Don White (1) and Jim Baker (52) lead the field to green for the start of the 1958 Pelican 300.
By Kyle Ealy
Shreveport, La. – It was the traditional season-opener for the International Motor Contest Association stock car circuit. Run on the half-mile dirt oval of the Louisiana State Fairgrounds, the “Pelican” race would jump-start the IMCA stock car season before drivers and cars headed north for the Spring and Summer.
The Pelican race originated from the combined efforts of Louisiana State Fair and then IMCA president Joe Monsour and Auto Racing Inc’s Frank Winkley. Monsour was looking to give Shreveport racing “a shot in the arm” and put the call out to all promoters for any suitable ideas. Winkley had experimented with the Gopher 500 at the Minnesota State Fair the year before and struck gold, attracting more than 20,000 race fans to the event.
Winkley suggested to Monsour a race that would be along the same lines, except it would be 300 laps total with two 150-lap features. Drivers entered would compete for four separate purses. One share of the stake was for the fastest qualifier in time trials. Another share would go to the driver who crosses the finish line first in the first 150-lapper. Yet another would be for the winner of the second 150-lap contest. And the heftiest of the purse would go to the overall winner, from the best two finishes.
To prove that he was serious about luring the best stock car drivers in the nation to Shreveport, Monsour had his crew give the track a complete overhaul during the off-season. Load after load of fresh dirt was thrown on the half-mile track to significantly improve the racing surface. The wooden guardrails were replaced with all new steel guardrails to create greater safety conditions for drivers.
It was time to race…
Johnny Beauchamp from Harlan, Iowa, would win the first race billed as the “Pelican”, topping the scheduled 150-mile, 300-lap contest on March 31. The defending IMCA national stock car champion took advantage of Don White’s early-race breakdown and then make a runaway of it in the first 150-lap segment, beating Bob Burdick of Omaha, Neb. Starting dead last in the second 150-lap segment, Beauchamp was in second place by lap 2 and in first place by lap 5, well on his way to victory in a race that would be halted at 45 laps because of rain.
Harlan, Iowa's Johnny Beauchamp would win the first two Pelican races, in 1957 and '58.
Beauchamp would successfully defend his Pelican 300 title on March 31, blazing to victory in the $4,200 race. Beauchamp finished second to Don White in the first 150-lap segment and dominated the second 150-lapper to be declared overall winner of the event. A crowd of 8,500 watched the season opener.
White, driving a 1958 Ford, won the first race with Beauchamp hot on his heels but faded to eighth in the second race. Lenny Funk of Otis, Kan., was runner-up to Beauchamp in the second race. Ernie Derr, driving a 1957 Pontiac, finished third in both races.
A capacity throng of 10,695 watch Dick Hutcherson of Keokuk, Iowa, score a smashing upset victory in the Pelican 300 on April 12. Hutcherson, making his first official IMCA start, took second place in the first half of the speed classic and then hot-footed his 1957 Pontiac home first in the last half to claim the overall title.
Sonny Morgan of Beaumont, Tex., roared home in first place in the opening half but a punctured crankcase forced his 1959 Plymouth out of competition in the second race.
Bruce Nystrom of Oshkosh, Wis., driving a 1957 Chrysler, was second overall, finishing third in the first half and second in the final portion.
Veteran Ernie Derr, an Ark-La-Tex favorite, led the early going until a broken axle ended his day on lap 95. Derr and his ’57 Pontiac were out of action for the rest of the day.
Ernie Derr receives his trophy from George Gallagher after winning the 1960 Pelican 250.
Defending national champion Ernie Derr chopped nearly half a minute off the world record for a half-mile as he wheeled his 1957 Pontiac to victory in the Pelican 250 on Sunday afternoon, April 12.
With neighbor Ramo Stott pushing him to the finish, Derr covered the 125 miles in 2 hours, 2 minutes, and 49.68 seconds. The old mark 2 hours, 3 minutes and 13.12 seconds was set by Johnny Beauchamp at the Minnesota State Fair on September 30, 1956.
