Monday, July 24, 2017

Today in Racing History

 
 
 
Waterloo, Iowa's Greg Kastli won the 40-lap Deery Brothers Summer Series for IMCA late models event at Hamilton County Speedway in Webster City, Iowa, on July 24, 2003. —Lance Goins Photo

Saturday, July 22, 2017

1972 – Janey Wins Donnellson IMCA


Irv Janey


Donnellson, Iowa (July 22, 1972) – Irv Janey of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was in championship form at the Lee County Fair on Saturday night, as he came away the winner of the 50-lap feature for IMCA new model stock cars in the time of 23 minute and 32 seconds. Janey also set fast time in qualifying, speeding around the half-mile in 27.57 seconds.
Janey encountered problems in the first heat, yet went on to win the STP trophy dash and finish second in the pursuit race. He accumulated enough points to retain and even widen his lead over Gerry Harrison of Topeka, Kan., who had a terrible night.
Gordon Blankenship of Keokuk, Iowa, continued to run well as he won the first heat and took second in the main event. He is currently in fifth place in the standings, tightly bunched within 30 points of Jim Still of Liberty, Mo., who is now in third.
Vern Mondry of Lake Elmo, Minn., finished sixth in the feature and holds down fourth place in the official IMCA point standings, only seven markers ahead of Blankenship.
Carl Vander Wal of Ames, Iowa, finished fourth in the 50-lapper and has now moved from 12th to seventh in the standings.

Results –

1.     Irv Janey, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
2.     Gordon Blankenship, Keokuk, Iowa
3.     Thurman Lovejoy, Kansas City
4.     Carl Vander Wal, Ames, Iowa
5.     Roger Brown, Waverly, Iowa
6.     Vern Mondry, Lake Elmo, Minn.
7.     Dale Mewhorter, Albuquerque, N.M.
8.     Gary Brooks, Grand Prairie, Tex.
9.     Garry Truelove, Trimble, Mo.
10.  Joe Melichar, Albuquerque, N.M.

Friday, July 21, 2017

1969 – Czar at Heidelberg – He Rules with an Iron Hand


 
Ed Witzberger
 

by Phil Musick
Pittsburgh, Penn. (July 21, 1969) – In fulfilling is role as a czar, Ed Witzberger sometimes looks as out of place as Mamie Eisenhower at a pot party. He eats shrimp cocktail for lunch and wears expensive white-on-white dress shirts, but the air of hustler eludes him and he mostly looks like a new grandfather.

However, in a modest way, Ed Witzberger is a czar; a hard-bitten absolute ruler of the district’s only major stock car track and the guy who pulled area auto racing from the doldrums. His policy is simple but effective; “I make all the decisions.”

Owner and operator of Heidelberg Speedway, the district’s major league stock car operation, Witzberger is mentally tough enough to say, “A driver here or there is expendable, but we have to protect the fans.”

In addition to Heidelberg, a half-mile paved oval he calls, “one of the best tracks in the East”, Witzberger also owns a budding goldmine, Pittsburgh Dragway, and the area’s other asphalt track, the quarter-mile Greater Pittsburgh Speedway. “Actually, me and the bank own Greater Pitt,” he remarked.

People involved in stock car racing describe the 54-year-old in terms that range from glowing to unprintable and he admits that he’s “made some enemies over time”. But even those who have denounced him hold Witzberger in respect because he is solely responsible for the recent surge in racing’s popularity in the district.

“He’s the dean in the tri-state,” says Verue Spencer, publisher of Tri-State Auto Racing News and probably the most devoted fan in the area. “He doesn’t just take. He also gives something back to the fans. Some promoters just take the money out with both hands.”
 
 
Heidelberg Raceway
 

A successful coal operator in the 1940’s, Witzberger took over Heidelberg in 1954 and organized the drivers into the Pittsburgh Drivers Association. The sport had flourished locally ever since.

“The original owners built the track in 1947 and they were in financial trouble when I took over,” says Witzberger. In the last 15 years, Heidelberg has become a nationally-respected race track, but Witzberger claims he “doesn’t know how it came about”.

Hoot Martin, a 20-year veteran of area racing, has a good idea. “I’ve cussed Ed more that anyone at times,” he said. “But he wants better racing and he’s never been afraid to put out the money to get it.”

