Cedar Rapids, Iowa (September 11, 1966) – Young Lee “Stub” Kunzman borrowed the ride of his life Sunday afternoon as he captured the National Late Model Modified Stock Car Championship before a crowd of 7,500 at Hawkeye Downs.
The Guttenberg native smashed up his 1966 Chevy convertible in Saturday night’s regular weekly program and sought a ride for the nationals. He found one in a 1964 Ford, owned and chauffeured normally by Buzz McCann of St. Paul, Minn.
McCann was under doctor’s orders not to drive and things couldn’t have worked out better.
The outcome of the 100-lap feature produced a check for $1,000 to Kunzman and McCann, the largest chunk of change ever won for a single race by the popular 22-year-old.
“It just feels great,” Kunzman said after receiving his championship trophy from promoter Homer Melton. “Buzz’s car handled beautifully. It was real steady during the whole race and that made the difference.”
For the second year in a row, Benny Hofer of Rock Island latched onto second place. He took home $600. Mert William of Rochester, Minn., finished third for $300. John Connolly of Delhi won $200 for finishing fourth.
Total purse for the program was $5,000.
Roger Dolan of Lisbon, Herb Shannon of Peoria, Ill., Jerry Reinhart of Moline, Ill., and Connolly all picked up checkered flags in their respective heat races. Shannon also triumphed in the 10-lap consolation with Dolan coming in second.
Johnny Beauchamp of Atlantic, Iowa, raced to victory in the 20-lap semi-feature after starting 20th in the 26-car field. He whipped Mert Williams by two car lengths in an exciting finish. Beauchamp, a former IMCA national champion, wasn’t as fortunate in the feature.
Kunzman and Hofer both drove a dandy of a race, even though the 100-lap spectacular started out as a game of “catch us if you can” with front row starters Verlin Eaker and Darrell Dake, both of Cedar Rapids, setting the pace for the first 58 laps.
Eaker earned the pole position by setting a Downs’ record on the quarter-mile oval with a time of 16.67 seconds in his hemi-powered 1965 Dodge. Williams had established the previous mark of 16.89 seconds earlier this year. Dake also cracked the standard with a time of 16.74 seconds.
Dake, hoping to defend his national championship successfully, charged into the lead on the 58th lap when Eaker’s car began to heat up. Red Droste of Waterloo, the season point champion, had already dropped from the race by this time. He went to the pits on lap 35.
Dake’s hopes lasted for only two more laps when he was forced out with a flat tire.
Eaker regained the lead, but by this time, his engine had heated up, smoking badly and obvious he wouldn’t able to maintain the torrid pace much longer. On lap 65, the inevitable happened.
Beauchamp slipped inside the slowing Eaker and grabbed the front spot, followed by Kunzman and Hofer. Johnny had started seventh in the 24-car field, Kunzman 10th and Hofer started way back in the 20th slot.
For the next 30 circuits, Beauchamp controlled the thrilling action in his 1955 Chevrolet. The ex-Daytona 500 driver experience seemed to be the difference.
But on the fourth turn of the 95th lap, the cap broke on Beauchamp’s right front tire, crippling his car. Kunzman snapped into the lead and held tight the rest of the way with Hofer breathing down his neck.
Heat #1 – Roger Dolan, Lisbon
Heat #2 – Herb Shannon, Peoria, Ill.
Heat #3 – Jerry Reinhart, East Moline, Ill.
Heat #4 – John Connolly, Delhi
Consolation – Herb Shannon
Semi-main – Johnny Beauchamp, Atlantic, Iowa
1. Lee Kunzman, Guttenberg
2. Benny Hofer, Rock Island, Ill.
3. Mert Williams, Rochester, Minn.
4. John Connolly
5. Bill Zwanziger, Waterloo
6. Johnny Beauchamp
7. Ray Guss, Milan, Ill.
8. Don Bohlander, Glasford, Ill.
9. Bill McDonough, Cedar Rapids
10.Jim Gerber, Mount Joy