Friday, February 21, 2020

The USA Late Model Nationals

Steve Kosiski would win the inaugural USA Late Model Nationals in 1992. Ms. 34 Raceway, Jenni Carlson joins Kosiski in victory lane. - Dennis Krieger Imagery

By Kyle Ealy
Burlington, Iowa – A dream of race promoters Ron and Susan Pallister became one of the biggest late model events in the Midwest.

The USA Late Model Nationals at 34 Raceway would draw the very best late model drivers from near and far.

“These late model guys are my heroes,” Pallister would say. “They need to get the limelight. There’re been national races for other forms of racing, but never anything for the late models. This is their opportunity.”

The inaugural event in 1992 would surpass Pallister’s expectations. The original plan was for about 40 to 45 drivers to enter the event. Instead, 65 late models registered for the races.

“We didn’t think it would be this big this quick,” Pallister said. “This has exceeded what we expected to have.”

So, what drew the top drivers and their late models to the 3/8-mile dirt track located near Middletown, Iowa?

“The money,” said Rollie Frink of Davenport, Iowa.

“The money,” said Steve Boley of Oxford, Iowa.

“Definitely the money,” said Joe Kosiski of Omaha.

The winner of the 100-lap feature was to receive $5,000 plus there was an additional $1,000 in lap money.

Originally scheduled for August 25-26, 1992, the Tuesday-Wednesday format would be postponed because of heavy rains. It would be rescheduled for September 1-2 only to see those dates rained out as well. Finally, on Tuesday, September 8, the USA Late Model Nationals became reality…

The six top qualifiers in time trials automatically qualified for the feature. The next 14 positions were filled in qualifying races.

Terry Schlipman of Mendon, Ill., was the fastest driver in qualifying with a one-lap time of 16.87 seconds around the 3/8-mile oval, .02 faster than second-place driver Steve Kosiski of Omaha. Tom Hearst of Tipton, Iowa, and Ray Guss Jr. of Milan, Ill., won 25-lap qualifying features and Joe Kosiski, the NASCAR Central Region point’s leader, won the $1,000 Pallister Pallet Challenge featuring the top six qualifiers.

Rain would continue to be a factor, though, with Wednesday’s 100-lap championship feature rained out and moved forward to Thursday.

Thursday’s feature would be a family squabble as Steve and Joe Kosiski as the Omaha, Neb., drivers dominated the race, with Steve passing Joe for the lead on the 83rd lap and then holding on for the win and the $5,000 first-place prize.

A change of driving lines was enough to boost Steve past his older brother and claim the inaugural event.

“His car was a lot faster than mine early in the race, but when I quit trying to pass him on the inside and moved up the track, I found I could get more speed,” Steve said.

Joe looked like he was going to lead the entire race. He led the first 82 laps and seemed headed for the win before Steve found a new driving line.

“I couldn’t get around him on the inside,” Steve said. "When I moved to the middle of the track, I found I could get out of the corners faster and get more speed. Joe thought he was going to have to move down low to hold me off, and that’s how I got around him.”

Ray Guss Jr. finished third in the race. Jay Johnson of West Burlington, Iowa, who started 13th, finished fourth. Gary Russell of Carman, Ill., finished fifth.

The second annual USA Late Model Nationals finished up its first day of time trials and qualifying races on Monday, August 23, 1993, with no clear-cut favorite emerging.

As one driver mentioned afterwards, “Take your pick, this is one tough field.”

Bryan Wanner of Winfield, Iowa, was fastest of 41 late models, timing in at 18.06 seconds and Steve Boley of Oxford, Iowa, the NASCAR Central Region point’s leader, won the 6-car fast dash and $1,000.

The Kosiski’s, back again for more, saw Ed and Joe win 25-lap qualifying features while the defending winner, Steve, was one of the six fastest qualifiers.

Ray Guss Jr. was the 1993 USA Late Model Nationals winner. Cathy Coppes makes the trophy presentation. - Mike Svoboda Photo

The next night, one driver made it crystal clear…

Ray Guss Jr., led all 100 laps to claim the title in the event. The Milan, Ill., driver started on the front row and passed polesitter Steve Boley on the first lap. Guss would survive challenges by Steve and Joe Kosiski, as well as several caution periods late in the race which tightened the field.

“I kept hitting the holes,” Guss said. “I was able to keep control, but it was rough. “The restarts made me nervous, especially at the end,” said Guss, who earned $7,000 with the win.

Steve Kosiski settled for second with big brother Joe taking third. Curt Martin of Independence, Iowa, took fourth with Steve Boley in fifth.

Gary Webb’s weekly set-up at 34 Raceway would produce the same results at the USA Late Model Nationals on Tuesday, August 23, 1994. Webb had won four weekly features at the track and also the NASCAR Busch All-Star Tour feature at the track in July.

“This is the same set-up we’ve used every night here,” the Davenport driver said as he collected the $7,000 prize money. “We didn’t change a thing.” 

Gary Webb of Davenport, Iowa, added another trophy and paycheck to an already successful season by winning the 1995 USA Late Model Nationals. Ms. 34 Raceway, Corina Nichols, makes the presentation. - Dennis Krieger Imagery

Webb led the final 25 laps of the 100-lap feature after taking the lead in a three-car duel with Johnny Saathoff of Beatrice, Neb., and Steve Boley of Oxford, Iowa.

Webb took the lead on lap 35 when leader Ray Guss Jr. tangled with second -place Steve Kosiski. That gave the lead to Webb, who was in third place.

Saathoff, who snatched the lead from Webb on the 64th lap, found himself trapped on lap 74 when Webb and Boley came up to challenge for the lead. They went three-wide into the first turn, with Webb coming out the leader.

Webb set fast time during Monday’s qualifying, touring the 3/8-mile in 17.331 seconds. Layne Meyer of West Union, Iowa, won the six-car Fast Dash while Boley and Steve Sutliff of Carman, Ill., won 25-lap qualifying features.

The fourth annual race, held on August 22, 1995, would see another Kosiski family shootout, this time with Joe outlasting his younger brother Steve.

The slightly older Kosiski led the final 37 laps to take the $8,000 top prize and become the fourth different winner of the event. Steve Kosiski was able to stay close to his brother but was never able to make a move for the top spot.

“I think the starting spot helped,” said Joe, who started from the pole position “Plus, I was able to save the tires.”

Joe Kosiski took the lead on the 63rd lap when Ray Guss Jr., the 1993 winner of the event, cut a right rear tire and slid off the backstretch.

While the Kosiski’s were battling it out, a lot of other contenders would fall by the wayside. Along with Guss Jr., Jay Johnson of West Burlington, Iowa, Monday’s fast qualifier, was among the top five when he suffered damage on lap 72. His father, Johnny Johnson, also a top-five contender, dropped a few laps later with a flat tire. Bob Dominacki of Bettendorf, Iowa was creeping up on the leaders when a tie rod snapped on lap 92.

Rick Wending of Hazelton, Iowa, would finish third in the 100-lapper followed by Ryan Fierge of Quincy, Ill., and Ryan Dolan of Lisbon, Iowa.

The USA Late Model Nationals would suffer tragedy in December of 1995 when Susan Pallister, wife of promoter Ron Pallister, passed away following a lengthy illness.

The race would go on, but with a new name…The Susan Pallister Memorial - USA Late Model Nationals.

When the fifth annual event took place on August 21, 1996, a decision awaited the field. Drivers were given a choice of tire – they could run either NASCAR or IMCA race tires for the 100-lapper. The majority of those chose IMCA tires. One driver decided to go with NASCAR tread…and he would choose wisely.

Brian Birkhofer’s decision paid big dividends. As the track began to put down rubber in the late stages, Birkhofer’s tires took hold of the track while the cars with IMCA tires began to push out in the corners. Birkhofer took advantage, passing defending champion Joe Kosiski on lap 89 and pulling away to win the $9,000 payday.

To date, it was the biggest late model victory for the young Muscatine, Iowa driver.

