Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Nationals at Boone; before they were Super they were Grand

By Kyle Ealy
Boone, Iowa – When Keith Knaack started the IMCA Super Nationals in 1983, I’m sure he never thought in his wildest dreams that it would become what it is today. When Boone Speedway promoter Vern Carman started his Grand Nationals in 1965, I’m sure he thought the same thing.

Carmen was the owner and promoter of a tiny (1/5-mile) dirt track in Dayton, Iowa, that was more noted for its annual rodeo, which had been a tradition (and still is) since 1937. Carmen, in an attempt to bring publicity to his little track, came up with the idea to have a special race in 1965 inviting the very best drivers in the Midwest to compete. The “Grand Nationals” were born…

While details of the first couple of races are sketchy, I did discover that a couple of future hall-of-famers were the winners of the first two contests. George Barton from Ankeny, Iowa, was the winner of the inaugural event and the following year, Butch Householder of Algona, Iowa, took top honors. The event proved to be very popular with drivers and fans alike. In general, however, it appeared that rodeos were more popular than racing in the small community and the track would soon meet its demise (it would shut down completely in 1967).

Butch Householder of Algona, Iowa was a two-time winner of the Grand Nationals. He won the '66 event at Dayton (Iowa) Speedway and the '70 contest at Boone.

Carmen had bigger fish to fry and decided to build a 3/8-mile high-banked dirt oval racetrack on the outskirts of Boone, Iowa. Boone Speedway was born and the rest is history. With a new race track and bigger facilities, I’m sure Carmen was salivating at the mouth at the potential that a big race like the Grand Nationals could bring.

The first Grand Nationals at his spanking new track was scheduled for July 23, 1967 and indeed, drivers and race fans from near and far showed up. The guaranteed purse was a whopping $4,000 with the winner of the 30-lap feature garnering $600. 1965 winner George Barton had been the man to beat at the new track so far that season, so it came to no one’s surprise when Barton dominated a stellar field of super stocks to win his second title in the short history of the event. With 50 cars in the pits and over 4,300 fans packing the stands, the event was smashing success.

It should be noted in the 1967 race Carmen came up with a rather unique idea that had never been tried, other than the Indianapolis 500. With a bigger and wider track to work with, Carmen decided to start 33 cars in the championship main that day, lining them up three wide and 11 rows deep.

The July 20, 1968 program will be remembered for spectacular wrecks that marred the 30-lap “A” main. On the first lap Dave Jensen of Waverly spun and Tom Reed of Boone piled into Jensen as did Curt Hogue of Ames. A fire broke out in Jensen’s car and Reed’s gas tank broke running gas down the track to Jensen’s car. A big ball of fire engulfed the Jensen and Reed cars but Hogue was able to pull his car to safety.

The restart produced one more hair-raising incident when Rich Grant of Madrid flipped his Chevy down the front stretch after his rear axle broke. He was uninjured.

Bill Holder of Ames grabbed the lead in the accident filled feature with Jerry LeCroy of Des Moines breathing down his neck for the first 10 laps. Someone lost a tire which LeCroy hit allowing Bob Bonzer of Liscomb to move into second.

On the 12th go-round, Holder pulled off the oval with mechanical issues allowing Bonzer to grab the top spot. He would never relinquish it and took home the big $700 payday. LeCroy stayed close but could never mount a serious challenge and finish second. Del Stokke of Ames, Greg Davis of Boone and Mike Keen of Marshalltown rounded out the top five.

George Barton of Ankeny, Iowa, would score his third Grand National title in 1969.

On Sunday evening, August 3, 1969, George Barton scored his record third Nationals title. For his effort he picked up $750, a large trophy and a kiss in victory lane from Miss Jeanne Wagner, the Boone Speedway queen.

Barton took the lead after Verlin Eaker of Cedar Rapids had problems with the rear end of the car and was forced to the pits early in the 50-lap contest. Eaker, a top USAC late model driver, was driving Billy Moyer’s Corvette after Moyer had been injured while competing at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines the previous night.

For the second year in a row, Jerry LeCroy finished second with Darrell Bunkofske of Algona grabbing the third spot. Rounding out the top five were Joe Alsin of Des Moines and Joel Rasmussen of Ames. The largest crowd ever, 4,500, watched 38 cars compete for a total purse of $3,100.

Rain was a huge factor in the 1970 edition of the Grand Nationals. In fact, it took a little over a month to complete. The event, scheduled for Sunday evening, August 2nd started off without a hitch and things were going smoothly until the skies darkened as feature time came. As the 33 cars lined up, a light drizzle began to fall. Officials, hoping the rain was a passing thing, had the 33 cars circle the track in an attempt to keep the surface dry but it was to no avail. The drizzle soon became rain and Carmen postponed the race until the following Saturday.

