Monday, April 30, 2012

1971 - Stub’s Comeback: USAC Win

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (April 30, 1971) - The sun is shining for Lee Kunzman, the 26-year-old race driver from Guttenberg. If you know, “Stub”, which his friends call him that should make you happy.

Ten months ago - June 5 to be exact - Stub’s world was dark. More accurately, he was lucky to be alive and, for sure, it appeared his promising career had come to an abrupt halt - forever.

The scene was 1-70 Speedway at Odessa, Mo., where Kunzman was competing in a United States Auto Club sprint car race. During one of the heat events Stub went over the wall, his car bursting into ball of fire.

Emergency personnel rush to Lee Kunzman's burning sprint car  at I-70 Speedway on June 5, 1970. - Racing From the Past Photo

Unconscious, Kunzman was rushed to a Kansas City hospital where his injuries were diagnosed as a broken neck, broken arm and severe burns on his arm, upper body and head.

For a month he lay in the extensive care ward and it was almost another four months before doctors gave him his discharge. Yes, he could finally make it on his own, but nobody saw any chance for him to return to his first love - driving a race car.

Nobody but Kunzman, that is.

Stub couldn’t quit, at least not without giving it one more try. That try came last Sunday in a USAC midget race at Cincinnati and we want to confess we were startled by the results.

Kunzman won the race!

Lee Kunzman - that’s right - marked his return to racing by running off with the 40-lap feature.

Unbelievable? Sure it is and it has to be one of the greatest comebacks in the history of auto racing, a la Jim Hurtubise.

“To me it’s the biggest win of my career up to this point,” Kunzman told us by phone Thursday from his Guttenberg home. “It gave me the confidence that I could once again run hard and fast.”

“It was my first time in a car since the accident, so I’m extremely happy. I had no problems, whatsoever. Everything went just as if I was programmed to win. Yes, it’s almost like a fairy tale.”

Stub said his biggest doubt was if he could run fast enough - if he could react mentally to the situation with the memory of the accident still lingering.

“I had no fear of the track, but I was worried how I’d react in traffic,” he explained. “I promised myself if I couldn’t run fast I would quit.”

“After two or three laps it was like old times and I knew we’d be tough. I felt very comfortable and knew I could drive in traffic.”

The win should have been equally gratifying to Kunzman’s car owner, Howard

Linne of Mendota, Ill. Linne kept the car in reserve for Stub since the accident.

Comebacks such as Kunzman’s don’t happen by chance. Understandably, it’s been a tough road back. Measure it by desire.

“I never lost that desire to get well or race again,” Stub said. “In fact, I’d say my desire to race is much stronger now. The second day I was in the hospital I got very upset because my arm (badly burned) wasn’t in a cast. I told them I had a race in two weeks and I figured I could race with a cast.

“They had me pretty well drugged up and I didn't realize I was in such bad shape.”

Stub said he grew very discouraged when he was told he could never race again. That was in his early recuperation period, before he had an opportunity to talk with a doctor friend from Jacksonville, Ill.

“He told me there was a chance I could race again if I got myself physically fit,” said Kunzman. “I started doing exercises right away for neck development, as they figured that would be my biggest problem.”

“I did a lot of weight-lifting and I think my neck is stronger than ever. I went back three weeks ago for X-rays and the doctor could hardly tell where my neck had been broken.”

The burns have left their scars on Kunzman, a handsome bachelor who plays the role to the hilt, but “I don’t believe my life has been hurt at all,” he said.

“I was pretty self conscious at first, because my appearance was changed quite a bit. But I’ve gotten over it. Some people stare, but I think people in general are a lot nicer to you when you look a little screwed up.”

“I've been back seven or eight times for plastic surgery since I left the hospital in October. There’s still more work to be done, but so far they've built me a nose, eyelids and upper lip. The nose is a little larger and offside.”

That brought a chuckle from Stub and we couldn’t help thinking at the time how good it was to hear him laugh. Then, when he started talking of his future plans, there was no doubt in our mind he was ready to roll again.

“Things have been poppin’ this week since I won last Sunday,” he said. “Right now I’m dickering on a USAC stock car ride. Monday I was down in Spartanburg, S. C., looking at one of Cotton Owens’ cars.”

What about Indianapolis, where he passed his rookie tests last year, but didn’t attempt to qualify?

“I had one pretty decent offer for a back-up car, but I don’t think I'm ready. There’s not enough time to get more experience in the rear engine cars, so I’ll hold off and try to get back to Indy next year."

Know what? We’ll bet he will.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

This Week in Racing History

1984 – Steve Butler overtook Jack Hewitt at the midway point and then held off Rick Hood to capture the 30-lap USAC Don Branson/Jud Larson Memorial sprint car race at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, on April 28. Hewitt dominated the early portion of the event before Butler passed him for the lead on lap 16. Hood would pass Hewitt for the second spot and then mount a furious charge on Butler before falling short at the checkers. Hewitt settled for third, while Randy Kinser finished fourth and Tom Bigelow posted a fifth place finish.

1979 – Mike Eddy of Midland, Mich., continued his domination of American Speed Association events at Salem (Ind.) Speedway winning the Raider 150 on Sunday afternoon, April 29. Eddy took the lead from Rick Knotts of Paw Paw, Mich., on lap 16 then withstood challenges from Mark Martin of Batesville, Ark., and Randy Sweet of Kalamazoo, Mich., to claim the $3,055 first prize. Eddy won by more than a full lap at the finish as the other drivers suffered assorted problems. Sweet was running a strong second when a broken valve sidelined him with 13 laps remaining and Martin was forced to the pits with a punctured tire after running nose to tail with Eddy for 50 laps.

1973 – Ramo Stott of Keokuk, Iowa, won his second USAC stock car race of the weekend, winning the Missouri 100 at the Missouri State Fairgrounds on Sunday afternoon, April 29. Stott had scored a 100-lap USAC stock car victory the night before at the Marion County Fairgrounds in Knoxville, Iowa. Stott passed fellow townsman Ernie Derr with two laps to go on the one-mile dirt oval to claim the $15,000 victory. His winning time was 1 hour, 10 minutes and 44 seconds. The race was dominated by Keokuk drivers as Derr settled for second while Don White placed third. Jack Bowsher of Springfield, Ohio, the fast qualifier of the day (39.17), led the first 57 laps before blowing a head gasket and was unable to return to action. Al Unser of Albuquerque, N.M., completed only two laps before he was forced out with a faulty oil pump.

1968 – Ramo Stott of Keokuk, Iowa, shed his oft-worn bridesmaid role to win the annual Hawkeye 200 on Sunday afternoon, April 28. Eight-time IMCA national champion Ernie Derr, the other half of the “Keokuk Komets”, saw his chances for victory fade when he made a lengthy pit stop for fuel. When both drivers pitted for fuel during a caution on lap 97, Stott trailed Derr by 15 seconds. But as Stott shot out of the pits, Derr’s car would stall. By the time a push truck arrived and put Derr in motion, Stott boasted a one-lap advantage. It was said afterwards that one of Derr’s crew members apparently killed the motor when he doused it with too much water in an attempt to cool the radiator. Stott banked $750 for his victory before an estimated crowd of 8,500. Derr settled for second while Lenny Funk of Otis, Kan., took third. Lewis Taylor of Shawnee, Kan., grabbed fourth and promising rookie Fred Horn of Marion, Iowa, rounded out the top five.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

1992 - Erickson gears up for speedway’s debut

Oregon, Wis. (April 26, 1992) - Wayne Erickson figures he’s the right man for the job. His resume offers further proof.

Erickson purchased the former Capital Super Speedway and IMPACT Speedway last October, renamed it Madison International Speedway and, he hopes, made a solid investment in the future of auto racing in the Madison area.

Erickson is revamping all facets of the facility, located halfway between Oregon and Stoughton off Highway 138 on Sunrise Road. It’s a bold move, but one Erickson feels confident will succeed.

