Wednesday, October 26, 2011

1977 - Merrick death stuns racing

Hutchinson, Kan. (October 26, 1977) - Midwest area race car drivers and enthusiasts were stunned Tuesday when they heard the news that Jack Merrick, the top racing promoter in the area, died Tuesday morning at Dodge City Regional Hospital.


Merrick promoted not only the McCarty Speedway’s super-modified and stock car racing weekly during the racing season, but also took on the National Super Modified races in Hutchinson in July, the Five-States races in Liberal and the State Championships at the Kansas State Fair.

Merrick and his wife of 36 years, Esther, were involved with the State Fair races for 13 years, and the Nationals for 21 years. 1950 start

“Jack started in racing about 1950 with the IMCA sprint cars,” Mrs. Merrick said. ‘When he was young, he was interested in racing, and when he got out of the Air Force, some people got after him to help organize racing, to help with writing the rules and getting organized in 1945.”

“Jack knew everything about racing and knew about the necessity of things being done right, and done safely. He thought that if he started things right, it would catch on and others would follow, especially in the safety of racing. A lot of people have followed him, and most all of them have used his rules, with variations depending on their own tracks.”

“Racing was Jack’s hobby - his ‘only’ hobby. He worked as a Sales Representative for Colby Distributing since 1948, but racing was his way of relaxing. He could work four days a week then relax with his racing. He kept too busy, but he relaxed by being busy, and there was no way I could slow him down.”

Area drivers were full of praise for Merrick, who was on the Board of Directors of the National Championship Racing Association.

“I raced for Jack since 1969 and his races were the finest that I've ever been associated with,” Terry Uehling, Ness City super-modified driver, said. “I've run over a five-state area and I've been to races on the coast and of the organizations I raced for, Jack's was the best, developed and synchronized of all. We'll all definitely miss him for that.”

Fred Hembree, also of Ness City, echoed Uehling’s sentiments. “I started racing for Jack in 1972, and I enjoyed racing more for him than anyone else,” Hembree said. “Some people tried to organize racing at Wakeeney a few years ago, but no one could do the job that Jack could. I've been invited to race other places, but I'd always stay with Jack. I went to other places this past year, but I enjoyed racing for him the most.”

Jack and Esther worked hand in hand in the promotion business. “I had never seen a race before I met Jack,” Esther said. ‘At first, I always went with him but I stayed in the car. I wasn’t really too excited about it, but he was so involved, that I was bored if I wasn't helping him. I didn't get as involved as he did, but I helped in all aspects. It became interesting to me because he got me so involved because he was so involved. And he did need the help because you can only hire so many people. I was really glad to get involved.”

His witty sense of humor and ability to handle tough situations kept things moving smoothly both on the track and in the pits. “He teased people a lot, but when he did, they knew he liked them,” Mrs. Merrick said.

Merrick had been having breathing problems for some time. “Around the first of May Jack was working hard at the track trying to get it ready and he started having respiratory problems, shortness of breath,” Mrs. Merrick said. “I would have to take him in for oxygen every now and then when it would flare up. He had extensive tests run on him for heart trouble, but with the oxygen and some medication, he was doing just fine. The first of September, the shortness of breath came back. Monday night, his breathing was short, but I could tell something was different. He was on oxygen and he went to the hospital, but he slipped away.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

1976 - Appreciative Dake will return to racing next season

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (October 25, 1976) - It was a cold, windy afternoon at Hawkeye Downs on Sunday, not exactly your average stock car racing weather. But then again, this wasn’t just an average stock car race.

Sunday was Darrell Dake Day, at least in the minds of the 500 plus hearty racing fans, along with 18 of the areas top drivers, who turned out to make the Darrell Dake Benefit race a success despite the unseasonable weather. Dake, you’ll remember, perhaps one of the areas most popular drivers was injured in a spectacular crash at the Downs on August 6th.

