Monday, December 31, 2012

National Speedways Contest Association - Point Standings - 1978

Oklahoma's Shane Carson, shown here with car owner Bob Trostle of Des Moines, Iowa, won the National Speedway Contest Association (NSCA) sprint car title in 1978. - Florida Stock Cars photo

Final Point Standings -
1. Shane Carson, Oklahoma, City, Okla. - 733
2. Sonny Smyser, Lancaster, Mo. - 552.5
3. Bill Utz, Sedalia, Mo. - 354.5
4. Doug Wolfgang, Lincoln, Neb. - 341
5. Jimmy Boyd, Dixon, Calif. - 283
6. Ralph Blackett, Des Moines - 226.5
7. Randy Smith, Des Moines - 206
8. Eddie Leavitt, Kearney, Mo. - 199.5
9. Tom Corbin, Carrollton, Mo. - 179
10. Gene Gennetten, Parkville, Mo. - 158.5
11. Jimmy Sills, Sacramento, Calif. - 156.5
12. Jerry Blundy, Dahinda, Ill. - 107
13. Gary Scott, Holts Summit, Mo. - 105
14. Kim Lingenfelter, Norfolk, Neb. - 99
15. Butch Bahr, Grand Island, Neb. - 98.5
16. Bobby Layne, Kansas City - 86.5
17. Buster Venard, Sylmar, Calif. - 84
18. Jerry Potter, Kansas City - 83.5
19. Mike Thomas, Des Moines - 80
20. Cliff Blundy, Alpha, Ill. - 76

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Red, White & Blue Series' Point Standings - 1976

Dave Watson of Milton, Wis., was crowned champion of the Red, White & Blue Championship Series in 1976.

Final Standings -
1. Dave Watson - 1,610
2. Larry Schuler - 1,320
3. Dick Trickle - 1,125
4. John Ziegler - 945
5. Tom Reffner - 825
6. Mike Miller - 820
7. Doug Strasburg - 750
8. Joe Shear - 735
9. Rich Somers - 605
10. Tom Musgrave - 530
11. John Reimer - 505
12. Roger Regeth - 455
13. Jerry Eckhardt - 435
14. Bill Oas - 420
15. Al Schill - 405

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Maquoketa Speedway Point Standings - 1981

Late Model -

1. Bob Jaeger, Dubuque - 785
2. Denny Stewart, Davenport - 620
3. Ronnie Weedon, Pleasant Valley - 615
4. Tom Hamburg, Dixon, Ill. - 550
5. Steve Johnson, Low Moor - 489
6. Duke Jackson, Clinton - 408
7. Denny Ansel, Dubuque - 385
8. Dave Hammond, Camanche - 374
9. Jerry Conners, Pleasant Valley - 356
10. Scott Nesteby, E. Dubuque, Ill. - 332

Open Wheel -

1. Dan Garland, Morrison, Ill. - 394
2. Paul Eads, Maquoketa - 324
    Bob Perry, Maquoketa - 324
4. Jim Conners, Linden, Wis. - 252
5. Marv Blixt, Morrison, Ill. - 224
6. Dave Wouters, Lost Nation - 164
7. Don Breston, Rockford, Ill. - 126
8. Rich Phillips, Fulton, Ill. - 118
9. Jack Lueth, Davenport - 110
10. Ernie Lilly, Morrison, Ill. - 104

Street Stock -

1. Bruce Current, Maquoketa - 434
2. Bob Cleppe, Clinton - 381
3. Jeff Marburger, Sabula - 344
4. Mark Edwards, Maquoketa - 342
5. Mitch Current, Maquoketa - 308
6. Mark Hughes, Maquoketa - 281
7. Denny Fields, Maquoketa - 260
8. Joe Ross, Thomson, Ill. - 244
9. Steve Denning, Rock Falls, Ill. - 236
10. Don Hansen, Clinton - 190

Friday, December 21, 2012

1986 ARTGO Point Standings

1. Joe Shear, Clinton, Wis. - 1,249
2. Butch Miller, Lawton, Mich. - 1,246
3. Dick Trickle, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. - 1,070
4. Rich Bickle, Jr., Edgerton, Wis. - 1,029
5. Terry Baldry, Omro, Wis. - 789
6. Doug Herbst, Wausau, Wis. - 684
7. Steve Holzhausen, Bangor, Wis. - 681
8. Jim Weber, Roseville, Minn. - 594
9. Dave Watson, Milton, Wis. - 573
10. G. Prizborowski, Apple Valley, Minn. - 543
11. Scott Hansen, Green Bay, Wis. - 481
12. Al Schill, Franklin, Wis. - 479
13. John Ziegler, Madison, Wis. - 295
14. Tracy Schuler, Lockport, Ill. - 287
15. B. McDonald, Combined Locks, Wis. - 281
16. Mark Martin, Batesville, Ark. - 269
17. Dave Weltmeyer, Harvey, Ill. - 257
18. Harold Fair, Livonia, Mich. - 224
19. Bob Iverson, Hyde, Mich. - 212
20. Rick Wateski, La Crosse, Wis. - 207

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Iowa State Super Stock Championships

By Kyle Ealy
Des Moines, Iowa – The Iowa State Fair and stock car racing has been a long-time tradition that still continues today. There is something extra special about going to the state fair and seeing the big Ferris wheel in the background, smelling the cotton candy and hearing the rumbling of engines.

The Deery Brothers Summer Series for IMCA Late Models has been the latest tradition at the Iowa State Fair for numerous years now, usually playing to a near-capacity crowd on Monday night.

From 1968 to 1975, the tradition was a little different. The auto racing program for the state fair was a Thursday afternoon matinee with super stock drivers and their cars coming together to see who was the best in the state. Appropriately named the Iowa State Super Stock Championships, this was as blue ribbon of an event as they came.

Joel Rasmussen celebrates his Iowa State Championship win

The first state championship race, held on August 22, 1968, provided a thrilling finish as Joel Rasmussen of Ames passed “Big” John Moss of Iowa City on the last lap to take the win before a crowd of 6,500.

Moss had held the top spot since the fourth circuit when early pacesetter Bud Darting of Wilton Junction collided with Bob Wignall of Rhodes, taking both leaders out and giving “Big John” the lead.

Moss was comfortably ahead in the 25-lapper when carburetor problems on his 1957 Chevrolet started to slow him down with only a few laps left. Rasmussen, driving a 1960 Oldsmobile, sensed something was wrong with Moss’s car and started his charge, finally catching Moss on the backstretch of the white flag lap and winning by several car lengths at the finish.

Rasmussen collected $450 for the victory while a disappointed Moss settled for $350. Bob Bonzer of Liscomb took third and earned $200, while George Barton of Des Moines took fourth, worth $150 and Stan Crooks of Letts rounded out the top-five finishers and took home $100. Bob Wignall, Bud Darting, Butch Householder of Algona and Moss won heats while Gene Schattschneider of Algona won the consolation.

1969 was shaping up to be Mel Morris’ year. The 35-year-old truck driver from West Liberty had been dominating the central Iowa racing scene that year; winning championships at West Liberty, Columbus Junction and Oskaloosa. The big half-mile at Des Moines had also been very kind to Morris in '69, so it came to no one’s surprise that he was the odds on favorite to win the Iowa State Fair Super Stock Championship race on Thursday, August 21.

Driving a 1957 Chevrolet with a ’69 Hemi motor, Morris didn’t disappoint his supporters as he won the 25-lap championship before a sellout crowd of 9,500. Morris, who cashed in $450 for his winning efforts, didn’t run away from the field like most thought he would.

Mel Morris is joined by his crew after winning the 1969 Iowa State Super Stock Championship. - Photo courtesy of Mike Townsley

After winning the third heat Morris started on the inside of the second row, and at the drop of the green flag, quickly moved into the second spot behind pole sitter Mark Mosier of Washington. For the next 18 laps, Mosier stayed up front with Morris dogging him the entire way. Morris never strayed to far from Mosier’s bumper during the race and on lap 19 he got the break he needed when Mosier developed wheel problems. Morris would slip by Mosier with defending State Fair champ Joel Rasmussen following Morris.

Rasmussen would give Morris all he could handle for the remaining 5 circuits, showing his nose inside of Morris several times but couldn’t complete the necessary pass. Jerry LeCroy of Des Moines would take third place, Darreld Bunkofske of Algona took fourth and Bill Newman of Burlington earned fifth. Mosier would settle for the 13th spot.

