Sunday, March 28, 2021

1976 – Low Road Best for Kinser

Sheldon Kinser won the USAC season opener at Eldora. - Stan Kalwasinski Collection

Rossburg, Ohio (March 28, 1976) – The low road turned out to be the best road for Sheldon Kinser Sunday at a packed Eldora Speedway.

As a result, the Bloomington, Ind., veteran pocketed $3,150 from a $16,495 kitty at the opening United States Auto Club sprint car race of the season.

The usual $7,500 purse, as against a 40% of the gate, swelled to record proportions when an estimated 12,000 race-hungry fans poured into Earl Baltes’ half-mile, high-banked dirt playground.

It marked Kinser’s third career sprint car victory. He won at Terre Haute, Ind., in 1974 and Schererville, Ind., last season.

The record-smashing day also included Bill Englehart’s 17.551 second ride during time trials. His 102.55 mile per hour effort wiped out the previous record of 17.56 seconds, set by Lee Osborne in 1975.

Starting in eighth position, Kinser benefitted from four caution flags to keep within striking distance of Joe Saldana and Tom Bigelow, who actually dominated the race.

Both Saldana and Bigelow chose to run the fast lane up high. However, that route proved extremely hazardous, especially through the first and second turns.

When Saldana hit a rut entering turn one on the 22nd lap, Bigelow charged into the lead. When Bigelow returned the favor four laps later, Saldana took over.

Kinser patiently waited for his opening. It came on turn three on lap 38, and he waved bye-bye to Saldana, Bigelow, and the rest of the USAC gang.

Saldana finished second with Bubby Jones, Bigelow and James McElreath rounding out the top-five.

Results –

1. Sheldon Kinser
2. Joe Saldana
3. Bubby Jones
4. Tom Bigelow
5. James McElreath
6. Jan Opperman
7. Jackie Howerton
8. Steve Chassey
9. Larry Dickson
10.Gary Bettenhausen

Saturday, March 27, 2021

1966 – Larson Wins Reading Season Opener

Jud Larson

Reading, Penn. (March 27, 1966) – For the second straight year, Jud Larson of Speedway, Ind., has captured the sprint car season opener of the United States Auto Club.

Larson covered the 30-lap race Sunday afternoon in 14 minutes and 25.96 seconds.

One driver, Carl Williams of Kansas City, was shaken up in a mishap during the second qualifying heat race. His car flipped three times and landed on its top in the infield at the Reading Fairgrounds. Examined at a local hospital, he later returned to the track.

Red Riegel of Leesport, Penn., finished second. Arnold Knepper of Belleville, Il., was third, followed by Roger McCluskey of Tucson, Ariz., and Mario Andretti of Nazareth, Penn., the 1965 USAC sprint car national champion.

The total purse was $5,000.

Heat winners were McCluskey, Al Miller of Detroit and Larry Dickson of Marietta, Ohio.

Results –

1. Jud Larson
2. Red Riegel
3. Arnie Knepper
4. Roger McCluskey
5. Mario Andretti
6. Don Hewitt
7. Karl Busson
8. Dave Lundy
9. Chuck Allen
10.Bill Brown
11.Bobby Unser
12.Al Miller
13.Ronnie Duman
14.Larry Dickson
15.Sam Sessions

Friday, March 26, 2021

1961 – Burdick Wins Atlanta 500

Bob Burdick acknowledges the crowd after winning the Atlanta 500. His father Roy joins him in victory lane. 

Hampton, Ga. (March 26, 1961) – Cool-headed Bob Burdick of Omaha, Neb., let the fast boys burn up their cars and then drove his 1961 Pontiac to victory in the Atlanta 500 late model stock car race.

Burdick, who started seventh in a field of 46, was in contention the entire way, but he never seemed to try to take the lead.

Then on lap 292, Marvin Panch of Daytona Beach, Fla., was forced into the pits with a broken axle and Burdick moved to the front of the pack and stayed there until the he received the checkered.