Four years ago, Witzberger shelled out $600,000 to pave Heidelberg, a move that has drawn the top cars and drivers from the Tri-State area to the half-mile track. It was a wise gamble. “We’re now profitable,” Witzberger explains. “But I have to get 15 grand every time we open the gates or I’m in trouble.”

Safety and fan comfort are the bane of the stubby promoter’s existence, and he’s had some bitter words with drivers whose thinking is, “it could never happen to them”.

“We have to have safety for the race fans,” Witzberger explains, “but the drivers often resist us.” The resistance has often gotten violent and Witzberger says that his full-time safety director Walt Velte “has gotten a fat lip or two and a few black eyes.”

Czars historically don’t take no for an answer and Witzberger is not one to break with tradition. “I never change my mind once I make a decision. Even if I’m wrong, it stands. It has to be that way.”

Heidelberg in the future could be the scene of major races on the Grand National circuit, although Witzberger and officials of NASCAR are friendly enemies.

“I like the NASCAR people,” Witzberger mentioned. “I could bring a NASCAR race here – bring the big-name drivers here tomorrow if I wanted to. But NASCAR wants drivers to pay a year’s membership fee and they also want to raise pit fees. It wouldn’t be worth it to anyone for one race, and that’s what it would be – one race.”

For the present, Witzberger will continue to play Napoleon at Heidelberg, where he plans on making more improvements.

“I’ve never take a dime out of the track. It all goes back into the operation,” he remarked. “Of course, when I retire, I’ll have something.”

Thursday, July 20, 2017

1960 - From Jalopies to Stock Car Title is Nelson’s Goal


 

Racine, Wis. (July 20, 1960) – It all started at Pleasant Prairie – not too far from Racine – where some energetic sportsmen had constructed a race track.

What an afternoon it was…rain, rain and even more rain. The track was nothing short of a quagmire made even worse because the base for the track was a swamp.

This was where Norm Nelson, born January 30, 1923 started his racing career.

A career which could see him clinch his first career United States Auto Club late model stock car title. He could claim that crown this Sunday with a stellar performance in the 250-miler at State Fair Park.

It would be “according to script” to say that Nelson won that first jalopy race but he didn’t. In fact, his jalopy got bogged down and stuck in the mud on the main straightaway much to the amusement of the crowd.

Norm “stuck” with the jalopies that first year but during the winter indoor season of 1940-41, he turned to midget racing. In fact, he experienced a great deal of success in Chicago that winter. He would continue to pilot midget cars through 1951.

“But the racing bug really hit me by then,” Nelson would point out. “I couldn’t get enough driving if I stayed with midgets, so I started driving late model stock cars in 1948.”

That year Nelson “invaded” State Fair Park in Milwaukee for his first late model stock car race and he faired pretty well, finishing fourth. He would remain a fixture there. “I would rather drive at State Fair than any other track,” Nelson declared.

He would also turn to hot rods in 1949 and competed on State Fair’s quarter-mile track. Some three years later, hot rods would become a thing of the past and modified stocks would usher in a new era.

Without much doubt, Nelson’s modified stock car career would flourish for the next few years and this season he copped the modified stock car championship at Jim Smith’s Wilmot track (Kenosha County Fairgrounds).

His best previous season was a second place finish in 1950. 

Going into the final race of that season, Nelson held slim lead over Jay Frank for the title. In fact, the lead looked substantial; the only way Franks could beat him was to win the final race at Springfield, Ill., and Nelson on the sidelines. That’s just what happened; Nelson experienced mechanical issues before the green waved and Franks would score the victory, winning the title by 30 points over Nelson.

To finish second is a tremendous achievement but it was discouraging for Norm to be beaten out in the season’s final race because of mechanical failure.

Nelson remained optimistic and churned ahead…

In 1957 and ’58, Nelson would finish third nationally in late model stock cars. It looked like he was on his way again. But then came the disastrous year of 1959. He would have only one finish in eight attempts.

As the ‘60 season approached, Nelson, who always fielded his own race cars, was approached by Bill Trainor of Zecol-Lubaid Products of Milwaukee. Trainor “talked” Nelson into driving his 1960 factory-loaded Ford, an offer Nelson couldn’t refuse. It proved to be a wise decision.