Mosier, Butch Householder, Morris and Rasmussen collected heat wins while Bob Bonzer took consolation honors. A total of 45 cars were in attendance and 24 started the feature.

It’s called a dirt track, but the racing surface at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Thursday, afternoon August 27, 1970, was more like a rough combination of concrete and glass. The super stock drivers found the “dry slick” that was formed under a bright sun and temperatures in the high 90’s lead one direction - into the fence at the top edge of the track.

Many of the drivers, used to running the high-banked oval at night, appeared to have trouble adapting to the track and its condition. With the smaller degree of bank in the turns, and the sun making a tacky surface impossible, cars started hitting the fence and each other during hot laps, and continued throughout the afternoon.

In the third heat it took five tries to get the first lap completed, and the race was halted several times during the latter part due to more accidents. The consolation also took nearly a half-hour to complete, as spin-outs and accidents brought out the yellow flag.

Mark Mosier

Mark Mosier, who had see his hopes of winning the ’69 State Championship fade in the last few laps, overcame the difficulties of the racing surface to win the 25-lap event. Like Mel Morris did to him the year before, Mosier stayed glued to race leader Gene Schattschneider’s bumper throughout the contest and when “Schattsy’s” right rear tire shredded on lap 22, Mosier slipped by for the lead, where he fought off Joel Rasmussen the remaining three laps to take the victory.

Rasmussen would settle for his second straight runner-up finish in the race with John Moss taking third, Butch Householder grabbing fourth and Ron Hemsted of Washington taking fifth. Mosier, Jim Havill of LeClaire, Rasmussen, and Don Hoffman of Des Moines were heat winners while Phil Reece of Des Moines topped the consolation field.

No one would come close to Dan Dickey of Packwood in a game of follow the leader on Thursday afternoon, August 26, 1971.

The 21-year-old driver had no trouble pulling away from the rest of the field in his 1969 Dodge Charger to take the $500 first-place money, trophy and title of Iowa State Super Stock Champion after dominating the 25-lap feature event.

Driving on both central and southeastern Iowa tracks, the youthful chauffer had been no stranger to the winner’s circle. He was the point’s leader at Eldon, having won four features in a row. He had won features at Des Moines, Knoxville and Oskaloosa during the ’71 season.

Once again, the August weather came into factor with the racing surface. Despite several waterings, the track baked under the hot sun and warm breeze, turning to a dusty, hard surface which made passing extremely difficult. There were several instances when cars moved up three or four places just through the attrition of cars ahead of them. There were numerous spinouts and minor accidents as the cars fought for traction.

The battle for second, third, and fourth places was the main action in the feature, taking place far behind Dickey. Ken Davidson of Des Moines ran a steady second, but had a constant challenge from Denny Hovinga of Laurens and Red Dralle of Evansdale.

Dralle did more passing in the race than anyone else would all afternoon long. He would scoot by Hovinga for third, make a move on Davidson, and then run into control problems on the dry track and slide back to fourth. Late in the race Ron Hemsted made a strong bid for fourth, finishing neck and neck with Dralle as the checkers waved. The finish was so close in fact; the track announcer would not announce the results until the official scorers had made the decision.

Ken Davidson, Del Stokke of Ames, Dickey, and George Barton of Ankeny earned heat wins and Phil Reece was the victor in the consolation race.

After seeing his chances of winning the 1968 race slip away on the last lap and despite putting together some good runs in others, John Moss had yet to see victory lane in the Iowa State Super Stock Championships and it frustrated the usually good natured driver.

When he arrived at the state fairgrounds on August 24, 1972, John Moss made it very clear from the start; he wasn’t going to be denied this time.

After dominating the second heat, Moss started on the outside of the front row and proceeded to throw his weight around in the 25-lap feature to run away from the field. The 300-pound pilot took over the lead early in the race and stayed there, although several yellow flags allowed the field of cars to pull up behind him.

John Moss is joined by his son Mark and official Larry Shipley after winning the 1972 Iowa State Super Stock Championships. 

Moss picked up $500 for the feature win and another $30 for winning the heat race. The defending race champion, Dan Dickey, would put on another fine driving performance in taking runner-up honors while George Barton would earn a third place finish.

Fourth through seventh place would take a little longer to figure out. Two drivers claimed that another driver had moved up illegally under a yellow flag, but the protest was shrugged off by race officials.

John Babb of Ottumwa and Bill Lundington of Carlisle went to the officials of National Speedways, Inc., the promoter of the race, to charge Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids had passed both of them and Stan Stover of Reinbeck under the caution flag.

After being ignored by the National Speedways personnel for about 15 minutes, the two drivers attempted to make their complaint to the flagman Woody Brinkman of Lincoln, Neb., but as they started explaining the matter, Brinkman walked away from them without answering and the two drivers finally gave up.

In the official standings, Dake finished fourth, with Stover fifth, Babb sixth and Lundington seventh. Bob Bonzer, Moss, Dickey and Barton would claim heat wins while John Meyer of Brooklyn grabbed the victory in the consolation.

In 1973, Ron Jackson of Burlington had been having, what he termed, “A terrible season of racing. We’ve been racing at Eldon and Oskaloosa this year haven’t been able to do anything all season.”

But things were looking much brighter to him after he won the 25-lap Iowa State Super Stock Championship feature on Thursday afternoon, August 23. “It’s unbelievable the car performed as well as it did,” the 31-year-old truck driver said after the race, which was witnessed by an estimated 7,000 fans.

Jackson won the first heat with his 1973 Mercury Comet and, as a result, started the feature in the front row pole position. He grabbed the lead when the green flag fell and led for the first two laps. Darrell Dake, driving a 1972 Nova, had started beside Jackson. The lead see-sawed between them several times for the first few laps Then Jackson went ahead in turn two on the fifth lap and led the rest of the way.

Dake, Lem Blankenship of Keokuk and Don Hoffman of Des Moines were eliminated because of an accident on lap 15. Blankenship, driving a 1972 Monte Carlo, was trying to pass Dake in the fourth turn when their cars smacked together. Both were sidelined. Hoffman, running close behind them, had nowhere to go and got into the melee. He also watched the remainder of the race from the pits.

Cal Swanson of Reinbeck, in a 1968 Chevelle, and Stan Stover of Reinbeck, driving a 1978 Nova, finished second and third, respectively. Joe Merryfield of Des Moines was fourth. Jackson won $500, Swanson $400, Stover $225 and Merryfield $175.

“I’ve been racing the Comet since the first of July,” Jackson said. “We’ve made several major changes on it, but it just hasn’t worked right. This week we put 250 pounds of lead over the rear wheels and it looks like we have it all together now.”

“The track was dry-slick today and I was able to get a good bite, I also got a break by being in the hot spot (pole position) and I got the jump. If Dake had been the leader first, I doubt if I would have been able to pass him.”

Jackson, Dake, Blankenship, and Swanson scored heat wins while Dave Bedard of LaPorte City, piloting a 1965 Chevelle, took top honors in the consolation.

Bill Rice of Des Moines would walk away with the $500 first prize and capture the Super Stock Championship feature at the Iowa State Fair on Thursday, August 22, 1974.

Rice guided his 1973 Camaro to victory in the 25-lap main event after also winning the fourth heat race. Bob Bonzer, who finished second in the first heat, claimed second in the 27-car feature while Joe Merryfield was third in a ‘74 Chevelle and Don Hoffman took fourth in a ‘72 Nova.

Stan Stover, who started on the outside in the front row for the feature, quickly jumped into the lead in the second turn and led through the seventh lap, He was then forced out with a blown engine.

Bill Martin of Des Moines, who won the first heat and started on the pole for the main, was running second when Stover left. He held the lead until he spun out on lap 17 and left the race. Martin's spin caused a yellow flag and when the race got under way Rice took the lead and never lost it. Rice started in the fourth spot for the feature, but never was any farther back than third place.

In addition to Rice and Bonzer winning heat races, Bill Martin and Ron Hemsted of Lone Tree also scored heat victories. Rex Carter of Adel won the 10-lap consolation.

Ed Sanger

Ed Sanger of Waterloo and the Iowa State Fairgrounds track had proved to be a winning combination in 1975. Sanger, who had won two of three starts at the half-mile oval that year (he finished second the other time), found the track to his liking again as he captured the Iowa State Super Stock Championship on August 21, 1975.