The crowd of 9,638 – the second largest in the history of the event – looked on as the 39-year-old Derr started from the rear of the 18-car field and steadily move to the front. He grabbed the lead on lap 133 when defending winner Dick Hutcherson ducked in for gas and never relinquished the lead after that.
Ramo Stott won the 1961 Pelican 200.
Ramo Stott captured first place in the Pelican 200 at the Louisiana State Fair Speedway before 8,000 race fans on April 16. Stott, driving a 1961 Ford, clocked the feature in 1 hour, 49 minutes and 54 seconds for the 100-mile distance to take home the trophy and the $600 first prize.
Dick Hutcherson completed 199 laps in his 1961 Ford to take runner-up honors while Ernie Derr finished 198 laps, driving a 1961 Pontiac. Fourth place went to Lenny Funk in a 1959 Plymouth and Eddie Harrow of Corpus Christi, Tex., driving a 1961 Chevrolet, rounded out the top five.
Stott led the first 152 laps before pitting to refuel, giving the lead to Hutcherson. Little by little, Stott closed the gap on Hutcherson and on the 195th lap, got the break he was looking for when Hutcherson was forced to take on more fuel, relinquishing the lead and the win to the popular Stott.
An estimated crowd of 10,000 watch Ernie Derr take the lead on lap 2 and speed to victory in the Pelican 200 on April 29. Driving a 1962 Pontiac, Derr covered the 100-mile distance in 1 hour, 40 minutes and 45.61 seconds, and capturing the first-prize money of $800.
Defending race winner Ramo Stott finished second in his 1962 Ford. Only Derr and Stott completed the 200 laps. Stott, who made a late race bid for the lead, earned $550 for his day’s toil.
Bill Wade of Houston, Tex., finished third in a 1962 Pontiac while Bob Reynolds of Edmond, Okla., who led the first lap, finished fourth in a 1962 Ford. Les Flowers of an Antonio, Tex., rounded out the top five in a ’62 Pontiac.
1963 Pelican winner Dick Hutcherson is interviewed by IMCA secretary Mike Heffron as starter Bernie Carlson holds the checkers and promoter Frank Winkley looks on approvingly.
Driving his 1963 “Fastback” Ford, Dick Hutcherson initiated the 1963 IMCA stock car campaign with the smell of exhaust smoke at the Louisiana State Fair Speedway as he wheeled his mount to victory in the annual Pelican 200 on April 21.
A canary yellow paint job, splashed with red stripes and blue lettering, Hutcherson’s powerful sedan showed its rear bumper to the rest of the 18-car field throughout the remaining 145 laps.
For the first 54 laps, Jerry Douglas of Wichita Falls, Tex., driving Ernie Derr’s championship Pontiac of 1962, gunned out to a tightly bunched lead. Hutcherson gradually jockeyed his way through the field and passed Douglas for the lead on lap 55. Even after dropping a tailpipe on lap 69, Hutcherson never let up on the gas. By lap 96, he had lapped the entire field.
Hutcherson, who pocketed $700 of the $4,000 purse, set fast time in qualifying, touring the half-mile in 27.57 seconds. The race was witnessed by a crowd estimated at 10,000 according to Auto Racing, Inc. promoter Frank Winkley.
Ramo Stott guide his pale blue ’63 Plymouth to second place while Lenny Funk, in a 1963 Ford, landed third. Eddie Harrow, in an orange and cream colored ’63 Chevrolet, finished fourth. Ernie Derr, the defending winner, experienced mechanical issues with his 1963 Pontiac and retired on lap 164.
Ernie Derr, the senior member of the famed “Keokuk Komets,” took State Fair Speedway by the throat and throttled it for a couple of hours, winning the Pelican 200 on Sunday, April 19.
Derr shook up the record crowd of 10,582 a little when he wheeled a brand-new 1964 Dodge onto the track since the 41-year-old veteran of 15 IMCA circuits was supposed to how up in a Plymouth. But delivery date on the new Plymouth was delayed so Ernie elected to go with a Dodge.
And go he did…
He roared into the lead on lap 56 and held it the rest of the way, save for a brief one-lap exchange with Ramo Stott and his ’64 Plymouth on lap 126. Derr’s time for the 100-mile distance around the half-mile dirt oval was 1 hour, 40 minutes and 6.97 seconds.
