than 300 features, and White are hard-pressed to explain why Keokuk drivers have been so successful.

"The most successful race drivers are those who not only have the ability to, drive and the desire and determination to win but are the ones who build and maintain their own cars," says White.

The top drivers from Keokuk have those credentials. Derr points out those four drivers - himself, White, Stott and Dick Hutcherson – were factory-backed at one time.

“That should say something about the quality of drivers here," he says. Manufacturers backed only those drivers who are in the top five to 10.

“Heck, I’d like to name my new garage (where he builds and maintains his race cars) the ‘Dodge House’, they (Dodge) helped pay for it," laughs Derr.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Northland 300

by Kyle Ealy 
St. Paul, Minn. – There was a time when long endurance stock car races on a half-mile track were the norm. It was quite common to see 100, 150, 200 or even 250 lap races ran at some of the bigger dirt (and very dusty) venues throughout the Midwest. Usually, most of these races were run on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when the temperatures were in the 90’s. 

Starting in the mid-1960’s, as summer was starting to wind down and fall was on its way, the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul would host two of the bigger long endurance races for the IMCA new model stock cars on the half-mile asphalt. 

As was the rule back then, the more laps, the bigger the prize and both of these races, the Northland 300 and the North Star 500, were two of the higher paying races on the IMCA national circuit each year. The North Star 500 was considered the granddaddy of the IMCA stock car season. It has an interesting history, but I’ll save that for another time… 

The Northland 300 was usually scheduled on or near Labor Day weekend and normally, the 500-lap race would follow a day or so after. You could probably say that the 300-lap race was “merely” a warm-up before the big one. 

The Northland 300 race started in 1966 but upon further research, the first 300-lap race at the fairgrounds was actually held the year before. The aptly named Paul Bunyan 400 was run in June of 1965. It was actually two races; a 50-mile race (100-lap) for the IMCA sprint cars and a 150-mile race (300-lap) for the IMCA stock cars. Harold Smith of Dayton, Ohio won the sprint car portion of the program in the afternoon while Ramo Stott of Keokuk, Iowa led all 300 laps in taking the stock car nightcap. A crowd of 13,723 packed the grandstands to see what I’m sure was a full day of racing. With the great success that it had, the next year, Northland Oil Company jumped on board to sponsor the race and the Paul Bunyan name, while catchy, was tucked away. 

On Saturday afternoon, September 3, 1966, Ernie Derr of Keokuk, Iowa won the first annual Northland 300 stock car race before 11,702 fans. Piloting a 1966 Dodge, Derr captured the race in 2 hours, seven minutes and 49 seconds. Amazingly, it was Derr’s first victory in over three years at the half-mile track. 

The win was worth $1,250 to the six-time IMCA national champion but more importantly, vaulted him back into the IMCA point lead over his fellow townsman Ramo Stott; a point’s lead he would not relinquish on his way to his seventh national championship. Stott, a victim of a pre-race warm-up mishap, which forced his regular ‘66 Plymouth out of commission with a bent frame and busted radiator, was plagued with car trouble throughout the race and actually competed in three different cars, all of which were borrowed or begged. He would finish seventh in a car originally driven by Hank Melborn of Kansas City. 

Soon to be NASCAR star Dave Marcis of Wausau, Wis., would finish behind Derr at the finish line followed by Bill Mueller and Norm Setran, both of Minneapolis, and Phil Cronin of Houston, Tex. As nice a guy as Ramo Stott was, he showed up with a chip on his shoulder and looking for revenge when the Northland 300 rolled around next year. 

On September 2, 1967, he not only got his revenge on Derr, whipping his arch-rival by two laps when the checkers flew, but he also set a new world record in the process. In qualifying, Stott set a new one-lap record on a half-mile by timing in at 22.68 seconds, erasing the old mark set two years ago at the same track. 

