Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Pabst Blue Ribbon 100

By Kyle Ealy
East Moline, Ill. – Considered the premier dirt track event in the Quad Cities’ area, the Pabst Blue Ribbon 100 kicked off in 1976 and would be an annual affair until 1987.

It would seem only fitting that a driver synonymous with the Quad City racing scene take the checkers in the inaugural Pabst Blue Ribbon 100 on June 13, 1976.

Ron Weedon of Pleasant Valley, Iowa, would prove to be a popular winner that Sunday afternoon as the veteran would lead the final 21 laps to score the $1,000 pay check. Including lap money, Weedon brought home over $1,400 in winnings.

Ray Guss of Milan, Ill., would take the initial lead and pace the field for five laps before Jim Gerber of Long Grove, Iowa, took over the top spot.

Gerber would prove to be the dominant car that evening as he would lap the entire field and it appeared he was headed to an easy victory when a flat tire sent him to the pits on lap 67.

With Gerber changing a tire in the pit area, Guss would inherit the lead once more with Weedon glued to his bumper. Weedon would make his move on lap 79, slipping under Guss for the top spot.

Weedon would widen his margin the closing laps and win easily. Guss would run second until he dropped out with mechanical issues with only a few laps to go.

Bob Stogdell of Silvis, Ill., would earn runner-up honors with Dan Bennett of Peoria, Ill., in third. Gary Webb of Davenport, Iowa and Jerry Wolland of Peoria, Ill., would round out the top five.

Gerber would set quick time, touring the quarter-mile in a time 17.726 seconds. Heat winners were Duane Steffe of Colona, Ill., Ron Weedon, and Ernie Speth of Davenport, Iowa. USAC star Herb Shannon of Peoria, Ill., won the semi-feature. 

Over 50 late models were on hand at Quad City Raceway on Tuesday night, July 12, 1977 for the second annual Pabst Blue Ribbon 100. The best of the best in late model racing were on hand and when the dust settled, Don Bohlander of Glasford, Ill., would collect the $1,000 first prize.

Bohlander set fast time in qualifying, putting him on the pole position for the 100-lapper. Bohlander would lead from start to finish in winning but it was anything but easy going for the veteran.

Defending PBR 100 champion Ron Weedon dogged Bohlander the entire distance but settled for second place. When Weedon wasn’t making life miserable for the leader, Jim O’Conner of Kankakee, Ill., who finished third, was on Bohlander’s bumper.

Don Hoffman of Des Moines was a late challenger and got into the mix before settling for fourth. Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, finished fifth and you could have literally thrown a blanket over the top five.

John Engelkins of Morrison, Ill., Ron Richard and Dick Taylor of Springfield, Ill., were heat winners. Duane Steffe won the semi-feature. 

It was a fox who showed the hounds a trick or two at the Pabst Blue Ribbon 100 on August 22, 1978, before a packed house at Quad City Raceway. “The Geneva Fox”, 52-year-old Arnie Gardner, showed the youngsters the fast way around the quarter-mile in winning the third annual event.

Gardner started on the outside of the front row, grabbed the lead at the drop of the green flag and put on a driving clinic, leading the entire distance. He would lap 10 of the 22 starters. The Geneva, Ill., veteran picked up $2,000 in lap money plus the $1,000 first-place money, making it an impressive payoff.

Al Terrell of Peoria, Ill., nearly the same age as Gardner, was scored in second place. Duane Steffe finished a remarkable third, having had to restart at the rear of the field after being involved in an accident midway through the contest with Don Hoffman. Defending race winner Don Bohlander took fourth and Dick Taylor finished fifth.

Al Terrell, Don Hoffman, and Ron Weedon were heat winners. Jim Gerber won the 20-lap semi-feature. 

For the first 75 laps, Tom Bartholomew set the pace around the quarter-mile clay oval on May 22, 1979. For those same 75 laps, Curt Hansen of Dike, Iowa, lingered behind Bartholomew, waiting for the perfect opportunity get by the young hot shoe.

That chance came in the third and fourth turns of the 76th circuit as Bartholomew pushed too hard and Hansen dove underneath him, took the lead and held it for the final 25 laps to win the fourth annual Pabst Blue Ribbon 100.

Ironically, however, it was Bartholomew who took with him the larger of the two paychecks. Although the race carried a $1,000 first-place prize, it also carried $20 in lap money.