His average time for the 344-lap event was 120.044 miles per hour, about three miles an hour faster than the average speed in last year’s race.

The 23-year-old Midwesterner finished a lap ahead o Ralph Earnhardt of Kannapolis, N.C. Earnhardt came in second in Cotton Owen’s 1961 Pontiac. Owens, a Spartanburg, S.C., racing veteran, has retired from racing.

Nelson Stacy of Cincinnati, Ohio, guided his 1961 Ford to third place, a whisker ahead of Rex White of Spartanburg, S.C., in a 1961 Chevrolet.

The victory was worth approximately $16,000 to Burdick.

The grueling NASCAR-sanctioned race took a terrific toll on machines with only 16 cars running at the end of the race. There were several accidents, but no one hurt seriously. Joe Lee Johnson of Chattanooga, Tenn., received treatment for a knee injury when his car was involved in a pileup on lap 126.

An estimated 43,000 race fans jammed into the two-year-old Atlanta International Raceway for the race, third in the history of the mile and a half asphalt track.

The weather was perfect for racing, a pleasant contrast to the cold temperatures and biting winds which had punished spectators in pre-race events.

An indication of what would follow came early as Fireball Roberts of Daytona Beach, Fla., was forced out of the race on lap 30 with a blown transmission after waging a terrific battle with Fred Lorenzen of Elmhurst, Ill.

Lorenzen had taken the lead from Roberts on lap 13, pouring it on in his 1961 Ford at a sizzling pace of 133 miles per hour. He was building up a sizeable lead when his right rear tire blew out and is car skidded into the guardrail, forcing him out of the race on lap 101.

Panch moved into the lead, followed by Banjo Matthews of Asheville, N.C., in a 1961 Ford.

Roberts, eager to get back in the race, got his chance when Joe Weatherly of Norfolk, Va., tired on lap 107. Roberts relieved Weatherly and immediately started pushing Weatherly’s Pontiac towards the front.

Curtis Turner of Roanoke, Va., took over the top spot in his 1961 Ford when Panch pulled in for a pit stop on lap 154. Pushing turner hard were Stacy, Jack Smith of Spartanburg, S.C., Roberts and Matthews.

The mechanical bugaboo struck Roberts again when his right rear tire blew on lap 177. He held the car well in control but had to go around the track on the rim and his car was knocked out of action when his wheel bolts broke in the pits.

Panch regained the lead on lap 187 when Turner made a stop for fuel. Turner got back in the race, but his car was over heating and he was soon forced out.

Matthews, who had nursed his car into second place, took the lead and held it for 32 laps when his car went out with mechanical issues.

Once again, Panch’s car took the lead but with Roberts behind the wheel. At the 293rd lap, Roberts pulled into the pits for a routine fueling stop and Panch slipped in behind the wheel again. Panch was still in the lead when he left the pits but six laps later his axle broke and he had to pull in for repairs.

Results –

1. Bob Burdick, Omaha, Neb.
2. Ralph Earnhardt, Kannapolis, N.C.
3. Nelson Stacy, Cincinnati, Ohio
4. Rex White, Spartanburg, S.C.
5. Ned Jarrett, Newton, N.C.
6. Marvin Panch, Daytona Beach, Fla.
7. Tom Pistone, Chicago
8. Emanuel Zervakis, Richmond, Va.
9. Bob Welborn, Atlanta
10. Tommy Irwin, Inman, S.C.
11.Jimmy Pardue, North Wilkesboro, N.C.
12.Buck Baker, Charlotte, N.C.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

When Indy Came to Cedar Rapids

An 1954 advertisement for the AAA Big Car races at Hawkeye Downs. 

By Kyle Ealy

Cedar Rapids, Iowa – The American Auto Association or as we know it today, AAA, was heavily involved in auto racing from 1904 to 1955. It was known as the AAA Contest Board. Modern day Indy-car racing traces its roots directly to it.

