Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Iowa Challenge Cup (1971 - 1976)

Bill McDonough (left) of Cedar Rapids accepts the Ed Janey Memorial Trophy from the late Ed Janey's sons. From left to right; Irv, Chuck and Bob Janey. McDonough won the inaugural Iowa Challenge Cup on August 10, 1971.

By Kyle Ealy
Cedar Rapids, Iowa – It was a short-lived event but the Iowa Challenge Cup will go down as one the most star-studded and popular races ever held at Hawkeye Downs Speedway.

Sponsored every year by the Cedar Rapids Jaycees, the late model get together brought in not only the elite of the Midwest dirt tracks but the stars of NASCAR as well. Because the event was run solely by the Jaycees, a good portion of the profits raised from these races always went to a deserving charity.

The first Iowa Challenge Cup was scheduled for Tuesday evening, August 10, 1971.To kick off what Jaycee officials were hoping would be the Midwest’s marquee late model event, they decided, “Why not bring in NASCAR’s marquee driver to be honorary starter?” Richard Petty of Randleman, N.C., spent most of his evening signing autographs and posing for the camera. He proved to be a popular choice.

An overflow crowd estimated at 9,000 thrilled as Cedar Rapids’ Bill McDonough and his 1965 Chevrolet held off the relentless bids of two big names; Ernie Derr and Ramo Stott, both of Keokuk, to capture the 50-lap feature and the top prize of $1,000. McDonough added another $920 in lap money, as he led the final 46 tours at $20 per lap.

He finished less than a car length ahead of Stott, who had taken the runner-up spot from Derr on the 48th lap. Less than a car length separated Stott's 1971 Plymouth from Derr's '71 Dodge at the checkered flag. Following Derr across the finish line were Roger Dolan of Lisbon, Ron Prymek of Iowa City and Bob Kilmer of Dysart.

The feature wasn't without red flags or controversy. When the race was stopped for the third time, with only 20 laps completed, Ed Sanger of Waterloo headed for the pits to refuel. That was a no-no, as it was explained in the driver's meeting before the race that cars could not refuel once the race began When Sanger, who was running second at the time, returned for the restart, he was disqualified.

Sanger, who was the point leader at Cedar Rapids, Independence and Waterloo at the time, protested vigorously. He contended that he wasn’t notified of the meeting, therefore did not attend. Despite pleas’ from Sanger and also a few fans in the stands, race officials of the sponsoring Jaycees did not rescind the ruling.

In other events, Iowa City's John Moss captured the 25-lap consy, Derr took the trophy dash and Darrel Dake of Cedar Rapids, Terry Ryan of Davenport, Ron Prymek of Iowa City and Lee Kunzman, the USAC ace from Guttenberg, copped heat events. McDonough was fastest in time trails clocking in at 25.01 seconds.

NASCAR star Buddy Baker was present of the second annual event, held on Tuesday, August 8, 1972. Like Petty was the year before, Baker was a busy man during his visit. He was the guest speaker at the Cedar Rapids Jaycees press luncheon that afternoon and then was Grand Marshall for the race that evening. In addition to Baker’s presence, 1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton was also present for the festivities.

As good as the inaugural event was, the second annual event proved to be as spectacular and with even more controversy.

Verlin Eaker of Mechanicsville, Iowa, fresh off a third place finish in the USAC stock race at Pocono just a few days before, held off 25 of the top late model drivers to win the 50-lap Iowa Challenge Cup then had to fight off a protest by several of those same drivers before collecting his $2,140 purse.

Eaker, who started the feature in the fourth position, blasted out of the pack and grabbed second on the first lap, then shot by Joe Merryfield of Des Moines into the front spot on the fourth circuit. Displaying little handling difficulty on the rough, choppy, rain-soaked half-mile, Eaker set his own pace for the remainder of the race, surviving three yellow caution flags and finishing four seconds ahead of Waterloo's Ed Sanger and Bill McDonough of Cedar Rapids, last year's winner.

Verlin Eaker, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, won the rich ($2,100) Iowa Challenge Cup at Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on August 8, 1972. Joining Eaker in victory lane is, left to right: NASCAR star Buddy Baker (serving as grand marshal), Terry Hoover, flagman Engel DeKock, Jeanie Kula, Eaker, Elaine Marquadt, Charlane Price and NASCAR driver Pete Hamilton. — Morris "Beetle" Bailey Photo

The victory paid Eaker $1,200 for first and he collected another $940 at $20 per lap for the 47 laps he led, but the USAC star had to wait until 1:15 a.m. Wednesday morning before race officials resolved a protest against his victory and made the pay-off.