The mishap placed him in serious condition for a number of days, prematurely ending his 1976 racing season. Well despite it all, Darrell was back at the Downs Sunday talking to his many well-wishers and friends, and playfully needling his fellow competitors.

“Don’t get too high on those turns," the 48-year-old Dake shot Eddie Sanger during a break in the action. “Yea, it's a regular dust bowl up there isn’t it?” grinned Sanger.

Such was the mood of the afternoon, with no one really caring who won, but putting on an exciting program nonetheless. “Why am I here?” Sanger later explained, “Because that could have been me in that car (Dake’s). Darrell is one of us. No matter where this race would have been, or how cold, we’d be there,” he continued, Dake was more than appreciative of the fan support as well as the drivers. "This is really great of everybody to come out in this cold weather," Darrell stated. “You know, I got more than 400 cards while I was in the hospital, a whole suitcase full. Racing fans are some breed of people, I just don't know how to say thank you,” he sighed.

Darrell needn’t have worried about thanking anyone. It was evident that the only thanks the fans wanted was the knowledge that he would be on the track next year. Dake didn't disappoint them. “I really feel good now,” Dake told the crowd between events. “I still go for therapy on my hand every day because it swells up every now and then, but it’s coming along. I’ll be back next year, in fact, I already have a car three-fourths of the way built.” Dake’s last words were silenced by the roaring approval of the crowd.

“I’m tickled to death he’ll be back next year,” smiled “Big John” Moss from Iowa City.

“I think Darrell looks and feels real good. You know, he helped me a lot when I first started racing 20 years ago, and I'm just glad I can finally help him out in some small way. He’s one of a kind.” Moss marveled. Added Shellsburg’s Jim Stodola, “Darrell’s given racing a lot of support over the last few years it's about time he's recognized.”

All of the drivers were racing for trophies, and no one went away empty-handed.

Stodola swept the Sportsman division which showed, only four entries, as he took the checkered flag in both heat races and also the feature. The only mishap of the day occurred when Jack Siegal hit the wall coming out of turn two in the feature. Siegal suffered only a slight leg injury.

In the Late Model division it was Ed Sanger who finished first in the 15 lap feature, pursued closely by Ron Weedon and Roger Dolan. Sanger and Weedon put on quite a driving exhibition as the lead changed hands between the two, three times on the eighth and ninth laps. Bob Schulte and Tom Bartholomew each claimed heat victories, while Dolan took the checkered flag in the trophy dash and Moss copped the Semi.

Some of the drivers even let the race officials drive their cars to add a little fun to the afternoon. In the six-lap “Officials Feature”, Phil Kraft took the checkered flag while piloting Stodola’s car, while Ed Otten took second hi Jerry Brumley’s ride. Flagman Engel DeKock and Promoter Al Miller finished third and fourth in cars owned by Tim McDonough and Sanger respectively.

Following the trophy presentations, and after the crowd had dispersed, Sanger and Dake acted out a fitting ending to the days’ events. “See ya in the spring, Darrell,” Sanger yelled across the infield.

“Yea, you betcha,” smiled Dake.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

1941 - Schrader killed in race wreck at Shreveport

Shreveport, La. (October 22, 1941) – Gus Schrader, 47, of Newhall, Iowa, died of a broken neck suffered when the car he was driving in a race at the state fair hurtled through a fence.


Schrader, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was driving just behind Jimmy Wilburn, Portland, Ore. Both machines were “wide open” – estimated to be going more than 60 miles per hour - and ahead of the field when Schrader's front wheel locked with Wilburn's back wheel.

Schrader was thrown through the inside fence, landing on his head. His auto tore through the outside fence. He died two hours later in a hospital. Wilburn was not injured.

The accident occurred at the first turn on the one-mile track in the last of a series of races. Mrs. Schrader was in the stands. Schrader had planned to return to Cedar Rapids and later to race in Canada.

Gus Schrader was a familiar figure in Iowa racing circles for a number of years.