Despite temperatures reaching more than 100 degrees on the racing surface, Sanger had little to complain about. “My car works well, here,” explained Sanger, who won $500. “It’s a flat track that is suited to a light car like mine.”

Sanger, who also won the first heat, took the lead on the eighth lap from second place finisher John Connolly of Delhi and stretched that margin to six car lengths at times even though two accidents allowed the field to close up again.

“Connolly’s tail end was loose and consequently he had to drive low in the corner,” Sanger said. “I could lean on it out in the cushion and after testing it a couple of laps I went by.”

Mel Morris finished third, followed by Lem Blankenship, Don Hoffman and Ron Tilley of Council Bluffs.

One of the delays in the 25-lap feature came on lap 13 when defending champion Bill Rice smacked the wall extremely hard in his 1973 Camaro and clipped a car driven by Larry Rummelhart of Riverside. The impact of the crash caused Rice to spin in the air and tore the rear end of the car completely away from the rest of the body as flames momentarily shot from underneath.

“Something broke in the right rear - the spring or spindle,” said Rice, who was shaken up but not injured. “I hit the wall and don’t know what happened after that.”

Sanger, the season point leader at Denison and Davenport, only had one complaint after the race – “a splitting headache” caused by the high temperatures.

Bob Hilmer of Dysart, Sanger, Ron Weedon of Pleasant Valley, and Connolly were heat winners. Ron Prymek and Perry Beckler, both of Iowa City, staged a two-man battle in the consolation with Prymek coming out on top in his 1975 Chevelle.

As the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end” and so would the Iowa State Super Stock Championships. In 1976, the Thursday afternoon tradition of the championship super stock racing would be replaced with sprint cars.

Monday, December 10, 2012

1972 - Dick Hutcherson inducted into IMCA Hall of Fame

Des Moines, Iowa (December 10, 1972) - Business is booming for Dick Hutcherson - so much so he was unable to attend the International Motors Contest Association’s annual awards banquet on Saturday night where he was inducted into the organization's Hall of Fame.

But he acknowledged the honor and was remembered by the 400 fans and auto racing people who gathered at the Hotel Fort Des Moines where the IMCA gave away more than $31,000 in cash and merchandise, in addition to many honors and awards.

Hutcherson, formerly of Keokuk, now owns 75 percent of a Charlotte, N.C., firm called Hutcherson and Pagan Enterprises. “We build new stock cars, fix wrecks and update old cars,” the IMCA champion of 1963 and ‘64 said in a telephone interview Saturday.

“I'm really sorry that I can't make it to the banquet,” he continued. “But, we’re working six and seven days a week getting cars ready for the Daytona 500 and we’re still behind on orders.”

“I regard being inducted into IMCA’s Hall of Fame a great honor. It means a lot to be thought of.”

Hutcherson left the IMCA after the 1964 season and, with sponsorship by Ford Motor Company, found fame and good fortune in NASCAR. “I ran for points in 1965 and finished second in NASCAR’s Grand National division,” Hutcherson said. “Ford dropped out of racing in 1966 and I only ran a few NASCAR races and competed in some sports car events.”

“Then in ‘67, I ran the Grand National circuit again and, although I wasn’t running for points. I finished third.”

In 1968 and ‘69, in the employment of Holman and Moody, formerly Ford’s racing equipment outlet,
“Hutch” was crew chief for David Pearson, who won the Grand National titles those years. He was promoted to general manager of Holman-Moody in 1970 and, after a split in top management in 1971, Dick, Assistant General Manager Eddie Pagan, and five Holman-Moody mechanics began the new venture.

“I had a lot of fun racing in IMCA,” Hutcherson said, “and there are a lot of good drivers out there. There wasn’t the pressure I encountered in NASCAR.”

In 1963, Hutch won 31 of 54 IMCA feature races and finished second nine times. He won 29 of 50 features in ‘64 and was runner-up 14 times. In his six-year IMCA career, he never finished lower than third in point standings. He was second in 1959 and ‘62 and third in ‘60 and ‘61.

The IMCA Board of Directors also selected Joe T. Monsour, manager of the Louisiana State Fair, for the Hall of Fame. He is a past president of IMCA.

Irv Janey of Cedar Rapids, the 1972 IMCA stock car national champion, received $3,500 and Ray Lee Goodwin of Kansas City, Mo., the sprint car national champion, was presented $2,525.

Hank Smith of Mount Ayr, Iowa was named Man of the Year in IMCA. Smith’s car was driven to a fourth-place point finish by Earl Wagner of Pleasantville, Iowa after Goodwin drove it early in the season.

Ron Perkins of Des Moines received the sportsmanship award.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Remembering the North Dakota Late Model Championships

Dick Schiltz at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot - 1979.

by Lee Ackerman
Minot, N.D. - In the late 70’s and early 80’s Iowa drivers were dominating in the world of dirt late model racing. Iowa drivers won four World 100 titles in six years in the 70’s. What does that have to do with North Dakota? Well for three years starting in 1978 they ran a series of racing during the North Dakota State Fair in Minot and drivers from the Hawkeye state seemed to do pretty well.

On July 22 & 23, 1978 they ran the first of the races billed as the North Dakota State Fair Championship Races at the State Fairgrounds in Minot. Heats were won by Don Bender of Regan, North Dakota, Jack McDonald of Eldridge, North Dakota and Howard Nelson of Carrington, North Dakota. Des Moines, Iowa’s Joe Merryfield won the Trophy Dash and Bob Moody of Williston, North Dakota won the consolation.

When it came to “A” feature time, it was Joe Merryfield making a pass on the last lap to nail down the win. Don Bender was second, Howard Nelson third. Larry Seckerson of Jamestown, North Dakota was fourth and Dan Herman of Bismarck, North Dakota fifth.

Night two of the races saw Roy Miller of Minot, Don Bender and Bob Simmers of Jamestown pick up heat wins. Jack McDonald would win the dash and Bob Moody once again won the dash. In the feature it was all Joe Merryfield as he drove his Sanger Camaro to a half lap win after taking the lead on lap 26 of the 50 lap feature. John Gaule of Minot was second, Larry Seckerson third, Paul Schulz of Washburn fourth and Howard Nelson fifth.

Merryfield would earn $2,000 for winning the first North Dakota State Fair Late Model Championships and the 1975 World 100 champion would take the trophy back to Iowa.

Joe Merryfield must have passed the word about Minot when he got back to Iowa because the 1979 version of the North Dakota State Championships saw several Iowa drivers plus drivers from Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada.

While North Dakota drivers dominated the heat races in 1978 that was not the case in 1979. On Thursday July 19, round one of a three night series, heats were won by Jim Bruggeman of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, Verlin Eaker of Mechanicsville, Iowa, Tom Corcoran of Grand Forks, North Dakota and Clayton Petersen, Jr., of Grand Island, Nebraska. The two consolation races went to Pete Parker of Kaukauna, Wisconsin and Don Hoffman of Des Moines, Iowa.

By winning the second consolation race, Don Hoffman and his Pizza Hut #2 got the privilege of starting ninth row outside. Hoffman would survive two caution flags and two red flags but he took the lead on lap 37 when race leader Leon Plan of Mondovi, Wisconsin slowed with mechanical problems. Hoffman had to survive a tangle with Bruggeman which sent Hoffman off turn two with a cut tire. He was however allowed to change the tire under the red flag and go on to win the feature and $2,000.

Clayton Petersen, Jr., would finish second, Thunder Bay, Ontario’s Tom Nesbitt third, Bruggeman would hold on for fourth and Steve Egersdorf of St. Paul, Minnesota would round out the top five.

Saturday nights show saw heats won by Steve Egersdorf, Em Fretheim of Decorah, Iowa, Clayton Petersen, Jr. and Bill Sanders of Muskogee, Oklahoma. Consolation races went to Billy Moyer, Jr. of Des Moines, Iowa and Don Hoffman. In the Saturday feature, Hawkeye drivers totally dominated with Gary Crawford of Independence, Iowa winning the feature, Ed Sanger of Waterloo, Iowa second and Em Fretheim of Decorah, third, Bill Sanders fourth and Verlin Eaker fifth.