It was strictly a three-car race between Derr, Stott and defending race winner Dick Hutcherson, who was behind the wheel of a 1964 Ford and had earlier shredded the track qualifying record with a time of 26.81 seconds.
“Hutch” grabbed the lead from his pole position and gunned his car into a comfortable cushion through lap 55. He was then grounded in the pits by a balky condenser for the better part of eight laps and that would be his undoing. He finished in third, five laps out of first.
Stott’s fire-red Plymouth packed the most horsepower and showed more speed on the straightaways but could not maneuver the corners with sufficient dash. He also was being short-changed on fuel and made five pit stops on his way to a second-place finish.
Ernie Derr exits his car after winning the 1965 Pelican 200. Bernie Carlson presents the checkers.
Ernie Derr, who saw a world record of his go down the drain to a fast-charging Ramo Stott, pushed out front on lap 96 and rolled home unchallenged to win his fourth Pelican 200 late model stock car race on April 4.
Stott set the 8,532 fans abuzz when he got the race off to a flying start. Seizing the lead on lap 13, the speedster established world marks for 25 and 50-lap marks. He stayed out front of Derr and Lenny Funk while breaking the 25-lap mark with a time of 10 minutes and 6.75 seconds, breaking the standard of 11 minutes and 6.08 seconds set at the same track by Dick Hutcherson in 1963. Ramo then took a bead on the 50-lap mark and broke that with a time of 20 minutes and 34.76 seconds which Derr had previously set at Knoxville, Iowa, in 1963 with a time of 21 minutes and 46.10 seconds.
But Stott did not hang around much longer, heading his chariot to the pits on lap 96 for much needed repairs. It turned out that his rear end was burned out and need replaced.
When Stott faltered, Derr and another Keokuk product, Don White in a ’65 Ford, moved into the lead with Funk who had survived a brush with the wall earlier, trailing behind in third place.
White would exit with on lap 145 when he lost his left front tire giving Funk second place.
But Derr was all alone in first place, two laps ahead of Funk and miles apart from the rest of the field. He took starter Bernie Carlson’s checkers 1 hour, 36 minutes and 42.15 seconds after he had roared from his sixth position. He earned $600 for his effort.
Not giving each other an inch, Ernie Derr (1) and Ramo Stott (0) compete in the 1966 Pelican 200.
Ramo Stott, a guy who tried harder because he has been second for such a long time, gunned his 1965 Plymouth to the checkered flag in the Pelican 200 on April 3. Stott took the checkered flag in track record time, winning the 100-mile race in 1 hour, 33 minutes and 57 seconds. His record finish averaged out to 65 miles per hour and ground into red dust the old record of 1 hour, 34 minutes and 37 seconds set by Ernie Derr in 1961.
What made the record even more impressive to the crowd of 8,500 was that the 31-year-old dirt track veteran stashed away the record despite an enforced 30-second pit stop. The latest ruling was an innovation by IMCA officials to keep a starting cast within striking distance of each other.
But Ramo refused to follow the script. His red Plymouth set the pace for all but 21 of the 200 laps and he won by two laps at the finish. Ernie Derr nosed his ’65 Dodge in front on lap 67 when Ramo made his only pit stop. But Stott swept back into the lead on lap 88 when Ernie stopped for fuel.
Lenny Funk would pass Derr on the final lap when someone on Derr’s pit crew miscalculated his fuel consumption and Derr ran out as the checkers flew. Butch Hall of Russell, Minn., was fourth, and Ed Negre of Monett, Mo., took fifth.
Ernie Derr gets the checkered flag from starter Russ Brown to win the 1967 Pelican 200.
Ernie Derr, the “King of the Road” from Shreveport to St. Paul, would roll his 1967 Dodge Coronet to a record-smashing victory in the annual Pelican 200 on April 16 before 8,500 spectators.
Derr, the 44-year-old marvel, engaged in a brief early exchange with a battered ’66 Ford piloted by Lenny Funk, the flying farmer out of Otis, Kan. But when Funk made his mandatory pit stop on lap 53, Ernie moved out front and stayed there the rest of the way.
