Thursday, April 29, 2010

This Week in History

Bob Cicconi of Prospect Park, Pa., made the long haul to the Ozarks pay off with a USAC sprint car victory.

1990 - Bob Cicconi grabbed the lead with 3 laps remaining and went on to win the 30-lap USAC Loctite/Crestliner Vans Sprint Car Series event at Lebanon I-44 Speedway on Saturday night, April 28. Cicconi took the initial lead but gave way to Eric Gordon on the 11th circuit. Fast qualifier Steve Butler took over on lap 16 and showed the field for the next 11 laps until caution bunched the field up. Cicconi scooted by Butler one lap later and held strong to the finish. Gary Bettenhausen, Butler, Wayne Hammond and Andy Hillenberg rounded out the top five.

1984 - Jerry Straube of Waterford, Wis., held off a hard-charging Bob Dauterman of Elkhorn, Wis., to capture the 30-lap late model feature at Lake Geneva Raceway on Saturday, April 28. Straube had worked his way through the field and was on the tail of race leader Jeff Zarnstroff of Wilmot, Wis., when the Zarnstroff made contact with a slower car, sending him spinning to the infield. Straube inherited the point and then fought off a stubborn Dauterman over the final laps to claim his first victory of the season.

Jerry Holtkamp takes a victory lap after winning the late model season opener in Webster City, Iowa, on April 28, 1979. - Kyle Ealy Collection

1979 - Jerry Holtkamp of Williams, Iowa grabbed the lead on the third lap and then held it to the finish in the 25-lap late model season opener at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds in Webster City, Iowa on April 28. Karl Sanger of Waterloo, Iowa edged to the rear of Holtkamp by lap 10 but was never able to mount a serious challenge and settled for second. Estherville's Bob Shyrock, rookie Ron Cochran of Marshalltown and Dave Bjorge of Austin, Minn., rounded out the top five in front of a chilled crowd on a night where temperatures dropped to the low 40's.

1973 - Ed Sanger of Waterloo, Iowa outran a stellar field of stock cars to win the season opener at the Wapello County Fairgrounds in Eldon, Iowa, on April 28. Grabbing the lead at the wave of the green, Sanger headed a tight pack of drivers across the finish line that included Pokey West of West Chester, Bill Wrich of Council Bluffs, Johnny Babb of Ottumwa and Ron Perdock of Washington. Jim Brown of Martinsburg took home top honors in the sportsman feature edging Ernie Weeks of Eldon by a fender at the finish.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

1973 - Kickin up some dirt at Independence

Karl Sanger (94) gets sideways as Red Dralle (top) tries to avoid him during stock car action in Independence, Iowa, on April 29, 1973. — Tommy Shaw Photo

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Remembering When Iowans were Kings of Dirt

by Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. - In the 1970’s drivers from Iowa were a force to be reckoned with in dirt late model racing. This should not have come as a big surprise to anyone as Iowa drivers had long dominated the International Motor Contest Association Stock Car division.

Ernie Derr was a 12-time champion of IMCA while Dick Hutcherson won the title twice and then went on to have a successful career in NASCAR. Don White after winning three IMCA titles, left to compete on the USAC circuit and became the winningest driver in  stock car division's history. Ramo Stott after being runner-up to Derr and Hutcherson seven times, went on to win the pole at the Daytona 500 and become the ARCA champion twice. Just to make matters worse, Dick Hutcherson’s little brother Ron, left IMCA and became a three-time ARCA champion, and they all had one thing in common, they were all from Keokuk, Iowa. There were other Iowa success stories, Johnny Beauchamp and Tiny Lund left Harlan, Iowa to become successes in NASCAR as well. Beauchamp, of course, was involved in the controversial finish of the first Daytona 500.

But the 1970’s brought out a number of Iowa drivers that, while they did not move on to NASCAR would become dirt late model legends in their own right. In the span of seven years, four different Iowa drivers won the prestigious World 100.

Ed Sanger

Discussions of this era in Iowa dirt late model racing have to start with Ed Sanger. Sanger was probably the first driver from the area that hit the road looking for world’s to conquer in dirt late model racing. Throughout his illustrious career, Sanger has won over 30 track championships and more than 600 races. The amazing part is he still races locally in northeast Iowa.