All the races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during that time were sanctioned by AAA, including the Indianapolis 500.

The majority of American Auto Association races were held on the East coast. Very rarely, did they cross the Mississippi River.

Starting in 1950, however, it was announced that two Midwestern tracks would play host to AAA-sanctioned auto race. One was the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, and the other, Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The Hawkeye Downs race would take place during the popular All-Iowa Fair, August 12, 1950.

Sam Nunis

The promoter of the race was none other than Sam Nunis of Reading, Penn.

Nunis, who promoted approximately 75% of the auto racing programs sanctioned by AAA, would have 12 or 15 “big-name” drivers under contract each year, and wherever Nunis went, so did they. Chances were, one of those drivers was the Indianapolis 500 champion.

And who didn’t want to see the Indy 500 champion at your local track?

Sure enough, when cars and stars pulled into Cedar Rapids a few days early, the 1950 Indianapolis 500 champion, Johnnie Parsons of Van Nuys, Calif., was the driver drawing the most attention. Along with Parsons was Tommy Hinnershitz of Oley, Penn., Lee Wallard of Altamont, N.Y., who finished sixth in the 500, Duane Carter of Detroit, Mich., the “One-Legged Wonder” Bill Schindler of Freeport, N.Y., and Andy Linden of Los Angeles, Calif.

An estimated 5,200 jammed the grandstands despite threatening weather all day long. Parsons, the defending AAA national champion was picked to have a red-hot duel with Hinnershitz. Hinnershitz, the Eastern AAA champion, drove “Big Red”, a powerful Offenhauser which the late Ted Horn had piloted to 25 consecutive triumphs and 83 records.

But when the “racing bugs” were making their picks, no one mentioned a 20-year-old wild-driving speedster from Long Beach, Calif., Troy Ruttman.

Troy Ruttman

Racing one of the 13 Offenhauser’s in the field, Ruttman captured the fans’ attention when he finished second to Hinnershitz in his heat. The young Californian also had the fastest qualifying time of the 19 entrants, touring the half-mile in 23.95 seconds, a new Hawkeye Downs speed record.

The feature stared as expected with Parsons leading, Duane Carter in second, Hinnershitz in third and Ruttman in fourth for the first 11 circuits.

Ruttman made his bid on the next lap, passing Hinnershitz at the start/finish line and remaining there until lap 23. Then the youth shot ahead again, passing Carter on the curve to grab second and then sticking himself to Parsons’ tail.

Fate then played her hand as Parsons’ $14,000 Offenhauser developed rear-end trouble on lap 24 and had to drop out, only one lap from the finish. Ruttman had to only coast home to collect the top prize.

The fifth event of the afternoon, involving two cars in a match race, turned out to be a three-car race instead. The 19 drivers were assembled facing the grandstand, with two contestants to be picked by applause of the audience for each man.

The fans couldn’t decide between Parsons, Hinnershitz and Ruttman, so Sam Nunis gave in to public acclaim and let all three race. Ruttman also won this 3-lap event, coming from third to first on the last lap.

Joey Ray, the only known Negro in big car racing at the time, failed to make the feature as did Jerry Hoyt of Indianapolis. Hoyt, the youngest competitor at 21-years-old, drove the only racer in the field which had competed in the 500-mile event in May.

Johnnie Parsons

Headed by a parade of Indianapolis 500 stars, a field of 22 drivers were hand when they made their second appearance at the All-Iowa Fair on August 19, 1951. Of the 33 starters for the Memorial Day Classic, Sam Nunis had brought with him eight of the starters, including AAA point leader Bill Schindler, Midwestern champion Duane Carter, Joe James of Inglewood, Calif., Gene Force of Richmond, Ind., “Iron” Mike Nazaruk of East Meadows, N.Y., who took second in his first 500 start, Cal Niday of Los Angeles, Quentin Cowles and Johnnie Parsons.

Great weather brought a huge mass for the seven-event program, with Fair officials estimating the crowd at 7,800.