Ramo Stott, the defending Pelican 200 champion behind the wheel of a 1967 Plymouth, finished second while Funk wheeled around to a third-place finish after catching Houston’s Phil Cronin on the 187th go-round on the half-mile dirt track.
Derr rubbed out three State Fair Speedway records en route to his impressive victory. First to fall was the 50-mile (100 laps) record of 40 minutes and 30.56 seconds set by Dick Hutcherson in 1963. Ernie chopped it down to 45 minutes and 4.61 seconds despite the 30-second mandatory pit stop.
Ernie then hit the 75-mile (150-lap) mark in 1 hour, 7 minutes and 58.36 seconds, busting up the old mark of 1 hour, 10 minutes and 44.25 seconds set by Ramo Stott during the State Fair last fall. And he took the checkered in 1 hour, 31 minutes and 39.42 seconds to lower his own track record from 1 hour, 34 minutes and 36.65 seconds, set in 1961.
Having won five season-openers already at Shreveport, including three of the last four, it came as no surprise that Ernie Derr was the odds-on favorite when the 12th annual event took place on Sunday March 31.
And Derr did not disappoint, winning the Pelican 200 in front of 6,500 spectators at State Fair Speedway. He drove his 1968 Dodge to victory in the time of 1 hour, 34 minutes and 25 seconds, taking the checkers a full lap ahead of Ramo Stott.
Derr completely dominated the event, leading 170 of the 200 laps around the half-mile dirt. When he was not at the head of the pack, Stott led laps 34 through 59.
Thirty drivers started the race but only 12 were still on the track at the finish. The victory for Derr was career win #212.
Ernie Derr is congratulated by promoter Verna Winkley after winning the 1969 Pelican 200. IMCA announcer Nick Nachicas joins in the festivities.
Heavy rains all week leading up to the Pelican 200 on April 13, had officials and track crews scrambling the morning of the race to get the track in somewhat racing condition. Race day was overcast with sprinkles here and there, delaying the show nearly two hours but IMCA’s Bill Hitz and Nick Nachicas were determined to give the 6,500 fans who turned out in poor weather a show.
Ernie Derr would win his seventh Pelican 200, turning the 100 miles in 1 hour, 56 minutes and 3.3 seconds, a relatively slow time ordinarily but not terrible considering the track conditions.
Lewis Taylor of Shawnee, Kan., finished second and held that position most of the race. He even held the lead at one point when Derr took hiss mandatory 30-second pit stop.
A rookie out of Kansas City, Dave Wall, took third place in his very first IMCA-sanctioned race. Dale Keeling of Dixon, Mo., passed Ron Hutcherson of Keokuk, Iowa on the last lap to grab fourth.
Derr, driving a 1969 Dodge Charger, pocketed $750 for the victory, $100 for winning the trophy dash, $100 for an appearance as champion and another $100 for winning in a 1969 model car.
Ernie Derr unstraps his helmet after winning his eighth and final Pelican championship in 1970.
State Fair Speedway and the Pelican race would go under changes in the off-season of ’69 and early 1970 as the racing surface would change from dirt to asphalt. What would not change, however, was the winner…
Ernie Derr would grab his eighth and final Pelican title on March 22. And he would do it in typical “Ernie” style, completely dominating the race. Derr left the combined opposition – 18 other cars that just showed up for a Sunday afternoon drive – strewn at least eight laps back of the exhaust pipes on his ’69 Dodge Charger.
Derr pocketed $1,066 of the $5,000 in prize money put up by IMCA promoter Bud Carson of Mar-Car Promotions of Oklahoma City.
Derr’s Dodge, rolling effortlessly under the power of a 426 cubic inch Hemi engine, covered the 100 miles in around the newly paved half-mile in 1 hour, 20 minutes and 20.54 seconds. That would be a new record of sorts since the race was the first run on the new track.
Gene Newsome of West Monroe, La., surviving game fully in his 1966 Chevelle, nabbed the $500 second place money. Finishing a close third, also on the 192nd lap, was Irv Janey of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, behind the wheel of a 1970 Plymouth.
