Friday, January 17, 2020

Dake @ Daytona

This #48 Chevrolet owned by Weldon Wagner was driven by Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids in the 1960 Daytona 500. Dake finished sixth in the qualifying race and 16th in the 500-miler. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Sterling’s Midwest Invitational

1968 Advertisement

by Kyle Ealy
Sterling, Ill. – During Speedbowl Park’s heydays, it was considered one of the most prestigious season-ending races not only in Illinois, but the tri-state area.

The Midwest Invitational attracted the area’s top late model drivers from Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. Track owner Lyle Frazier offered what was then a huge purse for that time; $3,000 – with $1,000 going to the winner.

Seventy-two entries and a record crowd of more than 5,000 fans set the stage for the inaugural race held on October 6, 1963. When the dust settled, it was IMCA star Dick Hutcherson of Keokuk, Iowa, taking the win and the $1,000 check.

Dean Montgomery of Milan, Ill., led the most laps in the 100-lap affair and it appeared that he was well on his way to winning but a seven-car pileup on lap 98 would collect Montgomery, denying him victory. Hutcherson, trailing close behind, was able to avoid the melee and cruised the final two circuits to secure the win.

Don Bohlander of Glasford, Ill., who tied with Del Williams of Aledo, Ill., in the season point standings, won the toss of the coin for the pole position and led the field of 30 cars. He would spin while leading the race on lap 6 but would display great driving skill and finish behind Hutcherson to collect the $500 second-place money.

Shorty Bennett of Davenport, Iowa, making his first appearance of the season grabbed third followed by Red Droste of Waterloo, Iowa, in fourth and Jim Strube of Peoria, Ill., rounding out the top five.

Heat winners were Jim Birks of Rockford, Ill., Eddie Jast of Chicago, Bob Urban of Chicago, Shorty Bennett, and Clint Morehouse of Colona, Ill. Chicago’s Erik Johnson won the semi-main, which featured 40 cars.

With the high number of cars came a lot of accidents and the program didn’t end until 2:30 am Monday morning. That didn’t seem to bother the fans, who stayed until the bitter end. 

1964 Advertisement

When the event returned on October 11, 1964, Dean Montgomery would not be denied twice. Starting on the front row, Montgomery would dominate the event, leading all 100 laps to collect the $1,000 first prize.

Mert Williams of Rochester, Minn., won the pole position by setting fast time, touring the 1/3-mile dirt oval in 19.05 seconds, a new track record. However, it was Williams jumping into the lead after receiving “Jumpin” Jack Heiman’s green flag and he was never headed as he drove a beautiful race for the crowning glory.

Williams would settle for second but was pressed the whole way by Waterloo, Iowa’s Bill Zwanziger, who took third. Jerry Roedell of Peoria, Ill., a popular driver at Sterling, stayed up front with the leaders and finished fourth. Shorty Bennett would grab another top five finish in the event while Benny Hofer of Rock Island, Ill., hauled down sixth-place money.

Don Bohlander, the Speedbowl Park point champion for 1964, was crowding the leaders until lap 60 when he struck a pile-up in the east curve and he lost his steering column.

Montgomery set fast time in qualifying, touring the track in 19.32 seconds. Darrel Dake of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was second quickest at 19.39 seconds.

USAC star Gary Bettenhausen of Tinley Park, Ill., driving a 1964 Dodge powerhouse, arrived late but was still allowed to time trial. Displaying too much speed and not geared properly, the son of the late Tony Bettenhausen turned a terrific first lap, which would have qualified him for the 30-car feature, but on the second try ran off the straightaway to the west, shearing off an oil filter and unable to continue.

Arnie Gardner of Geneva, Ill., and Jim Gerber of Davenport, Iowa, were semi-main winners.

The program ran a lot smoother than the year before and the checkered flag waved a little after 10 pm. 

Darrel Dake holds the checkers after winning the third annual Midwest Invitational. 

Darrel Dake of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who had just won the Speedbowl Park season championship the week before, would win the third annual Midwest Invitational on October 11, 1965.

Dake would start out by breaking the track record in afternoon time trials, with a new record time of 18.49 seconds.

Starting on the pole position for the 100-lap main event, Dake would take the lead immediately only to be challenged by fellow front-row starter, Verlin Eaker of Austin, Minn. At one point, early in the race, Eaker would pass Dake, the local favorite from Iowa.