“I just think the place is set up unique as a half-mile track,” Erickson said. “The reception I’ve got since I’ve been working there has been great.”

Erickson will repave the half-mile oval as soon as the weather cooperates. Opening day was pushed back to May 15 because of uncertain spring weather and the recent rains have slowed the process.

“I’m still concerned about (the weather),” he said. ‘But if we get 10 days of decent weather between now and the 15th, we’ll make it. I want to live up to the opening date by all means.”

When it comes to racing in Wisconsin, Erickson carries a solid reputation. He worked his way up from racer to promoter and owner, nurturing relationships with top-notch drivers along the way.

In 1973, he leased Slinger Speedway before buying it two years later. Slinger serves as his model for success, but Erickson hopes his new track eclipses his success there.

“I have a vision; It possibly can pass Slinger as far as interest and spectators,” Erickson said. “I never realized there were that many racing fans in the Madison area. I was very surprised.”

Erickson’s expertise in the field is respected among drivers.

“He’s probably one of the best promoters in the country,” said driver John Ziegler of nearby Brooklyn, who plans to be a regular in the Friday night super late model stock car racing program. “He’s gone through his ups and downs and been on both sides of the fence.”

Ziegler, who raced at Capital Super Speedway, had grown tired of the weekly racing grind and was about to retire when Erickson announced his purchase. He's now eager to race and feels many people in the area are anticipating the opener.

“People down here are all excited,” he said. ‘Everybody hoped it would (reopen), but nobody knew.”

The uncertainty can be linked to the track's shaky past. Built by Sam Bartus of Wausau in 1963, the track was originally a quarter-mile. It was extended to a half-mile in 1969.

The track provided a testing ground for many of the Midwest’s top drivers. National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing Winston Cup drivers Dick Trickle, Ted Musgrave and Alan Kulwicki were once regulars. Despite locking in top drivers, Bartus had a difficult time turning a profit.

He eventually sold the track in 1980. It went through a number of owners until it was purchased by a Milwaukee investment group in 1987 and renamed IMPACT Speedway.

Besides the name change, the new owners switched from asphalt to a dirt track and from stock cars to sprint cars. Interest in the sprint cars quickly waned and the track closed in 1988.

Bartus, a longtime friend of Erickson's, said he was glad to see the track reopen under Erickson's guidance.

“I didn’t like to see it get dilapidated,” he said.

But Bartus also said Erickson might run into problems. Finding enough drivers to keep a half-mile track going proved difficult for Bartus. He said many local drivers did not have the money to invest.

“Local people, even today, cannot afford the machinery to run on a half-mile track,” Bartus said.

Erickson said he has accounted for that by incorporating a high-banked quarter-mile track within the half-mile course to accommodate the less expensive cars.

Bartus also said area sports fans did not always embrace racing. “I would say it won't be the easiest,” he said.

However, Bartus also feels Erickson is best suited to make the track a winner because he's developed a good rapport with the drivers.

Said Erickson, “A lot of the drivers that started out when I started promoting Slinger are still with me. I have a good relationship with all my drivers.”

Erickson conservatively estimates 60 to 70 drivers for every Friday night. For now, however, Erickson's main concern is completing work at the speedway.

Among the improvements are revamped concession stands and press box. Erickson is also putting in new lighting in the pit area and all new fencing.

His outlook is positive. “Not one person since I've been working down here has walked up and been negative. I think that’s fabulous,” he said.

Monday, April 23, 2012

1968 - Hughes and Connolly test IMCA invaders

John Connolly

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (April 23, 1968) - The field for the annual Hawkeye 200 next Sunday at Hawkeye Downs has already been set at 41 late models and two of those will be handled by a pair of local favorites.

“Big” Tom Hughes of Monticello and John Connolly of Delhi, both regulars a year ago on The Downs weekly race programs, have cast their lots in a pair of 1964 Fords.

Hughes and Connolly will join some fast company for the International Motor Contest Association event. The best of the national circuit’s drivers, including eight-time champion Ernie Derr, Ramo Stott, Lenny Funk and Ole Brua, will be on hand for the 200-lapper on the high-banked half-mile dirt track.

Add to those the names of local hotshots Verlin Eaker, Darrell Dake, Bill McDonough and Mert Williams and you can see why Sunday’s starting field ranks as one of the all time best for the Hawkeye 200.

Tom Hughes

National competition is nothing new for Hughes, the 6-4, 230-pounder. Tom captured a pair of wins (25 laps and 100 laps) last summer at the North Dakota State Fair in the same machine he has set up for this season.

Connolly, one of the most popular chauffeurs at The Downs the last few years, had his share of problems last season. After demolishing his Ford in an early season wreck, he had three engines blow on him before the season ended.

Ramo Stott will have his 1968 Plymouth ready for the first time this season when the green flag goes out for the Hawkeye 200.

Stott is seeking his first IMCA point championship after trailing Ernie Derr for the last three years. At present after two events, Ramo holds a slim 15-point edge over Derr, 290 to 275.

The rest of the top 10 includes Paul Feldner 165, Billy Jack Casper 155, Ron Larson 150, Ole Brua 115, Roland Wilson 95, Lenny Funk 85, Karl Stoufer 85 and Butch Hall 80.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

This Week in Racing History

2001 – After coming close many times during his first two years of late model racing, Steve Moenck finally broke through for his first feature win at Illiana Speedway in Schuererville, Ind., on April 22. Moenck, a resident of Mokena, Ill., took the lead on lap two of the 30-lapper and held off late charge from long-time veteran Eddie Hoffman of Wheaton, Ill. Danny Darnell of Beach Park, Ill., Mike White of Monee, Ill., and Bob Wroblewski of South Bend, Ind., rounded out the top five.

1991 – Defending Hawkeye Downs Speedway late model track champion Brad Loney of Cedar Rapids, kicked off the new season with a 30-lap victory on April 21. Competing against a field of drivers from four states, Loney took the lead from Larry Kelley of Walford, Iowa, on lap 12 and led the remainder of the main event. Ted Smokstad of Minneapolis, Minn., moved up to finish second with initial leader Randy Sargent of Monroe, Wis., taking third. Johnny Spaw of Cedar Rapids, Iowa took fourth and Kevin Nuttleman of Bangor, Wis., grabbed fifth place. A trio of Cedar Rapids drivers, Gary Wallace (modified), Charles “Chopper” Safley (super stock), and Randy Schmidt (hobby stock) earned feature wins in their respective divisions.

1985 – Under perfect weather conditions, the ARTGO Challenge Series opened its 1985 season at Grundy County Speedway on Sunday afternoon, April 21, with Al Schill of Franklin, Wis., capturing the Opening Day 100 late model stock car event. A field of 22 cars started the century contest with Minnesota’s Steve Murgic pushing his Firebird into the lead at the start. Murgic’s spot at the top would be short-lived as Schill would grab the lead on lap 10 and survive multiple cautions to take the victory. Mike Van Spaarrentak of Kalamazoo, Mich., would finish three car lengths behind Schill for runner-up honors while Dave Weltmeyer of Harvey, Ill., would take third. Mark Martin of Batesville, Ark., would battle fast qualifier Dick Trickle of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., on the final lap and move by to finish fourth.

1974 – Tom Maier, Midland, Mich., blistered the half-mile high banked asphalt of I-70 Speedway to capture back-to-back victories in the Twin 100 features on Sunday, April 21. Maier was the fourth fastest qualifier in his bright green #61 Camaro and started on the outside of the second row for the first 100-lapper. He trailed top qualifier Jim Bickerstaff of Niles, Ohio, in the early laps but managed to slip by on lap 73 and hold the lead to the finish. Dick Trickle of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., would finish second followed by Terry Bivins of Shawnee, Kan. The entire field was started in reverse order for the second feature with Maier starting dead last. This forced Maier to wind his way through the pack and made for some exciting action. Maier would eventually get to the front and win comfortably ahead of Larry Phillips of Springfield, Mo., and Trickle.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

1966 - Nelson Wins ‘Horne 150’

Langhorne, Pa. (April 17, 1966) - The Ford Motor Company said it wouldn’t “play” so the boys in the Chrysler Corporation cars staged their own show a Langhorne Speedway yesterday and quite a show it was.