Sunday’s finale was highlighted by an amazing pass on lap 45 by Gary Crawford as he passed Ed Sanger coming out of turn four. Crawford would go on to win the 50-lap feature and also the North Dakota State Championship. Sanger would finish second in the race and tie Don Hoffman for second in points. Hoffman would run third in the feature followed by Eaker in fourth giving Hawkeye drivers the top four spots. Bob Moody of Williston, North Dakota would finish fifth and give home state fans something to cheer about. Gary Crawford would win $5,000 for his efforts.

The 1980 version of the race became the North Dakota State Fair International Late Model Dirt Track Championship. Races were scheduled at Minot on July 19, 20 & 24 with a race also scheduled for July 22 at Winnipeg, Manitoba Speedway.

Things kicked off Saturday, July 19 and this time North Dakota drivers were ready to take back their territory. Marlyn Seidler of Underwood, North Dakota started on the pole and lead all the way in the 50-lap feature to take home his 13th win of the season. Jack McDonald was second with Huron, South Dakota’s Dennis Selting third, Fargo, North Dakota’s Mitch Johnson fourth and Bob Shryock of Estherville, Iowa fifth.

On Sunday night, Paul Schulz of Washburn, North Dakota grabbed the lead at the start but on lap eight Dennis Selting driving a 1980 Ford Thunderbird powered by a small-block Chevrolet took over the lead of the race. Selting held off Iowa hot shoe Dick Schiltz by a car length for the win. “The lapped cars made thing real tough tonight,” said Schiltz after the race. Schiltz would finish second, Em Fretheim third, Paul Schulz fourth and Ed Sanger fifth.

On Tuesday it was north of the border and a controversial ending. Over 7,000 fans were on hand for round three of the series and it would come down to a pair of Hawkeye state drivers. Dick Schiltz would take the lead from fellow Waterloo, Iowa resident Ed Sanger on lap 45 and go on to win the feature by about five car lengths. Following Schiltz and Sanger to the line were, Jim Bruggeman and Mitch Johnson.

After the race there were a number of questions raised about Schiltz’s car as well as other cars. Sanger claimed Schiltz had removed 500 pounds from his car before the race. Unfortunately, the track did not have a scale to weigh cars and insure they met the 3,000 pound minimum weight. They would be weighed once back in Minot.

 The weight issue followed the cars back to Minot for the finale.

After the final checkered flew at Minot, veteran Ed Sanger was a happy man and grinning from ear to ear. During the feature race Sanger had been leading when Dick Schiltz passed him on lap 38 as they came by lapped traffic. Schiltz went on to take the checkered flag and most spectators left thinking Schiltz had won the race. However, Nodak Racing Club Officials required the top 10 cars to be weighed. Schiltz was found to way only 2,845 pounds, 155 pounds light. He was disqualified and the victory given to second place Sanger.

“He knew he had to be light to win tonight,” Sanger commented, “They didn’t weigh the cars last year on the final night and I don’t think Dick thought they would tonight.”

Meanwhile Schiltz contended, “I know that the scales have been changed,” argued a bitter Schiltz, “We set the car up on the same scale and it weighed over 3,100 pounds.”

Following Sanger in the official finish of the race were Red Dralle of Waterloo, Iowa, Steve Egersdorf, Maryln Seidler and Em Freitheim.

Sanger would not only pick up the win but also capture the title for the North Dakota State Fair Championship. He would end up with $4,850 prize money for the four nights. Bob Shryock would finish second in the series and Red Dralle third. A total of 45 cars took place in the four day series. They represented seven states and two Canadian provinces

For three years the North Dakota State Championship races had brought some great racing to the Dakotas. It had gone from largely a state race in the first year to a regional affair the last two years. But as they had in some many areas of the country, Iowa drivers would dominate the event.

Friday, November 23, 2012

1958 - Bettenhausen: No Limit on Indianapolis Speed

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (November 23, 1958) - Tony Bettenhausen, described recently as an “aging tiger” in the treacherous business of racing autos, doesn’t agree with the experts who think the famed Indianapolis track has reached its limit for producing speed.

“There is no limit to speed at Indianapolis,” says Tony, a vigorous 44-year-old who last month won his second national driving championship.

“It's simply a case of engineering,” he explains. “Besides developing more speed, the construction of the cars must constantly change so the speed can be used.”

Bettenhausen, a two-time national driving champ and a 12-time contender at Indianapolis, was in Cedar Rapids on Thursday and Friday to speak on highway safety, as part of a nationwide program sponsored by the Champion Spark Plug Company.

Bettenhausen is a member of the famed Champion 100 Mile-an-Hour Club, has driven more miles on the Indianapolis Speedway than any other active driver, and travels from 35,000 to 40,000 miles a year on the nation’s highways.

“Highway safety is the same as race track safety,” Tony tells student groups. “The key points are the condition of your car, mental alertness and courtesy.”

Tony is one of the best known and best liked of the nation’s top drivers, and he has come a long way since, his early days of racing when: he was tabbed as “cement head”.

“It's a funny thing,” he explains. “I won my first national title in 1951 when I won 8 of 11 championship races. I won the title for the second time this year and didn’t win a race. But I finished second 4 times and was among the top 5 in all but one race.”

Despite the age of 44, Bettenhausen is going back to Indianapolis next spring. The farm boy from Tinley Park, Ill., has never won a “500” mile title, although he finished second in 1955 and fourth a year ago.

“I'll be driving the same car next year,” Tony explains, “but it will be for a new owner. Also, it has been completely changed. The motor will be on its side next spring. A lot of the cars will change the position of the motor.”

Bettenhausen is a farmer when he isn’t driving. He was born on a farm near Tinley Park, and he and his family still live in the same farm home.

“We farm 518 acres,” says Tony. “How do I find time? I have sons 15 and 17, and they do much of the work.”

The farm was largely responsible for Bettenhausen becoming a driver 23 years ago.

“I just got tired of horses and the old, hard way of doing things. I bought a race car when I was 20 and started driving when I was 21."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The State Fair Century

1974 State Fair Century Program

By Kyle Ealy
Indianapolis, Ind. – When mentioning the USAC stock car division and one-mile dirt tracks, the Springfield Mile and Du Quoin usually come to mind first.

But there was another one-mile dirt oval track that that these full-bodied stockers competed on, yet the event was over looked by most, mainly because it was run in the heart of sprint car country.

The Indiana State Fairgrounds was more noted for one of the biggest sprint car races of the year; The Hoosier Hundred, which started in 1953 and still runs to this day, every September.

In 1962, though, the USAC stock cars came to town and would start a tradition of their own that would last 14 years; the State Fair Century.

On Wednesday night, September 5, 1962, Paul Goldsmith, St. Clair Shores, Mich., led all the way and won the first USAC 100-mile stock car race ever run on the Indiana State Fairgrounds track. Goldsmith was more than one mile in front of second place Don White of Keokuk, Iowa, at the finish. Goldsmith would collect $4,300 for his dominant victory.

John Rostek of Fort Collins, Colo., Eddie Sachs of Coopersburg, Pa., and Elmer Musgrave of Niles, Ill., would round out the top five in a race that averaged 71.768 miles per hour in a race that was slowed with 19 laps run under caution.

A spectator, Jack Abbott of Indianapolis, was injured when Skeets Wyman of Chicago spun into the rail midway in the race. Abbott was knocked temporarily unconscious when a piece of the broken rail hit him in the chest.

1963 State Fair Century Program - Photo Courtesy of Doug Abry

A hard charger from Houston, Tex., by the name of A.J. Foyt, would increase his point’s lead by claiming his fourth USAC stock victory of the season, when he grabbed the win at the fairgrounds on September 4, 1963.

Foyt had trailed Keokuk’s Don White for the entire race and it looked like victory was well in White’s grasp until mechanical problems arose on his machine with 6 laps to go. Foyt charged past and pulled into victory lane five laps later.

Foyt, driving a Ford for the first time this season, covered the distance at an average speed of 74.69 miles per hour. Gary Bettenhausen of Tinley Park, Ill., and John Rostek would follow Foyt across the finish line.

The 1964 event proved one thing…that A.J. Foyt could win a race no matter what obstacles were thrown in his way. The Indianapolis 500 winner not only impressed those watching from the grandstands but most certainly left an impression on the 29 other competitors who showed up that evening.

On September 9th, Foyt, who blew the engine of his own 1964 Dodge in practice, would borrow the car of teammate Len Sutton of Portland, Oregon and started in 30th place, the last spot in the field.