Then, as Dake was working at recapturing the lead on lap 30, Eaker went a little too high in the first turn and went over the edge, his car suffering severe damage to the under-carriage. He would be scratched for the rest of the night.

With Eaker out of the picture, Dake would cruise to the easy $1,000 victory.

Benny Hofer would apply pressure in the late going but would have nothing for Dake and settle for runner-up honors. Don Bohlander, one of the pre-race favorites, started 10th and came home a strong third. Fred Strube of Peoria, Ill., the regular season point’s champion at Speedbowl Park, finished fourth and Jerry Reinhart of East Moline, Ill., rounded out the top five. 

1966 Advertisement

Dake would continue his dominance of Speedbowl Park during the 1966 season and when the fourth annual Midwest Invitational took place on October 9, he would successfully defend his crown.

A crowd of well over 5,000 watched Dake, the Speedbowl Park season and point champion, set the fastest time (18.87 seconds) of 63 entries, earning himself the pole position for the feature.

It would be the other front-row starter, Johnny Beauchamp of Atlantic, Iowa, jumping into the lead. However, that lead would be short-lived when the former IMCA national champion got loose in turn three, jumping the cushion and smashing into a retaining fence. He was out for the remainder of the race.

Beauchamp’s mishap allowed Dake to inherit the lead but that would be short-lived as Jim Gerber would slip by Dake on lap 4 to take the lead. However, a lap 7 caution, combined with a two-cent part, would be Gerber’s undoing.

As the field of machines accelerated for the restart, Gerber was unable to shift, having lost the cotter key from the shifting linkage. Gerber would be forced to go to the rear of the field for the restart, squashing any chance of victory and the $1,000 pay day.

Dake would again take the lead and this time, keep it, widening his margin and motoring to a dominating win.

The battle for second place kept the fans eyes glued to the track as Don Bohlander and John Connolly of Delhi, Iowa, battled back and forth for most of the race, with Connolly finally getting by the Illinois speedster on lap 77 and taking the $500 check.

Bohlander would also get passed by Benny Hofer nine laps later for third place and end the evening in fourth. ’64 winner Dean Montgomery would finish fifth and Jim Gerber, after re-starting at the rear of the field, was the hard-charger, finishing sixth.

John Engelkens of Morrison, Ill., and Bob Hilmer of Dysart, Iowa, won 25-lap semi-features. 

1967 Advertisement

Verlin Eaker, the regular season point champion for 1967, would stop Dake’s stranglehold on Speedbowl Park’s marquee event when he won the fifth annual Midwest Invitational on October 8, before another capacity crowd.

But Dake didn’t just hand the title over to Eaker. The two-time champion would set a new track record, touring the third-mile dirt oval in 17.98 seconds. Eaker was second fastest with a time of 18.02 seconds. The other 58 qualifiers couldn’t break the 19-second barrier.

Dake would sit on the pole position with Eaker alongside when Buzz Reed’s green flag waved on the 30-car field. Dake would look like the man to beat at the start, blazing to a half-lap lead and threading his way through the back of the field by lap 5. Dake’s car could not keep up with the pace and on lap 22, his car suddenly slowed and pulled to the infield with overheating issues. Dake would not have the opportunity to defend hiss crown.

With Dake out, Eaker had no other competition and would lead the final 78 circuits to seal the win and collect the $1,000 check. Eaker had over a half-lap lead on the rest of the field in his hemi-powered Plymouth.

Eaker was followed across the finish line by Roger Dolan of Lisbon, Iowa, Red Droste, Mert Williams of Rochester, Minn., and Bill McDonough of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

At the finish, 18 of the original 30 cars were still on the track and nine cars finished the entire 100 laps.

Three 25-lap semi features were run before the main event. Dean Montgomery, Benny Hofer and Herb Shannon of Peoria, Ill., were victorious in those events. 

Verlin Eaker is presented his trophy after winning the sixth annual Midwest Invitational.

Eaker would continue his success in the sixth and final Midwest Invitational, held on October 6, 1968. Eaker would set fast time in qualifying, start on the pole for the 100-lap contest and lead 99 laps to collect the winner’s share of the purse.