He had been talking about retiring for the last two years. When in Des Moines for the 1941 races at the Iowa State Fair, he informed his friends that this would be his final year of competition.
Schrader had competed at the state fair annually. He had purchased a farm with part of prize money he earned.
In more than 20 years, he had competed in more than 1,100 races and won an average four out of seven starts.

He competed once in the Indianapolis 500-mile race - in 1935. He was forced to withdraw after 116 miles when his car developed motor trouble.

Schrader started his career as a motorcycle rider. Soon after his discharge from the army during the First World War, he began racing cars. In 1932 he won his first of eight national dirt track championships under the auspices of the International Motor Contests Association.

During his lengthy career, Schrader had only two serious accidents, neither was in auto races. In 1926, he was tossed from a motorcycle in a race at Anamosa, and in 1937 he was hurt in a highway accident in California.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

1970 - Frustration Over for Ramo Stott

Keokuk, Iowa (October 18, 1970) – The years of frustration are finally over for Ramo Stott of Keokuk. He has reached the top at last as late model stock car racing champion of the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA).


“I’m just tickled to death,” Ramo, 36, said as he reminisced about the 1970 season and the seven years he was runner-up in the International Motor Contest Association.

Stott earned the title with 2,130 points, Iggy Katona of Detroit finished second with 1,845 and Andy Hampton of Louisville, Ky., took third with 1, 390.

“I won 10 ARCA features,” Ramo proudly disclosed by telephone. “There were 19 races and I finished in the top 10 in 18 of them and in the top five in 15.”

“I won approximately $38,000 for the season, which includes some other races, and my expenses were approximately $20,000. It was my greatest year for earnings.”

IMCA records show Ramo started competing in that organization in 1957, finishing in a tie for 40th that year. He was seventh in 1958 and fourth in 1959. He bounded up to second in 1960, was third in 1961 and ‘62 and then spent the next six years as runner-up to national champions Ernie Derr and Dick Hutcherson, also of Keokuk.

Ramo went to ARCA for the 1969 campaign and finished third, missing three early races. Asked to explain his current success in relation to his days of frustration in IMCA, he replied, “All (ARCA) races were run on asphalt tracks and I seem to do better on asphalt than I do on dirt (most IMCA races are held on dirt tracks). Even Ernie will tell you I do better on asphalt.”

Does he consider Katona and Hampton harder to beat than Derr? “They’re all tough,” Ramo said, refusing to be drawn into a comparison. “One of the big things in my success was that I finished in all but one of the races, helping to keep my point lead,” he said. “I led all the way. In IMCA, I failed to finish sometimes because of mechanical problems."

He said dirt track racing is harder on cars than asphalt racing. “Parts last longer,” he said, “particularly the engine and suspension.”

Among Ramo’s feats with a 1970 Plymouth were the winning of the ARCA 300 at Daytona Beach, Fla., and the Vulcan 500 at Talladega. He also finished eighth in NASCAR’s Daytona 500 and Talladega 500.

What’s in the future?

“I'm going to run ARCA in ‘71,” Ramo said. “I've got a reputation to live up to now.”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

1974 - Benefit race set Sunday at Illiana

William "Whitey" Gerken

Schererville, Ind. (October 16, 1974) - One of the final stock car racing events in the Midwest will take place this Sunday afternoon, October 20, as the Illiana Motor Speedway presents the Whitey Gerken-Dennis Shelton Memorial Benefit race program, in honor of the veteran driver and pit crew member who were killed in an accident at the speedway last year.

With most of the tracks in the Midwest closed for the season, a record number of entries are expected for this open competition late model card. Drivers from both paved and dirt tracks will be on hand to give it one last fling before Mother Nature puts an end to racing in this area.

