Saturday, March 16, 2024

1976 - Ken Walton Completes Finest Year in Racing

Reprinted from Hawkeye Racing News

Driving for Vince Fiala, Ken Walton won the Freeport track championship in 1974. He's shown here after a feature win at the half-mile track. 

Cedar Rapids, Iowa – In just four years, Ken Walton has gone from “scared to death” in his first stock car race to winning a season championship in 1976.

Ken started drag racing a Camaro in 1967. He owned and maintained his own car except for the engines, which stock car veteran and mentor Darrell Dake built. Walton eventually decided that there was no money to be made in drag racing and decided to try his hand at going in circles instead of straight forward.

In 1973, he purchased a 1964 Chevy Nova from the late Bill McDonough and headed for the track. On his first night out, he started 11th out of 22 cars and finished third. When the season came to a close, Walton had finished in the top 10 in points at not one, but three tracks, Cedar Rapids, Farley, and Freeport. In addition to those three tracks, Ken would win the Jones County Fair race in Monticello, out distancing the likes of Curt Hansen and Ed Sanger.

Starting the 1974 season, Walton picked up a ride with Cedar Rapids car owner Vince Fiala. Driving a 1974 Chevelle, Ken won eight features that year, including the season championship at Freeport Speedway. He would finish second in points there as well. He would also win one main event at Farley, finishing in the top five in the year-end point standings and sixth at West Liberty.

In 1975 and 1976, Walton would pilot a ‘75 Camaro for renowned race car builder and owner Duane Schneider of Iowa City, Iowa.

The first year with Schneider would not be one of Ken’s best, with most of the season being plagued by engine woes but Walton still managed to finish in the top-10 in points at any track that he competed at consistently.

Towards the end of the season, he did earn a hard-fought victory in the 75-lap Gateway Classic at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill. What made the win so satisfying was the fact that during the race, the ignition wire shorted out. Taking his shoulder harness off so he could reach the ignition to put the wire back into the socket, Walton couldn’t get his strap hooked back up. Later in the race, the right rear shock came unhooked making it a very bumpy and uncomfortable ride for the remainder of the race. Despite a sore back from being tossed around the cockpit of his car, Walton was a happy winner in victory lane afterwards.

1976 would be a much more positive year for Walton. He would win both the season championship at Freeport and also his first point’s title. The points weren’t decided until the final race of the year, as Roger Dolan of Lisbon, Iowa, and Walton both had a chance of winning the whole deal that final night. Walton would put on a dominant performance, lapping the field (and Dolan) to clinch the title.

At Cedar Rapids, Kenny would finish eighth in points, sixth at West Liberty and ninth at Oskaloosa. He was also leading in points at Mason City, when it closed earlier than expected. At the Spirit of 76 late model special at Hawkeye Downs in July, Walton, racing with a broken clutch, still managed to finish fourth in what was an outstanding field of drivers.

In four years of racing, Ken Walton has gained the respect of his fellow drivers and has proven that he can run with the best of them. His future goals? “To be better than Ed Sanger someday.”

Editor’s note: Two years later, Ken Walton of Viola, Iowa would reach the top of the late model mountain, winning the prestigious World 100 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.

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