What was even more amazing about Eaker’s win was he ran the last 25 laps of the feature with a flat tire. The safety inner boot prevented his tire from going completely flat and even permitted him to pull away from the rest of the field in the closing laps.

Herb Shannon finished a distant second while Speedbowl Park season and point champion Don Bohlander took third. Jim Gerber was the last of the four drivers to complete all 100 laps.

Lem Blankenship, a up and coming star from racing capital of Keokuk, Iowa, drove the most impressive race of all, starting 28th and finishing an impressive fifth.

A total of 66 cars qualified for 30 spots in the season finale and 16 drivers fell under the 19 second mark.

Sterling’s Speedbowl Park would have a similar season-ending event on October 5, 1969. The first annual Corn Belt 1000, promoted by Rockford Speedway’s Hugh Deery, paid $1,000 to the winner. John Connolly would come out on top, after a see-saw battle with Jim Gerber for most of the race. Darrel Dake would take third followed by Red Droste and Bill McDonough.

On July 13, 1970, Speedbowl Park owner Lyle Frazier would shut the track down, citing poor attendance and lack of cars. He would sell the track by the end of the year and retire to Florida.

Monday, January 13, 2020

1990 - Heydenreich Scores as Sammy’s Hopes Deflate

Tulsa, Okla. (January 13, 1990) - A standing-room-only crowd was on hand to see Pennsylvania’s Johnny Heydenreich get the break he was waiting for on the 32nd of 40 laps in Saturday’s Original Chili Bowl Midget Nationals feature here at Expo Square.

Heydenreich, driving Tony Findlay’s Aries-powered Stewart midget, took over the top spot with just eight laps remaining when outside polesitter Sammy Swindell developed a push in Jack Runyon’s No. 7r midget due to a slowly deflating right rear tire.

Heydenreich towed 11-time national sprint car champion Steve Kinser along with him past the fading Swindell and went on to claim the victory. Heydenreich also won the 20-lap preliminary feature Thursday night.

Swindell fell to third after leading from the drop of the green flag, followed by USAC Western States champion Robby Flock and USAC sprint car ace Rich Vogler at the finish.

The leaders did not change despite Jeff Gordon’s spin on the white-flag lap. Danny Lasoski was sixth, followed by Johnny Parsons, Steve Gennetten, NASCAR star Ken Schrader and Terry Wente.

In addition to the white-flag caution, the race had two additional yellows and a red flag. On the sixth lap, Doug Wolfgang spun Larry Howard’s No. 71, and a lap-23 tangle involving Dean Billings, Kevin Doty, Wente and Gordon also halted the action. Billings had flipped on the 20th lap, forcing the red flag, but escaped unhurt and the car was able to restart at the back of the pack.

Lealand McSpadden and Tom Siner scored wire-to-wire victories in the two 20-lap C features, while Wolfgang and Stan Fox did the same in the 25-lap B features.

Five drivers flipped in the B and C features, with Dave Baldini, Mark Stasa, Greg Leuker and Gene Gennetten getting upside down in the C mains and Johnny Cofer flipping in the B. There were no injuries.

Results -

1. Johnny Heydenreich, 77ws, $4,000;
2. Steve Kinser, 2k, $2,000;
3. Sammy Swindell, 7r, $1,000;
4. Robby Flock, 95, $800;
5. Rich Vogler, 1r, $600;
6. Danny Lasoski, 3y, $500;
7. Johnny Parsons, 6j, $400;
8. Steve Gennetten, 3d, $350;
9. Ken Schrader, 2, $300;
10.Terry Wente, 33, $250;
11.Stan Fox, 9, $200;
12.Steve Knepper, 1h, $200;
13.Doug Wolfgang, 71, $200;
14.Randy Roberts, 5d, $200;
15.Dean Billings, 10, $200;
16.Jeff Gordon, 4, $200;
17.Joe Gaerte, 3g, $200;
18.Mark Passerelli, 16b, $200;
19.Scott Hatton, 3, $200;
20.Kevin Doty, 50, $500.

Friday, January 10, 2020

1971 - Hobby Stocks Protest Purse

Tri-Oval Speedway

From the Winona Daily News

Fountain City, Wis. (August 2, 1971) - The usual number of late model and street stock cars showed up for the program at Tri-Oval Speedway near here Saturday night.

