Monday, November 27, 2017

The 1988 Iowa Firecracker Jamboree

By Kyle Ealy
Cedar Rapids, Iowa – With its once-stellar stock car series now but a distant memory, the United States Auto Club decided it still needed a full-bodied racing division to complement its highly successful open wheel program.
Getting away from the traditional full-sized stock car that had been a staple of that division for over 30 years, USAC officials went down a different path and capitalized on one of the most dynamic forms of racing; late models.
From 1985 to 1988, the United States Auto Club would sanction dirt late model racing and some of the biggest stars in the sport would compete under their banner.
In 1987, the USAC Dirt Late Model Series came to Iowa during the July 4th weekend for a three-race sked (Cedar Rapids, Burlington and Marshalltown). It was appropriately named, “The Iowa Firecracker Jamboree”.
Due to the success of the promotion, USAC officials and Iowa promoters decided to give it another try for the 1988 season.
Burlington, Davenport, Marshalltown and Oskaloosa would be the sites for the for the four-day weekend of racing.
On Friday, July 1, the USAC cars and stars rolled into Marshalltown, Iowa, and before a capacity crowd, Larry Phillips won the hard-fought 40-lap feature. The Springfield, Mo., veteran outdistanced Billy Moyer Jr. and Willy Kraft to the finish line for the victory.
Phillips’ win was hard-fought as he and Moyer Jr. often raced side-by-side as they dueled through lapped traffic. On several occasions, Moyer Jr. actually took the lead but Phillips decision to run the low groove paid off in the long run. Moyer hung on for second while Kraft took third. Ken Essary of Galena, Mo., who earlier had set a new track record in qualifying (15.173 seconds), grabbed fourth while Dick Potts of Morocco, Ind., rounded out the top five. The highest finishing Iowan was Johnny Johnson of Wapello who finished ninth.
Late model heats were won by Essary, Phillips, and Moyer Jr. while Jim Rarick of Taylorville, Ill., took the last chance race.
The series would head to Burlington, Iowa, and 34 Raceway, on Saturday, July 2. Once again, race fans came from near and far as a standing room only crowd was on hand to witness the action.
Willy Kraft of Lakefield, Minn., would jet to a straightaway advantage early in the 40-lap contest and lead from start to finish in winning his fourth series race of the year. But it was anything but easy...
Larry Phillips, who had made an engine change and had to qualify out of the last chance race, cleared himself from the field and slowly began to reel in the leader and by lap 21 had caught up with Kraft. Phillips was able to stick the nose of his car to the inside of Kraft on numerous occasions in the corners, but Kraft would maintain the lead in the straightaways. By lap 30 Phillips would stay close until he over-compensated his car and dropped off the topside of turn 2 on lap 30.
Billy Moyer Jr. would take up chase after Phillips’ mistake and he too, would give Kraft fits until the very end. When Kraft fish-tailed on the last lap, Moyer Jr. made a last-ditch charge for the checkered, but Kraft was able to straighten his car out and hold on for the win. Moyer Jr. would settle for second, Phillips recouped to take third, followed by Ken Esssary and Ray Guss Jr. of Milan, Ill.
Once again, Johnny Johnson would be the highest finishing Iowan with an eighth place showing. Heat winners were Esssary, Dick Potts, Kraft, and Guss Jr. Phillips won the last chance race. Moyer Jr, set fast time on the evening, touring the 3/8-mile high-banked clay surface in 15.539 seconds.
Kraft would follow up his Saturday night performance with another stellar showing at the Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa. The current USAC point leader would score his second consecutive late model victory as he topped the 40-lap headliner on Sunday, July 3.
Rick Egersdorf of St. Paul, Minn., would lead the opening lap of the contest but Kraft would take command as the field came to the start/finish for lap 2. Unlike the night before, Kraft would have an easy time of it, leading the race by a straightaway at times. Dick Potts would be a distant second followed by Larry Phillips, Tom Hearst of Wilton, Iowa, was the highest finishing Iowan in fourth and Jeff Hinkemeyer of St. Cloud, Minn., in fifth.
Ken Essary, Kraft, and Larry Phillips were heat race winners and Jim Rarick won the last chance race.  Billy Moyer Jr., was fast qualifier for the evening, cruising the big half-mile in the time of 20.364 seconds.
The fourth and final race would take place at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, Iowa, on Monday, July 4.
With fireworks crackling in the background, Larry Phillips would return to victory lane, leading wire to wire on the third-mile dirt oval. Phillips was never challenged as he built a huge lead in the early going and cruised to an easy win. Willy Kraft would finish a distant second, Ken Schrader of Fenton, Mo., grabbed third, Ken Essary took fourth and Ray Guss Jr., rounded out the top five. Johnny Johnson was the top finishing Iowan in seventh. The main event started on a sour note as fast qualifier (15.598 seconds) Billy Moyer Jr. blew a motor at the wave of the green flag.
Heat winners were Moyer Jr., Ray Guss Jr., and Willy Kraft. The last chance winner was “The Racing Auctioneer” Charlie Sentman of Waveland, Ind.
The Davenport race was coined “The Final Conflict” and maybe it was pure coincidence but it would be the final appearance in Iowa for the USAC late model division. Despite the popularity of dirt late models, it just didn’t fit the mold for the United States Auto Club.
Making a decision to showcase their open wheel divisions (sprints and silver crown), long the calling card of the United States Auto Club, they decided to shut down the late model series after the 88’ season.
However, with the World of Outlaws and the American Late Model Association co-sanctioning, there would be another Iowa Firecracker Jamboree in 1989.
But that’s another story….