The following Saturday came and went as rain continued to put a damper on the event. Carmen decided better safe than sorry and scheduled it for later in the season, September 8th. Drivers and fans would have to wait just a little longer.

Almost a month to the day, the 50-lap feature everyone had been waiting for was finally here. The winner was no stranger to victory lane as Butch Householder made history becoming the second driver to win the Grand Nationals twice. George Barton, already a three-time winner, finished 13th in the feature.

Householder proved to be the man to beat at the onset of the race. Greg Davis led the first two laps before giving way to Householder. Butch took command for the next 48 laps until the checker waved.

Gene Schattschneider, one of the early favorites, jumped into second place and stayed there until lap 45 when he lost a front wheel allowing Davis to take runner-up honors. Denny Hovinga of Laurens, Iowa, Darrell Bunkofske of Algona and Jerry LeCroy of Des Moines rounded out the top five.

Where rain had been the devil in the 1970 race, strong winds were the demon for the 1971 contest. Despite heavy watering by the track crew for the last couple of days, a strong north wind came in on the day of the race, drying out the surface in no time. It became quite dusty which blurred the vision of not only drivers but the fans in the stands. The surface also became extremely slick causing accidents throughout the event.

When the 50-lap feature started, it took four restarts to get the first lap completed. After three more red flag incidents in the early going, it was decided by track officials that because of the lateness of the program that the 50-lap feature would be shortened to 30.

Denny Hovinga overcame all of those obstacles and was the man up front when the checkers waved. Hovinga had inherited the lead a third of the way through, drove a smart race and held steady to the finish. Arnie Braland, Gene Schattschneider, Dwight Engleen of Ogden and Paul Uhlenberg of Garwin followed Hovinga across the finish line.

Bill Martin of Council Bluffs, Iowa competes at the Boone (Iowa) Speedway "Grand Nationals" in 1972. He would win the second heat. — Morris "Beetle" Bailey Photo

A thrilling finish highlighted the Grand National on July 25, 1972. A packed grandstand of nearly 5,000 race fans witnessed Joe Merryfield of Des Moines push his 1972 Chevelle into the lead on the 48th circuit of the 50-lap feature to take the victory.

Defending champion Denny Hovinga of Laurens, Iowa set the pace for most of the main event and as he hugged the bottom in order to make his car work, a slower car forced him out of his groove and gave Merryfield the opportunity he was looking for. Merryfield snuck by Hovinga and won by a couple of feet at the start/finish line. Ronnie Weedon of Pleasant Valley, Iowa moved up from his 22nd starting spot to finish third while Ed Sanger of Waterloo and Earl Tice of Ames settled for fourth and fifth.

George Barton of Ankeny, Iowa, climbs out of his car after tagging the guardrail in turn one at the Southern Iowa Fairgrounds in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Thursday, July 26, 1973. Twenty-six hours later Barton would have his car back in victory lane winning the feature at Boone Speedway on Friday night and then scoring a victory in the Boone "Grand Nationals" on Tuesday, July 31. — Beetle Bailey Photo

It almost seems that when Boone Speedway was built, it was constructed solely for George Barton. Despite totaling his car at Oskaloosa five days before the big race, Barton would piece his car back together, win the regular feature on Friday night and then come back to win his record fourth Grand National title on Tuesday night, July 31, 1973 in a nip and tuck battle with Stan Stover of Reinbeck, Iowa that had the crowd on its feet for most of the 50-lap feature.

Thirty-three cars started the event “Indy-style” three-abreast. Stover jumped to the lead ahead of Barton and pole-sitter Arnie Braland of Boone and remained there for the first 35 laps. Barton got even with Stover on the 36th lap and they proceeded to race door handle to door handle for the next 14 laps with Barton edging Stover at the finish line by a couple of feet.

Another thrilling finish highlighted the event on July 23, 1974. Two of the Midwest’s best drivers, one from Iowa and the other from Nebraska dueled it out for 50 laps with Keokuk, Iowa’s Ramo Stott sliding by Omaha’ Bob Kosiski on the white flag lap and then nipping him at the wire in the 10th annual event.

Ed Sanger of Waterloo, who took third in the race, led the first 30 laps before Kosiski took command with Stott nipping at his heels. Bill Martin of Council Bluffs grabbed fourth and Stan Stover of Reinbeck took fifth.

Don Hoffman of Des Moines took the coveted crown the next year on July 22, 1975. Waterloo, Iowa’s Dan Nesteby, winner of four features at Boone that season and one of the hottest drivers around gave Hoffman a run for his money but settled for second. Bill Rice and Don Davidson, both of Des Moines, finished third and fourth while Bill Martin of Council Bluffs rounded out the top five.