The Houston charger passed 13 cars in the first two laps around the one mile dirt track. With the help of some cautions, would eventually get around pole sitter Bobby Marshman of Pottstown, Pa. and Don White of Keokuk for second place at the halfway point of the race.

On lap 56, race leader Parnelli Jones would be involved in a skirmish with Lloyd Ruby sending him to the infield and allowing Foyt to inherit the lead. From there, Foyt held strong over the remaining 39 laps to seal the deal. Foyt would cash in on $4,315 for his heroic efforts. 

A.J. Foyt accepts his trophy from Indiana State Fair's Oscar T. Blank after winning his third straight State Fair Century. 

The old saying, “Better lucky than good” would apply to Foyt for the 1965 race. Once again, much like the 1963 race that he won with only laps remaining, Foyt would find himself in victory lane because of someone else’s misfortune.

Paul Goldsmith, driving a 1965 Plymouth, had led for 76 laps after moving to the front when pole winner Parnelli Jones of Torrance, Calif., made a pit stop. Goldsmith was leading Foyt by about three-fourths of a mile and appeared to have the race wrapped up as he took the white flag for the 100th lap.

But entering the backstretch, Goldsmith suddenly lost power and started coasting slowly as he entered turn three…he was out of fuel.

Foyt, piloting a 1965 Ford, would catch Goldsmith with less that a quarter-mile to go and take his third straight win in the event as Goldsmith sputtered along, helpless. Norm Nelson of Racine, Wis., Canadian Billy Foster and Don White would follow as Goldsmith would limp across the finish line to take fifth.

Don White would finally release the stranglehold that Foyt had with an impressive victory on August 26, 1966. White, the 1963 USAC stock car champion, took the lead on the 35th lap and steadily pulled way from the field.

Even a self-induced spin on the 99th lap didn’t stop White from taking the checkered flag nearly half a lap ahead of Norm Nelson. A. J. Foyt, running up front most of the day, but never a factor, would finish third. A pair of Plymouth’s, driven by Chicago’s Sal Tovella and open wheel star Jim Hurtubise finished fourth and fifth respectively.

The victory, White's third in a row on the USAC stock car circuit, netted him $6,122 from a total purse of nearly $22,000.

Don White would end A.J. Foyt's domination of the State Fair Century, winning in 1966 and 1967. He's shown here with car owner Ray Nichels. 

White would return to the fairgrounds on August 25, 1967 and successfully his State Fair Century title. Including a win at the Hoosier Classic there in June, It marked the third straight victory for the Iowan on the Indianapolis dirt. It would also strengthen his point lead, in which he would eventually lay claim to the national title that year.

He steered his Dodge Charger through the 100-mile run at an average speed of 83.97 miles per hour, well the standard of 86.393 miles per hour he set last year. White wrestled the lead on the 70th lap and held it to the finish.

Parnelli Jones and A. J. Foyt, the main battlers in that year's Indianapolis 500 classic, gunned it out with White through the mid-way point for the lead with Foyt leading the first 37 miles. Both White and Jones would pass A.J. when the Indy 500 champ took an unscheduled pit stop. As it turns out, Foyt would develop front-end problems on his Ford, finally bowing out on lap 83.

White pocketed $6,707 for his first place finish and Jones, driving a Ford Fairlane, grabbed $3,400. Al Unser of Albuquerque, N.M. was third, Paul Goldsmith fourth and Norm Nelson in fifth.

When A.J. Foyt was in his prime, he took a backseat to no one and when the State Fair Century rolled around on August 23, 1968, Foyt made sure there he was the man standing in victory lane when the dust had settled.

A.J. Foyt would win the State Fair Century for a fourth time in 1968.

Foyt led 99 of 100 laps and battled back challenger Butch Hartman to win the 100-mile stock car race. The victory at the Indiana State Fairgrounds strengthened Foyt's position as the U.S. Auto Clubs' leading stock car driver that season. Foyt picked up nearly $7,500 for winning with his Ford Torino. Foyt would go on to clinch the national title that year.

Hartman, from Zanesville, Ohio, dogged Foyt tracks from the 64th lap until his Dodge Charger tagged the wall with 5 tours remaining. He would still manage to hold on to second place and a $3,800 payday.

Roger McCluskey of Tucson, Ariz., took third followed by Al Unser. Don White, the defending two-time race champion and winner of the last four events at the fairgrounds, earned the pole position and stayed up front with Foyt in the beginning until engine trouble sidelined him for good on the 35th lap.

Whatever A.J Foyt could do, Don White proved he could do could do it better and on August 22, 1969, the 43-year-old veteran would lead 99 of 100 laps to win the State Fair Century for the third time in four years.

A record crowd of 19,270 paid a record purse of $30,190 of which White earned $10,300. Foyt pressed White for most of the race, but an extra pit stop for tires dropped him to seventh place.

Bobby Unser of Albuquerque, N.M. and his brother Al finished second and third. White led all but one lap. Al Unser took that one during flurry of pit stops under the caution light after a three-car wreck midway in the race that would delay the race for almost an hour. Jim Lord of Colgate, Wis., rolled completely end over end, taking out a light pole and cutting off power to the backstretch in the mishap. Lord was unhurt and power was restored but it didn’t stop White in dominating the race.

White, piloting a 1969 Dodge Charger, would grab his second consecutive State Fair Century victory on August 28, 1970, in a race halted twice by accidents. Lem Blankenship of Keokuk, Iowa was second in a 1969 Plymouth followed by Norm Nelson in a 1970 Plymouth, Jack Bowsher of Springfield, Ohio, in a 1970 Ford and Butch Hartman behind the wheel of a 1969 Dodge.

Butch Hartman (75) and Don White (3) lead the field to green in the 1970 State Fair Century. - John Mahoney Photo

Nineteen of the 30 starters were running when the race ended. Bowsher, the top qualifier at a speed of 89.820 miles an hour, led the first 26 laps. Bowsher drove the car that was originally assigned to A.J. Foyt. Foyt failed to make the race in time, because he was practicing for the California 500 in Ontario, Calif.

Lem Blankenship led on the 27th tour then Bowsher took over from laps 28 to 33. Blankenship would regain the point until White took the top spot for good.

J.C. Klotz of Fort Wayne escaped harm when his car slammed into the inside wall of turn one, halting the race on lap 10 for 1 hour and 4 minutes. The long delay was necessary to repair the wall. Billy Ries’ car hit the outside wall of turn two, stopping action 10 minutes on lap 91.

The A.J. Foyt/Don White stranglehold on the State Fair Century had to come to an end sometime and on August 29, 1971, it finally did as a new face, other than Foyt’s or White’s, graced victory lane for the first time since the inaugural race in 1962.

In copping the 10th annual event, Bobby Unser proved not only to be the fastest, but perhaps the strongest of those who survived this pseudo-demolition derby which forced three re-starts. The victory was the second straight on the USAC stock car division circuit for Unser, who had won two weeks earlier at Milwaukee.

Defending USAC stock car champ and current point leader, Roger McCluskey of Tucson, Ariz., was a close second with the nose of A.J. Foyt’s Ford Torino just inches from the bumper of his Plymouth Super Bird. Foyt was the fast qualifier on the day, posting a time of 39.515 seconds, or a speed of 91.033 miles per hour. NASCAR star Bobby Allison of Hueytown, Ala., took fourth place in a car originally entered for Unser’s younger brother, Al, who couldn’t make it in time from the Indy car race in California. Twenty-one cars still were running at the finish out of a starting field of 30.

Other leaders in the race were Les Snow of Bloomington, Ill., who led for 19 laps and Tiny Lund, Cross, S.C., who was in control for 10 laps (27 through 37) until his engine went sour.

The junk production started on the fourth lap when Leonard Blanchard of Louisville Ky., wiped out about 30 feet of the inner guard rail while coming out of the second turn. That action stopped the race on the ninth circuit. Later on the 66th lap, Verlin Eaker of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, crunched a gaping hole in the outside fence between the first and second turns and again the race was halted.

On the 71st lap, just after the race had restarted after another caution, A.J. Foyt tried to pass race leader Les Snow of Bloomington, Ill., but began to skid sideways. Other cars attempting to avoid Foyt went to the outside and by the time you could say “look out” at least two-thirds of the field was standing still midway through the first and second turns. The cars of Mark Dinsmore, Woody Walcher, Paul Feldner, and Denny Wilson were retired from the spartanic clash.

