Friday, April 29, 2016

1976 – This Week in Racing History

Cedar Rapids, Iowa – Let's take a look back, 30 years ago to be exact, and see who the winners were this week in Midwest racing circles. It was season openers for many tracks.

Curt Hansen of Dike, Iowa, would hold off a bevy of “hot iron” to win the 20-lap super stock feature on opening night at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Wednesday, April 28. Hansen held off Mel Morris of West Liberty in the closing laps to collect the $500 top prize. A see-saw battle for third saw Roger Dolan of Lisbon overtake Bill Rice of Des Moines. Dave Allison of Des Moines was the sportsman main event winner.

Dick Trickle of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., brought the State Park Speedway crowd to its feet Thursday, April 29 when he became the unexpected winner of the season opener in Wausau, Wis. In a finish reminiscent of the Daytona 500, race leaders Mike Miller of Wisconsin Rapids and Tom Reffner of Rudolph appeared to be headed for a photo finish when the two suddenly skidded in turn four, allowing Trickle to sneak by for the lead and take the checkers.

At the season opener at Hawkeye Downs Speedway Roger Dolan and fast qualifier Bill Zwanziger of Waterloo would swap the lead on three different occasions before Dolan was able to secure the top spot and win the late model feature on Friday, April 30. Zwanziger would settle for second, followed by Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids, Curt Hansen and Don White of Keokuk.

Davenport Speedway also opened their season on Friday night with Duane Steffe of Colona, Ill., coming from his third starting spot to win the 20-lap late model feature. Gary Webb, Ronnie Weedon, Mike Niffenegger, Mel Morris rounded out the top five.

Johnny Ziegler of Madison, Wis., drove to victory in the 30-lap feature at Capital Super Speedway on Friday night Ziegler took the lead on lap 25 after starting tenth. A four-way battle developed for second place with Dave Watson getting the advantage over Joe Shear, Dick Trickle and Jim Sauter. 

Terry Bivins of Shawnee, Kan., fought Joe Wallace of Peyton, Colo., for all 25 laps before winning the late model main event at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Mo., on April 30. Dave Rupard of Grandview, Mo., came from last place to capture the modified sprint car feature over Gene Gennetten of Gladstone, Mo. Despite bad weather, a surprisingly large crowd of 4,000 race fans were in attendance. 

Roger Dolan would sweep the program at Eldon Raceway on Saturday, May 1, by winning the trophy dash, heat and 20-lap feature. Dolan was chased across the finish line by Pokey West of West Chester and Steve Fraise of Montrose. 

Tony Izzo methodically worked his way from the back of the field to win the 30-lap late model feature at Santa Fe Speedway in Hinsdale, Ill., on Saturday night. The Bridgeview, Ill., hot shoe shot his 1976 Camaro into the lead on lap 12 and warded off a brief challenge from Jim O’Conner and defending track champion Larry Jackson before finding himself in the winner’s circle.

George Barton of Ankeny would capture the late model feature at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on Saturday evening. The Boone, Iowa, race promoter also won the first heat before winning the 20-lap feature. Dave Farren of Des Moines drove his 1967 Camaro to an impressive victory in the sportsman feature. An estimated 8,000 spectators watched the season opener. 

Doug Wolfgang of Lincoln, Neb., was fast qualifier, finished second in the trophy dash, won the fourth heat and then capped a great night by winning the 25-lap super sprint car feature at the Marion County Fairgrounds in Knoxville, Iowa, on Saturday night. Piloting Dave Van Patten’s Chevrolet-powered sprinter, it was Wolfgang’s first feature win ever on the historic half-mile.

Jan Opperman, the ordained minister from Noxon, Montana, took the lead at the green flag and led all the way in winning the 6th annual Tony Hulman Classic in Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday afternoon, May 1. Pancho Carter, the 1974 USAC sprint car champion, spent much of the afternoon chasing Opperman but settled for runner-up honors. Bubby Jones, Dana Carter and Bruce Walkup rounded out the top five finishers. With a record $43,000 purse, the race was seen nationally on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

“Big” John Moss of Iowa City captured the late model feature at the West Liberty Fairgrounds on Saturday night before another large crowd on damp night. Moss overtook Jack Hall of Muscatine on a lap 11 restart and then held off a hard-charging Ron Weedon of Pleasant Valley to secure the win. Ron Pallister of Wapello exchanged the lead with Bob Kleindolph of Muscatine before winning an exciting sportsman main event.

