Saturday, July 31, 2010

This week in history

1994 - Dennis Er Jr. survived challenges from John Provenzano, Fred Lofgren and even less than ideal lighting to win his fourth late model feature of the season at Kankakee (Ill.) Speedway on July 29. Provenzano was the first to test Erb as he outran him to take the lead at the start. Engine problems forced Provenzano from competition by the 10th lap however. Erb inherited the lead at that point and Lofgren was the next to challenge the youngster. Erb kept Lofgren back but the next obstacle to victory presented itself when several lights went out on the track forcing a yellow. After a short delay, the drivers agreed to finish out the race under less than perfect lighting and Erb would finally call victory lane his own.

1988 - With a near capacity crowd and the temperature hovering over the 110 degree mark on the newly re-exposed asphalt racing surface, Bill Deckman of Riverside, Mo., piloted his IMCA modified to victory in the "Asphalt Nationals" at I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo., on Sunday afternoon, July 31. Most of the 54 drivers that checked in were inexperienced racing on asphalt, however, it was only Deckman's fourth week behind the wheel of a modified. Deckman passed J.L. Cooper on lap 19 and held strong the rest of the way. Cooper, Gene Claxton, Dean Roper and David Issac rounded out the top five.

1983 - Touring World of Outlaws regular Doug Wolfgang made the most of Rick Ferkel's ill fortune in capturing the 40-lap A main of the Wilmot Winged Open Sprint Series before a near capacity crowd on July 30. Ferkel had his second series victory within reach as the Tiffin, Ohio veteran led the event's initial 37 tours around the 1/3-mile oval. However, a broken steering mount cut short Ferkel's drive to the $2,000 prize as the Paul Morgan #0 sprinter came to a halt on the backstretch on lap 38. Wolfgang maintained a two second cushion over Gib Wiser to the checkered flag.

1977 - Ken Walton of Viola, Iowa won the third leg of the Wisconsin Super Stock Car Series at Paul's Super Speedway in De Pere, Wis., on Sunday, July 31. It was Walton's fourth victory out of the series's first six features. Walton didn't move into first for good until lap 42 of the 50-lap late model event, passing Tom Steuding of Altoona, Wis. Walton grabbed the early lead from fast qualifier Roger Regeth on lap 10 and held it until Steuding grabbed the point on lap 34. The two front runners dueled for eight laps until Walton got back on top to stay. Steuding, Bill Zwanziger of Waterloo, Iowa, Johnny Reiser of Allenton, Wis., and Roger Paul of New London, Wis., were the top five finishers.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

1969 - Blankenship wins Centennial 100 at Harlan

Lem Blankenship

Harlan, Iowa (July 28, 1969) - Lem Blankenship of Keokuk, Iowa withstood the challenge of 17 of the better drivers in the Midwest to win the Centennial 100 at the Shelby County Speedway.

Blankenship led the race for 95 laps, picking up a total of $495 for the victory. Swanson Automotive of Harlan contributed $100 lap money for the race.

A crowd of 3,306 turned out despite the threat of rain with 37 drivers competing for a $2,100 total purse.

Blankenship took the lead on the fourth circuit and held it for 16 hectic laps. Blankenship dueled with Bill Wrich, Jim Gawley, George Barton and Bill Moyer.

Wrich actually took the lead away from Blankenship on the 20th and 21st laps only to lose it again. Wrich left the race on the 35th lap with mechanical problems and didn't get back in until the midway point of the race.

Barton, of Boone, finished second to Blankenship with Harlan's Don Christensen finishing third. Christensen car, owned by Orv Roecker Ford, was a questionable entrant but was ready to go at the last minute and ran extremely well.

Barton collected $225 for second while Christensen earned $150. Milo Stodola of Fremont, Neb., collected $125 for his fourth place finish and fifth place money went to the "Flying Tiger" Red Rollins of Carson, Iowa with $90.

The $2,000 purse plus the $100 lap money was the highest ever guaranteed at Harlan and in west central Iowa history.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

This week in history

1990 -Rich Vogler of Glen Ellyn, Ill., was fatally injured when he crashed and flipped in turn four while leading the USAC Sprint Car Series event at Salem (Ind.) Speedway on July 21st. Vogler was about to take the white flag when his car touched Wayne Hammond's mount on the banked fourth turn and careened out of control. Vogler's car slammed into a retaining fence. The race was red-flagged and Vogler was awarded his 165th and final USAC victory.

1984 - NASCAR superstar Bobby Allison came up north and showed some of the Midwestern boys the short way around a 1/4-mile oval as he wheeled his Miller High Life-sponsored 1984 Firebird to victory in the 7th Annual All-Star 100 at Rockford Speedway on July 23rd. Using the low side of the race track, Allison piloted his mount into the lead on lap 82, slipping underneath some of the Midwest's top stock car drivers including Joe Shear, Dick Trickle, Bobby Dotter and finally Don Leach.