The protest was a result of a mishap suffered by Eaker during the third yellow flag of the race on the 24th lap. Rules for procedures under the yellow flag had been explained at a pre-race drivers meeting and those rules stated that all cars would race to the flagman on each yellow before falling into single file for the restart.

In the incident in question, one of the trailing cars spun out in turn one just as the leaders were entering the back straight. The yellow flag came out and Eaker spun in turn three, getting passed by six cars. As the other drivers interpreted the rules, Eaker should have dropped behind the cars that passed him because he did not race on around to the flagman in the middle of the front straight.

Race officials disagreed, however, putting Eaker back on the pole for the restart and disallowing the post-race protests after a lengthy closed-door meeting in the Hawkeye Downs office.

Eaker dominated the race so easily that most of the interest shown by the 6,100 fans in attendance was directed to the battle for second place. A total of five different cars held the number two spot during the race with Ed Sanger finally nailing down the $800 runner-up purse.

Sanger, who started eighth, didn't begin to make his move until about the 15th lap so when fast qualifier Bill Beckman of Lisbon, running second at the time, spun out. Pokey West of West Chester took over Beckman's spot and Sanger slid through the slowed cars into fourth. He got by Bob Hilmer of Dysart into third on the 23rd circuit, then passed West for second on the 25th lap after a yellow flag had tightened the pack.

McDonough and John Moss of Iowa City' pulled up right on Sanger's heels five laps later and the best show of the final 20 laps was the back and forth battle between those three drivers. The second place finish for Sanger provided a small measure of compensation for his disqualification in last year’s Challenge Cup.

His 1972 showing may also have been a minor mechanical miracle and a major testimony for good old American ingenuity.

Sanger’s car broke a spindle in the final heat race and had to put a new spindle on during the semi, "The only problem was that the brake line wouldn't fit the new spindle,” Sanger mentioned. “I decided to run with brakes on just three wheels but we had to find some way to close off the loose brake line.

“We finally took a pair of vise grips and used them to pinch the end of the brake line, then wired the line and the vise grips up to the frame so that they wouldn't tangle with the wheel. It made it real touchy driving with brakes on just three wheels and if those vise grips had come loose, the fluid would have gone and I wouldn't have had any brakes."

In other races, Larry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., took a one length victory over Ed Sanger in the trophy dash; Bill Barthelmes of Troy Mills ran away with the first heat; Dr. A. E. Mayner of Winthrop nipped Ron Weedon of Pleasant Valley in the second heat; Tim and Bill McDonough finished one-two in the third heat, and Benny Hofer of Rock Island, Ill., edged Red Droste of Waterloo in the fourth heat, which was called after nine laps due to Sanger's broken spindle and resulting spin. Bill Beckman of Lisbon was fast qualifier at 25.07.

Side note; Sixty-seven drivers, representing seven states (Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin) entered in this event. The quality of top-name drivers for this event was evident as neither Ernie Derr nor Ramo Stott cracked the top-20 in qualifying and only Stott made the feature, finishing 17th.

Rain came into play for the third annual Iowa Challenge Cup. The Jaycees decided to have the popular event in June instead of August that year and the May showers spilled over. Dark clouds hovered as the evening’s program started and in the middle of the third heat, the rains came. A delay of one hour and 50 minutes came with 45 minutes of it rain and the remaining time spent by tow trucks and stock cars drying out the surface as best they could.

When racing resumed, Verlin Eaker captured his second consecutive Iowa Challenge Cup in the 50-lap feature. Stan Stover of Reinbeck and Dike's Curt Hanson, finished second and third in the feature followed by Waterloo's Ed Sanger, who overcame a pair of accidents to take fourth place.
Stover, who also captured the fourth heat by 200 yards, held second for the first part of the race before losing it for a couple of laps. He regained his spot as Hansen grabbed third on the 25th lap and both drivers held those positions for the rest of the race.

Cedar Rapids’ Darrell Dake, the top qualifier (25.07), led through the first seven laps before limping off the track with a broken axle. Esker who was in first from the ninth lap on, picked up the $1,000 first place purse along with $840 in lap money, or $20 per lap for each circuit he led.

On the sixth lap, Sanger and Eaker spun between the first and second turns as Sanger was challenging for the lead. Sanger, who didn't lose his position to the restart, was vying for first again two laps later when his 1972 Chevelle slammed into the wall between the third and fourth turns. Sanger was able to get his car to the infield and changed the right front tire before the race was restarted.

