Sunday, April 18, 2021

1976 - Record 6,271 fans witness Helfrich, Gaines victories

Tom Helfrich

Haubstadt, Ind. (April 18, 1976) - Dick Gaines, Floyd Knobs, Ind., and Haubstadt’s Tommy Helfrich each took home top money and a beautiful three-foot trophy for winning the Wright Motors-Don Jackson, Cliff Johns Memorial Twin 50’s at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt Sunday night.

As the gates opened on the 1976 season, one could see the fans coming from every direction. The stands filled early and still they came. By the time the final tally was taken, 6,271 eager racing fanatics had filed through the gates to witness the first race of the season. It was a record crowd at the Haubstadt oval with the previous best being 5,072 at last year’s opener.

The sprint car feature was the first of the twin 50’s. As starter Wayne Allen, Princeton, waved the green flag, 22 cars steered around the quarter-mile track. Gaines, starting sixth, advanced every lap and overtook early leader Bobby Marshall, Dallas Texas, on the 17th circuit.

At the halfway point Gaines held the top spot, followed by Chuck Amati, Marshall, Butch Wilkerson, driving the Centertown Motors car which Cliff Cockrum piloted to two straight championships at Tri-State, and Evansville's Larry Goad.

On lap 26 Rick Ferkel, the famous “outlaw” sprint car driver, moved in to fifth position, ahead of Goad. On the 35th circuit, Wilkerson worked his way past Marshall for third.

The yellow flag came out on lap 38 when a torsion arm came off Goad’s car and debris had to be removed from the racing surface in the first turn.

When the green flag dropped again Ferkel slipped by Marshall for fourth spot. With five laps to go Doug Wolfgang moved into fifth position ahead of the faltering Marshall.

The top five spots were unchanged from that point to the finish and Dick Gaines crossed the line first with Amati, Wilkerson, Ferkel and Wolfgang following.

Sprint heat winners were Rick Ferkel, Larry 'Buckwheat’ Gates, and Chet Johnson. Russ Racine won the 15-lap semi-feature which was red-flagged after 12 laps when 1975 ‘Rookie of the Year’ Tom Goad lost control of his car. Goad hit the turn three wall and flipped once. He was uninjured.

Bobby Marshall set fast time with a 14.979 second lap.

In the late model segment, it was all Tom Helfrich. The 'Haubstadt Hustler’ led from start to finish as he crossed the finish line waving to the huge crowd.

Helfrich started on the outside front row. He beat Wayne Coakley, Paducah, to the first turn and the 25-year-old chauffer really turned it on.

On the second lap Jerry Inman, Bruce, Miss., spun his D-7 car while running third. That allowed Jesse Ladd, also of Paducah, and Haubstadt’s Charlie Dewig to move up in the ranks. Dewig was followed by Jim Scales and Jerry McKinney.

On lap 14 Dewig lost control and spun in turn four, while Ladd was passing Coakley for second place. After 25 laps, or halfway, it was Helfrich, Ladd, Coakley, McKinney and Scales.

Scales, Chandler, spun his #98 Camaro in turn four on lap 30, dropping him back in the order. Frank Law, Algree, Ky., then moved into the top five for the first time of the evening.

Lap 36 saw McKinney move ahead of faltering Wayne Coakley. With 10 laps remaining, Doug McCammon, Palestine, Ill., began his late charge to the front. He m oved into fifth place behind Coakley.

On lap 42 McCammon passed Coakley and McKinney to capture third. On the 45th trip around, McCammon slipped under Ladd for second place and that’s where he ended up.

Buck Eden created some excitement by spinning down the front straightaway and brought out the yellow flag on lap 47. The yellow allowed the cars to close the gap on Helfrich. This gave McCammon his best chance for the lead with just two laps to go, but when the green flag came out again, the talent of Helfrich was too much for his foes and the three -time defending champion was the first under the checkered flag. Helfrich was followed by McCammon, Ladd, McKinney, and Fred Gerteisen.

Charlie Mounce, Russ Petro and Gary Kueling won the late model preliminary events. Helfrich ’s 17.295 second lap was the best in qualifications.

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