This is probably my biggest win yet,” Birkhofer said. “It hasn’t really hit me. The most I had ever won before at one race was $3,000. I don’t know what I’ll do with $9,000. It will definitely do my bank account good.”

Rick Wendling and defending champion Joe Kosiski would lead the field to green with Kosiski getting the drop on lap 1. He would proceed to lead the next 88 circuits with Wendling in tow the whole distance.

Birkhofer, who started in the middle of the field, made his move with 15 laps to go. While Kosiski and Wendling were having problems with their cars pushing out in the turns, Birkhofer’s tires took hold on the tacky track. Birkhofer went low in the front straight-away on lap 86 to get by Wendling for second place, then set his sights on an unsuspecting Kosiski with 11 laps remaining.

“I thought there was no way I was going to win this,” Birkhofer said afterwards. “After I drew the 14th spot, I was just hoping to finish in the top 10. I was just racing, trying to find the fastest groove and pick off as many cars as I could.” 

Jay Johnson of West Burlington, Iowa, collected his biggest late model win ever in the sixth annual USA Late Model Nationals. Ms. 34 Raceway, Heidi Newman presents the check while Bill Newman presents the checkers. Johnson's children are also pictured. - Dennis Krieger Imagery

Jay Johnson would add his name to the Susan Pallister Memorial - USA Late Model Nationals trophy a year later, August 20, 1997, with a dominating performance. Johnson would lead 92 of 100 laps, taking the win and the $10,000 paycheck.

Johnson knew he had strong car when he went out to hot lap before the feature. He quickly found out how his car was handling on the 3/8-mile dirt oval.

“I found out they were clocking me on the stopwatch running the same time at the top and bottom of the track,” Johnson said. “I thought the car felt pretty good.”

Johnson took the lead on the seventh lap from Gary Russell of Biggsville, Ill., and held it until the 83rd lap, when former champion Gary Webb passed Johnson. But two laps later, Johnson went high in the third turn as Webb became trapped behind Russell and powered by Webb and took back the lead.

Johnson would build a three-second lead from there and sail to the win. Webb hung on for second while Mark Burgtorf of Quincy, Ill., who started 17th, took third. Jeff Aikey finished fourth and Jay’s father (and track owner) Johnny Johnson earned fifth after spinning out on lap 24 and restarting at the rear of the field.

Johnson, who also won one of the five qualifying heats Monday night, became the sixth different winner in the six years of the event. Webb was the only returning champion in the field.

During Monday’s preliminaries, Jeff Guengerich of Washington, Iowa, Gary Russell, Gary Webb, Johnson and Thad Trump of Kahoka, Mo. Curt Martin of Independence, Iowa, was quick timer with a time of 17.478 seconds. 

Changes were in store for 34 Raceway and the Susan Pallister Memorial - USA Late Model Nationals in 1998. One of the most successful racers in 34 history, Ron Jackson, was taking over the promotional reins. And, for the first time since it started in 1992, the USA Late Model Nationals would become sanctioned. The race would be ruled and regulated by IMCA and the event would become part of the popular Deery Brothers Summer Series tour.

How fitting it was that the tour’s hottest driver would be the winner after the checkered wave on Monday night, September 7, 1998. Cedar Falls, Iowa’s Jeff Aikey had a record-setting year on the Deery Brothers Summer Series, winning seven of the 15 races run in the series.

Aikey, starting from the third row in the 100-lap, 28-car feature race, got past IMCA national champion Mark Burgtorf on the 20th lap and never looked back. Aikey opened his lead through the middle of the race and pulled away for the $10,000 win.

For Aikey, the win was a record-setting eighth in the series this year and was the richest payday of his career. He lapped all but four cars in the 28-car feature race.

“This is my biggest win ever,” Aikey said. “This is definitely the most money I have ever won. On the way down here, I told the boys I was going to win, and I was going to lap the field.

Burgtorf finished second, just ahead of Rob Toland of Hillsdale, Ill. Tommy Elston of Keokuk, Iowa, finished fourth, while Terry Schlipman of Mendon, Ill., finished fifth.

The victory was Aikey’s eighth on the series and he became the seventh different winner in the seven-year history of the USA Late Model Nationals.

Saturday night’s prelims found Boone McLaughlin of Mediapolis, Iowa, setting fast time with a 16.829 second clocking. His heat win put him on the pole for Sunday night’s race. Burgtorf, Johnny Johnson, Terry Schlipman, Jeff Laue of West Burlington and Aikey. 

Jeff Aikey of Cedar Falls, Iowa, would become the first two-time winner of the USA Late Model Nationals, 1998 and 1999. He's shown here in victory lane after winning the '99 race. Promoter Ron Jackson (far left), Ms. 34 Raceway Jennifer Fiedler and Bill Newman join Aikey in the celebration. - Kelly Underbakke Photo

Aikey would make history the following year, becoming the first driver to win the USA Late Model Nationals two time when he pulled off the feat on Sunday, September 5, 1999.

While not the dominant performance like the year before, Aikey took the lead from Rob Toland of lap 29 and increase his margin over the remaining 70 circuits to win easily in the non-stop, flag-to-flag feature.

“The car was tight at the beginning, but my crew told me that’s the way it was going to be,” said Aikey. “After we burned off some fuel, the car was lighter and ran perfect.”

Terry Schlipman, who started 22nd after winning a last chance qualifier, charged through the field, battled with Toland and former champ Jay Johnson for most of the race, and finished an impressive second. Toland would settle for third while Mark Burgtorf took fourth. Johnson would round out the top five.

A new winner would emerge when the USA Late Model Nationals Susan Pallister Memorial took place on September 2 and 3, 2000. Sixty-five late models attempted to qualify for the 26-car field that would compete for 100 circuits and the $10,000 winner’s share.

When the dust settled, Mark Burgtorf of Quincy, Ill., reigned supreme, becoming the eighth different driver to win the prestigious event.

Mike Smith of Jewell, Iowa, would take the lead at the drop of the green but Darren Miller of Chadwick, Ill., would scoot past him on lap 2. Miller would prove to be the fastest man on the track, extending his lead to nearly half a track’s length.

While it appeared that Miller was well on his way to victory, Burgtorf was efficiently making his way from his third row starting position. He would work his way to second place by lap 11 and begin to pull away.

With the race well in hand for Miller, disaster struck on lap 60 when he suffered a flat tire and was forced to the pit. This put Burgtorf in the top spot with two-time winner Jeff Aikey right behind him. Miller would change his tire and return to the battle at the rear of the field.

While Burgtorf stayed out front and put some distance between himself and the rest of the field, Miller had worked his way back thru the field and with only a couple of laps remaining, charged back into second place.

Miller would give it all he had in the final lap, making a charge at Burgtorf, but he would come up a couple of car-lengths short. Miller, despite a gallant effort, would settle for second followed by Aikey, Boone McLaughlin and another former winner, Ray Guss Jr., finishing fifth. 

After losing a heart-breaker the year before, Darren Miller of Chadwick, Ill., put it all together to win the 2001 USA Late Model Nationals. Deery Brothers Series sponsor Brad Deery (left) and Bill Newman join Miller in the winner's circle. - Craige Gheer Photo

There would be no flat tire to hinder Darren Miller’s progress when the 10th annual USA Late Model Nationals took place on August 16, 2001. Miller led more than half of the 75-lap Deery Brothers Summer Series event and collected $5,000 for his efforts.

He earned his starting spot in the feature by winning the B-main over Ray Guss Jr. Starting 16th in the field of 27, Miller worked his way toward the front steadily and passed Jeff Aikey for the lead after a restart midway through the contest.

Repeating his performance in the B-main, Miller proceeded to take command and extend his margin en route to a comfortable win. Aikey finished second while defending winner Mark Burgtorf took third. Joe Kosiski took fourth and a late bobble by Terry Schlipman allowed former Iowa native Billy Moyer Jr., to grab the fifth spot. 