After wrecking his car, the year before, the victory was satisfying to Stott. “I wrecked my car here last year during warm-ups,” he mentioned. “I was running really well at the time, and I can’t help but feel that wreck cost me the national championship.” “I actually prefer asphalt to dirt tracks,” he pointed out. “I’ve always run well on them, and I guess today was no exception.” 

Stott would collect $1,250 for his dominating performance. Stott’s car, according to one driver who wished to remain anonymous, was a “picture of perfection” on this day. He lapped Derr twice, the first time on the 180th lap. He gave up the lead to Derr on lap 207 when he pitted briefly for a tire change but came roaring back to grab the top spot back from Derr only two laps later. Stott would increase his lead to two laps by lap 246. Despite the whipping he received, Derr would hang on to second place while veteran Ole Brua of Albert Lea would take third. Wisconsin asphalt ace Jim Sauter of Necedah would grab fourth and 1966 IMCA rookie of the year, Bob Malechek of Marshalltown, Iowa would round out the top five.

Ernie Derr set a new record in capturing his second Northland 300 IMCA stock car victory on August 31, 1968. 

On Saturday, August 31, 1968, Ernie Derr was back in victory lane at the Northland 300. In what was a mediocre race at best, Derr set a new IMCA record on the half-mile completing the 300 laps in 2 hours, 3 minutes and 38 seconds. Driving a 1968 factory-built Dodge Charger, the victory netted a Derr a first-place check for $1,400. Stott, after dismantling Derr the year before, was a non-factor in the race. He led the event at the beginning but yielded the lead to Derr around the 50-lap mark. 

Midway through the race, Stott would have to pull to the infield to change a tire and would spend the rest of his day playing catch-up. In fact, the only “excitement” of the day happened when three members of Norm Setran’s crew were burned at the midway point of the race when his ’68 Ford Torino burst into flames while refueling. None of the pit crew were seriously injured and miraculously, Setran (and race car) was able to continue and was soon back on the track. Engine trouble later on would finish his day. 

In 1969, Ramo Stott left IMCA for greener pastures (ARCA), leaving the old fox, Ernie Derr, to have it all to himself. When the Northland 300 rolled around on August 24th, he was the overwhelming favorite to claim his third victory. Derr, however, would lose his brakes early in the contest, which would end his chances. 

In fact, the top five drivers in points for IMCA didn’t fare well at all. Darrell Dake, a top-five IMCA pilot, was in the top five most of the day until his rear end went out and he too, finished on the hook. Cedar Rapids, Irv Janey had the best showing that afternoon, finishing seventh. 

 Marv Marzofka took advantage of what was an “off day” for the IMCA stable of hot shoes to grab the victory. Hailing from Nekoosa, Wis., Marzofka was no stranger to half-mile asphalt ovals, and he showed why. He not only took home the $1,700 first place prize money but also broke the half-mile mark set by Derr a year earlier by powering his 1969 Mercury Cyclone around 300 times in 2 hours, one minute and 14 seconds. Another future NASCAR star, Joe Frasson of Golden Valley, Minn., took runner-up honors while Bill Mueller of Minneapolis took the show spot. Hometown boy Bob Jusola grabbed fourth while Mike Stein of Burnsville, Minn., giving the gopher gassers four out of the top five spots. 

 Marzofka enjoyed himself so much at the ’69 race he made sure the event was on his social calendar for the 1970 season. Driving a 1969 Ford Torino, Marzofka timed in fastest among the 40 cars entered with a clocking of 21.68 seconds. When the checkers waved, it was Marzofka out front again for the second year in a row. Finishing the race in 2 hours six minutes and 20 seconds, Marzofka cashed in $1,825 for his efforts that Saturday afternoon, August 29th. Bud Helm of Minneapolis finished second, Bill Mueller took third, Johnny Boegeman of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., grabbed fourth and Jim Sauter rounded out the top five. Ernie Derr, on the downside of his great career, earned sixth.