The highlight of his career has to be winning the 1974 World 100 at Eldora, but in addition he won many other big races including the Triple Crown Dirt Championship in 1971, the JC Challenge Cup in 1975 & 1976, The Silver Dollar 1000, the Miller 100 at Cedar Rapids, the Grand National at Boone (three times), The Iron Man Invitational at Hibbing, Minnesota (three times), the South Dakota Invitational, the Missouri State Championship, the North Dakota State Championship, the Wisconsin NGK Invitational and the Quad City 100 just to name a few. In 1976, Ed showed just how good he was by winning 43 races and becoming America’s winningest driver that year. In his heyday, the 70’s, Sanger raced from Canada to Florida and most places in between. In addition to all the racing he became a well-known car builder, putting together about 30 chassis each year in addition to having a parts and sales business. Sanger was inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2004.

Curt Hansen

In 1977 I saw my first 100-lap feature and what an ending. It was the Cornhusker-Hawkeye Challenge at Sunset Speedway in Omaha and Curt Hansen passed Ed Sanger on the last corner of the last lap to win his third straight Cornhusker Hawkeye. Hansen did not travel all over the country like Sanger did, preferring to stay closer to home, but in Iowa and the surrounding area he was tough to beat in his prime. In 1978, he raced four tracks on a regular basis, Oskaloosa on Wednesday, Cedar Rapids on Friday, Des Moines on Saturday and Waterloo on Sundays. He won all four track championships that year and with it he was name Iowa Late Model Driver of the Year. In addition to winning the Cornhusker- Hawkeye Challenge in 1975-76 & '77, Hansen won many other specials of his time including the Falstaff 100 at Hawkeye Downs in 1976 & 1978, the Pabst Blue Ribbon 100 at Quad City, the Knoxville Late Model Nationals in 1977, the Grand Nationals at Boone in 1977; the Canadian National Dirt Track Championship in 1977 and the 1972 Dirt Track Classic at Deland, Florida just to name a few. Hansen posted over 300 wins in his career.

Verlin Eaker

Mechanicsville, Iowa’s Verlin Eaker was the first Iowan to win the prestigious World 100, winning the event in 1972.That same year he won the inaugural Cornhusker Hawkeye Challenge. Verlin did try his hand at USAC and ARCA and even ran in a Daytona 125 qualifier. In 1971 he won the USAC 100-mile stock car event at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.  

In 1978 Verlin won both the Yankee Dirt Classic at Cedar Rapids and the Midwest Dirt Track Championship at Muskogee, Oklahoma. In 1979 he added the Miller 100 at Cedar Rapids to his list of laurels. Eaker was inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2007.

Joe Merryfield

"Injun" Joe Merryfield of Des Moines scored his biggest win of his career by winning the 1975 World 100 in a car owned by current World Dirt Racing League Founder and President Jim Wilson. In 1978 Merryfield traveled to North Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Alabama, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and Wisconsin and Iowa searching for wins and came up with two big wins, the Nebraska Late Model Nationals at Doniphan, Nebraska and the North Dakota State Championship. Other wins include the Grand National at Boone in 1972, the Pabst Blue Ribbon Classic in Mason City in 1977, the El-Kahir Shrine Race at Hawkeye Downs in 1978. In 1981, Merryfield won the National Outlaw Stock Car Association inaugural event at Ferris Collier’s 65 Raceway Park in Branson, Missouri. Later that year he won the Tombstone Rally at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Illinois.

Ken Walton

Kenny Walton of Viola, Iowa made a name for himself in the late 70’s and early 80’s. In 1978 Walton won the World 100 becoming the fourth Iowa driver in seven years to do so. In 1977 he won the Paul’s Super Series in Wisconsin winning 5 of 7 events and the U.S. Dirt Track Nationals at Champaign, Illinois. He was a three time winner of the Pepsi/Mt. Dew Classic at Oskaloosa, Iowa. In 1979 Walton raced in at least 10 states winning 13 features and was the National Speedways Contest Association Late Model Champion. In 1981 Walton repeated as NSCA champion and also added wins in the Yankee Dirt Classic and the I-70 Nationals. For many years Walton raced the familiar number 02 owned by Dwayne and Cle Schneider of Iowa City. In 1984 he won the Grand National at Boone Iowa and also was the NASCAR National Winston Racing Series Champion that year.