Herb Shannon of Peoria, Ill., made the haul to the Jackson County Raceway in Maquoketa, Iowa, worthwhile by winning the 50-lap “Early Bird Special” on Saturday night. Shannon would endure a grueling battle with Jim Burbridge of Delhi, Iowa for most of the race. Burbridge would lead the affair for the first 34 laps before relinquishing the top spot to Shannon who would hold on for the $550 top prize.

Bill Martin of Council Bluffs play second fiddle to Bob Kosiski of Omaha in the heat and trophy dash but turned the tables and won the A-main at Sunset Speedway in Omaha, Neb., on Sunday, May 2. Second place finisher Kosiski finished ahead of Council Bluffs drivers Dave Chase and Ron Tilley. It was the season opener for the track and offered double points.

Glenn Woodward of Des Moines would edge his brother, Leonard to capture his third consecutive late model feature at Stuart Speedway on Sunday evening. Glenn, who qualified for the feature through the consolation, had his work cut out for him having started 12th in the main event. Running the low side, he picked car after car off and then passed his brother with only a couple of laps left to score the victory.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

1975 - Hansen Wins Opener at West Liberty

Curt Hansen 

West Liberty, Iowa (April 26, 1975) - A large crowd of nearly 2,500 fan braved cold and threatening weather to watch opening night of stock car racing at the West Liberty Fairgrounds on Saturday night.

Curt Hansen of Dike followed up his victory Friday night at Columbus Junction with the feature victory here in the wreck-marred windup.

Only 10 of the 19 cars that started the feature were still around at the end. Steve Keppler spun out in the fourth turn of the third lap and several cars smacked into him.

Going out of the race were Mel Morris, Duane Steffe, Jim Strube and Ron Weedon - all among the top drivers during the earlier racing. Keppeler remained in the race and wound up second to Hansen.

Strube, a newcomer to the circuit from Peoria, Ill., set a track record in his first time out in time trials. He recorded a 24.39 second clocking to break the old mark of 24.40 by Darrell Dake.

Despite a brief shower the track was in good shape, as eight drivers bettered 25 seconds in time trials.

Heat winners on the first night were Morris, John Moss and Steffe and Keppler won the semi-main.

Results –

1. Curt Hansen, Dike
2. Steve Keppler, Marion
3. Fred Horn, Marion
4. Darrell Dake, Cedar Rapids
5. Ken Walton, Cedar Rapids
6. Ron Prymek, Iowa City
7. Sam Reakes, Rockford, Ill.
8. Duane Steffe, Colona, Ill.
9. Dave Birkhofer, Muscatine
10. Gail Brenner, Wilton
11. John Moss, Iowa City
12. Ron Hemsted, Lone Tree

Monday, April 25, 2016

1971 - Horn Protests, But Hutch Cops 200

Ron Hutcherson of Keokuk, Iowa accepts the trophy from IMCA secretary Bill Hitz (left)after winning the controversial Hawkeye 200 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Flagman Woody Brinkman presents the checkers and Hutcherson's father, Leon, joins in the celebration. - Lee Ackerman Collection

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (April 25, 1971) - Ron Hutcherson of Keokuk gave himself a belated birthday present Sunday by capturing the Hawkeye 200 late model stock car race at Hawkeye Downs before a paying crowd of 6,212.

Fred Horn, though, found no reason to celebrate. The Marion chauffeur protested the results, contending he was the winner of the International Motor Contest Association annual classic.

However, National Speedways, Inc., officials disallowed the protest and Horn had to settle for second place in the 100-miler on the half-mile dirt oval.

Hutch and Horn finished on the same lap.