Sunday, November 5, 2017

1964: The Keokuk Connection and a Perfect Season in IMCA Stock Car Racing

by Lee Ackerman
Keokuk, Iowa - By the start of the 1964 season, it was becoming very obvious that drivers from Keokuk, Iowa were a major factor in IMCA Stock Car Racing. Don White had won three IMCA Stock Car Championships and had moved on to run with the United States Auto Club, where he would win two USAC Stock Car Championships and become the all-time winningest driver in USAC Stock Car history with 53 wins.

The remaining three giants of Keokuk racing, Dick Hutcherson, Ernie Derr and Ramo Stott had finished the 1963 IMCA racing finishing first, second and third in the points, (Hutcherson, Stott and Derr) and had managed to win 51 of the 56 features contested along the way. But no one could imagine what the three were going to accomplish in 1964.

The 1964 IMCA Late Model Stock Car season turned out to be one of the most remarkable accomplished in sports.  At the end of that season, the series had contested 56 races and ALL 56 were won by one of three drivers hailing from an unassuming Iowa river town on the Mississippi River called Keokuk.
Dick Hutcherson
A record crowd of 10,000 fans welcomed the series to the annual season opener at the Louisiana State Fairgrounds in Shreveport. Dick Hutcherson in his new 1964 Ford broke Ernie Derr’s track qualifying record with a lap of 26.08 and appeared to have things under control until a faulty distributor condenser forced him to cut down his speed and he ended up finishing third. Ernie Derr took control of the race on lap 56 and go on to win the race with Ramo Stott finishing second. Derr was driving a 1964 Dodge as his new 1964 Plymouth had not yet arrived.

Hutcherson countered with a win on May 2 at Knoxville, Iowa, winning the 200-lap feature with pressure from Stott throughout most of the race. Hutcherson set a new IMCA qualifying record as well as new marks at 50, 75 and 100 miles. Ernie Derr countered by winning a 250-lap affair at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids, but Hutcherson slipped by Stott early in the Memorial Day Classic at Topeka and went on to best Stott for the win. Derr appeared to have third nailed down until an axle went out.

The next day, Derr and Stott each scored a 50-lap win back at Hawkeye Downs. Hutcherson countered again with wins at Memphis, Mo., and Donnellson, Iowa. The trio swapped wins back and forth over the next several races with Stott winning the annual 200-lap Kansas International at Topeka, on the 4th of July holding off Hutcherson by a nose. Ernie Derr was six seconds back in third. At this point in the season, Hutcherson held a 213 point lead over Derr with Stott just 13 points further back.