Ron Hutcherson of Keokuk, Iowa would win the Northland 300 on August 28, 1971, and then score the 250-lap victory in Des Moines, Iowa (shown here in victory lane) the next day. - Photo courtesy of Lee Ackerman

After being “shut out” for two years in a row, IMCA drivers got back on track for the 1971 Northland 300 race. When Keokuk, Iowa’s Ron Hutcherson pulled into town on Saturday, August 28th, he was on a hot streak. When “Hutch” left St. Paul later that evening, he hadn’t cooled off any. 

Hutcherson led most of the race, touring the half-mile pavement in 2 hours, three minutes and 42 seconds and taking home $1,825 of a total $11,000 purse. Rich Somers of Steven Point, Wis., would come home in second followed by Mike Stein, Bill Mueller, Jim Sauter and Bill Nelson. Not satisfied with one win for the weekend, Hutcherson packed up his gear immediately after the race and headed four hours south to Des Moines, Iowa. That hot and steamy afternoon, he promptly led 217 of 250 laps in picking up the win on the half-mile dirt of the state fairgrounds. He won by two laps over a pair of Derr’s, Mike and Ernie, picking up a check for $1,250 in the process. If you stop and think about it, Hutcherson raced 550 laps in a 24-hour period, something that would be unheard of in today’s era. He also competed on both asphalt and dirt in that same time frame…and won both of them in dominating fashion. 

 The seventh annual (and final) Northland 300 would take place on August 27, 1972. One of the odds-on favorites for the race that year was Dick Trickle of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. Trickle was having a season that most drivers could only dream of. When he pulled his rig into St. Paul, Trickle was already sitting at an incredible 54 feature victories on the season.


Dick Trickle of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., would win the final Northland 300 stock car race at the Minnesota State Fair on August 27, 1972.

The 30-year-old speedster made his appearance at the historic half-mile a memorable one making short work of a stellar field that afternoon and winning handily. Front-row starter Jim Sauter grabbed the initial lead only to be passed by Trickle on the 28th circuit. From there, Trickle would gun his 1970 Mach I Mustang around for the remaining 272 laps on his way to win number 55. He would earn $2,000 for the victory plus an additional $100 for setting fast time. 

Try as he might for a third straight victory, but Marv Marzofka would have to settle for second place while Tom Reffner of Rudolph, Wis., grabbed third and Jim Sauter would take fourth. Trickle would go on to amass 67 feature wins that season besting the old mark of 58 feature wins by Ramo Stott. The Northland 300 was a unique race in the sense that it was an IMCA-sanctioned event, but it didn’t necessarily mean that an IMCA-sanctioned driver ended up in victory lane. 

It started as an “south of the border” IMCA-dominated race in the early years but as their top stars (Derr, Stott and Hutcherson) moved on to other sanctions of racing, it became much more of a northern dominated (Marzofka, Trickle) event. Still, it was as star-studded as they came. If you consider that three of the greatest short track drivers ever to get behind the wheel of a race car, Derr, Stott and Trickle, all have their name etched on that Northland 300 trophy. There aren’t many big-name race events that can boast of that worthy honor.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Curt Hansen !!!

Happy Birthday to one of the greatest late model drivers ever to compete in the Midwest - Curt Hansen of Dike, Iowa. Curt is 66 years young today!

Monday, November 8, 2010

1967 - Sterling Speedbowl Point Standings (Final)

Lloyd Ewing of Kewanee, Ill., would finish fifth in the point standings at Sterling Speedbowl Park in 1967.

