Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Oskaloosa’s Pepsi-Mountain Dew Special


1977 Advertisement 

By Kyle Ealy

Oskaloosa, Iowa – One of the premier late model races in the state was the Pepsi-Mountain Dew Special at the half-mile Mahaska County Fairgrounds. The event was held during a time that some consider the greatest period of late model racing in Iowa.

It all started on June 4, 1975…

Ed Sanger of Waterloo was considered the pre-race favorite that evening, based on his dominating win the night before at Cedar Rapids in the Iowa Challenge Cup. Sure enough, Sanger led 35 late models in qualifying, blazing around the big half-mile in 24.89 seconds to set fast time.

Unfortunately, Sanger’s night would come to a crashing halt, literally, in the trophy dash. Right at the start of the 6-lap race for the six fastest qualifiers, Sanger and Ken Walton of Cedar Rapids tangled in the first turn, severely damaging both cars. Sanger would borrow Bill Zwanziger’s car and muster an eighth-place finish in the feature.

Curt Hansen won the inaugural Pepsi-Mountain Dew Special in 1975. Larry Kemp (far left), grand marshal Lee Kunzman (second from left), and the Pepsi trophy girls join Hansen in victory lane. - Earl Schwartz Photo

In the 50-lap main event, it was Roger Dolan of Lisbon jumping into the lead from his pole position, with Curt Hansen of Dike and Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids falling in line behind him. By lap 15, Mel Morris of West Liberty passed Dake for third place and three laps later, slipped by Hansen for second. The three would continue their fierce battle while keeping Dolan in their sights.

By lap 30, Hansen was challenging Dolan for the lead and the two got into a side-by-side duel with Morris sticking to their tails. Finally, on lap 43, Dolan started to slow, allowing Hansen full command of the top spot. He would build up a slight margin from there and have a quarter of a lap lead when he took flagman Larry Kemp’s checkered flag.

On lap 45, Dolan’s night went up in smoke with a blown engine, allowing Morris to move into second. But Morris would begin to overheat himself and with two laps to go, Fred Horn of Marion and Bob Kosiski of Omaha would slide by him for second and third respectively. Morris would nurse his car to a fourth place finish.

The fact that Kosiski even started the feature was nothing short of a miracle. After taking the checkers for a third-place finish in his heat race, Kosiski tagged the first turn fence, rode it for 25 yards and then flipped his car over on it’s top, sliding some more. After some lengthy repairs, he managed to get into the feature and grab third-place money.

Don Hoffman of Des Moines was the trophy dash winner, Bill Zwanziger won the first heat, Morris won the second heat, Phil Reece of Des Moines the third heat, and Pokey West of West Chester the fourth heat. Zwanziger won the consolation and then handed the keys to his car to Sanger for the feature.

Hansen would earn $1,000 for his feature win before a standing room only crowd.

Ed Sanger talks with flagman Engel DeKock prior to the start of the 1976 Pepsi-Mountain-Dew Special. Sanger would dominate the second annual contest. - Earl Schwartz Photo

The success of the first annual event necessitated another, so once again, the top late models from near and far convened at Southern Iowa Speedway on June 9, 1976.

And again, like last year’s event, Ed Sanger was the odds on favorite. Unlike the year before, however, Sanger would live up to those expectations this time.

Sanger started on the front row with Curt Hansen, with the Dike, Iowa, hot shoe leading the first two laps of the race before Sanger made his move, powering past Hansen and into the lead.

Sanger would never relinquish the lead, though he did have to fend off several challenges by Hansen throughout the remaining 47 circuits. At the checkers, Sanger was several car lengths ahead of Hansen.

For Sanger, the hottest driver in the Midwest, it was his sixth win in eight starts in just the last week. He had won at Oskaloosa the week before and then added wins at Mason City, Eldon, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, and then again at Oskaloosa.

Duane Steffe of Colona, Ill., moved into third place on lap 27 and held it there for remainder of the race. Breathing down Steffe’s tailpipe was Joe Merryfield of Des Moines. On lap 44, smoke could be seen coming from Merryfield’s left front wheel and he would pull into the pits.

Bill Beckman of Lisbon would take over fourth and Darrell Dake would round out the top five finishers.

Hansen was the top qualifier of the 39 entries with a time of 24.06 seconds. He was also the trophy dash winner. Bill Zwanziger, Jerry Wancewicz of Omaha, Neb., Glen Martin of Independence, and Dick Schiltz of Waterloo were heat winners. Wancewicz was also the consolation winner.