Ed Sanger of Waterloo, Iowa had always been a top contender at the Boone championship race but could never reach the winner’s circle. That all changed on July 20, 1976 when Sanger, starting in the middle of the front row, led wire to wire in the 50 lapper to win his first Grand National.

Estherville’s Bob Shryock was the fast qualifier with a time of 17:55 seconds on the ¼-mile. Shryock, who started on the pole, finished sixth in the championship event behind Sanger, Stan Stover of Reinbeck, Terry Bivins of Shawnee, Kan., Bob Kosiski of Omaha and Jim Gerber of Davenport.

In 1977, he was the hottest late model driver in the Midwest so it seemed only fitting that he should win one of the biggest prizes in racing and that’s exactly what Curt Hansen of Dike, Iowa, did on Tuesday, July 19th. Driving a Sanger-built Camaro, Hansen grabbed the lead from his pole position and was never headed the rest of the way. The late model main paid $1,000 to win with lap money heaped on top of that. Waterloo’s Ed Sanger finished second while Don Hoffman of Des Moines took third. Steve Keppler of Burlington and Stan Stover of Reinbeck rounded out the top five.

A stranger of sorts was found racing at the 12th Annual Grand Nationals on Tuesday, July 25, 1978. Not that he was a total stranger but to see sprint car star Shane Carson behind the wheel of a late model was indeed strange. He was seen climbing into the new Camaro of Clayton Petersen of Grand Island, Neb. Seems that Petersen was unable to make for Monday’s qualifying and enlisted the help of Carson.

With blocks fastened to the pedals to the diminutive Carson could reach them, the Petersen car didn’t figure to be much of a threat during the timing segment of the program. Carson decided otherwise. Driving the late model much like he would handle a sprinter, Carson nailed down the pole position for Petersen for the following night’s main event.

But, as was the normal, the top prize was not to leave the state. Ed Sanger of Waterloo had something to say about that. Sanger didn’t have the best starting spot in the 33-car grid – a 16th starting spot (inside sixth row). But what he did have was the knowledge of what it takes to get to the front. And that’s what he did…

Actually, there were two races to watch. There was Sanger working his way through traffic to take the lead and eventual win and there was Curt Hansen, a Sanger teammate, driving like a maniac from the last starting position in an attempt to catch the front-runners.

Hansen did not start at the back because he qualified there. He qualified second fastest and was to start in the middle of the front row. A pre-race flat however, necessitated a quick tire change and officials decreed that Hansen start in the rear.

Hansen tried, though, oh how he tried. When the checkers waved, Hansen had made his way to second, three car lengths behind Sanger. By winning, Sanger foiled Hansen’s attempt to become a repeat winner. Stan Stover of Reinbeck took third, Clayton Petersen grabbed fourth and Arnie Braland of Boone was scored in fifth.

The 1979 race was unique because it was spread out over a week. The race was originally scheduled for the usual Monday-Tuesday format on July 23rd and 24th, but because of torrential downpours, the Tuesday night show had to be moved to the following Monday, July 30.

Denny Hovinga of Pocahontas, Iowa, was a two-time winner of the Boone Grand Nationals - 1971 and 1979.

Because of his previous laurels at Boone, Speedway, Denny Hovinga of Pocahontas, Iowa, was always a pre-race favorite every year the Grand Nationals came around. Every year, however, victory seemed to elude him. Hovinga showed promise of things to come on the first Monday night when he won the third heat race and then scored the victory in the position race to nail down the pole position for the 50-lap feature.

The following Monday, Hovinga shot out to take a lead he would never relinquish although Tom Bartholomew of Waterloo decided that Hovinga wasn’t going to walk away with it. Bartholomew found the low side of the track to his liking and in the waning laps drew close to Hovinga who was racing the high side. Bartholomew would draw even with Hovinga in the corners that had the fans on their feet but every time Hovinga was able to pull away on the straights. Hovinga managed to stretch his lead in the final two laps to a comfortable win with Bartholomew in second. Ed Sanger, Dan Nesteby and Em Fretheim of Decorah rounded out the top five.

1980 proved to be a frustrating year for Dike, Iowa’s Curt Hansen. Accustomed to winning features and being a threat wherever he raced, the wins were sparse and on top of that, he suffered injuries in a serious crash earlier in the year. However, on Tuesday, July 22nd, he was smiling once again after winning his second Boone Grand Nationals on the ¼-mile dirt oval.

Hansen led only four laps but they were the last four of the 50-lap championship race that saw numerous restarts as drivers failed to adjust to the ever-changing track conditions. Hansen ran among the leaders the entire race and took the lead away from Dan Nesteby of Waterloo on the 47th circuit to win the $1,000 top prize. Bill Martin and Craig Spetman, both of Council Bluffs, finished second and third respectively followed by Rocky Hodges and Bill Rice, both of Des Moines.