1. Verlin Eaker – 1,272
2. Darrell Dake – 1,205
3. John Schlemmer – 1,155
4. Don Bohlander – 1,105
5. Lloyd Ewing – 1,090
6. John Connolly – 990
7. Alan May – 887
8. Bruce Linbeck – 700
9. Ed Bolen - 681
10. John Beauchamp – 585
11. Jim Strube 556
12. Bill McDonough – 530
13. Tom Hughes – 520
14. Al Terrell – 345
15. Art Brady – 336
16. Jim Kaehler – 321
17. Jerry Reinhart – 284
18. Jerry Roedell – 245
19. Les Peterson – 230
20. Dick Quimby – 230


July 4th winner – Del Williams
Mid-season champion – Darrell Dake
Labor Day winner – Darrell Dake
Season champion – Don Bohlander

Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids, Iowa set a new track record of 17.98 seconds at the July 4th event.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The National Dirt Racing Association visits the Hawkeye State

Robert Smawley founded the National Dirt Racing Association (NDRA) late model series in 1978. - Photo courtesy of Lee Ackerman

by Lee Ackerman

Omaha, Neb. - In 1978 Robert Smawley of Kingsport, Tennessee created a dirt late model touring series that would become the first national dirt late model touring series. However, in the seven year history of the National Dirt Racing Association (NDRA) the series made just two trips to the Hawkeye State. Those stops were in 1980 at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids and in 1985 at the Knoxville Raceway.

In May 1980, nearly 60 drivers from at least 10 states and Canada descended on Hawkeye Downs for the running of the NDRA Iowa 100. When qualifying was over Don Hobbs of Whiteland, Indiana had set a new track record of 23.19 seconds and grabbed the pole for the Iowa 100 (The top 3 in NDRA qualifying started in the first three spots in the feature and did not run heats). Tom Helfrich of Haubstadt, Indiana and Jim Curry of Norman, Indiana qualified second and third, also locking themselves into the feature and putting three Hoosiers at the front of the field.

In the first heat, pole sitter Rodney Combs of Loveland, Ohio would take the win over Mike Wallace (name sound familiar) of Valley Park, Missouri and Don Hoffman of Des Moines. Pete Parker of Kaukauna, Wisconsin would use his front starting position to hold off two Iowans in the second heat. Finishing second and third were Ed Sanger of Waterloo and Tom Hearst of Wilton. Fulmer Lance of Washington, Georgia would grab the third heat over Mike Niffenegger of Kalona and Dick Taylor of Springfield, Illinois.

The fourth heat would be the only heat that was not won by the pole sitter. Inaugural NDRA national champion and race pole sitter Leon Archer of Griffin, Georgia faded to fifth allowing Leon Plank of Mondovi, Wisconsin to take the heat win with B. A. Malcuit of Strasburg, Ohio second and Curt Hansen of Dike third.

Larry Phillips of Springfield, Missouri led from start to finish in heat five with Denny Osborn of Cedar Falls second and Snooks DeFoor of Chatsworth, Georgia finishing third. (Unfortunately DeFoor’s car and trailer were stolen from his motel parking lot during the night and he was unable to compete in the feature).

Larry Moore of Dayton, Ohio won the final heat with Tom Nesbitt of Thunder Bay, Ontario and Joe Kosiski of Omaha, Nebraska also making the feature. Sunday nights 50 lap B feature would see three more cars qualify for the big show. Morning Sun’s Johnny Johnson came away with the win with Leon Archer and David Speer of Campbellsville, Kentucky also making the Iowa 100.

At the drop of the green it was outside pole sitter Tom Helfrich taking command of the race. Helfrich would stretch his lead out over second place Rodney Combs with pole sitter Hobbs fading to third. At one point in the event Helfrich held a commanding 10 second lead as he continued to set a torrid pace. On lap 87, however, while leading Combs by half a lap, Helfrich would develop rear end problems and he dropped from the race.

Combs would assume the lead but Hobbs was right there to challenge for the lead, and on lap 90 Hobbs took a lead he would never give up. Hobbs victory was especially impressive in the fact that he was running on only 7 cylinders due to the fact that a spark plug wire had come off on the first lap. Following Hobbs and Combs to the line were; David Speer who came from 24th starting position to claim third, Curt Hansen would finish fourth and Jim Curry fifth.