Because the one-mile dirt oval at the fairgrounds was initially designed for horses to race on, no guardrail on either the inside or outside of the track had ever been constructed. So every time a car tore a piece of the flimsy cyclone fence down, the welding crew had to be called and the long patch-up work was done while the race is halted.

Race fans were expecting a battle between Roger McCluskey and Jack Bowsher to materialize. But Bowsher, who was trailing the first place McCluskey by just 22 points in the USAC stock car division, called it quits in his Ford after completing 34 laps. Don White, qualified for the event, but later blew an engine and was forced to withdraw from the contest.

Al Unser, driving a 1971 Ford Torino owned by Rudy Hoerr, would win State Fair Century on Sunday afternoon, August 27, 1972 before a paid crowd of 11, 300 race fans. The victory paid Unser $4,450 out of a $15,000 total purse.

The two-line Indianapolis 500 winner completely dominated the 30-car field by leading every lap except the 31st lap when he made his mandatory pit stop giving the lead momentarily to Ralph Latham of Cincinnati, Ohio, in a 1972 Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

Latham and Unser shared the front row starting position with Unser on the pole after a record breaking run of 38.86 seconds (92.64 mph) around the one-mile dirt oval. To show on dominant Unser was, on lap 19, of the 100-lap race, he turned in an amazing lap time of 38.20 seconds in traffic. He continued to build an insurmountable lead, which Latham could not contend with.

Two yellow flags slowed the action in the first 50 laps. The race was stopped on lap 61 after a chain reaction pileup occurred on turn two caused by Al Bunkofske spinning his '72 Ford and being hit broadside by Dan Dickey in a ‘70 Dodge Charger. Lem Blankenship, Chuck McWilliams, and Bud Schroyer were also involved.

After a delay of 17 minutes the race resumed until six laps later when Butch Hartman spun his ’72 Dodge causing another six-car pileup and yet another red flag. Ray Bolander's ‘72 Monte Carlo, Bay Darnell's ‘72 Dodge, Tiny Lund's ‘70 Chevelle, Ramo Stott’s ‘72 Plymouth and Jim Tobin’s ‘70 Dodge were all crunched in the fracas with only Bohlander, Hartman and Tobin able to continue. It took almost 25 minutes to clear the wreckage.

On the restart Latham gave a quick challenge to Unser coming out of turn two but Unser pulled away and sailed on to victory by a seven second margin. Latham managed to beat out Roger McCluskey by six seconds while McCluskey's ‘70 Plymouth finished about five seconds ahead of Sal Tovella's ‘72 Plymouth. Paul Feldner of Colgate, Wis., in a ‘70 Dodge finished fifth one lap back with Butch Hartman taking sixth in a fender less ’72 Dodge.

Jack Bowser would win the State Fair Century on August 26, 1973, leading 84 of 100 laps. The last two laps of the race were the hardest by far for the Springfield, Ohio veteran. Bowsher, who led second place Butch Hartman by more than 14 seconds with 10 laps to go, was forced to slow down perceptively when his right tire shredded near the start-finish line on the 98th lap.

He was barely one car length ahead at the end after Hartman brought the crowd of 7,877 to its feet by creeping closer and closer on the backstretch and through the final two turns. Bowsher never lost control despite the flat.

“I knew it was going bad. I kept signaling the pits, but we couldn't come in,” said an exhausted Bowsher, who grabbed the lead for good on the 36th lap of the 100-mile race on the one-mile fairgrounds dirt oval.

Bowsher, who collected about $7,500 for the victory, averaged 84.517 miles per hour for the race. Veteran Norm Nelson of Racine, Wis., making his first start on dirt in more than two years, finished third, followed by Ralph Latham and Ramo Stott.

Stott began a record breaking day by lowering Al Unser's 1972 track qualifying record of 38.86 seconds to 38.41 in a Dodge Charger. Bowsher also broke Unser's record, pushing his Ford Torino around the track in 38.73. Bowsher also established a one-lap race record, clocking 38.20 seconds on the 50th lap. Unser had held the old race record of 38.28.

Every event, it seems, has that one upset, where some underdog surprises everyone and takes the win against all odds.

For the State Fair Century race, that day happened on August 25, 1974 and Bay Darnell was the driver. Darnell, a little round man with a big smile and even bigger heart, had gone winless on the USAC stock car circuit for 13 years.

That was until the 43-year-old driver from Deerfield, Ill., outdueled the top names in USAC stock car racing to win the 13th annual race and a check for $4,500.

Bay Darnell is all smiles after winning the 1974 State Fair Century, his first career USAC stock car victory. - Kyle Ealy Collection

He did it driving the wrong car, heavily taped because of a broken shoulder and fighting the burden of never having won a feature race in all of those years on the tour. Darnell, known as “The Great Pumpkin” because of the bright orange driving suit he wears when racing, said “I can't even tell you how I felt when I saw the checkered flag out there. There were just too many things to think about.”

“I won with a 1974 Dodge and it's my asphalt (track) car. I totaled out my dirt car and broke my shoulder last week at Springfield, Illinois, and I didn't even think I’d be here,” Darnell said.

But he credited a “miracle doctor” with patching him up well enough to go a grueling 100 laps on the Indiana State Fairgrounds one-mile dirt track.

“The shoulder didn't give me any trouble. I didn't even feel it once we got started. I put this thick padding in back of me in the seat. It was so comfortable it's never coming out of here.”

USAC stock division stock car leader Norm Nelson finished second, followed by defending USAC stock car champion Bart Hartman and former USAC national driving champion Roger McCluskey.

The 5-foot-8, 200-pound Darnell started sixth in the 28-car field. Hartman held the lead for the first 44 laps, Nelson kept it until McCluskey took it for one lap while Nelson pitted on lap 69, then Nelson held it again until Darnell took over for good on lap 95.

It was only fitting that a dominant winner of the State Fair Century win the last event and that’s what happened on August 25, 1975.

After driving for Ray Nichels for many years and dominating the USAC stock car circuit, Don White had become an independent car owner in 1972 and victories, once a common occurrence for the Keokuk, Iowa veteran, were few and far between. The four-time winner of the State Fair Century had seen better days.

But a huge victory in the 200-miler at the Milwaukee Mile in July of 1975 and a couple of top-five finishes at both the Springfield Mile and the Du Quoin Mile in August had given White some much-needed confidence when the circuit came to Indianapolis.

Sure enough, White would win his record fifth State Fair Century stock car race and break his own track record by almost 2 minutes in the process.

White, driving a Dodge, took the lead on the 73rd lap of the 100-lap race and finished nearly one lap ahead of his Keokuk, Iowa counterpart, Ramo Stott, driving a Plymouth. White, who set the previous record of 1 hour 9 minutes 26.9 seconds, or 86.4 miles per hour in 1966, finished the 100 miles in 1 hour, 7 minutes and 34 seconds for an average speed of 88.8 miles per hour.

It would be the final State Fair Century at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

While sprint and champ cars rule Indiana all season long, for 14 years the USAC stock cars were king for a day in the Hoosier state.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

1955 - Leon DeRock Through as a Big Car Driver

Mason City, Iowa (November 11, 1955) - Leon DeRock of Mason City is finished as a big car auto driver but he's not finished with racing. Next racing season DeRock will be paying more attention to the promotion side of racing and will be driving a new model automobile in stock car races.

It was about six years ago that DeRock astounded the racing world by starting right out to drive an Offenhauser. That sort of business is reserved for experienced dirt track drivers after a few seasons of racing. But DeRock did well and got the bug. Emory Collins, the king of the speedways in the Midwest, was going to retire. So DeRock bought him out. That included his racer, an extra 310 cubic inch engine and crankshafts. Even Offenhauser wasn’t making engines that big anymore.

DeRock even bought a new chassis for his auto. His campaigning was good. He won his fair share of races, set some track records and even made a little money for eating dust and risking his life.

But he’s sold his auto. DeRock has another engine and he’s going to build a new car around it but it will be for sale - not for his own use.

Last summer he got into the promotion business with a big list of drivers who joined him. It was for big cars as well as stock cars. The operation was in five Midwest states with the heaviest concentration of action being in Southern Minnesota.