Curt Martin of Independence, Iowa, was declared the winner of the 2002 USA Late Model Nationals after initial winner Rob Toland was found too light at the scales. Promoter Ron Jackson (left) and Bill Newman join Martin in victory lane. - Scott Tjabring Photo

Thirty-five pounds would be the difference between a $10,000 payday and disqualification during the USA Late Model Nationals on August 20, 2002.

Curt Martin of Independence, Iowa, would be declared the winner after the post-race weigh-in showed initial winner Rob Toland of Hillsdale, Ill., 35 pounds light at the scales.

IMCA late models running the series had to weigh at least 2,400 pounds with the driver inside at the end of the race. Toland’s car crossed the scales several times before officials made the ruling a disqualification.

Martin qualified for the 100-lapper through the B-main, running second to Chris Smyser. Starting 18th, Martin knifed through the field, taking the lead on the lap 39.

However, Toland caught up with Martin on lap 92 and as the leader became mired in lap traffic, Toland sneaked around him and led the final eight circuits and the apparent victory.

But, with Toland light, Martin took home the series’ highest paying event on the schedule.

Smyser, of Lancaster, Mo., made an incredible run himself, starting 17th, and being promoted to runner-up after Toland’s disqualification. Gary Russell would take third, Brian Harris of Davenport, Iowa, was fourth and Jeff Aikey rounded out the top five. 

Driving a borrowed late model, UMP competitor Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., made the long haul to win the 2003 USA Late Model Nationals. - Graige Gheeer Photo

An unlikely winner was crowned the 11th different champion of the USA Late Model Nationals on August 14, 2003.

Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., a regular competitor on the United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) circuit, made the four-hour tow with a borrowed late model and came out on top of the 61 entries to claim the $10,000 first prize.

Boone McLaughlin led the field to green and would lead the first 18 circuits before Erb grabbed the top spot for one lap. McLaughlin would regain the point one lap later and with the Mediapolis, Iowa, speedster out front, the battle for second place would rage behind him with Erb, Gary Russell and defending winner Curt Martin going bumper-to-bumper.

Beginning on lap 32, race fans would see three-wide action as McLaughlin, Erb and Russell fought for the top spot and on lap 38, Russell ducked low and passed both McLaughlin and Erb for the lead much to the fan’s delight.

Russell, attempting to become the first 34 Raceway local driver to win the event, stretched his lead over the field while Erb and McLaughlin would swap second and third place several times.

Erb would finally distance himself from McLaughlin and focus on catching the leader. With 27 laps left to go, Erb had tracked down Russell and when the caution flag came out, Erb was on Russell’s bumper as the field came to green.

The Biggsville, Ill., hot shoe would hold onto his lead on the restart but only briefly as Erb went to the inside groove and powered his way past on the back stretch and into the number one slot. The Illinois ace would increase his margin while Russell was forced to battle with Curt Martin for second spot.

Russell would earn his highest finish to date with a runner-up finish while Martin held on for third. McLaughlin settled for fourth place and Rob Toland rounded out the top five. 

Rob Toland of Hillsdale, Ill., was a double winner during the 2004 USA Late Model Nationals, winning not only the 100-lap feature but clinching the Deery Brothers Summer Series crown as well. - Dana Royer Photo

Rob Toland would be a double winner when the final checker waved on the 13th annual USA Late Model Nationals Susan Pallister Memorial on September 18, 2004. Not only did the Hillsdale, Ill., speedster win the 100-lap feature, but the win also secured him his first Deery Brothers Summer Series late model title. It was Toland’s seventh win in 14 Deery Brothers events for the year.

Toland threatened to make the feature a runaway until lapped traffic midway through the contest allowed the field to close. Terry Schlipman reeled Toland in and passed him on lap 54. Toland would not give in, however, and the duo raced side-by-side for the next eight circuits until Toland was able to regain the top spot, this time for good.

Schlipman, from Mendon, Ill., crossed the finish line in second followed by Brent Slocum of Burlington, Iowa, 18th-starting Boone McLaughlin and former winner Jay Johnson.

Two drivers would cross the finish line first and second, but it was the third-place driver crowned champion of the 15th annual USA Late Model Nationals on September 17, 2005.

Terry Neal of Ely, Iowa, was credited with first place and awarded the check for $10,000 after apparent winner Brian Harris of Davenport, Iowa, and runner-up Boone McLaughlin were both disqualified for failed engine inspection nearly two hours after the race’s completion.

Bud Wollam, IMCA’s technical inspector for the Deery Brothers Summer Series, stated that Harris’ and McLaughlin’s powerplants were three cubic inches over what was legal by race standards.

“Everything is in black and white, and we have to apply the rules,” Wollam remarked. “Nothing would have made me happier than everyone passing inspection. It was a great race and you hate to have this happen.”

Neal, the Deery Brothers Summer Series season champion, not only picked up the big payday, but also got a $1,500 Ironman bonus for perfect attendance in the series this season. He received $500 for starting the feature, and $1,000 for winning.

Jay Johnson was moved up to take home runner-up money while Lonnie Bailey of Quincy, Ill., was credited with third-place. Former winners Mark Burgtorf and Rob Toland rounded out the top five.

“This one was a little sweeter,” said Mark Burgtorf, after becoming the second two-time winner of the USA Late Model Susan Pallister Memorial on September 16, 2006. Burgtorf, who won in 2000, added, “I won that race because Darren Miller cut a tire. We were the class of the field tonight.”

Burgtorf passed fellow Quincy, Ill., veteran Lonnie Bailey for the lead on lap 28, then worked his way through traffic over the final 72 laps to win the 15th annual event. Burgtorf collected the winner’s check for $10,000 and joined Jeff Aikey as the only two-time winners of the event.

Kevin Blum of Colona, Ill., finished second, nearly half the length of the track behind Burgtorf while Bailey held on to take third. Boone McLaughlin was fourth while Jeff Aikey clinched his record fifth Deery Brothers Summer Series title with his fifth-place finish. 

Mark Burgtorf of Quincy, Ill., would become the event's first three-time winner, winning in 2000, 2006 and shown here, winning the 2007 title. Promoter Jeff Laue joins Burgtorf in victory lane. - Dennis Krieger Imagery

Good things come to those who wait and Mark Burgtorf, the two-time winner and defending champion, could certainly attest to that old adage. The Quincy, Ill., veteran used patience to win his record third USA Late Model Nationals title on September 16, 2007.

The Quincy, Ill., veteran was running in second-place, waiting for the opportune time to get around race leader Jason Frankel, also of Quincy. That opening came on the 55th lap. As Frankel got caught up in lapped traffic, Burgtorf seized the chance and got around Frankel for the lead. That was the only break Burgtorf needed. He held off several late charges by Frankel to win the 100-lap feature and taking home the winner’s check worth $ 10,000.

Not even a brief rain shower, which halted the feature event after 15 laps for one hour and 15 minutes, could put a damper on Burgtorf’s historic night. “This one feels great,” Burgtorf said with a smile.

Frankel held on for second while ’93 winner Ray Guss Jr. held on for third. Lonnie Bailey and Joey Gower, both of Quincy, Ill., crossed the finish line in fourth and fifth but were both later disqualified during post-race inspection.

Jeremy Grady of Story City, Iowa, was awarded fourth place, giving him the Deery Brothers Summer Series title. Darrel DeFrance of Marshalltown, Iowa, was moved up to fifth place. 

Matt Strassheim would bring the hometown crowd to it's feet, winning the 2008 USA Late Model Nationals. Promoter Jeff Laue joins Strassheim in victory lane. - John Vass Photo

A hometown driver would lay claim to the 17th annual USA Late Model Nationals as Matt Strassheim would score the victory on September 27, 2008. The West Burlington pilot would lead the final 36 circuits of the 50-lapper and collect $5,000 plus lap money.

Boone McLaughlin and Gary Russell would bring the field to green with McLaughlin shooting out ahead. However, the race would be red-flagged before the first lap could be scored after Tom Goble ended up on his roof in the second set of turns.

Resuming the lead on the re-start and staying in front after what proved to be the last caution of the contest on lap 3, McLaughlin set the fast pace through lap 14, when Strassheim found his way by on the bottom groove.