Third place went to Keokuk's young Mike Derr, 23- year-old son of Ernie Derr, the 11-time IMCA champion. It was a feather in Mike's cap as he completed 198 laps to papa's 195. Both drove 1970 Chargers. Ernie finished fourth, after experiencing rear end problems early in the race.

The point of Horn's protest began on the 93rd lap when a broken ball joint stalled Mel Morris of Atalissa in the third turn and the yellow flag came out.

Horn pitted his '70 Road Runner under the yellow, trailing Hutch, the leader, and Ernie Derr. Hutch and Derr hit the pits for fuel on the next lap and both were out quickly, nearly simultaneously.

"I know Hutch passed me while I was in the pits," Horn fumed, "but then I passed him in the pits. Then he passed me and I passed him and he never got around me again."

On the basis of the new automatic timing system, NSI officials ruled Horn had lost a lap while pitting under the yellow.

The margin of victory for Hutch and his 1970 Ford Torino Cobra was a mere nine seconds on the extremely dusty and rugged track. His time was one hour, 32 minutes and 35 seconds.

"I'm tired, but happy," smiled Hutch as he wiped the grime from his face. "This is a pretty good birthday present," he added, explaining. He turned 28 Saturday.

It was Ron's first race of the season and he allowed, "The first one is always tough! No, I didn't have any special strategy, except I wanted to stay in there tough at the start. I always run better late in the race.

"That's when the tracks usually get hard and slick and that's the way I like 'em. I had Goodyear tires on and they work better when the track is hard and dry ... We could have done without the dust, though."

Hutch, who picked up $800 for his triumph, was the third and final leader.

He took over from Irv Janey of Cedar Rapids ('70 Road Runner) on the 87th tour. Janey was flying up to that point and had led the pack for 57 laps. But a broken lower control arm took away hi steering and any chance of winning were shattered. The early leader was Gerry Harrison of Topeka, Kan., in a '71 Ford.

Horn topped the qualifying with a 25.54 second clocking for one lap, well off the Downs record of 24.57.

Thirty-two cars started the race. Only 12 were running at the finish.

Results –

1. Ron Hutcherson
2. Fred Horn
3. Mike Derr
4. Ernie Derr
5. Butch Hall
6. Bill Schwader
7. Jerre Wichman
8. Marv Powers
9. Roger Brown
10. Dean Roper
11. Vern Covert
12. Dale Roper
13. Gordon Blankenship
14. Bill Wrich
15. Lefty Robinson
16. Dean Montgomery 
17. Vern Mondry
18. Dave Goldsberry
19. Irv Janey
20. Thurman Lovejoy
21. Mel Morris
22. Chuck Wicher
23. Bill Moyer
24. Jim Strube
25. Terry Ryan
26. Gerry Harrison

Monday, April 18, 2016

1976 - Bettenhausen wins at New Bremen

Gary Bettenhausen
New Bremen, Ohio (April 18, 1976) – Indiana’s Gary Bettenhausen passed Tom Bigelow of Wisconsin on the 38th lap of the 40-lap race to take the victory in yesterday’s United States Auto Club (USAC) Sprint Car feature at New Bremen Speedway
The early laps of the 40-lap feature saw Johnnie Parsons, also of Indiana, in the lead from the green flag. Charging from his second row starting position Marietta, Ohio’s Larry Dickson brought his “Polak Sprinter” up to challenge Parsons by lap nine, but could not manage to get by the evasive Parsons.
By lap 12 Bigelow began to make his move, getting by both Dickson and then Parsons to take over the lead on lap 28. Close on Bigelow’s tail, Bettenhausen in the Willie Davis “Spirit of Syracuse” sprinter, quickly got by Dickson and Parsons in one sweep and went to work on Bigelow, finally getting by him on lap 38 for the win
Bigelow, in the “Elder Cadillac” sprint, finished second, with Dickson, who got around Parsons on lap 30, hanging onto third spot.
The race was run in 11 minutes, 59.70 seconds, bettering the old mark of 14:43.35 for a 40-lap feature by 2 and a half minutes, to set a new record on New Bremen’s half mile pavement.
Bettenhausen’s win was his 34th USAC sprint car feature victory of his career, making him second only to Dickson (with 41) in USAC sprint feature checkered.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The River City Supernationals

By Kyle Ealy
Cedar Rapids, IA – In the summer of 1994, two men got together and decided to organize a touring series for modifieds. Based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the United States Modified Series (USMS) was created in late 1994. Co-founders Daniel Danielski and Doug Sheckler were no strangers to the racing game, having formerly worked for IMCA in Vinton, Iowa.