Norm Nelson has made it to the winner’s circle many times during his 26-year racing career, but a victory at Langhorne had always eluded him. Until yesterday, that is.

Nelson, a 43-year-old campaigner from Racine, Wis., captured the 150-mile national championship race for late model stock cars in a 1966 Plymouth. He finished just one second (about six car lengths) ahead of his teammate, Jim Hurtubise, driving another 1966 Plymouth. Both cars are owned by Nelson.

Although the caution flags were out for 15 laps, Nelson covered the distance in one hour, 27 minutes and 2.28 seconds for an average speed of 103.403 miles per hour.

This establishes a record for the 150-mile distance for late model stock cars on the new Langhorne asphalt and the time is believed to be the fastest for the distance on any track.

A crowd of 11,400 watched Nelson win the pole position with a qualifying time of 33.0 seconds (109.057 mph), just a fraction off the track record of 110.633 miles per hour set last year by Bobby Isaac.

The Ford Motor Company, in a dispute with the United States Auto Club over engine specifications, withdrew all its factory-sponsored cars from the race. Six independently owned Fords did show up to race, but they weren’t any match for the Plymouths and Dodges.

Hurtubise, starting in second position, took the lead on the first lap and held it for 90 miles, although Billy Foster of Victoria, British Columbia, and Nelson were in hot pursuit all the way.

Foster took command in the 91st lap and stayed in front until the 136th mile when he blew a tire. Nelson moved into the front and stayed there until he got the checkered flag. Hurtubise was moving two seconds a lap faster than Nelson in the closing 15 laps, but he just couldn’t make up the ground he had lost when he made a second stop for a second tire change.

Just before Foster blew the tire, it was obvious he was experiencing some steering difficulty and his engine sounded a little “sick”. Nelson had gained considerable ground and the two were running head and head when the tire blew.

Nelson and Hurtubise were the only ones to complete the 150 miles. Sal Tovella was a mile back to gain third place in a ‘65 Plymouth. Don White, driving a ‘66 Dodge was fourth, while Foster got mobile again to get fifth place.

Nelson had his first race in December, 1940, in a midget race in the Amphitheater in Chicago. In the past five years, he personally was second, three times, third once and fifth once before winning yesterday, However, three of his cars, driven by Paul Goldsmith, A. J. Foyt and Hurtubise, scored victories during that five-year span.

Jack Bowsher, the Ohio speedster who won the Daytona 250 showed up at Langhorne, but did not race. He drives a Ford and does get some help from the factory so he decided it would be best if he did not race against the Ford Company’s wishes.

Nelson had a forthright opinion on the subject: “I think Ford ought to quit crying and start racing. Although I’m with Chrysler, we need Ford and Chevrolet, too, for better racing.”

Results –
1. Norm Nelson, Racine, Wis.
2. Jim Hurtubise, North Tonawanda, N.Y.
3. Sal Tovella, Addison, Ill.
4. Don White, Keokuk, Iowa
5. Billy Foster, Victoria, B.C.
6. Hank Teeters, West Jefferson, Ohio
7. John Martin, Milwaukee, Wis.
8. Joe Burkhart, Fort Wayne, Ind.
9. Mal Delameier, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
10. Roger Regeth, Milwaukee, Wis.
11. Ed Meyer, Glenview, Ill.
12. Bob Phernetton, Villa Park, Ill.
13. Bobby Wawak, Villa Park, Ill.
14. Gary Bettenhausen, Tinley Park, Ill.
15. John Klotz, Fort Wayne, Ind.
16. Bay Darnell, Deerfield, Ill.
17. Mac Vails, Columbus, Ind.
18. Roy Mallquist, Fairfield, Conn.
19. Wally Dallenbach, New Brunswick, N.J.

Monday, April 16, 2012

1972 - Prusak turns tables on Noble in Tri-Oval opener

Fountain City, Wis. (April 16, 1972) - The March equinox not withstanding, spring arrived officially for 2,500 racing fans at Tri-Oval Speedway Sunday and it arrived in the form of Phil Prusak, Dave Noble and two 454 cubic inch Chevrolet Monte Carlo’s.

Prusak of Eau Claire, Wis., and Noble of Blooming Prairie, Minn., dueled throughout the afternoon and, for a good deal of the time, their respective automobiles were not much farther apart than are their names as they appear earlier in this sentence.

The second late model heat was Noble's turn to shine, but Prusak was a close second. They had started sixth (Noble) and seventh (Prusak) from the grid when a first-lap encounter involving Wendell Kuehn of Rochester, Minn., Dave Morgan and John Foegen of Winona eliminated Kuehn and Morgan and necessitated a restart.

After the restart Nobel and Prusak were third and fifth; Foegen was first. The advantage was temporary, however, as Noble caught Foegen on the third lap, putting two cars between himself and Prusak. But within two laps Prusak overcame that obstacle, placing his Monte Carlo immediately behind Noble’s. The order remained that way until the finish of the heat.

Call it then “turn about is fair play” that Prusak should win the late model feature in virtually the same manner that Noble won the second heat. The two started side-by-side from the front row of the grid (Prusak on the pole) and quickly established that it would be a two-car race.

Prusak maintained that advantage for 11 laps, opening up a slight margin in the process, but Kuehn spun near the south end of the grandstand, bring out the red flag. That allowed Noble and the rest of the field to close for the restart.

Immediately thereafter Noble began pressuring; he and Prusak passed the grandstand on lap 13 in a dead heat. But Noble was first out of turn one and it began to look like a replay of the heat. No so, for Prusak passed Noble again, this time for good, just one lap later.

But to say that Prusak held the lead until the final flag would be misleading, since the two big-block Chevy’s were seldom more than a car length apart throughout the remaining five laps, Prusak in front and thwarting all challenges from Noble.

Prusak’s reaction to winning the big one: “I tried different grooves during the heat and was able to find a good one for the feature.” Noble allowed that his car wasn't handling quite as well as he would have liked.

Cecil Henderson of Dakota, Minn., would claim third, while Rich Olson of Rochester grabbed fourth. Wendell Kuehn would round out the top five finishers.

Results –

1. Phil Prusak, Eau Claire, Wis.
2. Dave Noble, Blooming Prairie, Minn.
3. Cecil Henderson, Dakota, Minn.
4. Rich Olson, Rochester, Minn.
5. Wendell Kuehn, Rochester, Minn.
6. Wayne Peters, Rochester, Minn.
7. Fred Prudoehl, Winona, Minn.
8. Al Schueler, Winona, Minn.
9. Tom Nesbitt, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
10. Tim Lorenz, Ladysmith, Wis.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

This Week in Racing History

1990 – Curt Martin of Independence, Iowa, won the “Frostbuster Special” for the J & J Steel Summer Series IMCA late models at Marshalltown (Iowa) Speedway on April 14. Martin’s win did not come easily as he had to beat a stellar field of IMCA late models. Despite a light rain that slickened the high-banked quarter-mile, Martin, who started 12th, worked his way up to third place behind race leader Red Dralle of Waterloo, Iowa and Denny Osborn of Cedar Falls, Iowa by lap 30 of the 35-lap feature. Martin would overtake Osborn on lap 31 and then scoot by Dralle for the lead and the win. Osborn would get by Dralle as well to finish second while Dralle would settle for third. Steve Borts of Ames, Iowa and Todd Stueber of Fairmont, Minn., would round out the top five.