Stover, who earned a total of $550 for the evening - $50 or the heat victory and $500 for second in the Challenge Cup couldn't catch Eaker although it appeared the USAC driver's engine was overheating during the final 20 laps.

In other action, Iowa City’s Mel Morris, Ron Prime of Iowa City, Roger Swenson of Watertown, S.D. and Stover won heat races. Due to a clause in their insurance contract, the sponsoring Cedar Rapids Jaycees had to conclude the races at midnight. After the rains subsided, the Jaycee officials decided to finish the final two heat events, then go directly to the feature. However, the feature ran to a little past midnight due to five restarts so neither the scheduled trophy dash or the consolation was able to be run.

When the checkers waved at the end of the fourth annual event on June 5, 1974, officials were seriously considering renaming the event to “The Eaker Cup”.

Eaker and his 1972 Nova led the final 29 laps of the 50-lap feature on the half-mile dirt at Hawkeye Downs to capture is third consecutive Iowa Challenge Cup victory before 6,000 race fans. The Mechanicsville pilot also pocketed the lion’s share of the record $7,000 purse offered by the sponsoring Jaycees.

He won $1,580 including $1,000 for the win and $580 in lap money at $20 per lap.

Mindful that winning just one Challenge Cup was nice. Eaker was quoted saying “Winning three of them in a row gives me a great feeling. From where I started, I didn't think I had a chance.”

“Other cars probably had more horsepower but I think we out-chassised them tonight,” he added. “Really, the car was set up so well, it made it look easy.

Eaker started eighth in the 24-car field. But he was up to third by the ninth lap and had moved into second by the 11th tour. Ron Weedon of Pleasant Valley was the man to catch at that point. By virtue of his top clocking of 25.51 seconds in time trials, he had earned the pole position and was setting a fast pace for the first 12 laps. But on lap 13, Eaker and the rest of the field got a break when the second and final red flag came out bunching up the field with the leader. From that point, Eaker was right on Weedon’s bumper.

On lap 19 Weedon and Eaker were dueling wheel to wheel and at were in a dead heat starting lap 21. It was then Eaker got the best of their battle and took the lead going down the backstretch. Six laps later Weedon would drop out with a broken A-frame.

Eaker wasn’t pressed after Weedon dropped out, but a helluva battle ensued for runner-up honors between two long-time Hawkeye Down competitors. Ed Sanger and Darrell Dake had been going at each other for the entire race with Dake leading from lap 38. Sanger snuck by Dake on lap 46 but Darrell came back on the ensuing lap to regain the second spot and hung on by a few feet when the checkers waved. Dake would collect $650 for his finish and Sanger would cash in $550.

Bill Zwanziger of Waterloo and former winner Bill McDonough of Cedar Rapids would round out the top five finishers for the evening.

Sanger, McDonough, Bob Kosiski of Omaha, and Gordy Blankenship of Keokuk were heat winners while Zwanziger topped the six-lap trophy dash. Stan Stover of Reinbeck won the 25-lap consolation.

Verlin Eaker is interviewed by Roger Bear prior to the 1975 Iowa Challenge Cup. Eaker's chance for a fourth consecutive win in the event would not come to fruition. - Bernie Tappa Photo

The fifth annual event took place on June 3, 1975. After finishing second, fourth and third in the last three Challenge Cups, Ed Sanger finally put it all together. Sanger slipped by three-time and defending Challenge Cup winner Verlin Eaker on lap 25 of he 50-lap feature and breezed to his first title. The win netted Sanger $1,520 in prize money; $1,000 for the win and $520 in lap money.

Eaker, making his first appearance of the year at the Downs, borrowed Mike Frieden's car in hopes of winning his fourth Challenge Cup. He led the race up to that point, starting on the outside front row. But Sanger found a low passing groove on the hard, slick half-mile oval where no one else could run and went uncontested the final half of the race.

Eaker's car suffered a blow head gasket on the 26th lap after surrendering to Sanger. Fast-timer (25.13) Tom Steuding of Altoona, Wis., finished as runner-up with Curt Hansen of Dike a tight third. Roger Dolan and Steve Keppler of Marion rounded out the top five.

Don Hoffman of Des Moines won the six-lap trophy dash while heat wins went to Don Woodard of Boulder, Colo., Duane Van Deest of Grundy Center, Joe Merryfield of Des Moines and Karl Sanger of Waterloo. Jim Gerber of Long Grove took home the win in the consolation.