Most of the area's top drivers are expected to compete, including: 1974 Illiana champion Bobby Wawak; this year’s Waukegan Speedway champ Bob Roper of Chicago; Grundy County Speedway champ Tom Musgrave of Mundelein, Ill.; Ray Young of Dolton; Ed Hoffman of Niles; Tom Jones of Northbrook; Larry Schuler of Lockport; Dave Evans of Crystal Lake; Jerry Kemperman of Blue Island; Larry Middleton of East Hazel Crest; Larry Berwanger of DeMotte, Ind.; Darrel Lohman of Gary, Ind.; Don Axtmann of Chicago; Stash Kullman of Calumet City and Bob Schacht of Lombard.

The afternoon's racing activity will include twin 20-lap feature events on the wide Illiana half-mile paved oval, in addition to a full program of time trials, a trophy dash and heat races.

Net gate proceeds from the event will go to the Gerken and Shelton families. A rain date of Sunday afternoon, October 27, has been set for this event, the final one on the 1974 Illiana racing calendar.

Time trials are slated for 1 p.m., with the first race set to go at 2:30 p.m. Illiana Motor Speedway is located near Schererville, Ind.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

1972 - Howe, Maier cop Tri-County Twin 50’s

Ed Howe in victory lane - Mike Howell collection


West Chester, Ohio (October 15, 1972) - Ed Howe and Tom Maier drove Howe’s green Chevelles to first and second place finishes in the Marathon Twin 50 Relays at Tri-County Speedway Sunday afternoon.

Michigan’s dynamic duo started their domination of Tri-County's final event by qualifying one-two. Howe was fastest qualifier with a time of 18.954 seconds {94.96 mph) and felt he could have broken his own track record of 18.83 seconds if the car hadn’t been missing.

Howe started twelfth and on lap 16 dropped low under Bob Senneker in turn four and led for the rest of the first 50 laps. At the end of the first leg Maier was fourth behind Senneker and Larry Moore.

The drivers changed cars at intermission and Maier took the lead on the restart in the faster Chevelle with the 380 cubic inch engine and was never headed. By the third lap of the second leg, Howe, in the 427 cubic inch Chevelle, was challenging Rodney Combs, who took over Moore’s car, for second. The two ran side by side for about 12 laps with Howe on the inside. Combs got caught behind a slower car going down the back straight, and on Maier and Howe pulled away from the field.

By lap 90 they had lapped everyone but Dick Dunlevy. Meanwhile, Combs’car developed mechanical problems and he finshed far back.

The first six finishers, with the finishing driver given first, were Maier - Howe, Howe - Maier, Dick Dunlevy-Bill McCracken, Joe Ruttman - John Anderson, Anderson - Ruttmann, and Ralph Baker - Bob Senneker.

With nine entries in six major races at Tri-County this year the Howe – Maier combination has posted five firsts, two seconds, one third and one DNF. Last week Maier won the Pittsburgh 250 at Heidelberg Raceway and Howe was fifth.

Bruce Gould and Joe Strieker did not enter the relays because Gould had been sick for a few days and didn’t feel strong enough to race.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

1981 – A gracious lady among the Outlaws


by George Peters
Hunter, S.D. (October 13, 1981) – Until a few years ago, women were seldom seen in the pit area at most race tracks. Times have changed of course, so that when the World of Outlaws appeared at any track in 1981 you could all but bet that a very gracious lady would be present.

The reference is to JoAnne Howell, who with her husband Doug, travel the entire World of Outlaws circuit as owners of the #4 Howell Special with Doug Wolfgang aboard as the driver.

The Howell’s have made every World of Outlaws show in 1981. JoAnne is a very vital part of this extremely busy and ambitious operation. The Hunter, North Dakota couple travels the circuit with the truck and hauler as the crew’s only permanent members.

The distance between two consecutive racing dates may be hundreds of miles, so Doug and JoAnne take turns with the driving chores. At some tracks, friends and/or volunteers may pitch in to help handle the endless jobs that confront any pit crew. The Howell's are a definite asset to racing as they constantly demonstrate a friendly, cooperative demeanor.