The front pair didn't get into lapped traffic until after midway. Rob Toland, who started 13th, caught McLaughlin for second and closed the gap behind Strassheim to four car lengths but couldn't wrestle away the lead. Ray Guss Jr., who started 12th, passed McLaughlin for third-place late in the race. McLaughlin would settle for fourth but clinch the Deery Brothers Summer Series title. Jay Johnson rounded out the top five.

A late charge would net Jason Frankel the USA Late Model Nationals on September 19, 2009. Frankel passed two former winners of the event, first Jeff Aikey, and then Mark Burgtorf the last two times around the track to earn the $10,000 payday.

Burgtorf started outside the front row and was chased by Lonnie Bailey and Frankel into lapped traffic on the 13th circuit.

After the first of two cautions, Burgtorf, Bailey and Aikey ran three-wide for the lead before Bailey and Aikey swapped the second spot on lap 23 and again on lap 24. Bailey found the low groove to his liking on lap 29, passing both Aikey and Burgtorf for the lead.

He'd stay there until lap 47, when Burgtorf motored by. Aikey made a pass of his own for the front, which was negated when Terry Neal and Bailey got together to bring out the second and final caution on lap 53.

After slipping back as far as sixth, Frankel started working his way back up, catching Fraise and then Neal to get back into contention for the big payday. Aikey fell on lap 97 and Burgtorf gave way on lap 98.

Burgtorf settled for second ahead of "B" qualifier Rob Toland, series champion Aikey and Terry Neal.

Friday night preliminaries is all the 19th annual USA Late Model Nationals would get in as rain washed away the Saturday night finale and again for the re-scheduled Sunday evening card, September 19, 2010.

Defending champion Jason Frankel won the first of five qualifying heats, putting him on the pole for the 100-lapper but it would never come to fruition. Rain, standing water, and less than ideal track conditions forced the cancellation. Nate Beuseling of Silvis, Ill., Lonnie Bailey, Boone McLaughlin and Andy Eckrich of Tiffin, Iowa, were the other heat winners. T.J. Criss of Oskaloosa, Iowa, won the 20-lap Ironman Challenge.

A photo finish would highlight the 2011 USA Late Model Nationals, held on Sunday, September 4. 

Andy Eckrich hoist his trophy high after winning the 2011 USA Late Model Nationals. Promoters Jeff and Amy Laue join a happy Eckrich in victory lane. - Dana Royer Photo

Andy Eckrich would reel in, then hold off Ray Guss Jr. in a green, white, checkered finish for the $10,000 victory. Guss ran in front most of the 99-lapper before getting stuck in lapped traffic. Eckrich, went around on the higher line and wound up beating Guss to the checkers by a car length.

For the second year in a row, inclement weather would delay the $10,000 to win event, pushing the finale to Sunday. Unlike the year before, Mother Nature cooperated, and the main event wouldn’t disappoint.

Guss had the pole but it was fellow front-row starter Tyler Bruening grabbing the top spot and holding that edge until lap 22. The Decorah, Iowa speedster’s impressive run came to an end when the frontrunners, trying to negotiate lapped cars, traded paint, sending Bruening into a spin and out of contention.

After the caution, Guss set the fast pace ahead of Eckrich and former winner Jay Johnson. Eckrich tried inside and outside grooves and would briefly get the nose of his car out front several times but Guss would always secure the lead back.

But staying close, and patient, Eckrich made what proved to be the winning pass when Guss got caught up with slower traffic with eight laps left. After the pass, Eckrich would hold on the last two times around the 3/8-mile oval for one of the biggest paydays in his career.

A disappointed Guss would hang on for second place. Justin Reed of Quincy, Ill., would finish third, Jay Johnson fourth and Tom Goble of Burlington, Iowa, would take fifth. 

Jeff Aikey would win the 21st and final running of the USA Late Model Nationals in 2012. It would also make Aikey the event's second three-time winner. - Dana Royer Photo

The 2012 USA Late Model Nationals would see its second three-time winner of the event when Jeff Aikey scored the victory on Sunday, September 2. The race had been delayed a day because of rain. 

The 21st and final running of the event saw Mike Murphy of Colona, Ill., and defending champion Andy Eckrich lead the field to green with Murphy leading the pack for the first 19 laps before getting caught up in lap traffic.

Aikey took advantage and would take over the lead – a lead he would never relinquish. Jay Johnson would stay on Aikey’s back bumper through three restarts but the Waterloo, Iowa, hot shoe wouldn’t concede the top spot.

Eventually, Andy Eckrich would get by Johnson for second and make several attempts at Aikey as well but hold off Eckrich at the checkered flag taking the win by three car lengths.

Former winners dotted the top five with Aikey and Eckrich followed by Jay Johnson, Matt Strassheim and Ray Guss Jr.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

1963 - Stock Car Racetrack Planned in Madison

Sam Bartus looks over his new track, the paved quarter-mile Capital Speedway. 

Madison, Wis. (February 20, 1963) - A new stock car racing track is being planned on a site one mile east of Highway 51 on 151 this spring, Sam Bartus of Mosinee, operator of tracks at Wisconsin Rapids, Wausau, and Friendship, announced Wednesday.

Construction on the one-quarter mile asphalt track, to be known as Capital Speedway, will begin in April, pending final reconsideration on a license tonight by the Dane County board of supervisors, who approved the site at their January meeting.

Bartus is seeking the license from the county amusement committee. Some strong competition is apparent.

Bartus’ investment would run between $36,000 and $50,000. He plans to open the track on Memorial Day weekend and hold weekly races on Saturday nights and holidays. The track would be lighted for night racing and spectator stands would be built into an adjoining slope. His plans include, as a safety measure, a four-foot retaining wall topped by a 10-tall cyclone wire fence.

The site is a 30-acre plot on the Leo Zeier farm, 1,200 feet off of Highway 151. Bartus, who already has leased the property, built tracks in Wausau in 1952, Wisconsin Rapids in 1960, and Friendship in 1961, and plans to operate those at Rapids and Friendship on Fridays and Sundays.

He plans to organize a crew of officials to operate the track later this spring and will schedule a driver’s meeting “within 30 days”.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

1967 – Daniels wins second straight Tampa main

Jerry Daniels

Tampa, Fla. (February 18, 1967) – Jerry “Scratch” Daniels of St. Paul, Minn., won his second consecutive IMCA Winternationals sprint car feature at the Florida State Fair on Saturday afternoon, but had to withstand the determination of Jerry Poland off Somerville, Ohio, for the full 50 circuits.

It was Poland all over Daniels’ tailpipe as starter Johnny Hicks dropped the checkered flag with Tom Bigelow of Whitewater, Wis., a close third.

The 25-mile race was completed in 27 minutes and 16.57 seconds, slowed by the 14 laps run under the caution flag.

Jerry Richert of Forest Lake, Minn., the defending IMCA champion, won the first heat, Buzz Barton of Tampa, Fla., the second heat and Rollie Beale of Toledo, Ohio, the third. The consolation top honors went to Karl Busson of Toledo, Ohio.

In winning the feature and placing fourth in his heat, Daniels gathered enough points to clinch the Winternationals crown and earn a huge trophy.

The first part of the feature as the most eventful as spinning cars brought out the yellow three times. On thee second lap, Bill Puterbaugh of Roxana, Ill., and Gordon Woolley of Waco, Tex., hooked up in a spin that caused no damage.

Then, two laps later, Barton, Puterbaugh, and Ralph Blackett of Coffeyville, Kan., hooked together in the same turn. This time, Puterbaugh was towed to the infield.

After two more racing laps, Bobby Adamson of Coraopolis, Penn., lost a rear wheel in turn four, bringing out the third and final yellow.

Each time, Daniels was forced to gun hard on the restarts to maintain the front position he held.