1979 - Dwaine Erickson of Superior, Wis., made it a weekend sweep, winning late model features on his hometown track of Tri-State Speedway on Friday, July 20, ABC Raceway in Ashland, Wis., on Saturday, July 21 and finishing out the weekend in style by winning on Sunday evening, July 22nd at Proctor (Minn.) Speedway.

1973 - Bob Shryock of Estherville, Iowa became Kossuth Speedway's seventh different winner of the annual Midwest Super Stock Car Championships on Friday night, July 21. Gaining the lead on lap 10, Shryock held off the challenges of Denny Hovinga of Laurens and Dan Rurup of Titonka to capture the victory. The annual race attracted an impressive field of cars but adverse weather conditions kept the field from being the largest for this event and held the crowd to below average attendance. Skip Rose of Mason City, Iowa made it a clean sweep in the roadrunner division winning both his heat and the feature.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Remembering the Topeka Fairgrounds

Bob Burdick of Omaha, Neb., won several IMCA stock car contests at Topeka. - Lee Ackerman Collection

By Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. - As was the case with so many of the Midwest fairgrounds tracks, the Topeka Fairgrounds actually was build for horse racing in 1878. Car racing would make its first appearance on the ½ mile track in 1902 and races would be contested there on a regular basis until 1941 and the start of World War II. The International Motor Contest Association (IMCA), which had been founded in 1915, sanctioned some of those pre-war races and some were not.

But its heyday would be the period of time after World War II when auto racing became the craze in the country. In 1946 the track would rejoin with a pre-war promoter in the IMCA and that series would make several stops a year at the fairgrounds through the 1975 season. While other races were certainly run at Topeka after the war our focus will be on the IMCA racing at the fairgrounds. The track would see racing held at this wonderful facility for almost 80 years before being terminated in 1980.

Whether you remember it as the Topeka Fairgrounds, the Mid-America Fairgrounds or the Kansas State Free Fairgrounds, one thing is for sure, in its heyday it provided Kansas and Midwest racing fans with some of the best action in the region.

Herschel Buchanan shakes hands with Al Sweeney after winning an IMCA stock car race. - Lee Ackerman Collection

September 10, 1946 would be the return of IMCA racing to the Topeka Fairgrounds for the first of three days of big car racing and the class of the field that first year would be Indianapolis, Indiana’s Jimmy Wilburn wheeling his own #39 to victory twice with Herschel Buchanan (later an IMCA stock car champion) winning the third feature in his HAL.

In 1947 the Big Cars would return again in September during the fair and Wilburn would totally dominate the action winning all four feature events. Wilburn would add two more wins in 1949 to become the all-time IMCA Big Car leader at Topeka with eight feature wins.

May 30, 1949 would be an historical day at Topeka; it would be the first IMCA Stock Car race (some say that event actually happened it 1947 in Lubbock, Texas, but facts are very sketchy on that event). It would be a 200 lap race, which became a very common distance for future IMCA stock car races and when the dust had settled, it would be Bob McKim of Salina, Kansas as the victor in the race. Other competitors included future IMCA promoter Frank Winkley.

By 1950 a pattern had been established at Topeka, the Stock Cars running on Memorial Day and the 4th of July and for some years once or twice during the fair, and the Big Cars making an occasional mid year stop at Topeka but usually running at least two events during the fair.
Bobby Grim, driving the famous Black Duece, won IMCA big car features on six separate occasions at the Topeka.Fairgrounds.

Over the next few years legendary drivers such as Frank Luptow, Emory Collins, Bobby Grim and Pete Folse would wheel their cars into victory lane at Topeka in Big Car action.

Grim would put the legendary Hector Honore Offy in victory lane six times and Folse would sweep both shows each year at Topeka in 1959, '60 and '61 aboard the legendary Black Deuce.

Other IMCA winners over the year would include Jim Moughan (2), Bill Puterbaugh (2), Jay Woodside, a sweep of both shows in '66, Jerry Blundy would be a three time winner and on September 7, 1975 in the last IMCA race at Topeka it would be Ralph Parkinson, Jr. who closed out 30 years of IMCA action at the fairgrounds.

The IMCA stock cars would also put on some classic battles at Topeka many times over the course of 200 lap features especially during their annual stops on Memorial Day and Independence Day. Topeka’s own Bill Harrison took to the track in the early 50’s and would score 4 wins there. Herschel Buchanan would switch from Big Cars to Stock Cars and win there 3 times in stock cars. Don White would visit Topeka’s victory lane 5 times before heading for USAC. 
Dale Swanson and Johnny Beauchamp - Lee Ackerman Collection

In 1956 The Harlan, Iowa duo of driver Johnny Beauchamp and crew chief Dale Swanson stormed to the top of the IMCA Stock Car standings and it was Beauchamp visiting Topeka’s hallowed victory lane on all three Stock car stops that year. He would add two more victories in 1957, sharing honors with Omaha’s Bob Burdick, who would win in '57 and twice more in '58. Dick Hutcherson would win in '62 and again in '64. All three drivers would try their hand at NASCAR and win at least one Cup race during their NASCAR careers.