Joe Sostilio would get those spectators on their feet during qualifying as the Boston, Mass., speed merchant would set a new world’s record for a flat half-mile dirt track when he was clocked by the electric eye at 22.88 seconds. The former world record was 23 seconds flat, and the old Hawkeye Downs mark had been set by Ruttman the year before.

In addition, Sostilio would proceed to set a new Hawkeye Downs’ mark in the first heat, going 8 laps in 3 minutes and 16.48 seconds, breaking Johnnie Parsons’ one-year-old mark of 3 minutes and 20.57 seconds.

Parsons would win the second heat, Buzz Barton of Tulsa, Okla., the third heat while Sostilio would win the 3-lap match race. Gene Force would grab top honors in the consolation.

Unfortunately for Sostilio, the afternoon would end on a sour note. Having won everything that he entered, he was a heavy favorite to win the 25-lap Sweepstakes race and for the first 10 laps of that race, it appeared he would.

Sostilio was well ahead of his teammate Parsons when he began to slow considerably. Parsons sped by him as did Mike Nazaruk and Joe James. That’s when things took a turn for the worse…

Sostilio’s car suddenly caromed off the track, crashed through the two-foot-high retaining fence, and then smashed through the 10-foot wooden fence at the southwest corner of the track.

Fortunately, his car did not overturn, permitting the driver to suffer only a few skin burns. Sostilio was obviously shaken up-quite a bit by the accident. He was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital where he was treated and released.

Afterwards, Sam Nunis said the accident was caused by a faulty steering mechanism. Tire tracks on the west curve showed that Sostilio’s car never made the turn – there were no skid marks. Sostilio had a quarter of a lap to go when he crashed.

Parsons would take the victory followed by Nazaruk, James, Duane Carter and Ed Adams of Tampa, Fla. After Parsons had crossed the finish line and was circling the track, he stopped his car on the west curve and ran to help Sostilio.

Joey James

Joey James would win the 25-lap feature, but it was Troy Ruttman’s near-fatal accident that would grab the headlines when the big cars made their return to the All-Iowa Fair on August 17, 1952.

The 22-year-old, 250-pound Lynwood, Calif., driver, the latest winner of the Indianapolis 500, was taken to Mercy Hospital with a crushed right arm, head injuries and severe lacerations in an unusual accident that saw his Agajanian Special #98 crash over the guard rail on the East turn of the Hawkeye Downs track.

The accident occurred while the cars were preparing to start the second heat, and at a time when the big Offenhauser’s were moving only at a 15 mile an hour clip.

Heading into the backstretch, Ruttman’s car failed to make the turn, broke through the guard rail and plunged down an embankment, overturning.

The young man who survived 500 grueling miles earlier this year at Indianapolis, was pinned under the racer, and his boot was cut away before he could be removed. The accident would sideline racing's rising star for 18 months. 

The wrecked remains of Troy Ruttman's race car. 

Other serious crashes were narrowly avoided during the afternoon program on a track that was full of holes, caused by last week's 100-mile stock car race, and in generally bad condition because of the week’s irregular weather.

The condition of the track was such that it slowed down more than two full seconds during the time trial period. Cars that had been turning rounds in the 24-second bracket during hot laps driving couldn't get below 26 seconds during the trials.

Track conditions played havoc with some of the name drivers, including Pat O’Conner of North Vernon, Ind., and former IMCA champion Frank Luptow. Such veterans as Tommy Hinnershitz and Johnnie Parsons, narrowly avoided crashes when their cars rocketed out of bad holes on the treacherous turns.

James, who also competed in the 1952 Memorial Day classic, did a stellar job in the first heat as he worked to the front from the fifth spot. As a result, the Van Nuys, Calif., pilot found himself on the pole in the feature, and he never relinquished that spot.

Gene Force of Richmond, Ind. passed former national AAA champion Henry Banks of Compton, Calif., to take second place, but he lost ground all through the 25-lap feature to James.