While we have highlighted the careers of the five drivers above, there were several other Iowa drivers that made a name for themselves during this time. Fred Horn of Marion, Don Hoffman of Des Moines, Gary Crawford of Independence, Mike Niffenegger of Kalona, Tom Hearst of Wilton, Roger Dolan of Lisbon, Bill Martin of Council Bluffs and Bob Shryock of Estherville just to name a few would leave an impact on dirt late model racing throughout the Midwest. Oh, and in 1977 a young rookie driver from Des Moines netted 20 wins in the #98 he raced for his father. He would go on to help take dirt late model racing to a whole new level. Today, we call him Mr. Smooth, Billy Moyer.

Monday, April 19, 2010

This week in history

1997 - It was the same old song and dance at the Iowa State Fairgrounds for defending sprint car champion Larry Pinegar II of Des Moines. Pinegar, who won 10 features in 1996, finished ahead of Bruce Williams of Indianola, to win the season opener on April 18. Russ Gladson (IMCA modified) and Steve Jackson (IMCA stock car), both of Des Moines, were opening night winners as well.

1980 - Leon Plank of Mondovi, Wis., sailed to victory Sunday evening in the 50-lap $10,000 Spring Fever Special at Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids on April 20. Plank won the trophy dash and led all 50 laps in picking up the win over Tom Hearst of Wilton, Denny Osborn of Cedar Falls, Duane Steffe of East Moline, Ill. and Roger Dolan of Lisbon.

1975 - Willie Crane of Springfield, Mo., took home the trophy dash and the "A" feature before the home crowd at Fairgrounds Speedway on Friday evening, April 18. Crane passed race leader Ed Reed early in the contest and then held off Larry Ball to secure the victory.

1968 - Norm Setran of Minneapolis, wheeled his 68' Ford Torino into victory lane at Elko Speedway on Sunday afternoon, April 20. After racing side-by-side for 12 laps with Larry Smith of Shakopee, Setran charged by Smith on lap 24 of the 30-lap feature to score the win. Dan Prizborowski of Savage, Minn., took third, Dick Giles of Minneapolis grabbed fourth and Lowell Englert of St. Paul rounding out the top five.

Monday, April 12, 2010

This week in history

1985 - Roger Long (late models), Gary Reinhart (modified) and George Hubbard (bomber) were winners on opening night at East Moline Speedway on April 14. Long inherited the lead when Ray Guss Jr's tire went down on lap 7 and held off the likes of Gary Webb and Ronnie Weedon to secure the win. Reinhart led all 20 laps in besting Rob Conners, Terry Mattley and Mike Cothron in front of his hometown fans.

Larry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., won the Sunday afternoon segment of the Midwest Spring Swing in Topeka Kan., on April 13, 1980.

1980 - Larry Phillips and Don Hoffman were winners in the three-day Midwest Spring Swing on April 12 and 13. After getting rained out on Friday night at Lakeside Speedway, Hoffman, of Des Moines, held off Viola, Iowa's Kenny Walton to win the Capital Speedway segment in Holts Summit on Saturday evening. Springfield's Phillips took home the $1,000 payday on Sunday afternoon at the Sunflower Expo in Topeka.

1973 - After working very hard to get Stuart Speedway ready for the racing season, track owners Gail and Peggy Miller missed the opening night, April 14. Just before the first event, Peggy decided it was time to head to a Des Moines area hospital for the arrival of the seventh child. Meanwhile, back at the track, Marshalltown's Mike Keen made a clean sweep in the late models, winning the trophy dash, first heat, Australian pursuit and feature.

Les Snow would win the 100-lap ARCA-sanctioned race at Salem Speedway on April 13, 1969. Snow woud finish fourth in points that season.

1969 - Les Snow captured the ARCA-sanctioned 100-lap feature on the 1/2-mile oval of Salem (Ind.) Speedway on Sunday afternoon, April 13. Snow fended off the chalenges of both Bobby Watson and Benny Parsons to take the checkered flag. Iggy Katona and Ramo Stott rounded out the top five finishers.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

1982: Sunset Speedway Opens with a Double Bang

Steve Kinser was awarded the win after Doug Wolfgang was disqualified. 

by Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. - In 1982 Sunset Speedway opened the season with a double bang!! Two big specials would start off the season. 

On Sunday, April 18, 1982 the season opened at Sunset Speedway northwest of Omaha with a bang, as the World of Outlaws made their first ever appearance at the 3/8-mile oval. A standing-room-only crowd was on hand on an unseasonably warm and very windy day to get a glimpse at the winged warriors. 