Oskaloosa racing officials present the trophies for the 1977 Pepsi-Mountain Dew Special. From left to right - Dale Gegner, Paul Van Zee, Max Browneller, Pepsi representative, and Engel DeKock. - Earl Schwartz Photo

It was a perfect night at Oskaloosa; the weather was perfect, the track was perfect, the stands were full, and the infield was full of cars for the third annual Pepsi-Mountain Dew Special on June 8, 1977.

So flawless was the racing surface, the track record was broken not once but three times, by Joe Merryfield, Bill Zwanziger and finally, by Fred Horn of Marion. Horn covered the half-mile in a blistering 23.29 seconds.

The Pepsi dash pitted the top six qualifiers inverted and Merryfield would win a thriller, squeezing inside of both Curt Hansen and Ken Walton on the white flag lap.

Mark Mosier of Washington, Iowa, would come out of retirement to win the first heat while Randy Sterner of Blair, Neb., outdueled George Brazil of Albuquerque, N.M., to grab the second heat honors. Bill Zwanziger started in the back of the pack for the third heat but found himself up front for the win and Ken Walton would win the fourth heat. Ray Guss of Milan, Ill., was the consolation winner and Tom Bartholomew of Waterloo was the Mountain-Dew dash victor.

Defending champion Ed Sanger would grab the early lead in the 50-lap feature with Curt Hansen and Ken Walton close behind. That trio battled back and forth for numerous laps before Hansen emerged on lap 10. By the midway point of the race, Hansen had extended his lead to five-car-lengths and checked out.

The race remained the same until a spinout on lap 42 put Fred Horn right behind the leaders.

As Hansen pulled away on the restart, a fierce battle ensued for the other three spots as Horn got by Walton for third and then challenged Sanger for second. A lap later Sanger would spin in the fourth turn, and in a controversial decision, officials ruled that there had been contact made and gave Sanger his position back.

On the final restart, Bill Zwanziger got the jump on Ken Walton for fourth place. At the finish it was Hansen, Sanger, Horn, Zwanziger, and Walton.

Ken Walton of Viola won the 1978 Pepsi-Mountain Dew Special at Oskaloosa. 

Kenny Walton would take home the lion’s share of the $7,500 purse in the fourth annual Pepsi-Mountain Dew on August 16, 1978. Walton put on a driving display picking up the $1,400 paycheck.

Walton qualified ninth fastest in qualifying, putting the Viola, Iowa, speedster in the inside of the fifth row for the 50-lap feature.

By lap 5, Walton was in sixth position in the middle of heavy traffic and steadily weaving his way to the lead pack. On lap 15 in was in third place and by lap 23 he was in second place and ready to challenge race-leader Bill Rice of Des Moines.

Coming out of turn four on lap 29, Walton streaked past Rice for the lead where he would hold it for the remaining 30 circuits. Rice would hold on to second until lap 40 when Ed Sanger managed to overtake him for that position.

At the finish it was Walton, Sanger, Walton, Joe Merryfield, and two-time winner Curt Hansen.

Hansen was fastest in time trials, breaking the one-year-old mark set by Fred Horn. Hansen smashed the old record with a time of 23.02 seconds around the half-mile.

Tom Hearst of Wilton, Joe Merryfield, Ed Sanger, and Bill Davis of Des Moines were heat winners. Walton picked up the win in the trophy dash while Bill Breuer Wapello won the 10-lap consolation.

In sportsman action, Rocky Hodges of Des Moines led all the way in the 15-lap feature.

Ken Walton (left) would successfully defend his Pepsi-Mountain Dew title in 1979. Joining him in victory lane is Bill Beckman (center), trophy dash winner, and Al Druesdow (right), semi-feature winner. 

Walton would give a repeat performance at the fifth annual Pepsi-Mountain Dew Special before a capacity crowd on July 18, 1979. And once again, he did it in convincing fashion.

Starting fifth in the 24-car field, he moved to fourth on lap 6, moved into third place on lap 9, grabbed second on lap 12 and then scooted past race leader Bill Zwanziger on lap 14 never to be headed again. After that, he steadily built up his lead over the last 36 laps and had a half-lap lead at the finish.

Zwanziger held on for second, while Dick Schiltz took third, passing Gary Crawford of Independence in the last few laps of the race. Denny Osborn of Cedar Falls rounded out the top five.

The race was halted by the red flag twice. Bill Beckman of Lisbon brought out the first one when he lost the A-frame on his car and smashed head-on into the guardrail in turn four. Although somewhat shaken, Beckman remained at the track.

The second red flag came out on lap 21 when Denny Hovinga of Pocahontas and Don Hoffman brushed in the third turn after a heated battle for several laps. Hovinga found himself riding the top of the guardrail until he flipped his Camaro on top of its lid. Hovinga walked away from the incident uninjured.