Just recently Leon arid his brother Mel, partners in Mel’s Smoke Shop, headed the incorporation named Speedway Cars, Inc. Under the wing of this group will be about 60 drivers, most of them with DeRock last summer. Ken Gottschalk figures to be the top driver in the field as he finished first in the Central States Racing Association point standings last year. DeRock was leading at the time he quit competition and wound up in third place.

The early summer big car auto races and stock car races at the North Iowa Fairgrounds were promoted by DeRock, He hopes to land the North Iowa fair dates if the new track is completed for the 1956 fair at the new west city limits site.

Vic Spindler has been hired as the secretary-treasurer of the new organization and his job will be to take care of the correspondence, all bookwork and the finances of Speedway Cars. Upcoming on November 28 is a fair manager’s meeting in Chicago at which major bookings are made for 1956 fairs. Speedway Cars, which again will operate under the sanction of CSRA, will be represented at the meeting to acquire major dates.

DeRock plans a major change in the big car auto racing program for 1956. Whereas most feature races are for seven, 10 or maybe 15 laps, De Rock will run the races over 50 laps to liven enthusiasm, open the field for steady driving, and put an extra accent on endurance of auto and driver instead of giving the “fast autos” the big break to sweep home first on an initial burst of speed.

All of the operation of the new organization will center in Mason City.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Big Cars at the Wapello County Fair

Ray Lee Goodwin (97) attempts to avoid a spinning Grady Wade (82) during IMCA sprint car action at Eldon, Iowa, in 1967. - Beetle Bailey Photo/Bob Mays Collection

by Lee Ackerman
Eldon, Iowa - Growing up on a farm in Central Nebraska, the highlight of the year was going to the Nebraska State Fair and that meant the Big Cars of International Motor Contest Association (IMCA). This was back in the mid-50’s when IMCA was king and you better get your ticket for the races early because the huge grandstand would sell out. Every year I would buy an IMCA yearbook and memorize them. I knew about every track that the Big Cars raced at and one of those tracks that I remember was the Wapello County Fair in Eldon, Iowa.

Doing a little research in Alan Brown’s fabulous book “The History of American Speedways, Past and Present” I find that racing occurred at the Fairgrounds in Eldon from 1934 through August 21, 1941. Since all IMCA record prior to World War II have unfortunately been lost to history, we will start our story with the first IMCA Big Car race at Eldon after World War II, that being on August 22, 1946.

Deb Snyder, driving Andy Dunlop's #2, would win at the Wapello County Fairgrounds in 1946. - Armin Krueger Photo/Bob Mays Collection

While results for many years after the war are hard to find I do know that the winner of that August 22 race was Kent, Ohio’s Deb Snyder driving the Dunlap Offy #2. Snyder would be crowned the IMCA Big Car Champion in both 1952 & 1953. Snyder would retire following the 1954 racing season a holder of 87 track records.

On August 21, 1947, it would be Emory Collins of LeMars, Iowa driving his own famed #7 Offy picking up the win at Eldon. In 1947 Collins was in the middle of a three year reign as IMCA Champion winning the title in 1938, 1946, 1947 and 1948. Collins would return to victory lane at Eldon on August 25, 1949. Like Snyder, Collins would survive the fate of so many of his fellow competitors killed in action and retire in 1951 to live out his life back in LeMars.

The great Emory Collins would win in Eldon, Iowa, en route to winning his fourth IMCA national championship in 1949. - Armin Krueger Photo/Bob Mays Collection

In 1948, it was yet another IMCA champion going to victory lane at Eldon when Frank Luptow of Tampa, Florida wheeled the #3 Lovitti Offy to a win. Luptow would rule the IMCA Big Car scene from 1949 through 1951. Luptow would return to victory lane at Eldon on August 24, 1950. Unfortunately for Luptow, he did not survive the sport being fatally injured in a NASCAR race at the Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, Georgia on September 21, 1952.

Bill Holland of Chicago, Illinois winner of the 1951 Eldon Big Car Race did not win an IMCA national championship but he did win the biggest race of them all, the 1949 Indianapolis 500. Holland would make it through his racing career, retiring and living until 1984.

Jimmy Campbell of Bates City, Missouri won the 1952 race in his own #25 Offy and would finish second to Snyder in IMCA points. In 1953, Dick Ferguson of Chicago, Illinois drove Les King’s # K2 Offenhauser to the win at Eldon.

Driving Hector Honore's famous "Black Deuce", Bobby Grim would dominate the half-mile at Eldon, Iowa, during his IMCA championship run from 1954 to 1958. - Bob Mays Collection

That brings us to 1954 and into the picture steps a physically small sized mechanic-car owner from Pekin, Illinois named Hector Honore. Honore may have been small in stature but he carried a whale of wrench because for the next nine years his legendary #2 Black Deuce would grace victory lane at Eldon. For five years (1954-58) Bobby Grim of Indianapolis would drive the legendary Bardahl Special to victory lane.

After Grim departed for Indy Cars, Pete Folse of Tampa, Florida would win the annual Fair event at Eldon in 1959 thru 1962. Honore and his two drivers would win seven straight IMCA Big Car Champions, four with Grim (55-58) and then three with Folse (1959-61). When you think of IMCA Big Cars the first car that comes to mind is the Hector Honore Offenhauser.

Pete Folse would continue with the Black Deuce's domination of the Wapello County Fair, winning there in 1959, '60, '61, and '62. - Bob Mays Collection

Finally on August 8, 1963, the original outlaw, Gordon Wooley of Waco, Texas drove the Calvin/Young #8 Chevy (Yes, I said Chevy) to victory lane at Eldon on his way to winning the IMCA national title. Ironically, Wooley won in three different mounts on his way to the championship.

Chevrolet would be the dominant power plant from that time forward, in 1964 it was Greg Weld winning in the Butler #40. Jerry Richert would drive the #63 Wagner Chevy home to victory lane in 1965, 1966 and again in 1970. In 1967 it was Springfield, Illinois’ Jim Moughan winning behind the wheel of the Merle Heath Chevy #42.

Jim Moughan of Springfield, Ill., accepts the checkers from IMCA's Gene Van Winkle after winning in 1967. - Bob Mays Collection

In 1968 Norm Paul of Auburn, California decided to come to the Midwest and try his hand at the IMCA Fair Circuit and promptly put the Jerry Pittman #98 in victory lane at Eldon. In 1969, local fans got to cheer a local driver to victory lane when John Babb of Ottumwa took the win in Bob Trostle’s Corn Belt #19.

Jerry Blundy (33) of Galesburg, Ill., would tame the half-mile at Eldon, Iowa, in 1971. - Ken Simon Photo/Bob Mays Collection

Jerry Blundy of Galesburg, Illinois behind the wheel of the Mel Moffitt #33 won the Eldon race in 1971 on his way to his second straight IMCA national crown. In 1972 IMCA added a second race at Eldon. This race would be over Memorial Day Weekend and Ray Lee Goodwin of Kansas City, Missouri drove the Gary Swenson #24 to victory lane in that race both in 1972 & 1973. At the annual Fair in race in 1972 the Corn Belt #19 was back in victory lane this time with Greenwood, Missouri’s Dick Sutcliffe behind the wheel.

Bill Utz of Sedalia, Missouri won back-to-back Wapello County Fair races in 1973 and 1974 aboard the Dean Hathman #56. Utz won the IMCA crown in 74, 75 & 77. There was no Memorial Day race in 1974.

Bill Utz (56), shown here racing Dick Sutcliffe (29), would win Wapello County Fair honors in 1973 and 1974. Sutcliffe would take honors in the '72 contest. - Bob Mays Collection

1975 would see Des Moines driver Ralph Blackett win the May race in the Springer #28 and Jan Opperman of Noxon, Montana win the Wapello County Fair race in Speedy Bill Smith’s famed #4X. 1976 would be the last year of the IMCA at Eldon (The series folded following the 1977 season). Gary Scott of Holt Summit, Missouri took the May race in the Hassler#10X and Gene Gennetten of Parkville, Missouri would be the final name added to the list as he won the August race in his own #3.

Gary Scott of Holts Summit, Mo., would be the final IMCA sprint car winner at the Wapello County Fairgrounds in 1976. - Bob Mays Collection

For 30 years after World War II the legendary cars and drivers of the IMCA Big Car Series visited the big half-mile facility at Eldon, Iowa providing local race fans with some of the best dirt track racing in the country.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

1966 - Ray Nichels; the Legend Grows

 Nichels boys (l-r) - Joe Weatherly, Len Sutton, Marvin Panch, Rodger Ward, Glenn “Fireball” Roberts and Paul Goldsmith.