The Howell’s have been married 28 years. At the time of their marriage, Doug had yet to become fully active in auto racing. When they met in Hunter Doug was in college while JoAnne was working as a secretary.

When Doug became fully committed to racing participation, he began with modified coupes in the upper Midwest (North and South Dakota, Minnesota, etc…). From there it was a natural step up to the super modified cars. Doug stopped driving while partner Dwayne Englestad handled the chauffeur chores. Eventually Dwayne was bought out and the Howells hired Don Mack as their driver. This relationship would endure for over a decade and a half.

Along the way, Doug became an extremely talented mechanic while Don was making a name for himself as a top notch wheel man in the Midwest. The Howells and Mack worked both independent and International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) shows.

During most of this period, the racing operation was essentially a weekend arrangement as the couple was usually back in Hunter at their jobs on Monday mornings. Since they worked at a garage owned by Doug’s father, they were able to exercise a bit of latitude, occasionally being able to delay a rush trip home.

JoAnne vividly recalls one extensive journey to far-off Rossburg, Ohio as their car competed in a Sunday afternoon event, yet they were on their jobs back home in North Dakota the next morning. Don’t ever get the idea that racing folks are not dedicated.

Some may say it helps to be a bit crazy. I can imagine a wry smile on JoAnne’s face if she heard such a comment as the lady’s charms include a great sense of humor.

The racing endeavors of the Howells were largely confined to the upper Midwest, however, on occasion they would venture off as far as Florida and the old Tampa fairgrounds. In 1979 Doug Wolfgang drove for the Howells several times and also piloted the car in Florida in the spring of 1980.

When Don Mack decided to retire in May of 1980, the Howells promptly hired “The Wolf”. Not only did the couple begin working with Doug, they also decided to go with the World of Outlaws on a full-time basis. The association was a successful undertaking as Wolfgang drove to 7 wins and finished second in the 1980 World of Outlaws point standings. Only a red hot Steve Kinser surpassed Doug’s point count.

During the course of the 1980 season the Howells traveled 65,000 miles. They did not return home until November and by February 1st, they were on the road again. Even the stay at home was briefly interrupted as the two Doug’s out finishing touches on a new Trostle sprinter in preparation for the 1981 season. Doug Howell spent another week and a half in Minnesota as he checked out the motor in the overworked truck.

Another extended and challenging trip JoAnne remembers took place as the Knoxville Nationals were completed this past August. The couple headed for Lakefield, Minn., as they were down to one working engine. The journey carried them to the Lakefield shop of L.L. Woodke, the builder of their racing engines. When the work was finished, the Howells were away quickly as the Outlaws were scheduled to run at Kokomo, Ind., the next day.

When asked why she has allowed herself to be punished by the long hauls and the other rigors associated with racing, JoAnne replied, “It’s in our blood.” The response was a cheery one, not even with a tinge of remorse. In talking with her, you definitely got the impression that she truly does enjoy the sport as much as anyone – male or female.

While JoAnne does not take a continuing role in the nitty-gritty mechanical work, she is ever present to lend a helping hand, to oversee and coordinate the effort, and to offer words of encouragement.

As far as she knows, no other wife travels full-time with the World of Outlaws organization. JoAnne was asked to cite the greatest joy experienced in racing by the Howells. She thought a moment and said, “Winning any big race.” The most vivid of these at the moment was the big triumph at the Eldora Nationals in August.

JoAnne expressed particular delight in that the Outlaws had a swing through the Upper Midwest in July – with races almost in their “backyard”. When the Outlaws ran at Fargo, the Howells had a brief touchdown stay at home. More importantly, they were able to see their offspring, their daughter Linda. Even here there is a racing connection for Linda’s husband; Leroy Grosz is the mechanic for the car of Linus Mack. Linus, a resident of East Grand Forks, Minn., is the son of Don Mack, the Howell’s driver for many years.

For anyone who has been around the Outlaws anytime at all, it soon becomes evident that the gracious lady from Hunter, N.D., is a definite plus for the sport. Consider Doug Howell as well and you have a great couple that represent an asset to auto racing.