The drivers were greeted by a wet and heavy track at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on July 12 for the annual running of the Iowa International 300. Stott led most of the first 150 laps, but for safety reasons, the race was halted and regarded. After the restart, Hutcherson took to the heavy and wet track like a duck to water and drove away to the win before 15,000 fans. Bob Reynolds of Edmonds, Okla., got by Stott for second, with Derr, finishing fourth.
Ernie Derr

Not only did the win increase Dick Hutcherson’s point lead, but he then set off and proceeded to win eight more races in a row, with two wins each at Minot, N.D., Fargo, N.D., Cresco, Iowa and Hibbing, Minn., in a run that put the championship pretty much out of reach. The second Fargo show saw Hutcherson wage a tremendous dogfight with both Stott and Derr in the 100-lap affair before Derr retired with a blown rear end and Stott with a broken distributor wire.

Finally, at the Southern Iowa Fair in Oskaloosa on August 5, Ernie Derr broke Hutcherson’s streak by winning the 100 lap race with Hutcherson and Stott following in second and third. The victory started a bit of a winning streak for Derr as starting with the win at Oskaloosa he would win seven of the next eight, with Stott winning at La Crosse, Wis.

August 22nd brought the series back to Des Moines for the Iowa State Fair and Hutcherson regained his momentum by winning their and then followed by with two wins at the Missouri State Fair, one on the half-mile and one on the mile. Stott then won back at Des Moines in a 250-lap affair.

It was then off to the annual trek to the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul. But in 1964 something had changed. The track had been paved. Some IMCA driver had trouble with the unfamiliar racing surface, Dick Hutcherson wasn’t one of them. He set fast time all three days they were held and then went on to win three of the four features, with Stott winning the other.  The final of these races was the North Star 400, scheduled for 400 laps it was cut short by rain at the 375 lap mark, with who else, but Hutcherson at the front of the field.

Back on the dirt the trio swapped wins again, with Stott winning five times, Hutcherson 4 times and Derr twice leading up to the last four races of the season to be held back at Shreveport.
Ramo Stott

The four events held at Shreveport can be summed up in one name; Dick Hutcherson. Hutcherson won all four features. The last race of the season proved to be an exciting one as Derr, Stott, Hutcherson and Lenny Funk all held the lead at one time or another. Hutcherson took over the lead for good with 10 laps remaining when Stott had to pit for refueling in the 150-lap race.

This ended, one of the most amazing seasons in auto racing history.  Dick Hutcherson won 29 times on his way to winning his second straight IMCA championship. Ramo Stott won 12 times and finished second in the points with Ernie Derr recording 15 wins and third place in the championship race.

Dick Hutcherson left IMCA following the 1964 season and headed south to NASCAR country.  In 1965, he won nine races in the Holman-Moody Ford and finished second to Ned Jarrett it what is now the Nextel Cup series. Dick would win 22 poles and score 14 wins before retiring at the end of the 1968 season. Later he would be a successful crew chief and then go on to co-found Hutcherson-Pagan Racing. If you ever attend a race of one of NASCAR’s three major series you can count on seeing the Brown and Orange Hutcherson-Pagan hauler somewhere in the pits.

Ramo Stott stayed in IMCA four more years finishing second each of those years to Ernie Derr. In 1965 and 1966 the two combined to win 72 of the 74 IMCA Stock Car races held. Stott would leave IMCA after the 1968 season and go on to race in ARCA and USAC. Stott would win the ARCA Championship back-to-back in 1970 and 1971 and then win the USAC Stock Car Championship in 1975. He would also claim the pole position for the 1976 Daytona 500.

Ernie Derr remained a regular in the IMCA series through the 1971 season. While he did race a few times in other series, he is remembered mostly for his accomplishments in IMCA. Those accomplishments include a staggering 328 career wins and 12 championships. When you mention IMCA stock car racing, the first name that has to come to mind is; Ernie Derr.

In the 29 year history of the IMCA Stock Car Series (1949-1977), Keokuk drivers won 18 championships. From 1953 thru Ernie Derr’s retirement following the 1971 season, only with Johnny Beauchamp’s championships in 1956 and 1957 did the championship go to a driver who did not hail from Keokuk.