Hammond, Ind. (October 30, 1966) - It has been a long-standing joke with Ray Nichels that his home town is one of the few places in the country where he’s likely to have trouble cashing a personal check.

In the South, where the name Nichels and stock car racing go together like ham and eggs, the only things he’s apt to sign are autographs. In Monza, Italy, Mexico City and several spots in England and Canada it’s the same.

They know him at Indianapolis where the “500” is run every Memorial Day, at Darlington, S.C., the first of the South’s super speedways and at Langhorne, Pa., Daytona Beach, Fla., Atlanta, Ga., Milwaukee, Wis., Bristol, Tenn., Watkins Glen, N.Y., Charlotte, N.C., and wherever else man and machine run against the clock and each other.

For nearly 30 years, Nichels has been building, maintaining and racing automobiles. He started in 1937 when he was 15 years old with midget racers. The next step up was a big one, to the United States Auto Club championship circuit. Today, Nichels is the biggest in the country in the late model stock car field.

The Nichels racing stable operates out of a modern, sprawling building at 1111 East Main Street in Griffith, Indiana. From the out side, one would never know that inside welders, engine and chassis experts and painters are busy constructing hemi-powered Dodges and Plymouths.

That's the way Nichels likes it. No hoopla, fanfare or plaudits - just a winning operation. And if he seeks anonymity in the only place the - public will let him have it - in his own backyard – who’s to say he’s wrong?

Nichels is happiest at the racetrack but finds less and less time in which to get away from the paper laden desk on the second floor of his small empire. He works long hours, sleeps only when he has to and smokes half a dozen packs of cigarettes a day. It has become almost a reflex action that every time he answers the phone, Nichels fires up a cigarette. The secretary, out of curiosity, kept track one day of incoming calls only. She quit at 150.

There are some who say he can’t keep up the pace. But Nichels, who claims there are 21 work days in a week, appears to thrive on it. A year ago when Chrysler’s hemi engine was outlawed by NASCAR, things moved at a snail’s pace. Most of the time he was is jittery as a go-go dancer in church

Nichels is at his best when the work load mounts, when the pressure builds right up to race time. He must not only worry about his own entries but also those of some 50 car owners throughout the country for whom he vendors parts.

“You don’t make it if you don't work at it,” he says. “I don’t care what you do; be good at it. If you’re going to be a bum, be a good one. That's all I ask of anybody.”

Ray Nichels was born in Chicago on September 8, 1922. His parents, Rudy and Gladys Nichels moved the family to Griffith in 1929. By the time he was 12 Ray was pumping gas from midnight to 7 a.m. then running off to school. He slept in the afternoon.

In 1937 the Nichels family saw its first automobile race at the old Hammond Speedway. Ray’s dad bought a car at trackside when the race ended. “I was hooked right than and there,” he says “I worked on the car every chance I got, all the while dreaming of the day when I'd be a driver.”

By the time World War II came along and put automobile racing in mothballs for the duration, the Nichels fleet of midgets had grown to five. Ray enlisted in the Navy. In 1946 he returned home, hauled out his wrenches and got the wheels rolling again.

“I’d given up any ideas of driving by then,” he said. “I decided to leave that to the professionals. I knew I was more qualified as a mechanic.”

Midget racing was a big attraction in those days. Nichels, most any week of the season, was driving some 2,700 miles getting to and from as many as nine different race tracks He worked and competed with such drivers as Tony Bettenhausen, Paul Russo, Wally Zale, Ray Richards, Ted Duncan and Ronnie Householder.

Householder, whom Ray says was the “toughest driver I ever saw on a one-mile track”, today heads up Chryslers’ racing division.

In 1947, he and Eleanor Covert were married. The following year, be broke away from the family operation and set out for Indy. In 1949, he teamed with Russo in a car-building venture that is still one of the classic stories heard around race tracks.

Short on money and thin on experience; the two nevertheless built the car in the basement of Russo’s Hammond home. It was an innovation for Indy-type cars, its frame consisting of singular tubing and weighing about 15,000 pounds, some 500 pounds lighter than the other Speedway cars.

“Basement Bessie,” the car was called. Ray campaigned her successfully until 1952.

From then until 1955, he drove a fuel truck during the winter to pay off the bills accumulated during the racing season He worked for a dozen different people on a parade of race cars. One was a test car for the Firestone Rubber Company, in which Sam Hanks broke a proving grounds record at 182 miles per hour.

Pat O’Connor, Ray Nichels and Chapman Root became the first All-Hoosier race team ever to claim the pole for the world’s greatest race in 1956.

Next, he teamed with driver Pat O’Connor. At Indy in 1955, O'Connor was running second with eight laps to go when a fitting on the fuel pump broke. The car finished eighth. The following year O’Connor put the car in the front row during qualifying.

One of Nichels’ greatest moments came from February to May, 1957. In three months at three different tracks, he pulled off what amounted to the equal of golf’s “grand slam”.

In the Pontiac stock cars, which Ray took over in late 1956. Daytona Beach crumbled before a Nichels onslaught. First, Joe Littlejohn won the Flying Mile in record time. Next, Banjo Matthews set fast time in time trials for the Daytona Beach 500. And finally, Cotton Owens, in still a third Nichels Pontiac, won the Beach 500.

This done, Nichels and O’ Connor flew to Monza, where it was said no race tire could hold up under the speed and stress of that particular track. They shattered the track record the first day. By the end of 10 days, they had upped the record 10 miles per hour – from 162 to 172.

With two days in which to get their Speedway car set up for qualifying, Nichels and O’Connor hustled back to Indianapolis Not only did they get the job done but they did it better than anyone else O’Connor put the #12 Sumar Special on the pole with a qualifying speed of 143.948 mph.

It won for Nichels the Mechanic of the Year award Because of a split fuel tank, the car finished eighth in the race. The following year, O’ Connor was killed in the 21-car pileup at the start of the race. For Ray, it was the end of racing.

“I had no more interest in racing,” he says. “I wanted no part of it. Pat and I had become more than friends. We were like brothers.”

It was a year before he returned Pontiac worked on him and a skinny character with a wide smile, who still has a mark on his shoulder where a car went over the top of him in the crash that killed O’Connor, moved into the picture.

Ray Nichels and Paul Goldsmith accept their trophy after winning a USAC stock car race at the Milwaukee Mile in 1962. The Nichels-Goldsmith combination would win USAC national stock car titles in 1961 and '62.

For both Nichels and Paul Goldsmith it has proved a fruitful merger. They've done well at Indianapolis, finishing third and fifth, but even better in the stock cars, winning USAC titles in 1961 and 1962.

Chrysler entered the racing game in 1964 and Nichels and Goldsmith set out to see if the hemi could go. It did and still is.

A. J. Foyt and Bobby Isaac, driving Nichels’ Dodges, finished first and second, respectively, in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona Beach that first season. Last year, Goldsmith won four events in USAC and finished second to Norm Nelson for the driver’s title. Nelson has all but wrapped up a second consecutive championship in his ‘66 Plymouth. Parts for it and teammate Jim Hurtubise’s car come from Nichels

In NASCAR, Goldsmith has won three major events, Dodge Charger driver Sam McQuagg one and Don White, Nichels’ USAC driver, eight.

Ernie Derr has already clinched the IMCA (International Motor Contest Association) title in a Dodge with Ramo Stott, in a Plymouth, second. Iggy Katona, likewise, has wrapped up the ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) crown in his Plymouth.

In November, Nichels’ 55-man work force will begin preparing for the 1967 season as stock car racing continues its climb to the top of spectator sports. Already number two behind horse racing, closed-circuit television of several major events should add to its appeal.

For Nichels it has been rewarding. He is holder of more records than any other car owner, for one. He and Goldsmith have expanded their business interests to include the Performance and Safety Center at Ridge Road and Cline Avenue in Highland and G&N Aircraft, Inc., just east of the racing plant in Griffith.

But so has he given of himself.

“We race first with safety in mind,” he says. “I would like to think that every time we take the track, we’re in some way improving the car driven on the nation’s streets and highways I know the advances made in tires, brakes and safety features have been a contribution.”

“And I thoroughly enjoy it,” he adds. “If I didn’t I would have gotten out of it a long time ago. Where else does a guy work for 10 cents an hour?”