He has piled up a total of 1,360 points, benefitted by victories at Milwaukee and Du Quoin, Ill., not to mention several runner-up finishes so far this season. Nelson also won a Midwest Auto Racing Club event at Columbus, Ohio. Although MARC and USAC worked together this season, the first place finish didn’t add to his totals.

He has scored more than 6,000 national championship points in and ranks sixth in the all-time rankings. In 37 late model stock car races, he has earned more than $27,000.

What race furnished the biggest thrill for Nelson?

“Certainly, my wins at State Park and Du Quoin this season rank right up there but my biggest thrill came at State Fair in 1955 when I came through with a victory and then blew a tire some 200 feet later. I slammed into the south wall and demolished my car. That was a close one.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

1969 – Williams Banks Knoxville Dollars




Knoxville, Iowa (July 19, 1969) – After a month’s absence from the super modified circuit, Bob Williams of Independence, Mo., returned to racing on Saturday night and did it in the Williams’ tradition.
From the outside of the front row, Williams jumped into the lead in the 25-lap feature and won going away with the rest of the field scattered throughout the lapped traffic.
The victory was Williams’ fourth of the year, was worth $600 and earned him the super-modified mid-season title at the Marion County Fairgrounds half-mile track.
A crowd of well over 5,000 race fans enjoyed watching Williams and Earl Wagner of Pleasantville, Iowa, duel side-by-side for the first 15 circuits before Williams opened daylight and Wagner got tied up in lapped traffic.
Williams would cruise to the easy win while Wagner would settle for second. Dick Sutcliffe of Kansas City, Joe Saldana of Lincoln, Neb., and Ray Lee Goodwin, also from Kansas City, would round out the top five.
Only one accident marred the feature when Eddie Leavitt of Kearney, Mo., would tag the turn three wall but he was unhurt.
Joe Saldana turned quick time during qualifying with a 22.43 second showing on the half-mile.
Earl Wagner would win the trophy dash, while heat winners were Ray Lee Goodwin, Earl Wagner and Eddie Leavitt. Ron Jackson of Burlington, Iowa, would win the consolation.
It was the first night of super-modified racing at Knoxville in three weeks because of the recent string of bad weather.

Monday, July 17, 2017

1984 – Allison Wins Rockford All-Star 100


NASCAR star Bobby Allison made a successful trip north by winning the All-Star 100.



Rockford, Ill. (July 17, 1984) – Stock car racing superstar Bobby Allison came up north and showed some of the Midwest’s best stock car drivers the short way around Rockford Speedway as he wheeled his 1984 Pontiac Firebird to victory in the 7th annual All-Star 100 on Tuesday night.
The eighth stop on the ASA-ARTGO Challenge Series late model tour saw the 46-year-old from Hueytown, Ala., capture his first ever feature on the Midwestern stock car circuit.
Using the low side of the high-banked quarter-mile, Allison piloted the Jerry Gunderman-owned mount into the lead on the race’s 82nd circuit slipping underneath some of the Midwest’s top stock car competitors on his way to the front, including Joe Shear, Dick Trickle, Bobby Dotter and Don Leach.
With only two laps to go, the race’s fifth and final yellow waved for what appeared to be oil on the racing surface. Allison, suffering from a flat tire, drove hard to fight off the challenges Leach and Jim Weber in those closing laps.
Streaking down thee straightaways, Allison would almost come to a halt in the corners, almost giving back the lead to Leach a couple of times. Coming down for the checkered flag, Allison and Leach, along with Weber, battled wheel to wheel looking for the win.
Trailing the top three at the checkers were Dotter, Shear, Ken Lund, Larry Schuler, Tracy Schuler and Steve Murgic who the only cars still running from a feature field of 20.
A brief, solemn ceremony was held prior to the event to honor Rockford Speedway owner Hugh Deery, who passed away on July 14.