It is refreshing to see such an open, warm and cordial couple in a sport that at times is a tightly fought struggle between hard as nails antagonists.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

1963 - Raceway closes for the year

Freeport, Ill. (October 11, 1963) - The Freeport Raceway closed a successful season Sunday when the final racing program of the year was held.

Al Cooper, Dubuque, Iowa, won individual honors by finishing as the top driver of the year. He compiled 211 points to outdistance Pecatonica's Harold Picka who had 163 points in second place.

Six Freeporters ended among the top 15 drivers. Ted Neals was the highest among the group. He finished fourth with 101 points.

Four times during the year a new track was set. Three out of four weeks in succession the record was broken after Picka first set it on June 16. His time then was 28.51. On June 23 Cooper lowered the mark to 27.77 and then on July 7, the Iowan was timed in 27.67. On August 4th, Picka wrestled the record time from Cooper when he was clocked in 27.39.

The track opened on May 5 with a 100-lap late model stock race sponsored by the International Motor Contest Association. This pulled the top drivers in the country.

On July 26, a four-star American Motorcycle Association race was held and on September 1st, the AMA presented a six-star program. The season came to a climax on September 15 when the 5-Mile National AMA race was held. All three-cycle events drew the top racing riders around the country.

The August issue of a prominent racing magazine has a two and one-half page story on the stock car race, which opened the season in May.

The top three drivers, Cooper, Picka and Joe Finn of Stockton, received trophies while the next seven were awarded plaques.

The 15 leading drivers at the Freeport Raceway follows;

1. Al Cooper, Dubuque, Iowa - 211

2. Harold Picka, Pecatonica - 163

3. Joe Finn, Stockton - 147

4. Ted Neals, Freeport - 101

5. Les Koerner, Rockford - 88

6. Del Butler, Nora - 81

7. Bob Mevers, Beloit, Wis. - 74

8. Lee Schmelzer, Freeport - 68

9. Jake Schmoll, Freeport - 54

9. Norm Lorinc, Freeport - 54

11. Bill Schmelzer, Freeport - 49

12. Skip Kennedy, Dubuque, Iowa - 44

13. Don Bresson, Dubuque, Iowa - 28

14. Joe Noeske, Freeport - 26

15. Bob Nesteby, Dubuque, Iowa - 25

Sunday, October 9, 2011

1971 - Final Feature to Morris, Hemsted Is Point Champ

Columbus Junction, Iowa (October 9, 1971) - Mel Morris of Atalissa took the lead on the 22nd lap of the 50-lap feature event here from John Moss of Iowa City and held it to win the final race of the 1971 Mississippi Valley Speed Club season.


Ron Hemsted of Lone Tree, the point leader most of the season, finished in sixth place in the feature and wound up with 212 points for first place in the point standings. Moss, with a third place finish in the feature, finished in second place in the point standings with 183 points. Pokey West of West Chester, finishing second in the feature, wound up third in the point standings with 181 points.

Byron Buchele of Muscatine won the 5-lap trophy dash. Ray Guss of Milan, Ill., won the first heat race. Morris took the honors for the second heat race and Larry Jenkins of Wilton Junction grabbed the checkered flag for the third heat race. Bud Darting of Wilton Junction picked up the checkered flag for the fourth heat race. Perry Beckler of Tiffin won the semi-main event.

Results –

Trophy Dash – Bryan Buchele, Muscatine

First Heat – Ray Guss, Milan, Ill.