1985 – Doug Wolfgang was a double winner in World of Outlaws’ action at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, on April 13 and 14. On Saturday evening, Wolfgang would slip by race leader Bobby Davis Jr., on lap 13 and then fight him off for the remaining circuits to capture the 20-lap preliminary feature. During the Sunday afternoon matinee, Wolfgang would edge Sammy Swindell by less than a car-length to win the 30-lapper. Wolfgang and Swindell swapped the lead several times throughout before Wolfgang was finally able to secure the victory. Wolfgang earned $7,250 for the win.

1979 – With several hundred shivering race fans on hand, defending late model point champion Bill Rice of Des Moines, opened up the season at Eldon (Iowa) Raceway with a hard-fought victory on Saturday night, April 14. Rice and Denny Osborn of Cedar Falls, Iowa, waged a bumper-to-bumper battle for the first half of the 25-lap feature. Dan Dickey of Packwood, Iowa, would join the fracas as well but Rice would hold them both off for the win. Defending track champion Mike Benjamin of Keokuk, Iowa, successfully opened up defense of his sportsman title by winning the 15-lap main event over Jim Dorothy of Keosauqua, Iowa.

1973 – Ray Para pulled his 1972 Nova into victory lane after winning the season-opening 50-lap “Ice Breaker Invitational” at Rockford (Ill.) Speedway on April 15. The East Hazel Crest, Ill., driver, who started 17th in the 20-car field, inherited the lead after race leader Don Leach of Beloit, Wis., was involved in an accident with a lapped car on the 44th tour. Leach, who had started 18th, scrambled to gain back the top spot in the remaining laps but fell short by mere seconds at the checkers. Ed Hoffman of Niles, Ill., would finish third in the event.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

1968 - Independence, Waterloo Tracks Go IMCA

Independence, Iowa (April 11, 1968) - The Independence Racing Association, which involves the Waterloo and Independence racetracks, has voted to affiliate with the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA), according to co-promoter Lyle Shriver.

“We had a meeting with the drivers and we've decided to fly the IMCA banner this year,” the genial Shriver said. “We've checked everything out and we are satisfied that IMCA won't interfere with our own association.”

The move by IRA should solidify the new three-track circuit, created when Cedar Rapids decided to switch its racing programs to Friday night from Saturday.

Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids, under the promotion of Frank Winkley, already operates under the IMCA banner, while Indee will race Saturday night and Waterloo on Sunday night. Shriver was enthusiastic to say the least about the set-up.

“It's the greatest thing for modified racing that's happened in the last five to ten years as far as the three tracks are concerned,” Shriver said. “We plan to cooperate to the fullest. Winkley and our group will check special events so we don't conflict with each other and I really don't anticipate any problems.”

Shriver said he expects a membership of about 100 drivers and car owners between the three tracks. With that, about 40 cars are expected to be at each program, although an ideal race field is about 28 cars.

IRA has plenty of top drivers signed up. Many were or still are big favorites at The Downs, including Red Droste, Mert Williams, Cal Swanson, Bob Hilmer, Bill Zwanziger and Chub Liebe. The latter, however, is expected only to compete part-time at The Downs.

Others include Ed Sanger, Curt Hanson, John Webb, Roger Kruse, Dave Maxson, Stan Stover, Gale Card, Rich Krafka, Bud Jensen, Glenn Martin and three Minnesota hotshots - Paul Fitzpatrick, Leroy Scharkey and Jack Smith.

Some improvements are now being effected at the Indee oval where the guardrail is being moved to the front of the grandstand and vapor lights are being installed. Drivers will have the benefit of more lighting, but less reflection.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

1977 - Slicing the wind with Janet, Ramo, Ron, and Terry

Ramo Stott (83) and rookie Terry Ryan (61) were the unlikely front-row starters in the 1976 Daytona 500. Ryan, making his NASCAR Winston Cup Grand National debut, became the first rookie to start on the front row at Daytona. Stott retired with engine problems shortly after the halfway point, while Ryan finished sixth.

Daytona, Fla. (April 10, 1977) - A loud speaker blared, “The garages are closed for the night. Drop your tools, and go home.”

Dick Hutcherson ripped off a two-inch length of adhesive tape and carefully affixed one end to the rear fender of his car and the other end to the underside of a tarpaulin draped over it. He repeated the procedure on the other fenders.

It was a finishing touch to a tense, hectic day of tuning, testing, tightening - It was the final few hours before the nineteenth running of the Daytona 500, the super bowl of late-model stock car racing.

Hutcherson’s tape job was a precaution. Later, if he found the tape had been peeled away, he would know the tarp had been lifted - perhaps for someone to tamper with the car - the car that his brother, Ron, would be driving the next day. If everything went perfectly, Ron would pilot the Camaro around the 2.5-mile track 200 times to finish in the No. 1 spot.

Forty-two drivers were entered. Hutcherson, from Keokuk, was one of those with Iowa connections. Ramo Stott, also of Keokuk, was another Iowan entered. So was Terry Ryan of Davenport.

The fourth Iowa driver had to crash a barrier to get into the race. The sex barrier…

That was Janet Guthrie, the first woman to compete with the likes of A.J. Foyt, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, David Pearson and other titans of auto racing. Guthrie’s Iowa link is tenuous. She was born in Iowa City, but moved out of the state 35 years ago at age three.

Ultimately, she and her supped-up Chevrolet Camaro would become Iowa’s last hope in the 1977 Daytona. Someone had given her a sign that said, “A woman’s place is everywhere.”

She wanted to put it on the car before the race started, but she either didn’t have time or she forgot. Some of the big-name drivers got into a 200-mile Saturday romp, but most - including all of the Iowans - chose to spend the day gearing up for the 500-mile grind.

“I want to be as fresh as I can for the 500 tomorrow," said Ryan. During the race, you’re going the length of a football field every second, so you don’t have any time to relax.”

To win, he would have to average at least 150 miles an hour, including time consumed in pit stops.

“A blink of the eye,” said Stott, “and you can be up against a wall.”

Ron Hutcherson - Daytona - 1977

Ron Hutcherson, 33, lanky and soft spoken, was entering his fourth Daytona 500. He runs a paint and wallpaper store in Keokuk. Like all drivers, he has absolute faith in his car and crew.

“There’s no one here that we can’t run with,” he declared, thus putting his car and team right up there with the Yarborough – Foyt – Pearson - Petty clan.

If fear exists in the hearts of race car drivers, it's hard to find. That was a natural question for Guthrie, and one she’s obviously had to answer many times.

“Scared? Not on the track. I wouldn’t belong out there if I was,” she replied. There are those who still don’t think she belongs “out there” - fear or no fear.

“Breaking the sex barrier in auto racing really hasn't been completed. One woman can't change all the attitudes,” she said. “But there’s been progress. I’m told that, even David Pearson has said some good things about me. Yarborough and Petty are the last major holdouts. When they finally accept me, then the battle will be pretty well won,” Guthrie said.

Janet Guthrie

At 38 and single, Guthrie has run in 145 races. She has been in a few track smash-ups, but has never been hospitalized. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in physics. She worked seven years in the aerospace industry as a physicist before her love of automobiles lured her into racing.

Guthrie caught the nation’s eye last year when she became the first woman to pass rookie tests for the famous Indianapolis 500 Memorial Day race, but then failed to qualify for the prestigious event.

“There’s a recurring theme that I don’t deserve the shot I’m getting in racing,” she said. “I’ve built my own engines since 1964, and I've done without as much sleep and spent as much money on racing as anyone here at Daytona. But there are some who think I just waltzed in here because I’m a woman,” she snapped.

For Ryan, the brief Saturday afternoon trial run confirmed a nagging suspicion among his crew that something was amiss. There was. A bent push rod in his Camaro's engine broke during the run. But with 20 hours to go before the start of Sunday’s 500, there was plenty of time for the Iowan’s mechanics to tear apart the engine and repair it.