Don Hobbs of Whiteland, Ind., set a new track record in qualifying (23.19) and took the 100-lap feature win at Hawkeye Downs Speedway in May of 1980. - Lee Johnson Photo

“It’s been a long time coming but I knew we would get one sometime soon.” said an elated Hobbs after the race. Hobbs was driving a C. J. Rayburn built machine.

The NDRA would return to the Hawkeye state on July 25, 1985 when they visited the Knoxville Raceway in Knoxville, Iowa. Iowa native Billy Moyer then racing out of Batesville, Arkansas would set fast time with a lap of 20.22 seconds. Close behind was Ashland, Kentucky’s Chargin’ Charlie Swartz with a lap of 20.26 seconds. Willy Kraft of Lakefield, Minnesota, Larry Phillips of Springfield, Missouri and Jeff Purvis of Clarksville, Tennessee (on his way to a second straight NDRA championship) rounded out the top five in qualifying.

Phillips would take the first heat over Kenny Brightbill of Sinking Springs, Pennsylvania and Ray Guss Jr. of Milan, Illinois. Purvis would take heat two followed by Joe Kosiski of Omaha and T. J. Pauschert of Carlisle, Arkansas. Charlie Sentman of Waveland, Indiana won the third heat over Buddy Boutwell of Lynn Haven, Florida and Dick Schiltz of Waterloo.

For 33 laps it looked like Charlie Swartz was the man to beat in the National 100 but at that point Swartz slowed dropping from contention and Billy Moyer inherited the lead. After the 50 lap fuel stop, Jeff Purvis was all over Moyer but Purvis’ shot at the win ended on lap 97 with a flat tire.

Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville, Ark., would pick the NDRA late model victory at Knoxville Raceway in July of 1985. - Photo courtesy of Dennis Piefer

Moyer would hold on for the win and picked up a $5,000 bonus in the process. Willy Kraft would finish second, Phillips third, Pauschert fourth and Purvis would race his way back to a fifth place finish.

The NDRA would fade from the scene following the 1985 racing season but during their existence they provided dirt late model fans with some great high dollar events and proved that a national dirt late model touring series was feasible.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Remembering: Red Dralle

Red Dralle of Evansdale, Iowa flashes a winning smile in victory lane in Independence, Iowa in 1977.

Lester "Red" Dralle of Waterloo, Iowa passed away on October 25, 2010. Dralle was a regular competitor at Hawkeye Downs Speedway, Independence Motor Speedway and Tunis Speedway in addition to competing at special events throughout the Midwest during the 60's and 70's. He will be remembered as a hard-nosed competitor who gave it his all every time his rolled his #4 onto the track. Our condolences to the Dralle family on their loss.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Champ vs. Champ; the Tri-State 100 at Boone

By Kyle Ealy
Boone, Iowa – It was an event that was short-lived; only running for four years (1969 to 1972). But for season-ending races, it was as unique as they came. Before parking their rides for a long winter's nap, it was one more opportunity for the cars and stars of the Midwest to shine and that’s exactly what they did.

It was billed as the Tri-State 100 and only the very best stock car drivers from Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota were invited each year. In order to be invited by Boone Speedway owner and promoter Vern Carmen, you had to finish in the top two in points at your respective track or had won a feature at some point during the season. No back markers or middle of the pack pilots in this event; only the best of the best were eligible.

That first year, Carmen put together an impressive purse, with the winner receiving $500 to win the 100-lap championship feature. As promised, the very best stock car drivers in the Midwest showed up including such drivers as Mel Morris of West Liberty, Iowa, the Columbus Junction champ, Don Hoffman of Des Moines, the Iowa State Speedway sportsman champion, Gene Schattschneider of Algona, the Kossuth County champion, Ed Sanger of Waterloo, the Marshalltown Speedway champion, Paul Fitzpatrick of Rochester, Minn., the Tri-Oval season titlists and Del Stokke, Ames, the season point champion at Boone. Another driver entered who was no stranger to Boone was recently-crowned Grand National winner George Barton of Ankeny.