“We just decided it was time to strike out on our own,” Danielski said. “When we held our first event (in September of 1994), we had 128 cars turn out, so we knew we were on to something.”

Danielski was quick to point out that the USMS was a racing series, not a sanctioning body. Because of that, any modified from any sanctioning body including IMCA, Wissota, UMP and NASCAR, were eligible to compete.

“With this series, as it is now, we have a normal payoff of $2,000 to the main event winner and a $50,000 point fund to be distributed at the end of the year,” Danielski said. Even with the late start (to the ‘94 season); we averaged about 70 cars at our first five events by attracting the local drivers and about 10 or 20 of our regulars who are trying to make every race.”

Most of the events were scheduled for the central part of the country, including Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Danielski hoped to branch out as the series became more established.

“We want it to be national in scope,” he said. “This is not a regional class of cars. There are over 4,000 of these cars out there from coast-to-coast.”

Encouraged by their early success, Danielski and Sheckler mapped out a 19-race schedule for the 1995 season and also announced a special year-end event with a bigger than usual purse for September. It was determined that Burlington, Iowa would be the sight of that event.

The race seemed to hit a snag before it was even run. As it turned out, the event was scheduled the same weekend as another big race for modifieds, the IMCA Super Nationals in Boone, Iowa. While some made a big deal out of it, Sheckler didn’t see a conflict.

“I think we're drawing more of the UMP and NASCAR-type cars,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of those types of cars throughout our series. I know we're getting a lot of cars from Illinois, where there aren't any IMCA tracks anyway.”

Sheckler didn’t think having the competing shows on the same night lessened the appeal of either event. “That's not a concern," he said. "They’ll (IMCA) have more than their fair share of cars for their weekend of racing and we’ll have plenty also. There is more than enough to go around for everyone.”

With that said, the first annual River City Supernationals became a reality on September 10-11, 1995.

When the USMS drivers pulled into Burlington, Iowa, the series had shown a competitive balance, with 10 different drivers having won a USMS “A” main out of the 13 total events run.

The top prize ($10,000) was the largest payoff on the USMS circuit in its inaugural season. Only the top four drivers in the point standings, Kelly Shryock of Story City, Iowa, Mike Chasteen of Peoria, Ill., John Allen of Chanute, Kan. and Klint Pursley of Locust Grove, Okla., had won more than $10,000 for the ENTIRE season.

With a total two-day purse of over $35,000, 102 drivers from 10 different states showed up for the weekend. The River City Supernationals was already a success and the first green flag had not been waved yet.

In addition to some of the top modified hot shoes in attendance, it was also able to lure some top drivers from other divisions of racing.

Ray Guss Jr., the NASCAR Central Region point’s leader for late models, was one of those drivers who showed up to flaunt his skills behind the wheel of a modified. It would turn out to be a good move…

Guss, the veteran driver from Milan, Ill., got past Ryan Dolan, then overtook Ron Jones and then held off both through lapped traffic the rest of the way to claim the $10,000 winner's check.

“This is unbelievable,” Guss said. “I came here just hoping to do decent. To take home a win is unreal. I’ve won a lot of late model races but this is by far my biggest win ever.”

Guss started the modified feature on the inside of the fourth row. But he didn't stay there for long. Guss put his plan into action from the start. While most of the drivers stayed toward the top of the track, Guss saw the opening and went to the bottom. By the end of the first lap, Guss had moved up to fourth.

Guss stayed on the bottom to get around Ryan Dolan on lap five, and then set his sights on race leader Ron Jones. Jones held off Guss for 22 laps before Guss made his move.