Second Heat – Mel Morris, Atalissa

Third Heat – Larry Jenkins, Muscatine

Fourth Heat – Bud Darting, Columbus Junction

Semi-Main – Perry Beckler, Tiffin

Feature –

1. Mel Morris, Atalissa

2. Pokey West, West Chester

3. John Moss, Iowa City

4. Bill Newman, Burlington

5. Ron Prymek, Iowa City

6. Ron Hemsted, Lone Tree

7. Jim Gerber, Long Grove

8. Bud Darting, Columbus Junction

9. Larry Jenkins, Wilton Junction

10. Ron Perdock, Washington

Saturday, October 8, 2011

1988 - Swindell Sweeps Shaheen's Super Weekend

Granite City, Ill. (October 8, 1988) - Sammy Swindell completed a sweep of Shaheen's Super Weekend, winning features Friday, October 7 at Godfrey, Ill., and Saturday, October 8 at Tri-City Speedway. Swindell took home an additional $1,000 bonus for the sweep, bring his two-day earnings to more than $6,000.

Swindell set a new track record in qualifying with a scorchering 10.76 seconds and won the 40-lap sprint car feature to dominate the first round on Friday night at Godfrey. Donnie Beechler led the first half of the main event despite two restarts  and the persistent challenges of Jim Moughan and Joe Gaerte. However, Beechler saw his half-lap lead disintegrate midway through the battle when his drive line gave way, eliminating him.

Swindell, who had been running fourth, shot into the lead on the restart and then held off Robbie Stanley's late charge to secure the win. Stanley, Gaerte, Mike Thurman and Moughan would round out the top five. Moughan won the B main while Beechler took C main honors. Terry Sheperd, Chuck Amati, Rodney Duncan and Ron Standridge were heat winners.

Danny Lasoski would take the top spot to start Saturday's 30-lap affair at Granite City, and Lasoski opened up a commanding lead before Swindell would close the gap 7 laps into the battle. After a caution bunched the field, Swindell took to the low groove and overhauled Lasoski to gain the upper hand with 20 circuits remaining.

Swindell wold lead the remaining distance, with Lasoski holding off Andy Hillenburg to nail down second place. Robbi Stanley finished fourth and Joe Gaerte took fifth. Lasoski won the B main and Tracy House score the victory in the C main. Swindell, who also set fast time, joined Randy Smith, Gaerte and Rodney Duncan as heat winners.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

1969 - Local electrician’s sprint car running on many Midwest tracks

Dick Forbrook at the controls of the Algona, Iowa based Utt Electric #30 at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. - Photo courtesy of DirtTrackRadio.com



Algona, Iowa (October 4, 1969) - Jim Utt is a well-known Algona electrician. There are other well-known Algona electricians, but none has a sideline comparable with Jim's. You see, he's a stock car and sprint car “bug” that has a machine, which is operating on some of the best-known tracks in the Midwest this summer.


His car, which can be called a sprint or big car, is driven by Dick Forbrook of Morgan, Minn., who until recently was best known for his efforts behind the wheel of modified stock cars. Forbrook, married and the father of two children, has many modified wins to his credit and perhaps his top effort came in 1964 when he was the season point champion while competing in rugged competition at Jackson, Minn.

Jim's car will move — and it wound up 12th in qualifying time at one of the biggest sprint car races around, the Hawkeye Futurity in Des Moines. The vehicle was also right in the running for a top finish in the feature when a three-car spinout took it out of competition just before the checkered flag dropped. There were 50 cars entered in the annual Futurity event.

The Utt Electric Chevy is responsible for quite a bit of conversation in the Utt home here. Jim and his wife, Helen, often are caught talking about horsepower instead of house power. They also keep an ear tuned while work is being done on the sprint car so they can hear the telephone in case anyone needs help with an electrical problem.

Jim's interest in racing goes back quite a ways in years. He used to watch men like Gus Schrader, Emory Collins and other great ones drive racers powered with Offenhauser engines, which were king then. He became actively involved when he joined the pit crew of Gene Schattschneider, Algona stock car driver, a number of years ago.

He purchased a semi-modified car three years ago and began operating it on tracks at Jackson and Fairmont, Minn., plus a number of fair dates each year.