Bartholomew pocketed $600 for second place but added $1,500 in lap money bring his one-night total to $2,100. Hansen garnered $1,000 for the victory, $500 in lap money and $150 for winning the semi-feature, carrying home $1,650.

The only car on the same lead lap with Hansen and Bartholomew was Mike Niffenegger of Kalona, Iowa, and Hansen was threatening to put him a lap down when a red flag halted the field on lap 97. Tony Izzo of Bridgeview, Ill., finished fourth and Don Bohlander place fifth.

The entire field, except for Bartholomew and Hansen, turned time trial laps in the 16 to 17 second bracket. Bartholomew was fastest at 15.920 seconds and Hansen was a flash behind at 15.992.

Although the top four cars in time automatically qualified for the main event, Hansen was eligible to run in the semi-feature because he placed outside of the top four in his heat race. He started near the middle of the field, moved steadily through the pack and won the 20-lap race rather easily over Johnny Johnson of Morning Sun, Iowa.

Tony Izzo, Dan Bennett and Bobby Toland of East Moline were heat winners. 

A near capacity crowd would see Tom Hearst of Muscatine, Iowa, pass race-long leader Ed Sanger of Waterloo, Iowa, on lap 96 to win the fifth annual Pabst Blue Ribbon 100 on June 22, 1980.

Ray Guss would start the evening off by qualifying the fastest around the quarter-mile at 16 seconds flat. Rollie Frink would win the first heat while the second heat was won by Jerry Wolland of Peoria, Ill., and Ray Guss Jr. of Coal Valley, Ill., was the third heat winner. Herschel Roberts of East Moline, Ill., was the semi-feature winner.

Hearst’s day didn’t start out all that great. He didn’t qualify well in time trials and had issues in heat race, sending him to the semi-feature for one last chance at racing in the main event. He finished third in the semi, behind Roberts and Jim Sandusky of Coal Valley, Ill., barely making his way into the 22-car field. His luck would change when the green flag dropped in the 100-lap finale.

Duane Steffe would grab the lead at the onset and lead the first four laps before Steve Fraise took over on lap 6.

Fraise would lead the next few laps until he was involved with a slower car that spun out in front of him. Fraise would get collected in the shuffle, snuffing out his lead and his evening.

Ed Sanger would inherit the lead, begin to widen his margin and it looked like it would be an easy payday for “Fast Eddie”.

But whatever issues Hearst had in qualifying and heat races, it appeared those problems were gone. Slowly but surely, Hearst made his way through the field, picking off car after car and steadily making his way to the front. Before everyone knew it, Hearst had moved his way into second place by lap 85 and was now challenging Sanger, who hadn’t had any pressure the whole race.

For the next few laps, Hearst continued to inch his way closer to Sanger’s bumper and by lap 94, he was finally within striking distance. On lap 96, with the crowd on it’s feet, Hearst powered past Sanger for the lead.

Sanger, not one to throw in the towel, didn’t give up and pressured Hearst for the last three circuits, but it would be to no avail as Hearst took the checkered and the $1,000 first-place money.

A disappointed Sanger would settle for second while Don Bohlander would take third. Steve Fraise would be scored in fourth and Rollie Frink would finish fifth.

A name familiar to Quad City race fans and a driver who was one of the most successful ever to compete on the high-banked quarter-mile, Gary Webb of Davenport, Iowa, would add his name to the list of Pabst Blue Ribbon 100 winners when he won the sixth annual event on Sunday, June 14, 1981.

But, it wasn’t without some controversy….

Peoria’s Jerry Wolland and Mike Chasteen were the fastest qualifiers on the evening, timing in at 15.41 and 15.51 seconds respectively, putting them on the front row of the 100-lap marathon.

Wolland led the first three laps until he spun in turn one and Chasteen took over, leading until lap 10 when an accident occurred causing the red flag to come out and bringing the field to a halt.

During the red flag, Chasteen’s crew came out on the track, removed his hood and started working on his car. Track officials intervened and told Chasteen he would be sent to the rear of the field for the infraction. What followed was a bad scene, hot tempers and Chasteen being told to park his car in the pits for the remainder of the race.

While an irate Chasteen loaded his car up on the trailer, Roger Dolan inherited the top spot and kept the lead through lap 26 when Webb motored past Dolan on the outside to take the top spot.

