Iowa Governor Robert Ray present the trophy to Fred Horn after the Marion, Iowa, veteran won the second annual Yankee Dirt Track Classic at Hawkeye Downs. - Bill Haglund Photo
Cedar Rapids, Iowa (September 15, 1979) - Hawkeye Downs has hosted 16 late model stock car races this season, but on 13 of those occasions a familiar name has been missing from the starting grid.
In the past 10 years, that missing man has won at least one race every year except 1971-72 and 1976 but has been so busy building racing motors for everybody else this season that he hasn't had time to race himself.
He has tested the half-mile Downs oval only three times in 1979 but came back honking Saturday night and his horn was definitely heard.
Fred Horn, the popular Marion pilot who won two races at the Downs in 1978, mastered the treacherous ice-like Downs oval and cruised to victory in the 2nd Annual Busch Yankee Dirt Track Classic in front of a capacity crowd of nearly 7,000 fans.
Horn led only 15 laps of the 100-lap feature, the finale of the two-day extravaganza that attracted over 100 cars from throughout the Midwest but had the lead when it came time to collect the $5,000 at the checkers.
Horn’s victory made a loser of many, but most notably Viola’s Ken Walton.
Walton, a Downs regular in past seasons and a feature winner June 15, led for 63 laps on Saturday but slammed the wall coming out of turn two on the 96th tour, enabling Horn to slide inside for the lead he never surrendered.
“I wasn’t sure I had it won until I crossed the finish line,” said Horn. “I saw Kenny hit the wall so hard, but I was surprised he kept it going to finish second.”
“It was probably the best race we've been in all season. We both ran all out for 100 laps, and I happened to get the break when he hit the wall.”
When describing the competition, “all out” may have been an understatement. Jim Curry of Indiana led the initial lap from his outside pole position, but Wilton's Tom Hearst, the Davenport Speedway track champion, grabbed the lead on the second lap and held the front spot until Walton blew by him on the backstretch of the 23rd tour.
Walton led the pack until Horn caught him sleeping coming out of turn three on the 77th lap, but the Viola chauffeur stormed back to the front on the 87th lap, setting the stage for the exciting finish.
“We’ve been so busy at the shop this year that we just haven't had time to race much,” said Horn. "We’ve only raced five times this season, all specials, and we almost have more fun getting ready for them.”
Horn may have won the war Saturday night, but another big victor was Independence’s Gary Crawford.
With his 10th place finish the 30-year-old flying farmer finally earned himself the NASCAR Winston Grand American point championship that carries a cash award of $1,000 along with many other honors.
First Heat: Don Hoffman, Des Moines
Second Heat: Bill Rice, Des Moines
Third Heat: Joe Merryfield, Des Moines
Fourth Heat: Gary Crawford, Independence
Fifth Heat: John Connolly, Delhi
Sixth Heat: Denny Osborn, Cedar Falls
B-Main: Galen Schaefer
1. Fred Horn, Marion
2. Ken Walton, Viola
3. Tom Hearst, Wilton
4. Mike Niffenegger, Kalona
5. Ed Sanger, Waterloo
6. Don Hoffman, Des Moines
7. Curt Hansen, Dike
8. Jim Curry, Norman, Ind.
9. Bill Rice, Des Moines
10. Gary Crawford, Independence