But if there was one driver who is synonymous with IMCA Stock Car racing it is the little giant from Keokuk, Iowa, Ernie Derr. Not only did Derr shatter all IMCA record books with an incredible 328 wins and 12 championships, he did so as well at Topeka winning an unbelievable 17 times winning the annual 4th of July race 9 times.
Ernie Derr of Keokuk, Iowa would visit victory lane at Topeka a record 17 times in his illustrious career. - Kyle Ealy Collection

The 4th of July race was sometimes run as an International race, which meant that sports cars could run with the stock cars. Such was the case in 1958 when Omaha’s Loyal Katskee brought his beautiful red Ferrari home third behind Bob Burdick and Don White.

Dale Swanson Jr. remembers the July 4, 1956 race well. “Johnny Beauchamp (with Dale Swanson Sr. as crew chief) had won an afternoon-evening doubleheader in Jamestown, North Dakota, the day before,” recalls Swanson. “My dad’s cousin, Russell Smith and I met Beauchamp and dad in Columbus, Nebraska and then Russell finished the drive to Topeka. We were late because dad had worked on the car after the Jamestown race and made it just in time.”

“The Dodge Dealers of Topeka had put up a $500 bonus if a Dodge won the race,” continues Swanson Jr. “Johnny built up a huge lead during the race but close to the end of the race a Dodge driver put Johnny through the number two turn fence and into a tree. They got the car back to the pits and we checked it out, and Johnny was still able to win the race. When it was over we found that the right front motor mount was broken off and the motor was riding on the fuel pump and cross member. Fortunately we used to solder copper tubing rings to the radiator so if the fan hit the radiator it would skid on the rings and nut cut the tubes and drain out the water. The fan was running on those skid rings at the end of the race.”

“I remember we raced there in a 200 or 300-lap race on the 4th of July,” remembers Bob Kosiski. “It was an afternoon race and it was so hot, it might have been 110 degrees.”

During its heyday crowds at the Mid-America Fairgrounds would be in the 14 to 15 thousand range with crowds starting to drop off as the interstate system was developed and fans found more and more different types of entertainment.

In 1983 they tore out the famed half mile track and today it is the home of the Kansas Expo Center.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

This week in history

1991 - In one of the most grueling and unusual Gopher 50's to date, Rick Egersdorf topped the 12th annual edition before a full house at the Steele County Fairgrounds in Owatonna on Wednesday, July 9th. The winner was decided not on the track, but on the scales of the UMP Summer Series event. In a race that saw numerous lead changes and multiple cautions, it was the "Southern Gentleman" Freddy Smith who took the checkers only to come up 42 pounds short on the scale giving runner-up Egersdorf the victory and the check for $4,000. Only eight of the 28 starters were on the track at the finish.

1985 - Dan Boorse of Glendale, Wis., made a daring last lap move to pass Ken Schrader and win the 31-lap (50-kilometer) Badger Midget Auto Racing Association feature at the Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis, Wis., on Saturday afternoon, July 7. Schrader, of Fenton, Mo., who eclipsed Stan Fox's midget qualification record by touring the mile at 113.482 miles per hour, grabbed the lead on the 28th lap, ahead of Boorse and Steve Lotshaw of Indianapolis. Two laps later, though, Boorse came around Schrader on the white flag lap and beat both Schrader and Lotshaw by less than a second to collect his second Badger victory of the season.

Larry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., was a frequent winner at I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo., during his career.

1974 - Despite having the flu, Larry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., topped some of the best late model drivers in the Midwest, driving his 1973 Chevy Camaro to victory in the Firecracker 100 at I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo., on Saturday afternoon, July 6th. From his starting spot on the seventh row, Phillips moved quickly through the pack, which was led in turn by Jack Constable of Princeton, Mo., and then Joe Wallace of Peyton, Colo. Phillips pulled into the lead on lap 43 and then withstood several challenges from Wallace to take the victory. Wallace, Terry Brumley of Springfield, Constable and Ferris Collier of Lampe, Mo., rounded out the top five.

1968 - Ernie Derr, the masterful Keokuk, Iowa charger, drove to an impressive victory in the Iowa 300 at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on Saturday, July 7th. Before 12,300 spectators, Derr took the lead on lap 244 when Ramo Stott looped his 1968 Plymouth. In a race that saw nine lead changes, Derr set a new IMCA record for 300 laps, finishing the race in 2 hours, 29 minutes and 27.61 seconds, a full six minutes under the old mark. Verlin Eaker of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Stott of Keokuk, Ole Brua of Albert Lea, Minn. and Freddie Whisler of Shreveport, La., rounded out the top five.