Joe Kosiski of Omaha became the first and only non-Iowan to win the Boone Grand Nationals when he scored the win in 1981.

Joe Kosiski of Omaha, Neb., decided to add his name to the list of Grand National winners when he scored the victory in the rain-delayed race on Tuesday, August 4, 1981. The race was originally scheduled for July 21st and was rained out. A second attempt the following night was also rained out so it was rescheduled again.

When the race finally got underway, Kosiski was pushed hard the whole distance by Al Urhammer of Radcliffe, Iowa but managed to hold on to become the first non-Iowan to win the marquee event. Bob Hill of Randall, Iowa was a strong third followed by Billy Moyer Jr. of Des Moines and Jerry Holtkamp of Williams, Iowa.

The very next year, Bob Hill bested his third place finish of ‘81 with a victory in ’82. On July 16th, Hill started in the middle of the front row (remember, they’re still starting three-abreast) and grabbed the lead at the onset. He proceeded to lead all 40 laps with trio of big names hot on his tail throughout the contest.

Wayne Larson of Ames, Greg Kastli of Waterloo and Dan Nesteby, also of Waterloo ran in that order until lap 38 when Larson, moving through slower traffic, was tagged by a lap car and slid off turn two into the pit area. He was able to recover but had a flat tire and could only muster an 11th place finish. Kastli, Nesteby, Greg Davis of Boone and Curt Martin of Independence followed Hill across the finish line.

The 1983 contest was held on July 19th and 20th in hot, humid conditions mixed in with a little controversy. Denny Osborn of Cedar Falls, Iowa grabbed the lead at the green and proceeded to lead the first 23 laps. Roger Dolan of Lisbon edged past Osborn to secure the point while behind him, Tom Bartholomew, Ed Sanger and Osborn waged a tremendous battle for second.

A yellow flag dropped on lap 48 and Dolan, still leading at the time, had to pit for a flat tire and was immediately sent to the back of the pack. The controversy entailed positions for restart and whether the white flag had come out and whether to finish the race because it had been called. After some discussion among track officials, it was decided to run the last two laps and Dolan was to be sent to the rear.

Sanger, in second place at the time when the confusion started, inherited the lead and held it for the remaining two laps to become a two-time winner. Bartholomew, Osborn and Dick Schlitz of Waterloo followed Sanger at the checkers.

Ken Walton of Viola, Iowa had a World 100 trophy on his mantle but no Grand National hardware. That changed when Walton claimed a hard-fought victory in the 1984 contest. Walton, Scott Sells of Waverly and Rick Wendling of Hazelton, Iowa swapped the lead back and forth for the first 25 laps before Walton got out front for good on lap 26 and was never headed after that. Sells, Darrel DeFrance of Marshalltown, Denny Rosenberg of Grimes and Joe Merryfield of Des Moines rounded out the top five.

It was a miracle that Walton even made it to the track. He had destroyed his own car in a mishap while racing at the Jones County Fair in Monticello, Iowa. Jeff Lawless loaned him his late model and Walton made the most of it.

The 1984 race would be the last Grand National. Then track owner and promoter George Barton sold the facilities to Robert Lawton and for one reason or another Lawton decided not to continue on with the event. A few years later, the Super Nationals made Boone Speedway it’s permanent home and put the track on the map.

None of this would have been possible, tough, if it wasn’t for Vern Carmen and his dream of building a track and bringing his big-time event to Boone, Iowa.

You could say it was a “grand” idea.

Grand National Winners - 

1965- George Barton, Ankeny, Iowa
1966- Butch Householder, Algona, Iowa
1967- George Barton, Ankeny, Iowa
1968- Bob Bonzer, Liscomb, Iowa
1969- George Barton, Ankeny, Iowa
1970- Butch Householder, Algona, Iowa
1971- Denny Hovinga, Laurens, Iowa
1972- Joe Merryfield, Des Moines, Iowa
1973- George Barton, Ankeny, Iowa
1974- Ramo Stott, Keokuk, Iowa
1975- Don Hoffman, Des Moines, Iowa
1976- Ed Sanger, Waterloo, Iowa
1977- Curt Hansen, Dike, Iowa
1978- Ed Sanger, Waterloo, Iowa
1979- Denny Hovinga, Pocahontas, Iowa
1980- Curt Hansen, Dike, Iowa
1981- Joe Kosiski, Omaha, Neb.
1982- Bob Hill, Randall, Iowa
1983- Ed Sanger, Waterloo, Iowa
1984- Ken Walton, Viola, Iowa


  1. Kyle, you the man! What a great read! JVAN

  2. The names brought back a lot of fond memories.