The sixth annual event, held on June 8, 1976, would mark the final Iowa Challenge Cup. Ed Sanger would claim his second consecutive victory but not without a little “lady luck” on his side.

Sanger would lead 45 of the 50 laps. But for the loss of Roger Dolan's clutch on the 44th tour, “Fast Eddy” probably would have had to settle for second.

Ed Sanger of Waterloo, Iowa, would win the 1975 and '76 Iowa Challenge Cup. 

Sanger had started on the pole, thanks to a blazing one-lap time trial of 24.10 which set a Hawkeye Downs record, and led Dolan until the Lisbon hotshoe overtook him just before the start/finish line on the 38th tour.

When Dolan went around he was putting pedal to the medal and quickly opened a four to five car length lead. "Roger would have had to make a major tactical mistake for me to overtake him,” admitted the Waterloo driver.

The fateful break came for Dolan coming out of the second turn on the 44th lap. Dolan, always the gentleman, concealed his disappointment well. “It's the first time I've lost a clutch this year. At first, I thought the car had jumped out of gear, but then I realized I was through.”

Duane Steffe of East Moline, Ill., finished second and Curt Hansen of Dike third. Bill Beckman, who won the trophy dash, was fourth and Mike Frieden fifth.

Heat winners included Bill Martin of Council Bluffs, Jim Burbridge of Delhi and Tim McDonough of Cedar Rapids. Dick Schiltz of Waterloo won the consolation.

With the growing popularity of a new late model event, the Keith Fleck-sponsored Falstaff Classic, and its charitable donations as a result, the Cedar Rapids Jaycees decided not to continue on with the event for the 1977 season

The Iowa Challenge Cup became one more piece of Hawkeye Downs Speedway history.

Results – 1971 to 1976

August 10, 1971
Feature –
1. Bill McDonough, Cedar Rapids
2. Ramo Stott, Keokuk
3. Ernie Derr, Keokuk
4. Roger Dolan, Lisbon
5. Ron Prymek, Iowa City
6. Bob Hilmer, Dysart
7. Mel Morris, Atalissa
8. Ron Hutcherson, Keokuk
9. Fred Horn, Marion
10. Bill Zwanziger, Waterloo

August 8, 1972
Feature –
1. Verlin Eaker, Mechanicsville
2. Ed Sanger, Waterloo
3. Bill McDonough, Cedar Rapids
4. John Moss, Iowa City
5. Pokey West, West Chester
6. Bill Zwanziger, Waterloo
7. Mike Niffenegger, Kalona
8. Karl Sanger, Waterloo
9. Blackie Lyons, Cascade
10. Ron Smith, Millersburg, Ohio

June 20, 1973
Feature –
1. Verlin Eaker, Mechanicsville
2. Stan Stover, Reinbeck
3. Curt Hansen, Dike
4. Ed Sanger, Waterloo
5. Irv Janey, Cedar Rapids
6. Bill Beckman, Lisbon
7. Ray Guss, Milan, Ill.
8. Bill McDonough, Cedar Rapids
9. Ron Weedon, Pleasant Valley
10. Bill Which, Kennard, Neb.

June 4, 1974
Feature –
1. Verlin Eaker, Mechanicsville,
2. Darrell Dake, Cedar Rapids
3. Ed Sanger, Waterloo
4. Bill Zwanziger, Waterloo
5. Bill McDonough, Cedar Rapids
6. Mel Morris, Atalissa
7. Ken Walton, Viola
8. Roger Dolan, Lisbon
9. Duane Steffe, East Moline, Ill.
10. Don Hoffman, Des Moines

June 5, 1975
Feature –
1. Ed Sanger, Waterloo
2. Tom Steuding, Altoona, Wis.
3. Curt Hansen, Dike
4. Roger Dolan, Lisbon
5. Steve Keppler, Marion
6. Don Hoffman, Des Moines
7. Bill Wrich, Kennard, Neb.
8. Fred Horn, Marion
9. Don White, Keokuk
10. Dave Chase, Council Bluffs

June 8, 1976
Feature –
1. Ed Sanger, Waterloo
2. Duane Steffe, East Moline, Ill.
3. Curt Hansen, Dike
4. Bill Beckman, Lisbon
5. Mike Frieden, Cedar Rapids
6. Bob Helm, Andalusia, Ill.
7. Red Dralle, Waterloo
8. Jim Burbridge, Delhi
9. Verlin Eaker, Mechanicsville
10. Jerry Wancewicz, Omaha

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