Results –

Heat #1 – Jerry Richert
Heat #2 – Buzz Barton
Heat #3 – Rollie Beale
Consolation – Karl Busson
Feature –
1. Jerry Daniels
2. Jerry Poland
3. Tom Bigelow
4. Darl Harrison
5. Gene Tallman
6. Jerry Blundy
7. Steve Ungar
8. Bill Roynon
9. Benny Rapp
10.Don Hewitt

Monday, February 17, 2020

1962 – Tampa Finale, Crown to Folse

Pete Folse was the 1962 Florida State Fair champion.

Tampa, Fla. (February 17, 1962) – Pete Folse came from behind to nail the Florida State championship by winning the 25-lap finale on Saturday to boost his point total by 100 tallies.

Folse went into the feature tailing Herschel Wagner, Johnny White and Jerry Richert. Wagner ran second for three-quarters of the race and that spot would have given him the title and trophy. The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for the Hickman Hills, Mo., driver and his fourth place finish left him 10 points shy of Folse’s 350 total. Neither White nor Richert netted any points in the feature.

Folse had some anxious moments in the closing laps, as Johnny Rutherford, a young driver from Fort Worth, Tex., was gaining on the leader consistently. Afterwards, Folse said he heard a car behind him but thought it was a lapped car. When he finally realized the car was a contender, Folse sent his foot to the floor on the Honore Offy and used the remaining cushion to pull away.

Rutherford said he heard Folse’s engine respond but believed had the race been a little longer the ending would have been reversed. Arnie Knepper was a close enough third to make it a three-car battle.

The race had a red flag on the second lap, with Jerry Blundy, Gordon Woolley and Mickey Shaw getting involved in a fracas.

Folse, Wagner and White ran knobbies while the rest of the field used the wide tire. The result was a really bunched up field of cars and no true groove. As one lapped driver put it, “Every driver had a different groove and he didn’t know where to make room for a car to lap him.”

Once again, the weatherman smiled on another banner production of Al Sweeney of National Speedways, Inc.

Results –

Heat #1 – Arnie Knepper
Heat #2- Dick Hope
Heat #3 – Herschel Wagner
Match race – Jerry Richert
Consolation – Johnny White
Feature –
1. Pete Folse
2. Johnny Rutherford
3. Arnie Knepper
4. Herschel Wagner
5. Dick Hope
6. Joe Conroy
7. Gordon Woolley
8. Jerry Blundy
9. Jerry Daniels
10.Mickey Shaw

Sunday, February 16, 2020

1974 – Osborne cops Winternational Finale

Lee Osborne of Lebanon, Penn., receives the trophy after winning the 50-lap finale of the 54th annual Winternational Sprints. Presenting the trophy is Hubert Brooks, with IMCA official Woody Brinkman and IMCA Speed Queen Wanda Vetzel looking on. 

Tampa, Fla. (February 16, 1974) – Experimenting with something new, Lee Osborne of Lebanon, Penn., won the 50-lap Winternational Sprints finale on Saturday afternoon before a crowd of 6,600 at the Florida State Fair.

The something “new” was a torsion bar suspension to springs and Osborne was not clear whether he won because of them or in spite of them.

The win probably came because, as he said, “The track got black (with rubber) towards the end.”

It was towards the end, on lap 38 of the 50-lapper, that Osborne gained the front position.

The driver stated that the experiment was still far from satisfactory and he had…” a lot of changing to do. The suspension is still too soft.”

Bill Utz, who came from last position twice, once at the original start and again on a restart after a minor accident blocked the track, finished an impressive second. But it was an hour after the checkered flag had dropped that Utz was assured his position. The race was protested by Ray Lee Goodwin, who claimed that Utz did not go completely to the rear of the field, his assigned position, on the restart.

IMCA officials ruled that although he may have been ahead of two cars on the restart, they were cars involved in the same accident and all were assigned to the rear at the restart.

Goodwin, who challenged throughout the race, but never managed to get in front, finished third.

The program started under clear skies after a rainy morning. The rain did a good job of wetting down the clay surface. But a brisk wind and a hot afternoon sun changed the track from wet and tacky to a dry-packed surface midway of the feature race.

Once it dried and the field of 24 cars started laying rubber down, the field did an about face. The front runners early, drifted back and a new set of chargers shot to the front.

It was then that Osborne found the low groove to his liking and threaded through from about halfway back in the pack.

But the real workhorse of the race was Utz, the cigar smoking former blacksmith, who picked off one car after another in a furious charge to second place.

The overall winner of the Winternational Sprints was Jan Opperman, who had won the first three feature of the series and finished second in the fourth race of the series. Saturday, he wrecked his own car, then changed to two others before he qualified for the feature and finished 10th.

Attendance for the five days reflected the gasoline shortage that has plagued the South Florida area. Promoter Al Sweeney said attendance was down 8.9% for the five days of racing.

Results –

Heat #1 – Ralph Blackett
Heat #2 – Bubby Jones
Heat #3 – Jerry Richert
Consolation – Thad Dosher
Feature –
1. Lee Osborne
2. Bill Utz
3. Ray Lee Goodwin
4. Kramer Williamson
5. Larry Dickson
6. Chuck Amati
7. Bob Kinser
8. Earl Wagner
9. Jay Lyle
10.Jan Opperman

Saturday, February 15, 2020

1970 – Stott wins Daytona ARCA

Ramo Stott is joined by his wife Judy and ARCA owner John Marcum after winning the 300-miler. 

Daytona, Fla. (February 15, 1970) - A Keokuk, Iowa, driver - Ramo Stott - wrestled the lead away from 54-year-old Iggy Katona in the final three laps Sunday to win the ARCA 300 stock car race at Daytona International Speedway.

With only seven miles remaining in the race, Bobby Watson of Prestonsburg, Ky., was running second and Stott third with a bare car length separating the three.

Katona blew a tire on his 1969 Dodge and went into a wild spin. Stott took advantage of the situation to scream past both Katona and Watson and take the lead.

Stott, 33, then beat Watson across the finish line moments later to win the closest finish in seven of these high-speed chases at Daytona for drivers of the Midwest-centered Auto Racing Club of America.

It was the first victory for one of Chrysler’s new winged Plymouth “Superbird.” Watson drove a similarly – designed Dodge Daytona.

Stott's time for the race was 2 hours, 6 minutes and 41 seconds for an average of 142.086 miles per hour. The victory was worth $5,900.

Results –

1. Ramo Stott
2. Bobby Watson
3. Ron Grana
4. Louis Wusterhausen
5. Iggy Katona
6. Hank Teeters
7. Les Snow
8. Bill Clemons
9. John Sommerville
10. Blackie Wangerin
11. Buck Newland
12. Joe Booher
13. Bob Thomas
14. Red Farmer
15. Hoss Ellington
16. Armon Smith
17.Larry Ashley
18. Hubert West
19. Dave Sorg
20. Dick May
21. Wayne Trinkle
22. Phil Ploughe
23. Benny Parsons
24. Paul Wensink
25. Coo Coo Marlin
26. Paul Feldner 
27. Bill Kimmel 
28. Jim Scott
29. Leroy Austin
30. Charlie Paxton
31. Andy Hampton 
32. Dick Trickle
33. Len Blanchard 
34. Dave Dayton
35. Joy Fair 
36. Jerry Churchill
37. Frank Utterback
38. Ronnie Daniel 
39. Larry Baumel 
40. John Anderson

Friday, February 14, 2020

1968 – Rapp’s Victory is Sweet

Benny Rapp

Tampa, Fla. (February 14, 1968) – Benny Rapp didn’t get a single Valentine but ended up the sweetheart of Plant Field on Wednesday – for a while.

The 40-year-old Rapp came back Wednesday as the dust settled from the 30-lap IMCA sprint car race at the Florida State Fairgrounds and a voice broke through the throng of congratulations,…” all right old man, that’s enough.”

Rapp, after winning his first feature at Tampa, was just coming up for air from his second kiss from pretty IMCA Speed Queen Bernadette Juanich.

Mrs. Rapp applied the brakes.

It was another kind of brakes, however, that put the sunned-tan Toledo, Ohio, chauffeur out front to stay. Rapp had started the feature on the pole but sitting next to him was IMCA’s most respected driver, Jerry Richert.