Results –

1.    Bobby Allison
2.    Don Leach
3.    Jim Weber
4.    Bobby Dotter
5.    Joe Shear
6.    Ken Lund
7.    Larry Schuler
8.    Tracy Schuler
9.   Steve Murgic
10.   Dick Trickle
11.   Mike Barlass
12.   Scott Hansen
13.   Al Schill
14.   Frank Gawlinski
15.   Rich Bickle Jr.
16.   Ricky Bilderback
17.   Mark Martin
18.   Mel Whalen
19.   Bobby Weiss
20.   Randy Merriman

Sunday, July 16, 2017

1961 - Pete Folse Takes 30-lap Feature at Fairgrounds


Pete Folse

 
Terre Haute, Ind. (July 16, 1961) - Pete Folse of Tampa, Fla., two-time national driving champion, led all the way in winning the International Motor Contest Association's 30-lap Hoosier Sweepstakes yesterday at the Vigo County Fairgrounds.
 
Al Sweeney and his National Speedways Inc., promotion along with 45 of the top sprint car drivers and their machines invaded what was normally USAC territory with an IMCA sprint car program at the fairgrounds on Sunday afternoon.
 
Folse, the outstanding performer in the program, also won the trophy dash, his heat race, and turned in the fastest qualifying lap. His winning time in the feature event was 13 minutes and 8 seconds.
 
In addition to the spray of dirt and the sound of engines there was a touch of beauty at the track. Miss Indiana of 1961, Miss Kathleen Jane Burke of Terre Haute, was on hand to kiss the winner and present the IMCA Inaugural Trophy.
 
Folse, handling the controls on his Bardahl Offenhauser Special, owned by Hector Horore, took the lead from his pole position and finished a good seven seconds ahead of his closest competitor.
 
Cecil Beaver of Bedford, Ind., was second and Buzz Rose of Compton, Calif., finished third in the feature field of 16 drivers. Beaver drove a Chevrolet and Rose an Offenhauser.
 
Finishing behind the top three in the money were Buzz Barton of Tampa, Fla.; Arnold Knepper of Belleville, Ill.; Jerry Richert of Forrest Lake, Minn.; Harold Leep of Wichita, Kans.; Johnny Leverenz; Duke Hindahl of Pekin, Ill.; Gerald Daniels of St. Paul, Minn.; Eddie Frese of Quincy, Ill.; and Hershel Wagner of Hickman Mills, Mo.
 
Only 11 cars finished the race. At stake was a purse valued at better than $3,100 plus accessories and championship points. Folse, who qualified in 24.14 seconds - more than a full second faster than the next best qualifier - blazed from his last place start to head man in the first lap of the first heat race and won going away in 3 minute and 4 seconds. Behind him were Daniels, Jerry Blundy of Galesburg, Ill., and Barton.
 
Each heat race went seven laps. Richert captured the second heat race ahead of Beaver, Wagner and Leverenz in 3 minutes and 4 seconds despite a yellow flag delay when Roger Hegg of Minneapolis crashed into the retaining wall. Hindahl finished in front in the third heat with Knepper, Rose and Jim McElreath also qualifying. Hindahl's time was 3 minutes and 8 seconds.
 
Folse then returned to win the four-car, five-lap trophy dash in 2 minutes and 12 seconds. Behind him were Johnny White of Warren, Mich.; Blundy and Leverenz. Leep won the special consolation event of 10 laps which provide fans with the most excitement.
 
Jerry Shumaker of Wichita, Kan.; Gordon Wolley of Waco, Tex.; and Johnny Rutherford of Fort Worth, Tex., were runner-ups.
 
Twenty cars were entered in the consolation event and only 10 finished. Six cars spun on the second lap which caused the red flag to be displayed and a restart ordered. Two more cars were forced to retire after spins on the first lap after the second start. Dale Breedlove of Waco, Tex., added to the action when his Chevrolet caught on fire.
 
The 3,500 race fans who turned out to view the “invaders” expressed nothing but praise for the handling of the program, which was slowed by a light shower after the consolation. They also gave out high marks for the caliber of drivers competing on the IMCA circuit.
 