There are various estimates as to what it costs to run a late model stock car on the NASCAR circuit. Hutcherson said it would range from $200,000 to $300,000 a year. A car owner pays the bills, such as the $1,200 worth of tires that Stott said be would expend at Daytona alone. A sponsor, such as Jack Housby (Housby Mack) of Des Moines, antes up some cash just to have his name printed on the auto. He sponsors Stott’s car. Drivers make their own deals with the car owners.

Stott had one word for his car’s trial performance in Saturday's test: “Decent.” The 42-year-old veteran was about to go into his twelfth Daytona 500.

“I think about the glory things of racing, not crashing,” be said. “All I worry about is how I can get up to the front of the pack. Some nights I get to thinking, ‘Can I draft up to Petty?’ or something like that.”

Drafting is a popular maneuver in auto racing. It’s nothing more than following bumper-to-bumper to a car in front, taking advantage of the lead car’s vacuum effect as it slices the wind. Some drivers settle for this tailgate position for many laps until they have an opportunity late in the race to “slingshot” around the car ahead.

Over at the Hutcherson stall in the rows of open garages in the speedway’s infield, Leon Hutcherson of Keokuk, father of mechanic Dick and driver Ron, watched as Dick and other pit crewmen “applied security” to their car.

Inside its trunk they disconnected the pipes to the gas tank and sealed them with tape. On the car’s exterior, the gas tank opening was taped shut, and wire seals were affixed to the trunk and hood lids. Then Dick taped the underside of the tarp to the car’s fenders, the final touch.

“They put guards out here at night, but they can’t see everything,” explained the elder Hutcherson. “We can’t prove it, but on Thursday, we had an oil leak in the car, and we think someone might have been messing around because we found a loose nut on the motor. Johnny Rutherford had the same thing happen,” he said.

For the fifth time, the public address announcer ordered everyone out of the garages, and some of the mechanics even made moves as if they might obey.

Daytona 500 race day dawned cool, cloudy and unruly. The clouds and coolness eventually faded, but the wind didn’t. It later was to whip what some drivers said were “tons of trash” - hot dog wrappers, cups and other paper items - out of the vast grandstands onto the track. It was sucked into the speeding cars, clogging radiators and overheating engines. Two-thirds of the cars starting the race failed to finish, many because of the “trashing.”

More than 135,000 people converged that day on the Daytona Speedway, creating traffic jams that lasted longer than the race itself. The week before the race, the Daytona Speedway became a hub of madness. More than 6,000 persons flew into nearby Orlando, Fla., on the Friday before race day, setting a one-day record for that city's international airport. There wasn’t a motel room available within 100 miles of Daytona.

Among the fans was none other than Billy Carter, who out-drawled everyone when he told the throng how much he liked stock car racing. Oakland Raider quarterback Kenny “Snake” Stabler was there. He said he admired the courage of anyone who would drive a car at 180 miles an hour.

The speedway infield looked like a rock festival with Winnebago’s. Jeans clad youngsters toted coolers of beer to the tops of the campers and settled in for the day. A few thousand transistor radios blared forth constant country-western. Pretty girls hawked souvenir programs and Cale Yarborough T-shirts. Young boys raced toy cars in the dust outside their parents’ RVs. Girls in backless blouses mingled among people huddled over hand warming campfires.

The band from Daytona’s Seabreeze High School performed in front of the grandstand during the pre-race hoopla. Someone in the infield shot aerial bomb fireworks at an ABC-TV helicopter. The Goodyear blimp lolled overhead. The race drivers were introduced individually as they climbed onto a reviewing stand then descended to a good-luck kiss from a Southern belle decked out in a Winston cigarette uniform.

Ryan stumbled on the stand. Stott tried to kiss the girl with his brimmed hat on, but it got in the way. He took it off. Guthrie didn’t kiss the Winston girl.

Then it was time…

“We have something new this year,” mentioned the race announcer. “For the first time ... LADY and gentlemen! (Dramatic pause) START YOUR ENGINES!”

The roar of 42 un-muffled, hyped-up engines was deafening. Ron Hutcherson had said earlier that he is unable to hear for a full day after be races.

The cars loom away, committed to an afternoon of chase. Pit crews stood by nervously the first few laps of the race, then began edging around, building up for their eye popping performances.

Refueling, a change of four tires, a windshield cleaning, a check under the hood and a drink of water or juice for the driver - all in less than 30 seconds.

For Iowans Ron, Ramo and Terry, it was not a good day. Hutcherson’s engine blew up before the race was half over. He was out. Stott hit a wall He was out Ryan blew a tire on the 168th lap and smashed up. He was out. Stott and Ryan had been close to the leaders. Observers said Ryan did a superb driving job to prevent a more serious accident that would have involved other cars.

That left Janet Guthrie as the only native Iowan still in the race. Her car ran “beautifully” for the first 100 laps, she said later. “Then, the engine went sour, probably due to some sort of ignition problem.”

“They called me into the pit, looked under the hood, and sent me back out,” she said.

Guthrie’s machine putt-putted around the track as her nervous crew counted down the laps and flashed the number remaining on a blackboard. Her car started to smoke. A NASCAR official raced on foot to the Guthrie pit shook his finger at the crew and told them angrily to wave the Guthrie car in. They ignored him. Janet kept driving.

Initially, she was listed as finishing ninth. A later recount of the laps, however, dropped her to twelfth, still good for $17,390 in prize money for her first Daytona 500. For winning it, Cale Yarborough picked up $163,700.

An hour later, Guthrie was still besieged by autograph seekers - men autograph seekers. “Ya’ll one hell of a woman,” one of them drawled. “Hang in there, Janet. Next year, ya’ll gonna win it.”

Winner Yarborough was asked if Guthrie was improving. His off-color reply, which had nothing to do with auto racing - broke up a gallery of reporters.

The Iowa men drivers were considerably more gracious. “Janet has as much right on the track as I do. She does a good job, keeps a cool head,” Ryan said. Hutcherson and Stott agreed.

“But,” added Ryan, “she’s coming into our world; we’re not going into hers, so I don’t feel that we have to do anything differently just because she’s around.”

Guthrie no doubt would agree.

Monday, April 9, 2012

1993 - Mark Kinser wins Hutchinson with last-lap pass

Hutchinson, Kan. (April 9, 1993) – Mark Kinser led 40 lap in the World of Outlaws’ first two “A” features this season only to finish 17th and third. In the last three main events, he has led three laps and won twice.

Go figure…

Mark continued his winning ways Friday night when a capacity crowd packed Hutchinson Raceway Park. Steve Kinser, his second cousin, appeared to be cruising to his third consecutive victory at Hutchinson when he drove his Valvoline #11 around Danny Wood high in the third turn. Mark steered the #5 Maxim into the vacated low groove and out-dragged Steve to the finish line for the $5,200 victory.

“The track is in good condition,” Mark told the crowd afterwards. “It’s the best I’ve ever seen it.”

“The King of the Outlaws,” a two-time feature winner at Hutchinson, chopped .272 seconds off the previous one-lap record with a 14.908 second (90.555 mph) run during qualifying.

Then Steve earned the right to start the main event on the outside pole by following Kenny Jacobs under the checkered flag in the trophy dash.

In the feature, Jacobs drove immediately into the lead as the green flag was thrown. In his wake were both Kinser’s and Johnny Herrera.

Within a lap, Jacobs opened up an eight-car-length advantage that grew to half a straightaway five laps into the 30-lap contest.

Steve caught Jacobs in heavy traffic midway through the ninth lap and took the lead with a low post move into turn four. Kinser, unable to steer clear of heavy traffic, was reeled in by Jacobs, Mark and Herrera within two laps.

Once Steve cleared himself of lapped traffic, he opened up a 10-car-length advantage. He had opened up a straightaway margin on his closest pursuers when Mark took over the runner-up spot by passing Jacobs high in the second corner midway through the race.