Richert, with two feature wins already to his credit in the young season, seemed to be a heavy favorite to win despite Rapp’s sizzling qualifying mark of 26.23 seconds he set in time trials.

As expected, Richert quickly grabbed the lead at the start and Rapp fell in behind him, with dust that almost obscured the track.

Halfway through the race Rapp got his break. Richert broke a drive line and had to be towed to the pits. For the next 15 laps Rapp made the rest of the field eat his dust.

Gus Linder, the hard charger whose probably passed more car than anyone else in the four programs, finished second and Ralph Parkinson took third.

The tricky half-mile dirt proved many a guesser wrong as it started out fast and ended up slow towards the end.

Among those who guessed wrong were IMCA standouts Richert and Karl Busson as well as local hopefuls Wayne Reutimann and Bill Roynon. Richert did make the show, however, by borrowing Jerry Weld’s car.

Results –

Heat #1 – Bobby Adamson
Heat #2 – Darl Harrison
Heat #3 – Jay Woodside
Match race – Jay Woodside
Consolation – Gus Linder
Feature –
1. Benny Rapp
2. Gus Linder
3. Ralph Parkinson
4. Bob Black
5. Ray Tilley
6. Lee Kunzman
7. Charlie Masters
8. Gordon Woolley
9. Whitey Harmon
10.Jerry Lepinski

Thursday, February 13, 2020

1972 – Cassella Doubles Up in Tampa Sprint Series

Billy Cassella is presented his trophy by Gene Van Winkle as Ms. Winternationals, JoAnn Jenkins, and Woody Brinkman join in the presentation. - Al Major Photo

Tampa, Fla. (February 13, 1972) – It was a repeat performance for Billy Cassella on Sunday, as the curtain fell on the Winternational Sprints at the Florida State Fair.

As he did on Saturday, the dark-hared West Virginian driver led from green to checkered in the feature race. It was a shorter race, 30 laps, but apparently just as tiring as Cassella asked someone to hold the big trophy while he was waiting for Winternational point champion Jerry Blundy to show up for the picture session.

But Blundy did not show. He was already on his way to the airport to catch a plane back to home base, Galesburg, Ill.

The feature race was one of the calmest of the series, caused by a narrow groove that limited passing. Cassella admitted the groove was tight.

He had little trouble during the running of the race, except for running into heavy traffic as he caught up with a gaggle of slower cars. Once, Jan Opperman attempted to pass Cassella in traffic but settled back to claim second-place.

Ray Lee Goodwin was third followed by Jerry Blundy and crowd favorite Chuck Amati rounded out the top five.

Early in the race, Opperman and Blundy worked each other over for a couple of laps, banging wheels as they few down the backstretch and nearly put each other into a spin. Those were the only fireworks of the race.

The paltry crowd of 2,500 did some breath catching in the consolation.

Leroy Felty did a half spin and crowded Bill Burk Jr. The latter’s car jumped into the air, did a half turn and cracked into the wall. Burk was stunned momentarily but suffered nothing worse than a leg bruise.

Results –

Heat #1 – Ron Perkins
Heat #2 – Cliff Cockrum
Heat #3 – Steve Schultz
Match race – Chuck Amati
Consolation – Chuck Amati
Feature –
1. Billy Cassella
2. Jan Opperman
3. Ray Lee Goodwin
4. Jerry Blundy
5. Chuck Amati
6. Dean Shirley
7. Cliff Cockrum
8. Jim McCune
9. Roger Rager
10.Hank Albers

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

1975 – First timer; Dawley wins at Tampa

Darryl Dawley powers through the turn en route to his first Winternationals victory. 

Tampa, Fla. (February 12, 1975) – Darryl Dawley was so excited after winning the feature race at the Florida State Fair Wednesday night, that he ran away from photographers, fans and sports writers and disappeared into the darkness of the pit area.

But when he was finally cornered, the Sioux Falls, S.D., admitted that it was because it was the first time he has won a feature in the Winternational Sprints in the five years he’s been coming to Florida.

He was almost passed by Ralph Parkinson Jr., at one point, but managed to pull away when heard the latter’s engine.

Dawley said the track was a little greasy going into the corners but liked the generous groove it presented. It rained an hour before the races, delaying the program for about an hour but the showers worked well for the racing surface.

Parkinson came through to finish second and a hard-charging Joe Saldana finished third.

Heat races were won by Jan Opperman, Rick Hood, and Doc Dawson. Joe Saldana was the consolation winner.

Results –

Heat #1 – Jan Opperman
Heat #2 – Rick Hood
Heat #3 – Doc Dawson
Consolation – Joe Saldana
Feature –
1. Darryl Dawley
2. Ralph Parkinson Jr.
3. Joe Saldana
4. Ralph Blackett
5. Jan Opperman
6. Jim Edgington
7. Tommy Dickson
8. Ralph Quarterson
9. Chuck Amati
10.Dick Tobias

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

1967 – Ungar in Winternationals Opener

Steve Ungar of Garrettsville, Ohio, is joined by Speed Queen Anne Harris after his upset victory in the IMCA Winternationals opener at Tampa. Starter Johnny Hicks presents the checkered flag. 

Tampa, Fla. (February 11, 1967) - Steve Ungar, a balding 39-year-old from Garrettsville, Ohio, who does most of his racing in super-modifieds, turned a lot of firsts into first place in the rain-delayed opening day feature of the IMCA Winternationals sprints at the Florida State Fair on Saturday.

A turn away crowd saw Ungar flip while attempting to qualify early in the afternoon but came back later to set fastest time of the day with a lap of 26.77 seconds on the hard and slick half-mile clay oval.

Oddly, it was the first time he had driven the Long Brothers #55 Chevy and his first ride at the track.

“I was wondering if I would even qualify for the feature,” said a grinning Ungar, surrounded by well-wishers, and still carrying a lipstick print from a kiss by Speed Queen Anne Harris. “The car handled real good, I didn’t have any trouble.”

Ungar explained after his flip that he had tried to go too deep into the first turn during his first qualifying attempt and the car went into a drift. It was too far gone for him to correct, and he went over three times.

Not so lucky was Bill Brown of Denville, N.J., who made five rolling end-over-end turns on the same corner during the consolation. Brown’s Chevy was demolished, and he was removed unconscious and taken to an area hospital where he was released after overnight observation.

Finishing second to Ungar was Darl Harrison of Tiffin, Ohio, followed by Dick Kelm of Clinton, Penn., Jerry Daniels of St. Paul, Minn., and Bill Puterbaugh of Roxana, Ill.

The crowd of 10,638 was the largest crowd ever to witness an IMCA race here, topping last year’s opening day crowd by 335 admissions.

It was a bad day for a lot of drivers, with almost every race stopped because of spinouts or accidents.

The track, after a heavy morning rain, got faster as qualifying stated to unfold, and the top 20 in IMCA points, allotted the first 20 qualifying spots, found their times exceeded by the late timers.

Jim Moughan, second in points for 1966, qualified the Honore Black Deuce 40th fastest and missed the feature. And for the first time in IMCA history, the champion, Jerry Richert, failed to make the feature, running the consolation and failing to finish.

Results –

Heat #1 – Buzz Barton, Tampa, Fla.
Heat #2 – Jerry Blundy, Galesburg, Ill.
Heat #3 – Frank Riddle, Tampa
Match race – Bill Brown, Denville, N.J.
Consolation – Darl Harrison, Bettsville, Ohio
Feature –
1. Steve Ungar, Garrettsville, Ohio
2. Darl Harrison
3. Dick Kelm, Clinton, Penn.
4. Jerry Daniels, St. Paul, Minn.
5. Bill Puterbaugh, Roxana, Ill.
6. Karl Busson, Toledo, Ohio
7. Buzz Barton
8. Frank Riddle
9. Dave Scarborough, Largo, Fla.
10.Jerry Blundy

Monday, February 10, 2020

1971 – Leavitt overcomes cold, temp in Tampa win

Winner Eddie Leavitt is interviewed by Chris Economaki while Speed Queen Barbara Clack looks on. – Al Majors Photo

Tampa, Fla. (February 10, 1971) – The cold weather on Wednesday did not bother Eddie Leavitt of Kearney, Mo.