Mike Keen of Marshalltown, Del McDowall of Des Moines, Arlo Dorenbush of Boone, Don “Shiney” Hilbert of Algona, Jerry LeCroy of Des Moines, Greg Davis of Boone, Perry Beckler of Tiffin, Arnie Braland of Boone, Stan Crooks of Wilton Junction and Billy “The Kid” Geil were among drivers who had won a feature at their respective track at some point in the 1969 season.

Another invitee was a driver not as familiar to area dirt track fans but was just as accomplished as those already listed. In fact, when Bob Jusola of Minneapolis, Minn., pulled into Boone, Iowa on October 4th, 1969, he was on a hot streak. Jusola competed the majority of the time on asphalt tracks in the Twin City area such as Elko Speedway and Raceway Park in Phil Stewart’s Tri-Circuit Association in Minnesota.

He had recently claimed the season point’s title at Raceway, located in Shakopee, Minn., thus earning himself an invitation from Carmen. Earlier in the month, Jusola had competed at the Minnesota State Fair, fairing well against the IMCA stock car drivers such as Ernie Derr. Just the week before the Boone race, Jusola competed at Rockford Speedway in the National Short Track Championships, where he shattered the track qualifying record with a time of 14.613 seconds on the high-banked quarter-mile and followed that up with a second place showing in the 200-lap marathon finishing behind winner Ramo Stott of Keokuk, Iowa.

When you’re hot, you’re hot and to Jusola, it didn’t seem to matter what type of racing surface he drove on. Sure enough, Jusola turned heads at Boone, claiming the pole position with a qualifying mark of 18.87 seconds on the 3/8-mile dirt oval.

The night ended on a happy note for Jusola...but for George Barton, the veteran driver from Des Moines, the story had a different ending.

Barton, winner of three Grand National titles at Boone and the season point champion in '69, was driving one of his better races, holding down the lead for some 70 plus laps. Just as the white flag waved, Barton's Chevy went sour; the quick change rear end breaking. Barton could do nothing as Jusola sailed by on the back stretch and then took the checkered flag before a stunned crowd.

Jerry LeCroy of Des Moines got second, just nipping a coasting Barton at the finish line. An Ames, Iowa driver, Curt Houge finished fourth and Bob Bonzer of Liscomb, Iowa took fifth.

The second annual event took place on a Sunday afternoon, October 11, 1970 but this time however, instead of an unknown outsider leaving town with the winner’s share, one of Boone Speedway’s very own walked off with the trophy and the Tri-State 100 title.

In fact, several well-known pilots who competed weekly at Boone, dominated the 100-lap affair, with three drivers, at one time or another, holding the lead during the race in which 24 cars started. Arlo Dorenbush was the first of the locals, grabbing the lead at the onset and holding it for 29 circuits. Arnie Braland, riding bumper-to-bumper with Dorenbush from the beginning of the race, slipped around Dorenbush to take the point on lap 30. Braland sped off and hid for the next 15 laps until a water hose broke, sending him and his Chevy to the sidelines.

This gave Greg Davis, who had won the season championship at Boone just two weeks before, the break he was looking for and he slipped into the driver’s seat and led the final 56 laps to victory and the $400 pay day. The win was not a given, however, as Pokey West of West Chester, Iowa, made a race of it and was on Davis’ bumper the last 10 laps but couldn't muster a pass and had to settle for runner-up honors. A blanket finish among the next three competitors saw Stan Stover of Reinbeck, Ed Sanger and Darreld Bunkofske of Algona round out the top five. Denny Hovinga of Laurens set fast time with a clocking of 17.68 seconds.