But it was another Louisianan, Freddy Fryar of Baton Rouge, who would make the 6,100 in attendance stand up and take notice. Fryar, piloting a 1966 Chevelle, would run bumper-to-bumper with Derr for 136 laps – taking over the lead four times – before retiring with a smoking engine. Fryar had tied Irv Janey for fast time, clocking in at 22.56 seconds.
It wasn’t unusual for a car with the #1 emblazoned across the side panels to pull into victory lane for “Pelican Day” at State Fair Speedway over the years and Sunday, April 4 was no different.
As always, #1 pulled in front early, and then breezed to victory in the Pelican 300 before an estimated 4,500. But this time the numeral was stamped on a black and blue 1967 Chevelle steered by Ray Putnam of Baton Rouge. And what Putnam did to the rest of the field would long be remembered.
Not only because he led 298 of 300 laps and beat back Merle Bettenhausen of Tinley Park, Ill., - behind the wheel of a 1970 Chevelle - by 2.5 laps, but he established a new IMCA world record over a half-mile paved oval.
The 28-year-old Putnam covered the distance in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 38 seconds to batter Ramo Stott’s old standard of 2 hours, 4 minutes and 12.52 seconds set at the Minnesota State Fair in 1965.
The top five finishers, Putnam, Bettenhausen, Royce Whitlock of West Monroe, La., Texan Ronnie Chumley and Freddy Cook of West Monroe, all drove Chevelle’s of varying age spans, which is why Derr, the eight-time Pelican champion and 11-time IMCA national champion, pulled out of the Mar-Car, Inc., promoted event. Derr felt that Chevelle’s were “modified”.
The Chevelle domination was broken by Lewis Taylor of Shawnee, Kan., with a sixth-place finish in his 1970 Dodge.
Putnam, who was also the fastest qualifier in time trials, pocketed $850 of the $5,300 purse.
Putnam’s world mark would stand for a little more than a year until it was broken at the Pelican 300 on April 16 by Irv Janey of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Like Putnam, Janey would breeze to an easy win in the 150-miler, breaking the IMCA world mark by over a minute with a time of 1 hour, 58 minutes and 7.04 seconds. Janey would also establish a new 75-mile mark of 57 minutes and 57.1 seconds as well. That erased Ernie Derr’s mark of 58 minutes and 2 seconds set last year during the Louisiana State Fair finale on October 31.
After the win, Janey gave his pit crew all the credit after two fast pit stops got him and back on the track in apple pie order. The first pit stop on lap 125 took only 30 seconds. Not bad considering they filled up the gas tank and changed two right-side tires. The second pit stop, on lap 245, took a mere 20 seconds to fill the tank and clean the windshield. “They even gave me a drink of water,” he remarked.
Don Simpson of Kentwood, La., was second followed by Warren Hughes of Baton Rouge, who led early in the race. Gerry Harrison of Topeka, Kan., finished fourth despite not having any brakes in his 1971 Chevelle for over half the race.
Another local, and a rookie to boot, would win the 17th annual Pelican 300 on Sunday, April 1.
Competing in only his second race on pavement, Harlan Beene Jr., a 31-year-old plantation manager from Bossier City, La., would nose his 1970 Chevelle across the finish line first to score the victory. Beene collected $800 of the $5,000 prize money put up by Bud Carson and Mar-Car, Inc.
Not since 1959, when Dick Hutcherson won the Pelican, had a rookie won the annual spring inaugural. And not since 1952, when Shreveporter Herschel Buchanan won, had a local driver beaten back the big boys of the Midwest.
The race, minus defending champion Irv Janey, who was kept home by business, was a two-car duel between Beene and Freddy Cook of West Monroe.
Cook, who had overhauled Beene on lap 108, looked like a sure winner, despite a dragging air scoop under the front bumper, as late as the 180th circuit. Then, 10 miles from the finish, Cook spun out in turn three, and slammed into the guardrail, a victim of his left front tire catching a car he was lapping.
“It knocked the steering wheel out of my hand,” Cook said afterwards.