He walked into the Florida State Fairgrounds that morning with a 102-degree temperature but walked out that night with the trophy that went with winning the 30-lap IMCA sprint car feature during the Winternational Sprints.

That wasn’t the only handicap he had to overcome. He smacked the wall during the trophy dash and his car was so badly damaged it had to be lifted up and brought back to the pits on a wrecker.

But his crew got the car back together in time to make the main event.

In spite of a record 40 degree temperature and what Al Sweeney, National Speedway, Inc., promoter can recall, the coldest race day in 35 years, a crowd of 2,200 attended and were treated to one of the liveliest series of events to begin the 1971 season.

The feature was led variously by Bob Kinser of Bloomington, Ind., then Chuck Amati of Greenfield, Tenn., and finally by Leavitt. Kinser stayed right with Leavitt until the late laps, when Leavitt started lapping the tail end of the field beginning on lap 12.

After that, it became confusing with the lapped cars mingling with the front runners.

Leavitt stood in the middle of the track, holding his trophy when a rush of youngsters came out of the grandstand to shake his hand. It was obvious that he was more pleased with the small fry than the grownups.

In spite of an exhausting day, starting with a visit to a doctor for a shot for strep throat, he stood still for an interview a long picture session with Speed Queen Barbara Clack, and to receive congratulations from the numerous race fans.

Leavitt also had the quick time in qualifying, circling the half-mile clay oval in 24.469 seconds.

The finish of the race was Leavitt, Kinser, and Jerry Blundy, Galesburg, Ill., in that order. The race was run off in 14 minutes and 7.03 seconds, the fastest feature of the series to date.

The action started early when eight cars were caught in a spinning tangle during warmups. The machines of Roger Rager and Don Hewitt were both damaged.

Leavitt tagged the wall during time trials and made only a single lap, coming in to check the car out. But in spite of that, he still had the best time on the clocks.

Eight cars spun on the first lap of the consolation. Cliff Cockrum, Mitchell, Ind., and Buzz Barton, Tampa, were both knocked out of action for the evening.

Then, after a restart, Bill Burk Jr., Marion, Ill., the IMCA rookie of the year, got into the wall, bringing out another yellow flag.

Results –

Heat #1 - Bill Cassella, Weirton, W. Va.
Heat #2 – Chuck Amati, Greenfield, Tenn.
Heat #3 – Hank Albers, Bismarck, N.D
Match race – Bob Kinser, Bloomington, Ind.
Consolation – Gene Gennetten, Gladstone, Mo.
Feature –
1. Eddie Leavitt, Kearney, Mo.
2. Bob Kinser
3. Jerry Blundy, Galesburg, Ill.
4. Chuck Amati
5. Dick Sutcliffe, Greenfield, Mo.
6. Jan Opperman, Beaver Crossing, Neb.
7. Herman Wise, Atlanta
8. Ron Larson, White Bear Lake, Minn.
9. Jim Moughan, Springfield, Ill.
10.Frank Riddle, Tampa, Fla.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

1974 – It’s Opperman again at Tampa

Feature winner Jan Opperman poses alongside the Speedway Motors 4X after winning his second consecutive IMCA sprint car feature at the Florida State Fair. – Al Majors Photo

Tampa, Fla. (February 9, 1974) – Long-haired Jan Opperman won his second consecutive International Motor Contest Association Winternationals sprint car feature at the Florida State Fair on Saturday, but it wasn’t easy.

He had to contend with a tricky track, but more important, he had to contend with a charging driver most of the way.

USAC star Duane “Pancho” Carter who smacked the wall and caused a restart on the first lap, challenged Opperman repeatedly on the turns and appeared at times to have a wheel in front. Experience paid off in the end as the smooth driving Opperman sailed along while Carter was fighting off handing issues.

Jay Lyle was a distant third, really out of the race between the two front-runners.

Opperman was lavish of his praise for Carter, the driver who gave him the most problems in the feature.

“Pancho is a super race car driver,” he said, catching his breath after his epic battle. “He’s a real gentleman, quite a boy.”

But Opperman was not so kind in his comments about the track. While there was a bit of cushion, piled clay in the turns, the straights were something wild.

“I had to go half-throttle on the backstretch,” he remarked. “I was going all over that track.”

Later in the pits, both he and Carter agreed that the track was something they had never experienced before.

“How about that hole in the third turn,” exclaimed Carter. I was hitting it so hard that the rear end of the car was bouncing up and breaking my seat.”

The consolation was the thriller of the afternoon. Eight cars were wrecked in to four-car tangle. No one was hurt.

In the first incident, coming out of the fourth turn, young Jimmy McElreath ran into a gaggle of three spinning cars and did a half roll with his cage slamming into the outside wall.

A few laps after the restart, four more cars collided in the first turn as Gene Gennetten lost his steering completely. Ralph Liguori, with no place go, clipped one of the spinning cars and went up in the air in three complete rolls.

“Why did it have to happen to me?” a shaken Liguori asked afterwards. “Someone else loses his steering and I’m the one to flip.”

Results –

Heat #1 – Duane Carter
Heat #2 – Ray Lee Goodwin
Heat #3 – Darryl Dawley
Match race – Jan Opperman
Consolation – Lee Osborne
Feature –
1. Jan Opperman
2. Duane Carter
3. Jay Lyle
4. Jerry Richert
5. Leroy Felty
6. Ray Lee Goodwin
7. Kramer Williamson
8. Lee Osborne
9. Chuck Amati
10.Kenny Weld

Saturday, February 8, 2020

1975 – Ferkel cops Winternationals opener

Rick Ferkel 

Tampa, Fla. (February 8, 1975) – Rick Ferkel thought the race would never end.

Three times, spinning cars brought out the caution that called for realignment of the field and cost him the lead he had built.

But at the finish, the Bowling Green, Ohio, driver was still three-quarters a lap on the old half-mile Florida State Fairgrounds oval in front of rest of the field.

So Ferkel won the first of the Winternational Sprint Series at Plant Field on Saturday afternoon. He finished ahead of Chuck Amati of Marion, Ill., and Greg Leffler of North Vernon, Ind.

It was the three yellow flags that made the race seem so long. Each time the pace car went out to line up the field while the track was cleared and each time Ferkel lost nearly half a lap advantage he had earned.

That means he raced a lot mor than the scheduled 30 laps.

“When I saw the halfway signal, I thought to myself, ‘Oh no, this race has to be over,’” he said.

He had a close call. He hooked a wheel in a rut between the first and second turns and almost went completely out of control.

In spite of the threat of the cold weather, the weather worked just right for the Fair races. The sun shown hot and bright and coaxed out a crowd of 7,563, the biggest crowd to attend a Fair race since 1970.

The track was good enough that Joe Saldana of Lincoln, Neb., set a new 15-lap record in winning the consolation. He was time in at 6 minutes and 48.46 seconds. The old record, set by Jud Larson in 1965, was 6 minutes and 55.69 seconds.

The consolation qualified three of the real hustlers into the feature, Amati, Saldana and Leffler. Jan Opperman also qualified by way of the consy but he had handling issues in the feature and finished well down on the list.

Heat races were won by Roger Rager, Daryl Dawley, and Larry Kirkpatrick. Ferkel also won a 6-lap match race.

Results –

Heat #1 – Roger Rager
Heat #2 – Daryl Dawley
Heat #3 – Larry Kirkpatrick
Match race – Rick Ferkel
Consolation – Joe Saldana
Feature –
1. Rick Ferkel
2. Chuck Amati
3. Greg Leffler
4. Joe Saldana
5. Bill Utz
6. Dean Shirley
7. Larry Kirkpatrick
8. Ralph Parkinson Jr.
9. Butch Wilkerson
10.Roger Rager

Friday, February 7, 2020

1962 – Pit decision cost Folse; Richert Cops

Tampa, Fla. (February 7, 1962) – A split-second decision in the pits that didn’t pan out, two spine-tingling flips featuring the “May and September” of racing, and the absence of a cigar-chewing veteran driver played a key role in the opening day of the Florida State Fair IMCA races on Wednesday afternoon.