Sadly, Joe James would lose his life a little over two months later in San Jose, Calif., race.

Bob Sweikert

When Nunis and his AAA promotion returned for the fourth time, on August 23, 1953, he promised the biggest array of stars and delivered. Nunis had lined up 24 drivers to appear, 14 of which competed in the Indianapolis 500.

Some new Midwestern dirt track stars such as Roy Newman and Paul Russo, both of Hammond, Ind., Ira Collins of Centerville, Ind., Larry Crockett of Columbus, Ind., Bill Earl and George Lynch, both of Indianapolis, had signed up to rival the “500” notables.

Eastern stars making their first appearance at Hawkeye Downs were Johnny Thomson of Springfield, Mass., and Wally Campbell of Trenton, N.J., and Eddie Sachs of Bryn Mawr, Penn.

A trio of youngsters had also signed up; Jimmy Daywalt of Wabash, Ind., who had finished sixth at the Memorial Day Classic; Jimmy Bryan of Phoenix, Ariz., and Bob Sweikert of Los Angeles.

Some of the tried-and-true favorites were back as well, including four-time Eastern AAA king Tommy Hinnershitz, former 500 winner Johnnie Parsons, Joe Sostilio, and Duane Carter driving the brand-new $15,000 Miracle Power Special.

When the big day finally came around, once again, it wasn’t the winner who stole the headlines…this time it was the promoter, Sam Nunis.

Minutes after Bob Sweikert rolled to victory in the 25-lap feature event, Nunis shocked everyone when he instructed race announcer Chris Economaki to inform fans that, because of poor support, that he and his promotion would not return to Hawkeye Downs in 1954.

Nunis’ complaint was 6,500 fans were not enough to support the Sunday afternoon field, which included 14 Indianapolis 500 drivers and a record-breaking 16 Offenhauser’s among 21 cars which timed.

All-Iowa Fair officials, AAA officials and the drivers themselves disgusted with the PA announcement, gave quick assurances that Nunis was speaking only for himself, and not for the Association.

Soon after, Johnnie Parsons, Duane Carter and Tommy Hinnershitz – three of the top stars – gave assurances to Fair officials that they were ready to return in 1954 – with or without a promoter.

“We don't want to give the fans the wrong impression about AAA,” Hinnershitz explained.

One official pointed out that Nunis had received his guarantee of $5,500 “which was what his own contract called for.” A report on Nunis' conduct has been forwarded to AAA offices in Washington, D.C.

Otherwise, Sunday's program was outstanding, despite a poor track that was built up under Nunis' direction. In the time trials, seven cars timed under 25 seconds and eight more were in the 25 second bracket.

Even in the final 25-lap event, with the track slowing noticeably under the effects of the week's hottest afternoon sun, Sweikert averaged 27.4 seconds a lap.

Sweikert, an up-and-coming young star, started outside in the front row, but fell off the pace in the early laps. He had to pass Jerry Hoyt a third of the way along for the victory. Jimmy Bryant, moving up last, wound up in third place.

Jimmy Daywalt, fresh off his Rookie-of-the-Year performance at the Indy 500, had his troubles with the Agajanian #98, the same car which Troy Ruttman was seriously injured at the Downs the year before. He failed to place in heat race, and then lost out to Duane Carter in the consolation. As a result, he didn't qualify for the feature.

Don Freeland

In October of 1953, All-Iowa Fair manager Andy Hanson and Superintendent of Speed, R.K. “Doc” Hunter announced that a new promotional duo would supervise the races when the AAA stars and cars returned on August 22, 1954.

Former 500 champ, Johnnie Parsons, had first approached Fair officials about promoting the races the same day that Nunis had announced he wasn’t returning. After some negotiation with officials and permission from the AAA Contest Board, it was announced that Parsons and his new partner, newspaper editor Bob McGovern of Elizabethtown, N.J., would be in charge.