The pace of the race was slow and easy for the 4,700 that assembled to watch the race. “I knew I had a lot of laps to run, so I just took my time,” said Beene. “But it was still a long afternoon.”
Trailing the two front-runners were a pair of IMCA regulars, Gordon Blankenship of Keokuk, Iowa, in a 1970 Plymouth, and Gary Brooks of Grand Prairie, Tex., in a ’72 Monte Carlo.
Another page from history was inserted by Mrs. Martha Wideman of Lufkin, Tex., who became the first woman to compete in an IMCA event, dating back to 1915. Driving a lavender and white ’72 Monte Carlo, Wideman’s debut ended on lap 14 with a broken steering arm.
Harlan Beene Jr. won both the 1973 and '74 Pelican 300.
For the second straight year, Harlan Beene Jr. would take all the fun and games out of the International Motor Contest Association, taking his old faithful ’70 Chevelle and easily winning the annual Pelican before a paltry crowd of only 1,056.
Because of the energy crisis, the race was scaled back to 150 laps (75 miles) so Beene won the race in less than an hour – 59 minutes and 44.98 seconds to be exact.
Unlike last year, when he won the race in the closing laps, the 32-year-old stepped on the accelerator and won, in order – fast qualifier at 22.70 seconds, the 5-lap trophy dash in 1 minute and 56.15 seconds and the 150-lapper.
He cashed in on $525 of the $4,500 purse and added another $125 for racing with Firestone tires.
It was a Sunday driver for Beene – with only 11 cars taking the green flag. Heavy rains the previous day and that morning had kept several drivers like Houston’s Phil Cronin and Tony Barcelona from making the trip as well as ’72 Pelican champion Ray Putnam.
Don Coleman of Shreveport, running on asphalt for the first time, finished second ahead of Gordon Blankenship. Gerry Harrison took fourth and Glenn Schwabe of Austin, Tex., who had won 10 straight features in Austin and San Antonio, took fifth.
Mike Murray, a dirt track racer out of Beaumont, Tex., scored his first asphalt victory in the 19th and final Pelican 150 on Sunday afternoon, April 20.
Murray, driving a 1971 Camaro, swung into the lead on lap 70, held off a brief challenge from a fellow Texan, Dale Powell of Nederland, and turned the 75 miles in 59 minutes and 28.29 seconds, more than a minute off the record.
Two other world and track marks tumbled, however, as NASCAR driver Pete Hamilton of Northcross, Ga., turned a time trial lap of 21.24 seconds for the half-mile, bettering the 21.38 mark set by Marv Marzofka at the Minnesota State Fair in 1972.
Hamilton then came back and won the 5-lap trophy dash and clocked an International Motor Contest Association record of with a time of 1 minute and 49.40 seconds. The old mark of 1 minute and 49.72 seconds was set in Shreveport by Larry Phillip of Springfield, Mo., in October of 1971.
IMCA officials announced afterwards that neither record would be recognized because the front tires on Hamilton’s 1965 Chevelle exceed the two-inch limit extending from the front fenders.
Sixteen cars made up the field for the Pelican 150 with Hamilton on the pole position. He grabbed the lead immediately and led for the first 14 circuits but was overhauled by two-time and defending Pelican champion Harlan Beene Jr.
Hamilton’s mount was shelved on lap 22 when a borrowed driveshaft snapped, flew up and broke his brake line. Beene, now the man to beat, was gone on lap 69 with a broken radiator hose. That’s when, out of nowhere, came Murray.
Never in contention was ’74 IMCA point champion Bill Schwader of Riverdale, Iowa.
That would be the last Pelican race sanctioned by IMCA. The once thriving stock car circuit was running its course and in 1976, there would be only three sanctioned races with no appearances in Shreveport. In 1977, 12 sanctioned races would take place with small car counts and even smaller crowds, spelling the end for division and the International Motor Contest Association as a whole.
Editor’s Note – There would be a Pelican 200 in 1977, however, the race was sanctioned by Ed Hamblen and the North American Racing League. The race, postponed twice because of wet weather, finally took place on April 24. Ray Putnam, the 1971 Pelican champion, would win the contest.