It was the wrong selection of tires that may have cost three-time IMCA champion Pete Folse hiss second Florida feature loss in two years. It did allow hard-driving Jerry Richert of Forest Lake, Minn., to cop the first big day of racing on the Plant Field half-mile.

Richert won the 20-lap feature on the 19th loop, nosing out last year’s strong finisher, Johnny White of Warren, Mich. Johnny Rutherford of Fort worth, Tex., always a bridesmaid but never a bride at these Florida events, powered his way to a third-place finish in the Beatson Chevy, while Folse, driving the almost legendary Honore Bardahl Special, finished a puzzled fourth.

Folse, soundly beaten, still managed to flash is credentials at the finish line – his big, broad, “wait until next time” grin. But he failed to list a definite reason as to his loss.

“Main reason,” said Folse, “was I couldn’t get enough bite on the track. No, it wasn’t the tires. Actually, I don’t know what other tires I would have used.”

Folse had won the second heat of the day and the trophy dash both in high fashion, using knobby tires. He had found a cushion on the high side of Plant Field half-mile and was riding the groove all the way.

“And that’s the way I had planned to run the feature as well,” he added.

Richert, however, had planned to run the feature a little differently.

“I was using I.V. slicks, and decided to stay on the pole the whole way,” he said.

“I sort of felt that Pete couldn’t keep the outside groove, that track changes too much after every race. About halfway through, I could see he was running out of cushion.”

Folse didn’t, and finally with several laps remaining, the smooth-driving Tampan edged his car down to the pole, hoping to block anymore cars from coming through while holding onto fourth position.

Despite the fact that the majority of drivers felt this was the strongest Tampa racing field ever, there was a definite void in the events. It was the absence of Buzz Barton, Folse’s shadow for the last three years.

And, it was not unreasonable to assume that many of the 5,200 spectators on hand had traveled just to see one of their classic duels.

Richert’s brilliant driving, however, almost made most of them forget.

Results –

Time trial – Herschel Wagner (26.35)
Heat #1 – Mickey Shaw
Heat #2 – Pete Folse
Heat #3 – Dick Hope
Trophy dash – Pete Folse
Consolation – Jerry Richert
Feature –
1. Jerry Richert
2. Johnny White
3. Johnny Rutherford
4. Pete Folse
5. Arnie Knepper
6. Dick Hope
7. Larry North
8. Gordon Woolley
9. Mickey Shaw
10.Herschel Wagner

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

1972 – Opperman a Winner at IMCA Winternationals

Jan Opperman won the second leg of the IMCA Winternationals at Plant Field. Florida State Fair President J. McKissick Jeter is to Opperman's left while Speed Queen Joanne Jenkins is to Opperman's right. - Morris L. Bailey Photo

Tampa, Fla. (February 5, 1972) – Jan Opperman, the driver with the long hair, won the 30-lap feature Saturday, round two of the IMCA Winternationals Series at the Florida State Fair and thanked the Lord he had the strength to finish.

He didn’t say that casually, as would many, he meant it sincerely.

“I give credit to the Lord,” he said, after standing patiently for the cameras in the winner’s circle. “I like to witness for Him. He sure has changed my life.”

Opperman needed the strength because his car was acting up during the final six circuits and was…” beating me to death.”

To the numerous fans in attendance, Opperman appeared to be in complete control after taking the lead on lap 6 from his 11th starting position. After grabbing the top spot, he stretched out to substantial lead, then stretched it twice more when cautions bunched the field after slower cars spun out.

It was a good day for the self-styled “hippie,” a follower of the simple, quiet life until he climbs into the cockpit of a race car. He also won his heat race to qualify for the main event.

Chuck Amati, Opperman and Bill Utz were heat winners. Bill Cassella scored the victory in the 6-lap trophy dash and Jerry Blundy, the defending IMCA national champion, grabbed top honors in the consolation.

While Opperman rode serenely in the lead throughout most of the contest, Amati and Blundy carried on a dogfight for the runner-up spot. Once Blundy got in front, Amati charged right back past him again, taking the high road on the corners and bouncing his way through the turns.

With two laps to go, announcer Jim Riser sang out, “Oh, there’s something wrong with Amati’s car.”

And there was, he was running out of fuel, getting power only when it sloshed around in the turns.

The feature was marked by three yellow flags. First Blundy and Cliff Cockrum hooked together, with Blundy continuing and Cockrum spinning to a stop. Then, in two separate spins, Jim Linder and Ron Perkin performed loops to bring out the caution.

Results –

Heat #1 – Chuck Amati
Heat #2 – Jan Opperman
Heat #3 – Bill Utz
Trophy dash – Bill Cassella
Consolation – Jerry Blundy
Feature –

1. Jan Opperman
2. Bob Kinser
3. Bill Cassella
4. Jerry Blundy
5. Bill Utz
6. Roger Rager
7. Ralph Parkinson Jr.
8. Chuck Amati
9. Dale McCarthy
10.Eddie Leavitt

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

1970 – Adamson takes Winter Sprints opener

 Piloting the Hawthorne Special, Bobby Adamson won the 1970 National Winter Sprint Series opener at the Florida State Fair. - Beetle Bailey Photo

Tampa, Fla. (February 2, 1970) – Bobby Adamson, who does his best in the final days of the Florida State Fair races, turned the timetables around, winning the 25-lap feature, the 6-lap match race, and finishing second in the 12-lap consolation at the opening program for the National Winter Sprints.

For the last two years, Adamson has won the final feature of the Fair series, but Wednesday, he ran a perfect race before a half-frozen crowd of 3,500 hard core race fans in the grandstand.

It was a tough one to win, with six yellow flags slowing the race and bunching the field, taking away the cushion that Adamson had built as a lead each time. The yellow flags came out for spinouts by single cars, except for one time when Jim Moughan and Thad Dosher spun coming out of the fourth turn and Moughan’s car getting a little bent out of shape.

The lanky Adamson said he had trouble in his heat race because he had thee wrong tires on the car, but all that changed with different tires for the feature.

“The track was beautiful once we got the setup right on the car,” he grinned. “My car felt so good I can’t explain it.”

He got the lead on the first turn from his pole position and he was never headed, not even threatened. Each time the field was released on a restart, Adamson would roar away to open up a substantial lead again.

The feature was the most interrupted race of the day and 15 of the 25 laps were run under the caution flag. Even in the final laps, when the yellow flag laps were not counted as part of the race, the field was slowed to a crawl.

The final flag came on the white flag lap, signaling one more lap to go, and when the green flashed, a dog fight developed between three cars for the runner-up spot.

At the checkered, Bobby Allen was second; Kenny Weld third; and Jan Opperman fourth.

J.D. Leas turned in the fastest time in qualifying, caught by the clocks at 26.71 seconds for the trip around the half-mile clay oval.

With a wet track in the morning, the time trials were moved to the afternoon and the cars were put on the track at the rate of two at a time to keep the program from lagging.

Bill Utz won the first 10-lap heat while Bob Williams took top honors in the second heat. Jerry Blundy roared from his sixth starting spot to capture the third heat.

It was Adamson all the way in the 6-lap match race and Chuck Lynch got the jump from the pole position to capture the 12-lap consolation.

Results –

Time trials – J.D. Leas (26.71)
Match race – Bobby Adamson
Heat #1 – Bill Utz
Heat #2 – Bob Williams
Heat #3 – Jerry Blundy
Consolation – Chuck Lynch
Feature –

1. Bobby Adamson
2. Bobby Allen
3. Kenny Weld
4. Jan Opperman
5. Darl Harrison
6. Chuck Lynch
7. Dick Sutcliffe
8. Bob Williams
9. Bill Utz
10. Bill Hughes