April 19, 2015
Chicago, Ill.—The Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame held its reception and banquet in the Rockford area on Saturday, April 11. It was the fourth annual affair of its kind with the reception held in the afternoon at Wayne Lensing’s Historic Auto Attractions museum in Roscoe and the banquet held later in the evening at the Hoffman House Restaurant in Rockford.
Over 200 were in attendance at the banquet with seven new inductees being honored. Among the new hall of fame members were drivers Joe Finn, Ken Finley, Russ Wallace and Bob Pronger, car builder/mechanic Bob Pohlman, track official Stan Burdick and track promoter Pete Jenin.
Finn called Freeport Speedway his home track and won five track championships on the dirt oval. Usually behind the wheel of his familiar blue and white No. 77 Ford coupe, Finn raced at numerous speedways in the northwest part of the state.
Finley began racing in the early 1950s, racing modified stock cars, Crosleys and later, Late Model stock cars. He also competed in a number of events on the old USAC and MARC stock car circuits. Finley was a front runner in the Late Model action at Santa Fe Speedway, where he was the Late Model champion in 1959 and 1965. Sadly, Finley died at the age of 38 behind the wheel of his familiar No. 777 after winning a feature race at Santa on June 5, 1966.
Wallace, the father of NASCAR stars Rusty, Mike and Kenny, was an accomplished racer on both dirt and pavement, winning more than his fair share of races at Illinois’ Tri City Speedway, where he won a record-setting 12 feature wins in a row. Wallace won 200 features during a four-year stretch from 1974 through 1978. Wallace passed away on October 30, 2011 at the age of 77.
Pronger raced from 1949 until 1971, primarily at his hometown track – Raceway Park. Pronger won 148 main events at the tight, quarter-mile paved oval. He was the track champion there in Late Model competition in 1961 and 1969. 1953 saw Pronger set qualifying records in NASCAR Grand National competition at Daytona Beach, Fla. During the 160-mile beach/highway event that year, Pronger flipped his ’53 Oldsmobile on the very first lap, ending his chance of victory.
Pohlman started racing stock cars in the late 1940s, eventually becoming a top mechanic and builder in the Chicagoland area. He teamed with a number of top drivers, including Bud Koehler, Ken Finley and Tony Izzo, and later guided his own sons, Bob and Ken, to numerous victories. Racing on asphalt or dirt didn’t seem to stop Pohlman’s cars from winning. Pohlman teamed with Koehler to win track championships on the pavement at Mance Park Speedway and at Raceway Park before shifting his attention to the dirt at Santa Fe Speedway, where the Pohlman/Finley combination won a track tile.
Burdick has been part of the officiating team at the Rockford Speedway pretty much since the beginning of the speedway’s existence. He helped level off a farm field in 1948 which would become the Rockford Speedway. Serving as Race Official or Infield Marshall at the high-banked paved raceway, Burdick became a familiar figure at Rockford, wheeling his blue and white’55 Chevy pickup truck around the track at countless events. At age 86, Burdick is still at the speedway every Saturday night.
Pete Jenin was the owner of Chicagoland’s Raceway Park from 1947 until the track closed at the end of the 2000 racing season. After the 1946 season was over, Jenin and his older brother, Nick, took over the speedway, which was pretty much in a condemned state. Pete Jenin did most of the work himself, developing the track into a state of the art facility as weekly stock car racing took the area by storm in the late 40s. The 1950s and 60s were boom years for the speedway with Jenin being the directing force. Jenin passed away at the age of 89 in 2006.
1960 NASCAR Grand National Champion, Rex White was a special guest during the day’s activities. At the age of 84, White is the oldest living NASCAR champion. White is among NASCAR’s Top 50 Greatest Drivers and was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame this past January.
A big surprise during the day was the arrival of 1989 NASCAR Champion and current TV commentator, Rusty Wallace, to accept his Dad’s award. Wallace was accompanied by his son, Gregg, and Gregg’s new wife, Lindsay.
The founder of the Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame, Art“Fireball” Fehrman and his wife, Pat, again worked hard to make the HoF day a success.
Spring Classic at Rockford Speedway
Rockford Speedway hosted its 38th annual Spring Classic stock car program on Sunday afternoon, April 12. Big 8 Series late models, the Mid American Stock Car Series and the American Ethanol SuperTruck Series were part of the day’s racing action.
Bobby Wilberg of Beloit, Wis., won the 88-lap Big 8 Series main event that was halted for about an hour because of rain with 20 laps to go on the high-banked, quarter-mile. Another top Wisconsin speedster, Casey Johnson was leading the race at the rain break and had been holding off the challenges of Wilberg and Jake Gille up until then.
After the restart, lap 71 saw Wilberg get into Johnson, sending Johnson sliding up into the wall in turn three and putting the former seven-time Rockford champion into the lead. A lap later, Johnson’s car came to a halt with Johnson out of the race.
“We were just racing hard down there.” said Wilberg. “He (Johnson) was washing way up in the corners. He was sliding up there in the middle (of the turn). He kept going in lower and lower. I got my nose down there. We went in there (turn three). He decided to get in there even lower. I got into his quarter panel and slid him up the race track. It’s not what you want to do. I feel bad for it, (but) that’s racing.” Johnson saw it another way. “Wilberg squared off into my rear bumper and the officials didn't feel like doing anything about it," Johnson said. "Me and 95 percent of the people think (the officials) should have penalized Wilberg.”
The final order of finish was Wilberg, who claimed his first career Big 8 Series win, followed by Gille, Michael Bachaus, Wayne Freimund and Michael Bilderback.
Tyler Bauknecht of Kaukauna, Wis., was the winner of the 50-lap Mid American Stock Car Series contest, taking the checkered flag over last year’s series champion Jeff Holtz, Rick Corso and Scott Dunning. Starting sixth in the 20-car field, the 23-year-old Bauknecht muscled his way by Dunning after an early green flag restart after one of many yellow caution periods and held on the rest of the way.
“I was glad for all those yellows,” said Bauknecht. “My car was better on the short runs. I ‘boogered’ the 132 (Dunning) and I apologize for that. It’s racing and I wanted to win.”
Young Derek Kraus of Stratford, Wis., was the overall winner of the American Ethanol SuperTruck Series competition, winning the second 25-lap main event of the day after finishing fifth in the opening 25 lapper. The 13-year-old Kraus became the youngest driver ever to win a feature event at Rockford in a full-bodied car.
“The truck was tight in the first race so we made some adjustments for the second race with the air pressures and that really helped the handling,” said Kraus, who dad Mark has been a Midwestern Late Model racer for years. “Rockford Speedway has a long history of some of the best short track drivers and I am honored to win my first truck race here.”
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