His jump into the sprint car end of racing came last fall when he purchased a car from Wayne Funk of Humboldt, who built it, using plans developed by Don Edmunds, well-known California designer and driver. Funk's decision to sell came after a serious mishap at Wausau, Wis., last summer when he sustained severe head and neck injuries.

Besides a number of sprint dates, the Utt Electric Chevy is also run weekly at the super modified event at Knoxville, Iowa, one of the hottest tracks in the Midwest. A 4-post roll cage is mounted for the driver's safety in those races.

Utt's car is powered by a Chevrolet engine, modified for racing use with fuel injection, magneto ignition and a roller camshaft to produce the most possible power per cubic inch. Methanol is used for fuel because of its greater power output — and it is also safer than gasoline. Most of the car's components are of durable and strong lightweight materials.

Jim's pit crew includes Dwight Simpson, Tony Elbert and Ernie Keats, while Daryl Arends of B&D Automotive here assists in tuning the engine.

The Utts readily admit they have a hobby that probably consumes more time than most - but they really enjoy it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

This Week in History

1993 – Bob Hill of Story City, Iowa took second place in the Featherlite 50 Saturday night, October 3 at the Hamilton County Speedway to clinch the NASCAR Busch All Star Tour point championship for 1993. Hill became only the second Iowan to win the title, Roger Dolan having won the initial crown in 1985. Beating Hill to the checkered flag and at times leading by as much as a quarter of a lap was Gary Wilson of Bowling Green, Mo. Wilson, who started on the outside of the front row, led the entire race in picking up his first career NASCAR Busch All Star Tour victory. Not knowing how much of a lead he had, Wilson was glad the race went non-stop. “I was happy there weren’t any yellows, because I was afraid somebody might catch up.”


1982 – Tom Reffner and Joe Shear each won a 100-lap feature, but a second and third place finish in the double main events, gave Jim Back of Vesper, Wis., the overall victory in the 13th annual Oktoberfest 200 on Sunday afternoon, October 3. It was Back’s first triumph in the event’s 13-year history. Reffner passed Jim Sauter on lap 25 of the first 100-lap main and was half a lap ahead of Back when the checkers flew. Dave Watson, Steve Burgess and Bob Iverson followed. In the second century race, Shear got around Back on lap 45 and then slowly closed in on Sauter, finally grabbing the lead on the 67th circuit. Shear would go run away from Sauter after that, winning by one-third of a lap. Back took third followed by Mike Miller and Reffner.

1976 – Curt Hansen did it again for Iowa. The Dike, Iowa driver won his second straight Cornhusker – Hawkeye Challenge at Omaha’s Sunset Speedway on Saturday, October 2, enabling the continuing dominance of Iowa drivers in claiming all five annual events. Hansen, in the 100-lap feature, took the lead from on lap 35 when Des Moines’ Joe Merryfield completely lost his car’s rear end. The 31-year-old Hansen led the remaining 65 laps to the checkers, which netted him a $1,525 payday out of the $8,000 plus purse. Finishing second, some distance behind were Tom Stueding of Altoona, Wis., and Em Fretheim of Decorah, Iowa. Restoring some of Nebraska’s dignity was 19-year-old rookie Joe Kosiski, who turned in a fine driving performance and finished fourth. George Barton of Ankeny, Iowa rounded out the top five.
Don Bohlander - Photo by Dennis Piefer

1971 – Don Bohlander of Glasford, Ill., successfully defended his title by winning the Illinois State Championships, Saturday, October 2 at Peoria Speedway. Bohlander drove his 1965 Plymouth to his fifth state title in seven years. Bohlander received $1,000 for his victory. Starting from the middle of the second row, Don took the lead on lap 18 from Arnie Gardner of Batavia, Ill., driving a 1970 Chevelle. Al Terrell of Peoria pushed his ’69 Nova past Gardner to finish second, a half lap behind Bohlander at the checkers. 1969 champion Bob Kelly of Wheaton, Ill, took fourth and Garry Reeder of Peoria earned fifth.