Jim Lamb, secretary of the AAA Contest Board told the Cedar Rapids Gazette, “This new promotion team knows a lot about racing and is enthusiastic. I’m certain that Parsons and McGovern will give the fans a creditable performance.”

Parsons would show up August 17, 1954, five days before the big event for some pre-race publicity. The soft-spoken Parsons had promised a star-studded field for the race and indeed, he would deliver.

Back again were veterans Tommy Hinnershitz, Duane Carter, Mike Nazaruk, Pat O’Conner, Eddie Sachs, Bob Sweikert and Jimmy Bryan, the runner-up in the ’54 Indianapolis 500.

A trio of newcomers would join the field, Duke Nalon of Chicago, one of the big names in Indianapolis 500 history as the driver of the famed Novi Special. Ed Elisian of Oakland, Calif., was another Indy standout as was Elmer George of Speedway, Ind.

Also entered was Danny Kladis of Chicago. Kladis, who was a relief driver in Indianapolis Speedway testing, but was better known in Eastern Iowa for his midget driving. Kladis won several Midwest Midget Auto Racing Association (MMARA) titles in the famed Lund #39 midget.

All in all, 19 Indianapolis 500 drivers were in attendance with 14 Offenhauser’s competing.

When Parsons was asked if, he too, would compete in the Sunday afternoon races, he replied, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to drive Sunday. This promoting gig is more of a job than you’d think.”

Parsons would be well-rewarded as 8,500 race fans packed the grandstands, appreciative that the popular star had brought racing back to the All-Iowa Fair.

Even a three-hour wait as the muddy track was worked into racing condition, couldn’t deter their enthusiasm. The long wait would be well worth it as 14 cars put on one of the greatest features ever witnessed in Eastern Iowa.

A standing room only crowd watched Don Freeland, a 29-year-old driver from Los Angeles, win the 25-lap feature in the last 100 feet.

Veteran Tommy Hinnershitz, the four-time Eastern AAA champion, jumped into the led on the first lap and held it for more than 24 circuits before Freeland virtually threw his Offenhauser into the lead and won by three yards.

Freeland and three other AAA stars - Bob Sweikert, who won the title a year ago: Andy Linden and Jerry Hoyt - all fought Hinnershitz for the lead in a great five-car battle on a mud-logged track.

The fight for third and fourth were just as heated as Freeland led home the field of Offenhauser’s in 11 minutes and 3.51 seconds.

The soggy track, which produced a half dozen spinouts and considerable motor trouble, kept preliminary events from being good races. The preliminaries were such that few fans were prepared for the tremendous feature race that took place in the gathering darkness.

Besides the field of 14 “500” stars signed by Parsons and McGovern, Joe Sostilio and former Speedway winner Troy Ruttman were on hand for the races. Also, in attendance was Tony Hulman, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, whose car was in the field, driven by Eddie Sachs.

Parsons was pleased to say the least with his first promotional effort and immediately afterwards, told Fair officials that he would return for the 1955 All-Iowa Fair.

Bob Sweikert, the ’55 Indianapolis 500 winner, would headline the AAA races on August 21, 1955.

Sweikert, who had won the All-Iowa Fair title in 1953, would be joined by familiar cast, including Tommy Hinnershitz, Duane Carter, Pat O’Conner, and Andy Linden, who had finished sixth in the “500”.

Eddie Sachs of Greensboro, N.C., was also another driver returning. Sachs, as colorful off the track as he was on it, would be behind the wheel of Mari Hulman’s “Pink Deuce”. The 26-year-old speedster was quickly becoming one of the top-rated drivers on the AAA circuit.

A trio of newcomers would be making their first appearance at Hawkeye Downs as well. Jack Turner of Seattle, Wash., who had dominated racing on the West coast and was the 1955 AAA national midget champion would be there as well as the Indy 500 Rookie-of-the-Year Al Herman of Allentown, Penn. Herman finished seventh in the Memorial Day Classic. George Amick of Los Angeles would also be in the field, driving the Bob Estes Offy. Amick was subbing for the defending winner, Don Freeland, who injured his hand in a racing incident a few weeks earlier.