But where were the hobby stockers?

Outside the gate, that’s where.

And that’s where they intend to be every racing night until they get a bigger share of the weekly purse, according to self-appointed spokesman Ron Tamke of Fountain City.

"We demand 50 percent of the money the late models get,” stated Tamke, half-owner of the hobby stock car driven by Ralph Dunbar of Winona.

"And we want the payoffs posted before the races too. The boys from Rochester are willing to ride down here each week just to protest.

"And we’ll protest until we get it — or we’ll close the track. We’ll pull the street stocks and late models along with us if we have to.”

Belmont Krause, owner of the racing complex, had this to say when told of Tamke's threat to close the four-year-old track:

“If we don’t have any cars, we’ll close the track.” Krause went on to say that "we can’t change in the middle of the season. We have a winter meeting each year — and things like this can be discussed at that time.

“I think I’ve always been fair to all the drivers. They always get at least their share — 50 percent of the gate. I’m trying to give them their share — in fact, in the past, I've given everything to the drivers when the crowds were small.

"But I can’t keep doing that all the time either. Some tracks only have two classes, street and late, then you only have to divide up between two classes.”

Tamke claimed that there were 24 hobby stocks outside the gate Saturday night. There were 18 streets and 14 late models entered in Saturday’s field. Most of the hobbys left during intermission.

Tamke added that "it costs us just as much to prepare our cars as it does the late models, so why can’t we get 50 percent of what the late models make?

“In the past, If the late model (feature winner) got $400, the hobby (feature winner) got $125.”

One driver said that last week, the hobby feature winner won $100, second place $65, third $50 and fourth $35.

Cecil Henderson of Winona, Saturday night’s late model winner, won a first-place check of $400. He also received $45 for winning his heat race.

As at least a partial result of the hobby stockers’ absence, Saturday’s crowd was well below par – estimated at 1,200. Many were seen leaving when it was announced the hobbys would not race.

Those who left, reportedly, obtained a full refund of their purchased ticket price.

“You lose some cars, you’re going to lose some fans,” noted Krause of the small crowd. “Every car has it’s own fans.”

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Looking Back at the Georgia Legends

by Lee Ackerman
Omaha, Neb. - In an earlier edition on Midwest Racing Archives I wrote a story on “Remembering when Iowans were Kings of Dirt” in the 1970’s (

Now I thought I would tell you about another group of drivers who would dominate dirt late model races in the late 70’s and early 80’s. These were the legends from the Peach State.

The Georgia Legends...

Bud Lunsford

Lunsford may not be as well known on a national level as other Georgia drivers but I think any discussion of Georgia Dirt Late Model Drivers has to start with him. His 25-year driving career started in the mid-50’s at his home track in Gainesville, Georgia and when it ended Lunsford had racked up a mind boggling 1,139 wins. That’s an average of 45 wins a season!

In addition to his total domination on the dirt, Lunsford won three NASCAR championships racing at the paved Peach Bowl in Atlanta. One year he won 19 of 21 features. Often criticized for not being a traveler and traveling more it was still not uncommon for him to race five nights a week in Georgia and South Carolina. He regularly defeated all the great drivers from that era including most of those listed below.

In 1974 he built a 1966 Nova that proved his mechanical genius. In 1974 and 1975 the gold and black #49 Nova went to victory lane an unbelievable 127 times. Despite his lack of traveling he was not afraid to run the big races in his region. In 1975 he won the inaugural Dixie Nationals at Dixie Speedway near Atlanta and the inaugural race that would become National 100 at East Alabama Speedway.

He forever put an end to the critics when the National Dirt Racing Association visited Georgia in late 1978 and early 1979. On October 28, 1978 Lunsford came from deep in the field to defeat the NDRA stars at Dixie and when they returned to race at Rome on April 20, 1979 he started shotgun on the field and beat them again. Lunsford was inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2003.

Buck Simmons

Unlike Lunsford, Simmons a native of Baldwin, Georgia, did get around and he raced for over 40 years. His list of major wins would go down one arm and up the other. He started his career racing in North Georgia and Tennessee winning countless races but became a household name in dirt late model racing with the advent of the National Dirt Racing Association in 1978.