Steve re-entered lap traffic with eight laps remaining. But Mark narrowed the gap within three laps. He took a shot at the lead low in the first corner on lap 28, but was turned away.

Two laps later, with the white flag flying, Mark made the winning pass when Steve strayed from the low groove. Following the Kinser cousins across the line were Jacobs, Herrera, and “B” feature winner Danny Lasoski.

Heat winners were Jerry Stone, Steve Beitler, Danny Wood, and Pete Butler.

Results –

1. Mark Kinser
2. Steve Kinser
3. Kenny Jacobs
4. Johnny Herrera
5. Danny Lasoski
6. Dave Blaney
7. Joe Gaerte
8. Stevie Smith
9. Andy Hillenburg
10. Bobby Davis Jr.
11. Greg Hodnett
12. Jac Haudenschild
13. Terry McCarl
14. Terry Gray
15. Jerry Stone

Saturday, April 7, 2012

1991 – Cywinski takes Rockford ARTGO opener

Rockford, Ill. (April 7, 1991) – Wisconsin’s Kevin Cywinski soared past Michigan’s Dennis Berry on the 70th lap of the ARTGO Spring Classic 150 before a near capacity crowd at the Rockford Speedway to score an impressive victory.

It was the second career win for the 26-year-old former Wausau West High School football and wrestling star, who is becoming quickly one of the newest stars on the ARTGO Challenge Series tour. Cywinski won the four-track Central Wisconsin Racing Association (CWRA) championship in 1986.

Dennis Lampman, in his best ever ARTGO finish, held off a determined Steve Carlson for second place money while Jim Weber and Conrad Morgan rounded out the top five,

A total of 11 of the 26 starters completed the full 150 laps, which was interrupted five times by caution periods.

Berry, in his first visit to the Rockford quarter-mile, outgunned Bob Brownell at the drop of the green flag for the lead.

Cywinski grabbed second place on lap 13 just as an eight-car mishap took place in turn four, which brought out the yellow and shuffled the field. Three cars dropped out at that point.

Following a rash of infield pit stops, Berry and Cywinski kept the crowd on the edge of their seats as the dueled back and forth on the tight oval. After repeated attempts on the inside lane, Cywinski made a spectacular outside pass coming down the front stretch on lap 70 to take the lead for good.

On lap 121, Steve Carlson ducked inside Weber for third place money as Weber glanced off of the homestretch wall at full speed. With a dozen laps to go, Carlson squeezed past Lampman only to drop back in the next turn.

Rounding out the top 10 were Tom Carlson, Robbie Rieser, Scott Hansen, Ed Holmes and Joe Shear.

Both Hansen and Shear were considered by most as the favorites going into the race, but both missed the top 16 in time trials and had to compete in qualifying heats to make the feature. A mere 28/100 of a second separated the quickest 16 timers of the 47-car field.

Larry Schuler was the fastest in time trials, but he settled for 18th after a brake problem early in the contest. Berry dropped out after 115 laps and was scored in 19th.

Results –

1. Kevin Cywinski, Mosinee, Wis.
2. Dennis Lampman, Racine, Wis.
3. Steve Carlson, West Salem, Wis.
4. Jim Weber, Roseville, Minn.
5. Conrad Morgan, Dousman, Wis.
6. Tom Carlson, La Crosse, Wis.
7. Robbie Reiser, Allenton, Wis.
8. Scott Hansen, Milwaukee, Wis.
9. Ed Holmes, Portage, Wis.
10. Joe Shear, Clinton, Wis.
11. Al Schill, Franklin, Wis.
12. Steve Holzhausen, Bangor, Wis.
13. Johnny Spaw, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
14. Bill Venturini, Chicago, Ill.
15. Bob Brownell, Crystal Lake, Wis.
16. Kregg Hurlburt, Northfield, Minn.
17. Neil Callahan, Merrill, Wis.
18. Larry Schuler, Minooka, Ill.
19. Dennis Berry, Clarkston, Mich.
20. Tony Strupp, West Bend, Wis.
21. Dick Harrington, Plainwell, Mich.
22. John Ziegler, Brooklyn, Wis.
23. Matt Kenseth, Cambridge, Wis.
24. Bryan Reffner, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

1951 - Stock Cars Vie Sunday at Raceway

Wayne Adams (left) presents an award to Bud Koehler at Raceway Park as promoter Pete Jenins looks on. - Photo courtesy of Stan Kalwasinski (Bob Sheldon Collection)

Blue Island, Ill. (April 5, 1951) - Stock car racing, postponed last Sunday after a week of wet, rainy weather topped with a blanket of snow, will get underway again Sunday at 2 p.m. as more than 50 post-war automobiles take to the Raceway Park quarter-mile track for the second of the afternoon series of races.

The Ford make cars will attempt to even the score with the “Flivver Fighters” in the team race heats. The initial victory in the resume of the team battles was won by the non-Ford family of cars, led by victories scored by Eddie Anderson in a 1951 Nash, and Red Duvall in a 1946 Packard. They outmaneuvered three Mercury’s.

Bud Koehler, Blue Island’s 1949 stock car champion, was presented with a trophy by Wayne Adams, Midwest representative of the national automobile weekly that conducted a national election last year to find the most popular stock car driver. Koehler was voted the most popular driver in the Midwest last year, and placed second in the national balloting.

Koehler, who wound up against the steel retaining wall during an Easter Sunday semi-final race, will have his 1949 Ford with the familiar number “77” back in condition for the second of the stock car series Sunday.

Time trials will start at 12:30. Eleven contestants will drive in each of the four heat races, giving the drivers 44 starting spots to seek in the time trials. The 12 fastest cars and drivers will start in the semi-final race and 24 cars and drivers will be eligible for the 25-lap feature race. The slowest 12 cars will start up front in the feature and the first 12 fastest cars will get the pear positions according to the way they finish in the semi-final race.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Reading and Racing; The Inaugural Sweepstakes

By Kyle Ealy
Reading, Pa. – For some 25 plus years, it was tradition for the sprint cars of the United States Auto Club to kick off its season at the historic half-mile of the Reading (Pa.) Fairgrounds.

The event would see its fair share of exciting finishes, jubilation and heartbreak, and legendary drivers in victory lane…

It all started on April 29, 1956, as Tommy Hinnershitz took the victory on a day that saw three drivers hospitalized and another requiring special treatment after some furious action on a cold and wet afternoon.

Chuck Weyant of Springfield, Ill., took an ambulance ride to the local hospital with a broken right arm after his car bounced off a fence, flipped over in the air and ripped through a fence on the second turn during time trials.

Hinnershitz almost found himself in the hospital instead of victory lane after he barely avoided a huge pileup on lap 12 of the scheduled 30-lapper.

Bernie Hart, who was running dead last in the field, hit a hole in the track, rolled over and came to a stop in the middle of the race track. Hinnershitz, who started on the pole after setting fast time (25.01) was leading the pack and had to squeeze through on the rail, barely avoiding Hart’s machine.

“There was just enough room to get through,” Hinnershitz would say later. “I even pulled in my shoulders in because I was sure I was going to hit him.”

Hart, meanwhile, unbuckled his belt and was attempting to exit his car when Jiggs Peters struck head on. Peters was knocked unconscious and Hart was thrown from his car. Al Herman, coming out of the turn, narrowly avoided running over Hart, who was now crawling across the track.

Bill Brown and Len Duncan, running side by side happened upon the scene, with Brown tagging Peter’s car head on. Duncan swerved to avoid that mess only to hit Hart, who was on his feet now. Duncan would drag Hart 100 feet down the backstretch before getting his car to a full stop.

Surprisingly, Hart remained conscious through the whole ordeal although he did suffer a broken leg and several abrasions. Both he and Peters, who suffered a concussion and lacerations, would be hospitalized for several days. Brown suffered only minor bruises and was released. The fact that no one died was a miracle.