Guss suddenly went to the high side in turns three and four of lap 23 to get past Jones, who got caught behind a lapped car. That was the only break Guss would need on this cool fall night.

Once in the lead, the veteran knew what to do. He maneuvered his car through lapped traffic to get as many cars between himself and Jones as possible. Jones and Dolan each gave chase, waiting for Guss to make a mistake.

It never happened…

Guss pulled away in the final laps for the victory. Dolan got by Jones on lap 43 to finish second and take home $5,000. But the night, and the big paycheck, belonged to Guss.

The whole weekend turned out to be extremely popular with both the drivers and the fans. Impressed with the numbers from the pits and the grandstands, it was deemed a successful venture for Danielski and Scheckler and plans for the second annual River City Supernationals were already being laid out for 1996.

When the River City Supernationals rolled around the next year, September 7-8, over 150 modifieds were expected to compete for the $12,000 first place prize out of a whopping $35,000 purse.

Word had gotten out about this big-paying modified show and it was not only drawing interest on the local level, but on the national stage as well. Both The Nashville Network and ESPN were on hand for the weekend, taping highlights of the race and the event.  

Back was the defending champion, Ray Guss, Jr., as was runner-up Ryan Dolan. Ron Jones of Elk River, Minn., winner of three USMS features in the series’ second season was also on hand. Kelly Shryock, the current USMS point’s leader, was there as was 34 Raceway’s modified track champion, Bill Roberts.

Other drivers of note entered that year were John Allen, Clint Homan, and John Bull, Jim Sandusky, Scott Boles, Dean McGee, Darrell McGee, Bruce Hanford, Thad Wilson, Jim Roach and Lynn Monroe. Another late model pilot, Rob Toland, the three-time defending track champion at 34 Raceway, was giving it the old college try.

For Ryan Dolan, he was a year older and a year wiser. And when the checkers waved on the championship feature on Saturday night, Dolan was $12,000 richer.

Dolan, who watched Guss pass him and go on to win the inaugural Supernationals, had set his sights on returning to Burlington with one goal in mind; winning the 50-lap feature and collecting the winner's check.

Dolan earned the pole position on Friday night, thus avoiding the heat races and qualifying races on Saturday. Dolan took advantage of his starting position, leading the last 42 laps to capture the win. Ron Jones would finish second while late model ace Joe Kosiski of Omaha, Neb., was third. Guss would experience problems with his car and was never a factor.

“We've been planning to come back here and win this race ever since we finished second last year,” Dolan said. “I really didn't think about the money at all during the race. I just wanted to win. But the money is a nice part of it.”

Mike Karhoff of Quincy, Ill., started the feature alongside Dolan in the front row. Karhoff squeezed between Dolan and Davenport’s Bruce Hanford on the start and quickly grabbed the early lead with Hanford taking second from Dolan.

Karhoff held the lead through an early caution, as Dolan got around Hanford for second after the restart. Jones, meanwhile, also got past Hanford two laps later and closed in on Dolan for second.

Dolan made his move two laps later, going to the high side of the track to get around Karhoff in turn two for the lead. Karhoff and Jones battled for second while Dolan continued to work the cushion to his advantage.

Dolan worked his way through lapped traffic as Jones followed with Kosiski working his way into third. But Dolan proved to have too much for Jones and Kosiski on this night.

Dolan maneuvered through traffic, working the high side and holding on for the win.

“It would have been tough to catch him,” Jones said of Dolan. “Maybe if there were 100 more laps he would have run out of fuel before me. It would have been awful tough to catch him.”

The River City Supernationals would be short-lived, however, as ’95 and ’96 would be the only two years the blockbuster event was run. A year later, Danielski and Scheckler would sell the series to another former IMCA official, Todd Staley of Webster City, Iowa.

Staley would add a “T” to the series name, make it one the most successful racing series in the nation and moved the grand year-end event to Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley, Minn. This year, 2015, will mark the 17th season for the Featherlite Fall Jamboree.