Simmons would become synonymous with the series winning the 1981 NDRA championship, having the most wins in series history with 23 as well as winning the final big NDRA event, the NDRA Stroh’s Invitational in Kingsport, Tennessee in 1985. He would even be around to run with the Hav-A-Tampa series winning twice in that series at Lancaster (SC) in '91 and Laurens (SC) in '94.

Along the way Buck would register over 1,000 feature wins as well as win other big races such as; the Turkey 100, Tiny Lund Memorial 200, Super Bowl of Dirt, Hillbilly 100, Southeastern Dirt Championship, Hall of Fame 100 and others. Simmons was inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in the inaugural class of 2001.

Leon Archer

The Griffin, Georgia native became well-known when he became the first NDRA National Champion in 1979. Archer was known for his consistency and being a hard but clean competitor. Quite and to himself, the late Jimmy Mosteller referred to Archer “as a real gentleman.”

 While his early career is not as documented as some other drivers, he nevertheless won many, many races around his home area and was considered the man to beat. He was especially tough at Senoia (GA) before it was paved. He took pride in his cars and they were always in the best condition.  He also won many races Dixie and Rome Speedways. Archer was inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2003.

Doug Kenimer

Dahlonega, Georgia’s Doug Kenimer did travel extensively in the late 70’s and most of his trips ended up with satisifying results. In 1975 he went all the way to Ionia, Michigan and won Cavalcade of Champions race which paid a whopping $10,000 to win.  In 1976 he journeyed to Eldora, Ohio for the World 100 and finished second to fellow Georgian Charlie Hughes. The next week it was off to Champaign, Illinois and the United States Dirt Track Championship where he once again ran second to Hughes. He also won as far west as Topeka, Kansas that year.

 In 1977 he returned to Eldora and won the World 100. That year he also won the St. Clairsville 100 in Ohio and racked up 42 wins. In 1978 he ventured to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and the Yankee Dirt Classic. He would finish second to Iowan Verlin Eaker in a rain shortened event. He would also take home the $10,000 first prize in Robert Smawley’s first big promotion the Valvoline World 100 at Newport, Tennessee.

He would run part time with the NDRA and win the 1983 NDRA event at Paducah, Kentucky. Later he would compete with the NASCAR All Star Super Series off and on winning at Lanier (GA). Doug Kenimer was inducted into the NDLMHofF in 2005.

Charlie Hughes

A season does not define a driver’s career but a driver can have a season that fans will always remember and in the case of Charlie Hughes that season was 1976. Forty-two wins, 21 in a row, he won championships in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina. He capped off his amazing season by winning the World 100 at Eldora, the next week he won the United State Dirt Track Championship in Champaign, Illinois and at seasons end the National 100 in Alabama.

In 1977 he added the Hall of Fame 150 at Atomic Speedway in Tennessee and in 1978 the Southeastern Classic at Dixie in Georgia. His career would span from 1976 until his retirement in 1997. During that time Hughes registered more than 700 wins. He was inducted into the NDLMHofF in 2005.

Jack Pennington

Pennington a native of Augusta, Georgia raced for more than 30 years against all the greats of that time. He first started racing in 1974 and along the way he not only won big dirt late model races such as the Queen City 100 in 1980, the Turkey 100 in 1982 both in the Charlotte area, but later won with NDRA, then in 1998 he won the National 100. He would also win the Stick Elliott Memorial at Gaffney (SC).

He switched to the pavement along the way and ran very well in the NASCAR Late Model Series and in 1990 even gave the NASCAR Sprint Cup series a go racing 14 times in the series and finishing runner-up in the Rookie of the Year race. He would return to the dirt and in the early 2000’s you could find Jack running with the Carolina Clash Super Late Model series. Pennington was inducted into the NDLMHofF in 2006.


In addition to the six drivers highlighted above there were many other Georgia drivers of this era that were extremely good dirt late model racers. That list would include among others; Stan Massey of Marbleton, Billy Clanton of Riverside, Mike Head of Ellenwood, Leon Sells of Marbleton, Fulmer Lance of Washington, Snooks DeFour of Chatsworth and Charlie Mincey of Acworth. Together these drivers and others from the Peach State wrote a big part of the history of Dirt Late Model Racing. The Georgia Legends will always have a special place in the history of Dirt Late Model Racing.