After a long delay to clean the mess up, the race was restarted only to see rain come on lap 24. Official attempted to wait it out but finally awarded the victory to Hinnershitz. Gene Hartley of Indianapolis was second and Rex Easton of Springfield, Ill., was third. A crowd of 10,200 watched what became an eventful day of racing.

Johnny Thomson - 1957 Sweepstakes Winner

The March 31, 1957, race would see two records broken on the track, not to mention a record payout to the winner. Johnny Thomson would be the beneficiary of all three of those records.

A crowd of 7,500 enjoyed a warm, sunny Spring day and watched Thomson break the track record in qualifying, running the half-mile in 23.94 seconds, breaking Jud Larson’s mark by one-hundredth of a second. He would also set a record in the 10-lap qualifying event, winning in the time of 4 minutes and 11 seconds.

Thomson had everything going his way in the 30-lap main event as well, shaking defending race winner Tommy Hinnershitz’s advances early on and then putting some distance between him and the rest of the field. Don Branson, Charles Musselman, Jiggs Peters and Ernie McCoy would round out the top five.

Promoter Russ Moyer presented Thomson with a check for a whopping $1,456, the greatest amount ever presented to a sprint car winner on a half-mile track in Eastern Pennsylvania.

The winner of the April 20, 1958 race (now called the Reading Inaugural Sweepstakes) was a late entry because winning car owner John Fray of Bridgeport, Conn., couldn’t decide who should drive his newly-built Offenhauser. As Fray would say later, “I was looking for the right man”. Because of his long thought process, Fray would be assigned the final entry for the race, but after the checkers waved, there was no doubt that he definitely had found the right guy.

Jiggs Peters of Plainfield, N.J., who was almost killed in the ’56 race, snatched the lead from defending champion Johnny Thomson on lap 14 and increased his margin from there, winning handily. The race actually covered only 29 laps due to a scoring error by USAC officials but an extra lap wouldn’t have helped those chasing Peters.

Tommy Hinnershitz, who started fourth, would eventually get by Thomson for second on lap 26 and Van Johnson of Norristown, Pa., would pick up third passing Thomson on the final turn on the final lap.

It was a disappointing day for Thomson, who was fast qualifier on the day and dominated his 10-lap qualifying event. During the feature, however, he found himself struggling as the track became more slick as the laps wound down. While all of the other drivers changed to slick rubber before the main event, Thomson decided to gamble and go with knobby tires. “I figured knobby tires would give me more bite on the outside cushion but it got slick in a hurry. I had nowhere to run,” he explained. “Sometimes you gamble and win. Today I gambled and lost.”

Elmer George, the heavy-footed chauffeur from Speedway, Ind., had an easier time winning the Inaugural Sweepstakes race on April 5, 1959, than he did just getting into the main event.

George, the day’s second fastest qualifier with a time of 26.63 seconds, jumped into the lead at the wave of the green and treated the 5,000 plus fans to some fancy driving, holding off Jud Larson of Kansas City, Mo., who was behind the wheel of the Bud Sherk Offy. Van Johnson of Pittsburgh would finish third followed by Jim McWhitney of Anderson, Ind., and Eddie Sachs of Center Valley, Pa.

At the beginning of the day, it didn’t appear as though George would even make the field. Despite being second fastest in time trials behind Larson, George was forced out in his first qualifying heat and finished fifth in the second. Since only four cars out of each heat earned berths into the starting field, George was forced to qualify through the consolation, which he would win easily.

Larson set fast time at 26.18 seconds, won his match race with the Midwestern sprint champion Eddie Sachs, obliterated the field in his heat and clearly looked like the man to beat in the 30-lap main event. 

So George went out and beat him…

When A.J the driver teamed up with A.J. the car owner, you had to get up pretty early in the morning to get ahead of them. On Sunday, April 17, 1960, no one got up early enough.

Foyt, of Houston, Tex., drove Watson’s Offenhauser to victory in the 30-lap Reading Inaugural Sweepstakes before a paid crowd of 3,094 fans. And the feat was accomplished with a motor that would have kept most men out of the race.

But A.J. Watson wasn’t most men…

The Watson car had actually been tested in March and upon their arrival, it was quickly discovered that some water had been left in the radiator. Somewhere between Houston and Reading, the water became frozen and split the block on the side and on the top. Watson and his crew sealed the top and with a borrowed water plate, made the necessary repairs on the side as well. As one observer remarked, “With anyone else, they would have been out of business. But not with Watson; he always finds a way to win.”

Foyt started on the front row alongside fast qualifier Don Branson and grabbed the lead on the first lap. His only serious competition was Jim Hurtubise in the Barnett Brothers Chevy, and he beat the Lennox, Calif., chauffeur by four seconds at the stripe. The rest of the field was pretty well stretched out with Jiggs Peters taking third, Branson in fourth and midget driver Bob “Two Gun” Tattersall taking the fifth spot.


Foyt would return to the Reading Fairgrounds the following year, this time as the defending USAC national sprint car champion. He would once again, claim victory in the season opener on March 26, 1961. This time, however, Foyt would not run away from the field like the year before.

A crowd of 5,026 watched A.J win it the hard way by spotting Jim Hurtubise the lead and then come charging back to collar “Herk” on the 23rd lap and go on to win by nearly a quarter of a lap.

When Hurtubise, who started on the pole, moved into what looked like a commanding lead in the early going, most were willing to concede victory. A.J. Foyt wasn’t part of that group. Foyt, who said that his car was “operating smoothly” despite a rough track, put the Offenhausers one up in what would be a season-long duel with the Chevrolets.

Hurtubise, Cotton Farmer, Roger McCluskey and Hurtubise’s teammate, A.J. Shepherd, rounded out the top five. Bobby Marshman was the fastest qualifier with a time of 25.75 seconds but had motor issues and didn’t finish the race.

Jim Hurtubise would make one small mistake on March 25, 1962, at the Fairgrounds and it would cost him $10. During the first qualifying heat, Hurtubise had the lead and it appeared he was going to win, but on the final lap he slipped high going through the first and second turns, allowing Don Davis to slip under him and take the win. Davis won $40 and Hurtubise received $30.

That would be Hurtubise’s last slip of the day…

“Herk” would have things pretty much his way the rest of the afternoon as the transplanted California, now living in North Tonawanda, N.Y., set a new one-lap record in qualifying with a time of 23.85 seconds and then led from start to finish in the 30-lap feature.

A crowd of 5,170 saw Don Davis start on the pole but it was Hurtubise who was first to the corner and as they exited onto the backstretch, he was clearly in command. Reading Eagle sportswriter Bob Riegner put it best when he wrote, “Hurtubise drove like a bank robber the rest of the way”.

The best battle of the day was between Davis and Parnelli Jones of Torrance, Calif. They battled wheel to wheel for the balance of the race with Jones finally getting the nod on the very last lap. Fourth went to Bobby Marshman with ’59 winner Elmer George in fifth.

It may as well been called “Chase A.J. Foyt Day” at the Reading Fairgrounds on March 24, 1963, as no one was able to catch the speedy Texan. The winner of the 1961 Indianapolis 500 turned in a letter perfect performance before a paid crowd of 5,126 as he captured the Reading Sweepstakes race.

A.J. had the fastest qualifying mark in time trials with a time of 24.24 seconds, won his 10-lap qualifying heat and led from start to finish in the 30-lap main event. Foyt walked off with $1,254 out of a purse of $6,245, well over the guarantee of $5,000 offered by Reading Fair President John Giles, who was in his first promoting venture.

It wasn’t all gravy for Foyt however. Some of it was hot water...

Just as he took the checkered flag, a hose let loose and he was sprayed with hot water on his legs. He jumped up on the back of his car, got runner-up Roger McCluskey to push him around the track and then was treated for some painful (but not serious) burns on his legs, thighs and hands.

