Wednesday, July 5, 2023

1976 – Merryfield Captures Bicentennial Special at Speedway

Mason City, Iowa (July 5, 1976) – Joe Merryfield should come to Mason City more often.

And he’s planning on it.

For the first time in his nine-year career, Merryfield poke the hood of his stock car onto North Iowa Speedway’s half-mile dirt track on Monday. As a matter of fact, Merryfield had never even seen the track until about 7:15 pm.

Call it beginner’s luck or something else, Merryfield started back to Des Moines four hours later with a check for $800 in his pocket. That was his payoff for winning his heat and the feature at North Iowa Speedway’s special Bicentennial card. The feature itself was worth $760.

It completed a fine holiday weekend for the Des Moines driver, who also won the late model feature at his hometown track, the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Saturday night.

“We normally don’t run anywhere on Fridays (Mason City’s regular weekly race night),” Merryfield said after the feature. “Most of us have jobs and that would be too much. So, we run at Oskaloosa on Wednesday and Des Moines on Saturday. That’s it.”

Except for a holiday card or when there’s a big payoff race. That’s what might bring Merryfield back to Mason City.

North Iowa Speedway promoter Gail Miller has scheduled an $10,000 open competition for early August with the winner receiving $1,000.

“Sounds good,” admitted Merryfield. “We might be back,” he smiled.

Merryfield led the entire 35 laps. Almost unbelievably, the race went caution free for the first 25 circuits before there was a caution light.

Jerry Holtkamp of Williams, Friday night’s feature winner, forced the stoppage when his car quit in the middle of the west turn. After one lap under yellow, Miller waved the red flag to stop the race.

“I thought a bucket of water might save someone’s engine,” Miller said.

It also may have saved Dave Bjorge of Austin, Minn., the speedway’s top performer, the embarrassment of being lapped. Although Bjorge was steadily picking his way through the pack from his 12th starting position, Merryfield spent the entire 25 circuits gaining on the rest of the field.

At the red flag, he was a quarter of a lap ahead of second-place Tom Steuding and nearly three-quarters of a lap ahead of Bjorge.

Merryfield pulled away on the restart and once again started to build an advantage until another caution appeared with only five laps to go, giving Steuding another opportunity. But Merryfield was able to fend off any challenges, and at the finish, his winning margin was two-car-lengths.

“I let up the last couple of laps. It was sort of dark going into the first corner and didn’t want to take chance on going out there somewhere,” Merryfield said, waving his arms in the general direction of downtown Mason City.

Steuding, also a newcomer to Mason City, won the distance prize, coming from Altoona, Wis. Third place went to Ken Walton of Viola, another “non-regular” in Mason City.

Ted Zieman of Mason City was the first North Iowa Speedway regular to cross the finish line as he placed fourth, followed by Bjorge.

Steuding, Merryfield, and Zieman were heat winners. Dave Noble of Blooming Prairie, Minn., outlasted Lynn Idler of Ionia to win the consolation.

Mark Noble, Dave’s son, won the sportsman feature over Glenn Woodard of Des Moines

A crowd of 2,800 were on hand to watch the racing action.

Results –

Heat #1 – Tom Steuding, Altoona, Wis.
Heat #2 – Joe Merryfield, Des Moines
Heat #3 – Ted Zieman, Mason City
Consolation – Dave Noble, Blooming Prairie, Minn.
Feature –
1. Joe Merryfield
2. Tom Steuding
3. Ken Walton, Viola
4. Ted Zieman
5. Dave Bjorge, Austin, Minn.
6. Bob Bonzer, Liscomb
7. John Connolly, Delhi
8. Bill Rice, Des Moines
9. Darrell Zweifel, Rochester, Minn.
10.Eugene Kruger, Lansing, Minn.

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