Eddie Sachs

Once again, Parsons was richly awarded as over 8,000 spectators turned out for the seven-event program.

Eddie Sachs would start on the pole position, take the lead on the initial lap, and lead the rest of the way in the 25-lap main event. Sachs’ winning time was 11 minutes and 47.50 seconds behind the wheel of the Cheesman Offy.

Sachs was followed home by Bob Sweikert who pulled out all the stops in an effort to get by Sachs but could never get closer than a few car lengths.

Sachs, who gained his pole position by winning the first heat, started out like he was going to make a runaway of the feature. He built up a good lead during the first five laps, but from then on Sweikert began to slowly whittle down his advantage.

Sachs smartly kept his car as far inside as possible so as not to give any ground to Sweikert. When it looked as though Sachs might lose his lead, he just opened up the throttle a little more and asserted his authority.

Tommy Hinnershitz would start eighth but quickly make his way to the front. He shot into third place on lap 13 and it appeared that he was well on his way to passing both Sweikert and Sachs, but the hardware store operator couldn’t catch either and stayed right there in third.

Newcomer Buddy Cagle of Tulsa, Okla., was fourth and Jack Turner, who set the quickest time of the day with a 23.68 second clocking, finished fifth.

Unfortunately, 1955 would be the end for the American Auto Association. Their biggest star, Bill Vukovich, died at the ’55 Indianapolis 500 and after a tragic accident at the Le Mans Grand Prix the same year that killed 83 spectators and injured 170 more, AAA dissolved their Contest Board and decided to focus solely on the safety aspect of the company.

Starting in 1956, Frank Winkley and his Auto Racing, Inc., promotion would supervise races at the All-Iowa Fair under the International Motor Contest Association banner.

AAA All-Iowa Fair Winners

1950 - Troy Ruttman, Long Beach, Calif.

1951 - Johnnie Parsons, Van Nuys, Calif.

1952 - Joe James, Van Nuys, Calif.

1953 - Bob Sweikert, Hayward, Calif.

1954 - Don Freeland, Redondo Beach, Calif.

1955 – Eddie Sachs, Greensboro, N.C.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

1962 – Derr’s Pontiac wins Atlanta 100-Miler

Ernie Derr

Atlanta, Ga. (March 4, 1962) - Drivers from the Midwest won the first three places in the 100-mile late mode auto race at Lakewood Speedway on Sunday.

Ernie Derr of Keokuk, Iowa, played it safe on the one-mile dirt oval and came in first with a 1962 Pontiac.

Iggy Katona of Willis, Mich., gambled and lost. He tried to go the 100 miles on one tank of gas but fell two laps short in his 1962 Ford.

Derr made a fuel stop on the 78th lap. The 40-year-old father of six children lost the lead at the time but he surged back and was out in front when it really counted - on the 100th and final lap

Victory in the race sanctioned by the Midwestern Association of Car Racing (MARC) was worth $1,000.

Dick Freeman of Dayton, Ohio, was second in a 1961 Chevrolet and received $650. Katona earned $500 by finishing third.

Jim Norton of Atlanta was fourth in a 1960 Ford and received $350. Tim Flock of Atlanta was fifth in a 1962 Ford and earned $75.

About 3,000 fans watched the race.

Phil Cronin of Houston, Tex., wrecked his 1961 Ford on the second lap when it slammed into a guardrail, but he was not hurt.

Veteran Curtis Turner of Roanoke, Va., was 10th, while Bob Welborn of Greensboro, N.C., finish 12th. Welborn is a former NASCAR driver who joined the MARC circuit for this race.