In qualifications it was young Jeff Swindell of Memphis, Tennessee, who would set fast time with a lap of 16.998 seconds. Steve Kinser of Bloomington, Indiana would qualify second at 17.016 with Bob Hop of Mendota, Minnesota in third at 17.322. The heats would go to Bobby Layne of Kansas City, Bobby Davis, Jr. of Memphis, Tennessee, Ron Shuman of Mesa, Arizona and Rick Ferkel of Findlay, Ohio. Sonny Smyser of Lancaster, Missouri would win the B feature. 

In the feature event it looked like Doug Wolfgang of Sioux Falls, South Dakota behind the wheel of the Doug Howells #4 would pick up his third win in two days. Wolfgang had won the previous afternoon in a midget show at the Iowa State Fairgrounds and then went to Knoxville, Iowa and won the World of Outlaw feature there. Wolfgang starting in 13th position and darted through traffic to take the lead on lap 20 of the 30 lap feature and took the checkered flag first. Problem was after conferring after the race, World of Outlaw officials disqualified Wolfgang for changing a tire on the track under yellow flag conditions. Early in the race Wolfgang had gotten caught up in an accident with Brad Doty and Danny Smith causing the yellow flag to fly. Wolfgang’s tire went flat after the incident and was changed on the track not in the pits. He was placed 18th in the finishing order and the win was awarded to apparent runner-up Steve Kinser.

Rick Ferkel would finish second, Randy Smith third, Bob Hop fourth and Shane Carson fifth. The windy, warm conditions created a rough track that made it impossible to keep the dust down and the fans went home wearing a far amount of it. Despite that, there were no great number of crashes as once the races were underway, the high winds eliminated a continuing dust problem. 

Joe Kosiski won the late model A-main at the Spring Invitational.

The following weekend Friday and Saturday night, Sunset presented the 10th annual Spring Invitational the traditional lid lifter at the facility. Previous winners of the prestigious race included Ed Sanger, Bob Kosiski, Bill Martin, Bob Saterdalen, Bob Shyrock, Joe Kosiski, Tom Bartholomew, Gary Crawford and Don Hoffman. 

Forty-six late models and 46 sportsman representing 7 states showed up for the annual event. 

Friday night saw heats in the late models go to Bill Martin, Al Druesdow, Steve Kosiski and Lakefield, Minnesota’s Dwain Hansen. The B consy went to Norfolk’s Don Weyrich and the A consy to Columbus’ Sam Jacobs. In sportsman action heats went to Jim Jenkins, Mel Sorensen, Craig Sullivan and Rick Germar with the B consy to Bill Mlnarik and the A consy to Ken Kovar. Saturday night would see continued qualification to get into the feature events. In the sportsman final heats were taken by Phil Gadbois of Albert Lea, Minnesota and John Wescott. Position races went to Mel Sorensen and Craig Sullivan with Mlnarik taking the last chance event. In the late models Rick Aukland made the journey from Morehead, Minnesota to take heat one with a former winner of the event, Gary Crawford of Independence, Iowa taking heat two. Bill Martin and Steve Kosiski took the position races and Roger Thompson of Junction City, Kansas the last chance event. 

In the 25-lap sportsman feature it was all Jim Jenkins. Despite several red flags and cautions, no one could keep up with Jenkins who won the race and pocketed $800. Pat Wancewicz moved up to third where he set for sometime before he was able to get around Mel Sorensen on the last lap and lay claim to second. Sorensen finished third with Kovar fourth and Kevin Williams fifth. 

In the 50-lap late model feature, Bill Martin jumped to the front with Steve Kosiski doing battle with Martin until Kosiski’s race ended abruptly when he sailed over the backstretch and down into the trees. Kosiski was uninjured but done for the night. Pushing Steve at the time of his departure were brother Joe and Dave Chase. Chase would later drop out of the race with suspension problems. 

With just four laps to go, Joe Kosiski was able to grab the lead from Martin and hold on for the win and a $3,000 payday. Martin would cross the line second with a flat tire. Vic Bentlage of Jefferson City, Missouri would finish third, Al Druesedow fourth and Bob Hill of Randall, Iowa fifth. Sunset would then be idle until the regular season opener on May 16. Al Druesdow would be crowned the regular season late model champion and Bill Leighton the sportsman champion.