The 1971 edition of the Tri-State 100 was as star-studded as they came with newly crowned ARCA national champion Ramo Stott of Keokuk, Iowa, headlining an all-star field of late model drivers. Stott, wheeling a Roadrunner with a 426 Hemi engine topped the national circuit and won the series’ premier event, the Dayton 500 in Ohio, for the third straight year in a row.

Other notables invited included Dave Noble, Blooming Prairie, Minn., points champion at Tri-Oval in Fountain City, Wis., Denny Hovinga, Laurens, who won the point championship at the Boone oval as well as the crown at Kossuth Speedway in Algona and Mike Chapman of Whiting, the top point man at Alta. Del McDowall, Ames, was the point champion at Stuart Speedway and Arlo Dorenbush, Boone, was the Webster City track point champion. Phil Reece and Joe Merryfield, both from Des Moines, were the top two finishers at the State Fairgrounds track during the 1971 season, as well another Des Moines driver, Glenn Woodard, the sportsman point champion at the Boone Speedway.

With all the heavy hitters in the field, 52 in all, it was the Marshalltown Speedway season champion, Curt Hansen of Dike, who swept all of the events he entered, including the 100-lapper. The youthful driver picked up not only the trophy for the feature win, but also took the "Race of Champions" - the event which pitted point champions from various tracks against each other and picked the win in the third heat.

Stott ran away from the field in the second heat, but couldn't stay with Hansen in the feature or the “Race of Champions”. Stott went to a different rear end gear ration for the feature after spinning his wheels through most of the early events, but still didn't come up with a combination that could keep up with Hansen. While Hansen ran away from the rest of the field and put his car in cruise control, Stott struggled and was set back by an early spin-out, but steadily gained ground to finish a fairly distant second.

Fast qualifier (17.35) Denny Hovinga finished third and Glenn Woodard, who was slated to start on the pole but was late in making the call and had to start at the rear of the field, battled through the 24-car field to grab fourth. Kenny Farrell of New Hampton rounded out the top five.

The fourth and final Tri-State 100, slate for Saturday evening, September 31st, had a stellar line-up of late model pilots including Joe Merryfield of Des Moines, the recent winner of the 1972 Grand Nationals at Boone.

Along with Merryfield was last year’s Tri-State 100 winner, Curt Hansen of Dike and also the point champion of three tracks that year; Marshalltown, Independence and Tunis Speedway in Waterloo.

Ron Weedon, Pleasant Valley, champion at Quad City Raceway in East Moline, Ill, was entered as well as Bob Kosiski of Omaha representing the Cornhusker state as the champion of his hometown track, Sunset Speedway.

Another top champion entered was Ed Sanger of Waterloo. He earned titles at both Cedar Rapids and Oskaloosa that year. Other entries included Stan Stover of Reinbeck and Gene Schattschneider of Algona, point champion at that track. Denny Hovinga of Laurens, point champion at Alta, Webster City and Boone was entered as well and the overwhelming favorite to win.

But fittingly, the winner was a driver whose name was most associated with Boone Speedway, George Barton of Ankeny, Iowa.

Denny Hovinga, as good as advertised, set fast time for the evening with a clocking of 17.15, a new track record. Starting on the pole, Hovinga took off and appeared to be the class of the field until lap 15 when a problem with his right front wheel made the Laurens speedster retire to the infield.

Barton, who started on the front row alongside Hovinga, took over from there and won the 100-lapper two car lengths ahead of Weedon at the checkers. Joe Merryfield, who held the third spot for the first 92 laps, experienced engine woes, allowing Karl Sanger and his brother Ed to slip by for third and fourth, respectively. Ron Tilley of Council Bluffs, Iowa settled for the fifth spot.

For four years, the Tri-State 100 at Boone Speedway signified the end of another Midwest racing season but more importantly, it pitted the best drivers, champion versus champion, from tracks all over the region. And only one driver got to brag that he was the very best among them all.