It wouldn’t be a cakewalk for Webb, however, as Ed Sanger passed Dolan as well and was glued to Webb’s bumper for the remaining circuits. Dolan and defending champion Tom Hearst also stayed with the lead pack, making Webb work every lap en route to a $1,500 victory.

Sanger, who finished second to Hearst the year before, settled for runner-up honors again with Dolan, Hearst and Rollie Frink in the top five. Thirteen of the 22 starters were still battling at the 100-lap mark.

What was even more amazing about Sanger and Hearst finishing in the top five was they were both late arrivals to the track and were unable to qualify during time trials. Sanger managed to qualify through his heat, but Hearst had to make the show through the semi-feature, starting at the rear of that field, but winning handily.

Webb, Chasteen, and Jim Sandusky were heat winners. 

Mike Chasteen would have a whole year to think about the way things turned out that evening, so when the seventh annual Pabst Blue Ribbon 100 rolled around on Sunday, June 13, 1982, the Peoria, Ill., hot shoe was bound and determined the $1,500 first-place money and trophy were going home with him.

Thirty-four late models descended upon the Rock Island County Fairgrounds for the event. Roger Long would shatter the track record in time trials, lowering it to 14.36 seconds, giving the Fithian, Ill., driver the pole position.

Long, Jim Sandusky, and defending champion Gary Webb were heat winners while Tom Hearst, late again as usual, won the semi-feature.

Long would take the immediate lead in the 100-lapper and things were looking fine for “The Flying Farmer” until lap 40 when Chasteen, who had been picking cars off one by one from his ninth starting spot, took the lead from Long on the backstretch and was off to the races.

Chasteen proved to be no match for the rest of the 22-car field and won going away, collecting the $1,500 in winnings plus another $600 in lap money, making it the biggest win of his career.

Long would take second with Ed Sanger in third, Rollie Frink in fourth and Ray Guss Jr. taking fifth. 

Gary Webb would become the first two-time winner of the Pabst Blue Ribbon 100 when he scored the victory on Tuesday, June 14, 1983 at East Moline Speedway. Webb took over the lead on lap 41 when Rollie Frink suffered a flat tire and went on to post the win before a near-capacity crowd.

Webb’s $2,000 victory was anything but easy as Ron Gustaf of East Moline applied pressure the whole way, but Webb pulled away in the closing laps to seal the deal. Roger Long was third, Frink came back from his flat tire to finish an impressive fourth and Ed Sanger rounded out the top five.

Ray Guss Jr. set fast time while Sanger, Webb and Long were heat winners. Rich Cole of Kewanee, Ill., was the semi-feature winner. 

It seems like every annual racing event always has that one upset, and the eighth annual Pabst Blue Ribbon 100 provided the shocker of the year when Bob Helm of Milan, Ill., defeated some of the Midwest’s very best late model pilots to score the surprising win on June 12, 1984.

Helm could only muster a second-place finish in the trophy dash and a third-place finish in third heat but managed to save the best for last in the 100-lap finale to collect the huge $2,000 payday.

When the feature began, there were five different track champions in the race – Gary Webb, Roger Dolan, Ed Sanger, Dick Taylor of Springfield, Ill., and Lil’ John Provenzano of Aurora, Ill.

After 62 laps, Gary Webb held the lead with Helm a close second. Helm took over the lead on lap 69 and Roger Dolan also moved past Webb to take over the number two slot.

From there, it was bumper to bumper racing between Helm and Dolan, with Dolan trying to muscle inside of Helm lap after lap but Helm shutting the door each and every time.

At the finish line it was the same result – Helm taking the checkered flag and the biggest win of his career, much to the delight of the capacity crowd who turned out on a beautiful Tuesday evening.

Dolan would finish second, only a few feet behind Helm with Gary Webb, Ed Sanger and Rick Wages of Moline, Ill., rounding out the top five.

Ken Schrader of Fenton, Mo., would win the trophy dash while Dolan, Schrader, and Darrell Marmor of River Grove, Ill., grabbed heat wins. Dick Schiltz of Waterloo, Iowa, took semi-feature honors.

The name would change but the race would remain the same for the next few years. The next year, the Pabst Blue Ribbon 100 would become the Coors 100. A 25-year-old Ray Guss Jr. would win the 1985 race and Gary Webb would come back in 1986 to win a record third time.

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