Results –

1. Ernie Derr
2. Dick Freeman
3. Iggy Katona
4. James Norton
5. Tim Flock
6. Ramo Stott
7. Harold Smith
8. Jimmy Lunsford
9. Charlie Glotzbach
10.Curtis Turner

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Billy Moyer – The Early Years

Billy Moyer Jr. accepts his hardware after winning the trophy dash at the 1981 Miller 100 at Hawkeye Downs Speedway. Moyer would go on to win the prestigious event in 1987 and '88.

by Lee Ackerman 

Omaha, Neb. - Some of us have grown old, watching him race. And win and win and win some more. His resume simply goes off the chart. Over 700 feature wins. He has won most of the longer standing major dirt late model races multiple times. He has won races from one end of the country to other. We have nicknamed him “Mr. Smooth” and that he certainly is. His name has become synonymous with dirt late model racing. 

As he reached the half-century mark of his life, we started to think that maybe, just maybe he was slowing down just a touch. Being a man of few words, and huge accomplishments he responded the way he has always responded. In 2008 he helped develop a new chassis and posted 20 wins and was named the National Dirt Late Model Driver of the Year.

Since the early to mid-80’s his career is well documented and if you open a racing paper from the period on, his name is always there in the headlines, but what of his early career. We know he grew up in Iowa was the son of a pretty fair racer himself in Bill Moyer and that he was a winner right out of the box. Then in the early 80’s he started driving Larry Shaw race cars and moved to Batesville where he eventually married Joyce, Larry’s sister, but what of his earlier years. Hopefully, the following narrative and pictures will help highlight the early years of his career.

Billy Moyer began his racing career riding motorcycles in motocross. He had a distinguished seven-year career scoring 160 wins. He was the Iowa Motocross Association (IMX) open class champion in three years in a row.

In 1977 while he did some motorcycle racing, with the encouragement of his dad, it was time to go stock car racing. That year he raced both sportsman and late models and registered 20 feature wins.

1978 was Billy’s first full year of late model racing. It was also the year he settled on a new number, the number we have all grown to recognize him by – number 21. That year stepping up against tougher competition he scored 6 wins. 

Billy Moyer Jr., early in his career at Oskaloosa, Iowa, in 1980. (Lee Johnson Photo)

In 1979, for the first time, Billy raced a Larry Shaw Chassis. He won the mid-season championships at Marshalltown Speedway and the State Fairgrounds Speedway in Des Moines. He was the season champion at the State Fairgrounds and won 12 features. He also won the sportsman feature at the Boone Grand Nationals.

In 1980 while continuing to race in Iowa, Billy started to travel throughout the Midwest racing in the National Outlaw Stock Car Association (winged late models), the Missouri Nationals at Jefferson City, and the Nebraska Late Model Nationals at Mid-Continent. He ran second against stiff competition in the Cornhusker Hawkeye Challenge at Harlan, Iowa. He would add 12 more wins to his resume.

1981 saw Billy win races in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, Illinois, and Nebraska. He won the Spring Fever at Hawkeye Downs and ran with the National Speedways Contest Association. He registered 16 wins that year.

1982 saw a new Shaw Chassis and an expanded racing program. The results proved to be highly successful. Taking his game to a new level he won 24 features. He won the NCRA opener at Thunderbird Speedway in Oklahoma, the Nebraska Late Model Nationals at Mid-Continent Speedway, the Pizza Hut Classic at Alta, Iowa, and the Pepsi Challenge at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas. 

Billy Moyer Jr., behind the wheel of Larry Shaw's wedge late model at the Springfield Mile in 1983. 

1983 saw a major change in Billy’s career. He moved to Batesville, Arkansas to team with chassis builder Larry Shaw. The team scored 25 wins that year. Big wins included the Missouri State Championship at Bolivar, the Midwest Late Model Dirt Championship in Muskogee, Oklahoma, two wins with the tough NCRA, and the Outlaw Race Car Invitational in El Centro, California.

And the rest as they say is history.

A very special thanks to Joyce Moyer and Michelle Petroff without who’s help this story would not have been possible.