Results –
 
1.    Pete Folse
2.    Cecil Beavers
3.    Buzz Rose
4.    Buzz Barton
5.    Jerry Blundy
6.    Herschel Wagner
7.    Arnold Knepper
8.    Ray Duckworth
9.    Duke Hindahl
10.  Harold Leep
11.  Jerry Richert
12.  Jerry Daniels
 
 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Hawkeye Downs Speedway - 2017 Wall of Fame

 
Photos Courtesy of Kyle Ealy
 
July 14, 2017
 
Dudley Fleck presenting awards -
 
Alan "Gadget" Sheppard

Blackie Lyons

Curt Martin

"Rockin" Randy Lockwood

Ron Hutcherson

Sylvia Dopler
 
Wall of Fame Class of 2017
 
Grand Marshall Ramo Stott

1975 - Sanger goes low for Falstaff 100 victory


 
Cedar Rapids, Iowa (July 15, 1975) - Ed Sanger's 1973 Camaro stock car is in the midst of getting a new paint job. But Ed can't find the time in a busy race schedule to hire the work done and furthermore, he can't do the job himself because the Waterloo fire department says the painting facilities in his shop don't measure up to the prescribed safety standards.
Consequently, “Fast Eddy”, the current point-leader at Hawkeye Downs, put a half yellow-half black car on the track Tuesday night for the third annual Falstaff 100.
Maybe the car wasn’t the prettiest, but the masterful race jockeyed by the Waterloo hotshoe was, as he came from a fifth-row starting position and won the 100-lapper, barely edging his brother Karl, who started 18th.
“That’s right,” grinned Sanger after Falstaff officials presented him with a towering trophy afterward, “I couldn’t get the paint job finished because my mechanical setup isn’t just right.”
Don’t worry about Sanger though. The feature paid a record $1,400 to the winner, so if Ed is ready to invest he should be able to bring his shop up to snuff and into presentable paint shape.
A Hawkeye Downs crowd estimated at 5,500 - the net proceeds went to the Multiple Sclerosis Society watched the most exciting Falstaff 100 yet and in the process, witnessed some nifty driving by at least eight hard chargers who battled for the lead at various times.
Lisbon's Roger Dolan set fast time of 24.78 seconds and won the pole, just missing the track record held jointly by Cedar Rapids' Darrel Dake and Keokuk's Ernie Derr (24.57).
Roger led for 32 laps but coming out of the fourth turn on the 33rd tour, Sanger dipped underneath Dolan and took a lead he never relinquished.
The track was in excellent condition and had an unusual swift high groove and Dolan took full advantage of it. However, the going up high appeared to get slower and Roger eventually lost ground to fourth place.
Sanger had a different explanation, however.
“It really doesn’t matter which groove is the fastest,” explained the Waterloo native. “As far as I’m concerned it’s a matter of the tempo and pace you set from the beginning. I made up mind to run low and set it up, gearing and so on, to take a shot on the low groove. I really believe in maintaining a consistent pace and it paid off.”
“I was surprised that I was able to work into the lead because everyone was running extremely hard, especially since I started 10th, but I'll take it,” he added with a wry smile.
Dolan won the Trophy Dash and also picked up another trophy for setting fast time. Heat wins went to Ken Walton of Viola, Ron Weedon of Pleasant Valley, Mel Morris of West Liberty and Em Freitheim of Decorah.
Weedon also won the 25-lap consolation, taking the lead for good when Omaha’s Bob Kosiski went out on the 19th lap.
Several pilots gave Sanger a run and the strongest challenge came from Dike’s Curt Hansen. Hansen was running second when he lost his steering on the 43rd lap and hit the fence in the first turn.
Don White, the winningest USAC stock car driver in history (52 wins), ran a steady race in his Chrysler Kit Car and wound up third behind Karl Sanger.
Karl probably gets the credit for the best bit of driving. He started 18th and made it a 1-2 finish a family affair with his brother Ed.
Cedar rapids' DarrelDake challenged early and took fifth. Irv Janey, the USAC stock car rookie of the year in 1973, drove Dake's backup car, but finished well back in the pack.
 