Beckman won the trophy dash while Gary Webb of Davenport, Al Druesedow of Omaha, Neb., Tom Bartholomew were heat winners. Druesedow also won the semi-feature.

Walton set fast time for the night, blitzing the half-mile in 22.640 seconds, thus becoming the first late model driver to break the 23-second mark.

Two-time winner Curt Hansen had an engine go sour in the trophy dash and loaded up immediately and headed home.

Fred Horn (center) would dominate the 1980 Pepsi-Mountain Dew Special. He's joined by runner-up Kevin Gundaker (left) and third-place finisher Tom Hearst (right). - Bill Haglund Photo

The race would carry on, but the name would change, and more laps were added to the main event. The sixth annual event, held on July 2, 1980, was now known as the Pepsi 10,000 with a 100-lap feature. National Speedways Contest Association would officiate the program.

Fred Horn of Marion, Iowa, would grab the headlines that evening, accomplishing the unheard of – lapping the entire field to earn the top prize.

The almost unbelievable feat was even more impressive considering the quality of the 27-car field. Many of the best late model drivers in the Midwest were in the feature but Horn stood out from everyone.

Twenty laps into the race, Horn had a nine-second lead over Kevin Gundaker of St. Louis, Mo. Five laps later, that lead was at 11 seconds and another 10 circuits later, Horn’s advantage was at 16 seconds. By the 89th lap, Horn was right on the heels on a three-car battle for second place between Gundaker, Joe Kosiski of Omaha, Neb., and Tom Hearst.

Horn flew past Hearst on lap 93, Kosiski a lap later and went around Gundaker three laps later to complete his spectacular performance.

It was the second time out for Horn in the Ed Howe-built car he had purchased from Rodney Combs of Lost Creek, Va., weeks before and it was his second convincing win.

Finishing 99 laps and rounding out the top five was Gundaker, Hearst, Kosiski and Dick Schiltz. Sixth was Ed Sanger and seventh was Bill Breuer, each with 97 laps completed.

NSCA official Dave Van Patten remarked afterwards that it was the first time h could recall a driver ever lapping the entire field.

Gundaker set fast time for the evening and lowered his own track record on the lightning fast Southern Iowa Speedway half-mile. Gundaker, in his third appearance at the track, had broken the qualifying record all three times. He lowered it again, this time to 22.060 seconds, breaking his old mark of 22.123 seconds.

The top 20 cars in time automatically qualified for the feature. A last chance race was held for 17 cars and four from that race were slated to start at the rear of the field. However, it didn’t work out that way.

On the final turn of the final lap, the lead four cars – Craig Jacobs of Des Moines, Bill Rice of Des Moines, Ron Jackson of Burlington, and Ron Boyse of Kalona – collided and spun on the track. Boyse was able to get by the melee and came across the finish line followed by Chuck Anderson of LeGrand, Iowa, Bill Breuer, and Charlie Moubry of Novelty, Mo.

After some discussion, NSCA officials decided to add the top four as they ran on the white flag lap, plus the top four to cross the finish line. Since Boyse figured on both, seven cars were added to the rear. It paid off for both Breuer and Moubry, as they made their way to the front and finished seventh and eighth respectively.

The seventh and final Pepsi-Mountain Dew Special (the name changed back to its original) took place on July 15, 1981. The event had been scheduled for the week before, but rain had forced its postponement. It had also rained the morning off the rescheduled event leaving the track muddy but raceable.

The advertisement for the final Pepsi-Mountain Dew Special in 1981. The event would be postponed until the following week because of rain. 

History would repeat itself as Ken Walton of Viola won the race for the third time.

For Walton, it was the first feature win of the season. He collected $1,000 for winning the 35-lap feature sanctioned again by National Speedways Contest Association.

Kenny Fenn of Washington took the initial lead from his pole position. He quickly separated himself from the rest of the field and by the seventh lap he had a straightaway lead over Jerry Pilcher of Ottumwa and Walton.

On lap 11, Curt Hogue of Ames spun out on the muddy track and was hit by Johnny Johnson of Morning Sun. During the timeout, Fenn replaced the right rear tire.

On the restart, he noticeably lost some stagger and speed. After getting by Pilcher for second place on lap 18, Walton set his sights on an ailing Fenn. On lap 30, the duo encountered lap traffic.

On lap 34, Walton tried to pass Fenn in turn three but couldn’t get enough traction to complete the pass. Finally, exiting turn four, Fenn went a little too high and Walton slid by the veteran, and it was a drag race from there, with Walton nipping Fenn by no more than a foot.

Pilcher finished third followed by Ron Jackson of Burlington and Curt Hogue.

Fenn, Pilcher, and Tom Hearst were heat winners while Hearst won the Pepsi Challenge race.

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