Foyt and MCluskey were followed by Don Branson, driving the Beletsky Chevy, Allen Crowe in the Iddings Chevy and Elmer George in the HOW Special.

Injuries to two of USAC’s brightest stars marred the Reading Sweepstakes event on March 29, 1964. A.J. Foyt won his record third Sweepstakes race on the half-mile, but that accomplishment was overshadowed by the injuries that Roger McCluskey and Don Branson sustained in the event.

McCluskey was injured when he flipped his racer just as he was finishing his second lap of qualifying. The accident occurred in the same spot that he spun out during warm-up laps. He suffered a compound fracture of the left forearm, bruising on his right shoulder and hand, and a concussion to boot.

Branson suffered a compound fracture of the right forearm when he was struck by a flying dirt clod. He and McCluskey were both hospitalized and were reported in satisfactory condition, although it was questionable whether either driver would be healthy enough to compete in the Indianapolis 500, which was a month away. (McCluskey didn’t recover in time to compete – Branson recovered and would finish 13th in the race).

Jud Larson’s baby needed a new pair of shoes and papa took care of her nicely on Sunday, April 4, 1965, as the strapping blond Texan, now based out of Indianapolis, pocketed nearly $1,000 for sweeping the USAC Sweepstakes program before a Reading Fairgrounds crowd of 8,000. Larson’s wife had given birth to their third child just weeks before.

Cornering several drivers before the race, Larson warned, “When you fellows get over my way, you better stop and see the new baby or my wife will skin me alive.”

Don Branson, who would spend the afternoon chasing and finishing second to Larson in the race, jokingly called Larson “unsociable”. He said, “I wanted to get a look at the new oil pans on your car, but he never let me get close enough to look at them.”

Larson, who dominated the feature from start to finish in his A.J. Watson sprinter, and Branson pretty much controlled things throughout, although a couple of IMCA speedsters, champion Jerry Richert of Forest Lakes, Minn., and Greg Weld of Kansas City - gave strong indications that they should not be overlooked in future sprint car events. Richert was third fastest in time trials, third in his heat and third in the feature. Weld, a recent graduate of the super modified ranks placed a solid fourth. Asphalt specialist Jim McCune of Toledo took the fifth spot.

An estimated crowd of 6,500 shivered their way though the Reading Sweepstakes program on March 27, 1966 as Jud Larson would give a repeat performance, winning his second 30-lap main event in a row. Any chill Larson experienced during the afternoon matinee was warmed by the $710 he earned by winning the feature and an additional $200 for being fast qualifier on the day (24.42 seconds).

Jud started on the pole, surrendered the lead to Red Riegel on the first lap, regained it on the seventh circuit and then outran everyone in sight from there on. Reigel would settle for second, Arnie Knepper of Belleville, Ill., took third, Roger McCluskey fourth and USAC national champion Mario Andretti of Nazareth, Pa., rounding out the top five.

Ironically, the same track that Larson would experience triumph in March is where tragedy would strike on June 11, 1966. During a USAC-sanctioned sprint car race, Larson and William “Red” Riegel would tangle in the first turn, both flipping over the three-foot concrete wall and rolling seven or eight times. Both were killed instantly. Larson, the hard drinking, chain-smoking Texan was 43 years of age.

Jerry “Scratch” Daniels was running high and Rollie Beale was running low. Larry Dickson of Marietta, Ohio, piloting the Nesler-Venezia Racing Special was running anywhere he pleased because that’s a luxury you have with leading a race.

Dickson drove to an easy Reading Sweepstakes victory in April 2, 1967 as USAC launched its season opener before an estimated crowd of 6,500 at the Fairgrounds. It was Larry’s second straight USAC victory at the historic half-mile and it came on the heels of his Reading Fair win last September.

When Larry got cranked up, no one could come close to him. But he got himself in some second-lap congestion that put top qualifier Greg Weld and Jerry Richert on the shelf for the afternoon. Dickson was riding the inside, struggling with Rollie Beale for the top spot when his magneto switch cut out and his car slowed rapidly. Weld, who was right behind, said, “I saw Larry slow down and I had almost came to a stop and was going to go around when Jerry hit me from behind.”

Dickson was able to continue but Weld, suffering major suspension trouble after the hit, had to withdraw and Richert, who spun around and hit the outside wall, also was unable to go on.

When the green flag dropped after the restart, Dickson hit the gas and took off on Beale and the race was pretty much over. Beale and Daniels would battle for second spot with Daniels finally getting the nod. Beale, Bobby Unser and Toledo’s Karl Busson followed.


Dickson would continue his streak at Reading the very next year, although his victory on March 31, 1968 would be anything but easy. Dickson out dueled Pennsylvania super modified star Ray Tilley for the full 30 laps before prevailing before 9,000 race fans.

Even though Dickson was scored as the leader for 27 laps after securing the point on the third lap but Tilley had his nose out front on several occasions throughout the contest and threatened to steal all of the marbles in the late going against the USAC veteran.

“I told myself that I needed to go after him, even though I was really tired,” Dickson would say from victory lane. He would manage to keep the nose of his sprinter in front of Tilley’s and won by a few feet at the finish, securing the fat part of the $6,675 purse offered by Reading Fair President Lindy Vicari.

Bill Puterbaugh of Roxana, Ill., who was the fast qualifier (23.85 seconds) for the first time in his USAC career, wound up third and gained one spot when hard-charger Chuck Booth who was running a strong third and challenging Dickson and Tilley, broke his axle on the final lap of the race. Rollie Beale finished fourth but was never a serious threat to the top three, and Bobby Adamson, the second quickest qualifier, rounded out the top five.


Dirt track racing can be a guessing game at times and on March 30, 1969, Jerry Daniels guessed right at the Reading Fairgrounds and Larry Dickson guessed wrong. And that’s why Daniels, of St. Paul, Minn., walked off with fat share of the lucrative purse for winning the 30-lap feature during USAC’s sprint car season opener before a chilled crowd of 5,000 fans.

Dickson, the fast qualifier, winner of the first heat, and the defending race winner, wound up placing 14th when he tried to change a tire during a caution period and got caught up on the jack when the green flag went out. “We changed tires before the main,” Larry said, “but it wasn’t the hot setup we wanted. So I gambled on getting the tires changed but we didn’t make it.”

Dickson, who did most of his racing in the early afternoon, tried to guess what the track conditions would be like for the 30-lap main event – it was not a good guess.

Polesitter Mickey Shaw grabbed the initial lead before mechanical problems sidelined him on lap four. Lee Kunzman of Guttenberg, Iowa, fresh off a 100-lap USAC midget victory in the Astrodome, took over the reigns with Daniels hot on his tail. But Daniels, who said he felt he “could catch” Kunzman, found the opening he needed on the 27th lap, when Lee got caught up behind a lapped car on the backstretch.

On the same lap, Herman Wise of Atlanta, Ga., went by Kunzman as well for the second spot. Kunzman would settle for show spot while Bill Puterbaugh and Bob Pratt of Union City, Ind., would follow.

Daniels was quick to call his wife on the phone to inform her of his first Reading victory, which was also a first for car owner Ray W. Smith of Eaton, Ohio. Smith, who had Dickson as his driver for the ’68 season, said that the car had just been put together the night before and Daniels put the car through its paces flawlessly.

The 1969 race would be the last year the Reading Fairgrounds would play host to the season opening race for the USAC sprint car division. Starting in 1970, the season opener would not have a regular home. Over the next few years, several venues such as Eldora, Tri-County and Salem would be the sites of season openers.

In 1979, just like the days of old, the Reading Fairgrounds hosted the USAC sprint car season opener on April 14th, with Paul Pitzer, driving Bob Sweikert’s sprinter, winning the 40-lap main event. It would be Pitzer’s first career USAC win in what would be the last USAC race at the track.

The Reading Fairgrounds track closed for good on June 29, 1979.