Results –
 
Trophy dash: Roger Dolan, Lisbon, Iowa
Heat one: Ken Walton, Viola, Iowa
Second heat: Ron Weedon, Pleasant Valley, Iowa
Third heat: Mel Morris, West Liberty, Iowa
Fourth heat: Em Freitheim, Decorah, Iowa
Consolation: Ron Weedon, Pleasant Valley, Iowa
Feature:
  1. Ed Sanger, Waterloo, Iowa
  2. Karl Sanger, Waterloo, Iowa
  3. Don White, Keokuk, Iowa
  4. Roger Dolan, Lisbon, Iowa
  5. Darrell Dake, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  6. Bill Beckman, Martelle, Iowa
  7. Bill Zwanziger, Waterloo, Iowa
  8. Dave Chase, Council Bluffs, Iowa
  9. Ed Mellecker, Iowa City, Iowa
  10. Bob Helm, Andalusia, Iowa

Friday, July 14, 2017

1959 - Iowa International '300' to Dake


A tired Darrel Dake shows off the hardware after winning the grueling Iowa International 300.- IMCA Yearbook Photo
 
 
Des Moines, Iowa (July 14, 1959) – Grabbing the lead just past the halfway mark, Darrel Dake of Cedar Rapids, Iowa captured the 300-lap, 150-mile Iowa International stock car race in record time before more than 13,000 race fans at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

The 31-year-old diesel mechanic made only one brief pit stop for his 1957 Chevrolet convertible powered by a 283-cubic horsepower Corvette motor, which wheeled him across the finish line in 2 hours, 43 minutes and 59.28 seconds.

Despite 19 yellow flags, that reduced the speed of drivers to allow stewards a chance to clear the track of wreckage, Dake’s time was 12 minutes faster than the 1957 mark established by Keokuk, Iowa’s Don White.

Taking second place behind the $1,000 winner was Lenny Funk, the Otis, Kan., wheat farmer and Saturday’s time trial leader in a 1959 Plymouth Fury. He finished a full lap behind Dake.

Third place went to a second Iowan, Keokuk’s 27-year-old Dick Hutcherson, in a 1957 Pontiac. Another Keokuk driver, Ramo Stott, was squeezed out of fourth place by Bob Potter of Duluth, Minn.

A third Keokuk racing luminary, Erne Derr, pulled up from 24th to sixth position in the first 100 laps. But he was forced out of action on the 124th lap when a rock punctured his oil pan. The International Motor Contest Association circuit’s number one driver was sent to the sidelines with a burnt-out motor.

A half hour after the finish the first three cars were ordered impounded for a teardown inspection by IMCA secretary John Libby of St. Paul, Minn., who said it was a “routine check”.

Dake started in the eighth position and kept that position through the first hour while Omaha’s Bob Kosiskie and Funk battled each other for the first 49 laps.

Kosiskie, driving a 1959 Thunderbird, dropped back to second going through lap 15, then stayed on Funk’s tail-pipe past the 125-lap mark. An overheated motor forced the Nebraskan to the pit for water and Merton Williams of Rochester, Minn., took over the second spot.

On the 141st lap, Bill Harrison of Topeka, Kan., running third at the time, lost a wheel. Dake then slipped past Williams and finally caught Funk on the 154th lap.

Bob Hardy of Beaumont, Tex., hit the wall on the 155th lap and both Dake and Funk took advantage of the slowdown or a brief refueling stop.

Dake, however, got out of the pits ahead of Funk and remained in front the rest of the afternoon, clocking an average of 29 seconds per lap in the late stages.

Only 21 of the 33 starters were still running at the finish.

 

Results –

1.     Darrel Dake, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
2.     Lenny Funk, Otis, Kan.
3.     Dick Hutcherson, Keokuk, Iowa
4.     Bob Potter, Duluth, Minn.
5.     Ramo Stott, Keokuk, Iowa
6.     Tubby Harrison, Topeka, Kan.
7.     Shorty Eberts, Avondale, Mo.
8.     Art Brady, Peoria, Ill.
9.     Scott Cain, Santa Monica, Calif.
10.   Herb Shannon, Peoria, Ill.
11.   Sonny Morgan, Beaumont, Tex.
12.   Frank Richards, Marion, Iowa
13.   Newt Bartholomew, Carlisle, Iowa
14.   Bob Kosiskie, Omaha, Neb.
15.   Roland Wilson, Bedford, Iowa
16.   Ralph Wilhelm, Milwaukee, Wis.
17.   Bill Land, Keokuk, Iowa
18.   Pete Van Oudenhoven, Appleton, Wis.
19.   Mel Krueger, Massena, Iowa
20.   Phil Cronin, Houston, Tex.
21.   Wayne Lee, Burlington, Iowa

Thursday, July 13, 2017

1977 - Watson’s Cool Helped Him Collect


Dave Watson
 
 
Madison, Wis. (July 13, 1977) - Dave Watson has had his first taste of the big time, the good and the not so good of it. 
Watson, a 31-year-old Milton resident who grew up in Beloit, has been steadily taking over as the king of the nation's stock car short tracks, a position he assumed from previous Wisconsin monarchs Tom Reffner and Dick Trickle.
Watson led the nation a year ago with 41 short track victories in 76 events entered and this season he's leading the newly formed American Speed Association standings by 250 points with 19 of the scheduled 29 races finished.
Sunday, July 10, he ran for the first time at the famed Milwaukee Mile, the asphalt oval track at State Fair Park in West Allis. All he did in his rookie appearance was whip everyone and win the USAC-sanctioned Miller 200 with drivers of the capability of Bobby Allison, who finished five seconds back in second place, Bobby Unser, Don White and Ramo Stott in his wake. 
But things weren’t entirely easy for Watson. He was held up a lap in the pits as a penalty for passing cars in the backstretch under the yellow caution flag, something other drivers got away with. 
Shortly after he roared past Allison on lap 158 to take the lead for good, United States Auto Club (USAC) officials had the binoculars out watching him going down the straight.
“They told us his right rear tire was chunking off and we’d have to call him in,” said one of Watson's crewmen.
Car owner Dave Deppe of Baraboo told USAC something a little to the contrary and Watson didn't even hear about the incident until after the race when he said the car felt fine.
Almost an hour after the victory, USAC officials still were combing Watson’s car for violations. Routinely, the top five finishers at Milwaukee stock car races are torn down for inspection but the perusals usually don't go beyond a quick check of the engine and gas tank. 
Deppe was called in to the impound area during the inspection and was engaged in conversation with officials for over half an hour before the car finally was cleared and the change it. “The only thing is, they gave us a legal inspection sticker before we started the race that said the car was all right. But we'll change it. It’ll only make the car go faster as far as I'm concerned.”

Asked afterward what the trouble was, Deppe said, “The biggest problem was that a rookie driver and a guy that owns a garbage truck business won a race."
Deppe is president of D and D Disposal Company in Baraboo as well as road construction and crane rental businesses.
“They had some problem with some of the paneling and bodywork on the car," Deppe said, elaborating on some of the discussion. “They tell me now I've got to change it,” he said.
Milwaukee winner Dave Watson is interviewed by announcer Jack Baker. - Stan Kalwasinski Photo
 
The car, a 1977 Buick Skylark with a 350-cubic inch Chevrolet engine from Prototype Engineering of Wheeling, Ill., carried Watson over the threshold into the world of big league stock car racing. He and Deppe are planning to run all the USAC stock car races on asphalt continuing with Sunday's 200 miler at Michigan International Speedway.
Watson displayed patience and intelligence, both on and off the track. Neither of these qualities will hurt him as a race driver. A perfect example of his patience is the way he waited for the right opportunity to run at Milwaukee.
“It’s been three years since I really thought I was geared up and could run here,” Watson said in his post-race interview Sunday. “I felt I was capable of driving with this kind of competition but three years ago, I didn't have the equipment.”
And there were other reasons, which almost forced the move at this time.
“I'd kind of reached a plateau in short track racing,” he declared. "We won everything there was to win in short track racing. We won 41 features last year. We couldn't go anywhere else but down."

He showed patience, too, when, midway through the race, at the first of two crucial yellow flags which he needed to erase his penalty lap, he calmly waited a couple of laps to shoot into the pits for refueling. 
“We wanted the pace to settle down,” he said, explaining his delay. “We wanted everybody to get their position established. Sometimes the pace car doesn't get out there and pick up the leader right away and a long race like this can be pretty tedious on the scorers. So sometimes it's to your advantage to wait until everything is settled down and your position is established. 
Finally, he is not awed by such stock car legends as Allison. He has raced Allison before on the short tracks and, though he doesn't speak of him with any lack of respect, he speaks of him as an equal.