“Chicago Whispers” Column/photos by Stan Kalwasinski March 24th

Chicago Whispers

By Stan Kalwasinski

Chicago, Ill.—Before getting too far into the new racing season, let’s take a look at the area racing scene 10 and 25 years ago – the years were 2011 and 1996.

10 Years Ago (2011) – Eddie Hoffman won a total of 16 main events during the season and was crowned the late model stock car champion at the Grundy County Speedway in Morris.  Hoffman garnered 10 feature race victories at Grundy on his way to his third title at the third of a mile paved fairgrounds oval, where he was also the champion in 2004 and 1997.

Hoffman also picked up five more wins at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., including a  Champion Racing Association (CRA) JEGS All-Stars Tour 100 lapper.  Hoffman also posted a JEGS series victory at Michigan’s Dixie Motor Speedway.

For the second time in his career, Billy Knippenberg was named Grundy’s Mid American sportsman champion.  Knippenberg, who claimed late model championship honors in 2005, was Grundy’s Mid American division champ in 2000.  Other Grundy champions were Logan Love (street stocks) and Rich Dearborn (4-cylinders).

Nick Allen grabbed United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) DIRTcar modified track championships honors at both the Kankakee County Speedway and at his “home track” – Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind.

Allen scored five feature wins at Shadyhill on his way to his fifth modified title at the speedway.  Allen won four main events at Kankakee.  Allen finished third in the “national” UMP modified standings with a total of 13 feature wins in 2011.

Veteran Mike Kingma raced to his third consecutive Independent Modified Association (I-Mod) track title at Shadyhill with six feature wins to his credit.  Kingma also claimed I-Mod division honors at Kankakee, nailing down five feature victories.

Mike Provenzano was the UMP late model champion at both the Kankakee fairgrounds oval and at LaSalle Speedway.  Provenzano won his third late model crown at Kankakee and his second at LaSalle.

Other Kankakee champions include Lee J. Hall (UMP Stock Cars) and Dave Polak Jr. (UMP Compacts).  Shadyhill saw Nate Payton (UMP Stock Cars), Josh Hesson (Pure Streets) and Skylar Antonelli (Teen 4s) among its other champions.  Matt Gremminger (UMP Modifieds), Roger Rickels (UMP Street Stocks) and Allen Provenzano (UMP 4-Cylinders) rounded out the champions at LaSalle.

Blake Brown became the youngest late model stock car champion at Illiana, winning the title at the half-mile paved oval at the age of 19.  Alex Arelano and Eddie Wolf both became two-time champions at the Indiana oval with Arelano repeating his Legends title after winning class honors in 2009 and Wolf picking up the Turbo Stox crown after winning division laurels in 2004.  Chris Czaszwicz was the Pure Stocks division champ at Illiana.

Ryan Carlson won his first NASCAR Late Model stock car season championship at the Rockford Speedway.  Carlson posted five main event victories at the high-banked quarter-mile paved oval during the campaign.  George Sparkman became a five-time Rockford champion, again winning class honors in the American Short Tracker ranks.  Alex Papini was the speedway’s Roadrunner division champ.  15-year-old Austin Nason became the youngest champion in track history as he garnered the sportsman class title.

Johnny Heath claimed yet another Super Late Model crown at the Sycamore Speedway.  Heath won his fifth super late model championship at Sycamore, previously winning in 2008, 2004, 2003 and 2002.  Steven Gardner and Jordan Jackowiak ended up in a tie for championship honors in the late model division.  Other Sycamore champs include Michael Brancecum (spectator) and Stacy Roach (powder puff).

Keith Sterkowitz went on to capture overall series honors for the CRA Late Model Sportsman stock car tour.  Sterkowitz won a total of six series events, including four in a row.  Three wins came at Indiana’s Anderson Speedway with two victories at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway.  Sterkowitz also claimed a win at Michigan’s M-40 Speedway.  James Swan became a five time champion of the Mid American Stock Car Series that saw action at both Grundy and Rockford during the year.  Steve Rubeck was the Big 8 Late Model Series titlist.

The new Short Track Auto Racing Series (STARS) hosted midget racing on a regular basis at the Grundy speed plant with Jimmy Anderson winning the series’ inaugural midget crown.  Other STARS champs for the season were Ed Ensor (Dwarf Cars), Andy Jones (Legends) and Joshua Caskey (Mini Cup).

Rookie Ray Seach was the midget racing champion for the Illini Racing Series.  The 17-year-old driver wheeled the Dave Budres, Sr.-owned Manic Racing open-wheeler to the title.  Alaska native Billy Balog won his fourth consecutive Bumper to Bumper Interstate Racing Association Outlaw Sprint Series title.  Balog won 12 feature races during the 23-race series.

Perhaps the biggest single victory turned in by a local driver was Boris Jurkovic winning the 40th annual Winchester 400 late model battle at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway, the historic, high-banked, half-mile paved track in October.  The 400 lapper was the season finale for the CRA Super Series.

(25 Years Ago (1996) – Frank Gawlinski won his ninth and final late model stock car track championship at Illiana Motor Speedway.  Gawlinski won nine feature races at Harry Molenaar’s half-mile paved oval on his way to the championship.  John Rastovsky was the track’s sportsman division champion for the second year in a year, while Randy Gifford was Illiana’s street stock titlist.

At the Grundy County Speedway, Mike White nailed down his third late model crown (his second in a row).  White won two feature races during the season.  Pat Kelly captured Mid American Sportsman division honors at Grundy with Al Swiggett winning the street stock championship.

A 16-year racing veteran, Gary Raven won his first late model championship at Raceway Park.  Racing since 1978, Raven won 15 feature races at the tight, smaller-than-a-quarter, paved oval.   Mark Olejniczak was the track’s semi-pro division champ with Guy Baumann winning the street stock title and Don Ackerman being the enduro champ.

On the dirt, Bryan Dunaway was the late model titlist at the Kankakee Fairgrounds Speedway.  Tommy Kroll was the modified champion with Steve McCarty being the stock car champion.  At the LaSalle Speedway, young Joey Izzo claimed his first late model driving championship.  Vince Wilkinson was named the track’s Midwestern late model champ with Reno Markham winning the street stock title.

More dirt track action found veteran Denny Falkos winning the super late model crown at the Sycamore Speedway.  It was Falkos’ first title since he started racing at Sycamore in 1966.  Josh Nelms was the track’s late model champion with Jack Pietrarosso taking spectator laurels and Ginny Van Winkle the same in the powder puff division.

Indiana’s Southlake Speedway saw Dave McDaniel capture the speedway’s late model championship with Eddie Leviner winning the hobby stock title.  Paul Marshall was the street stock champ.  Another Indiana raceway, Shadyhill Speedway saw veteran Bill Davis win the modified championship with Keith Williams being the hobby stock champ.  Carl Shidler was the bombers division champion with Joey Viney winning the nim-rod (four-cylinder) title.

Bobby Wilberg claimed his second consecutive late model track championship at the Rockford Speedway, giving Wilberg a total of three career championships at the Rockford oval.  Bob Hansberry was the Grand National sportsman champ with Bill McCoy winning the American Short Tracker title.  John Cromwell came home the roadrunner titlist.

Duane Pierson was the driving champion for the United Midget Auto Racing Association with Nick Fox being named the organization’s sportsman champ.  Joe Roe became a five-time champion of the Interstate Racing Association sprint car group.

Steve Carlson wrapped up his fourth ARTGO Challenge Series late model title while Eddie Hoffman, who finished sixth in the points, was named ARTGO’s “rookie of the year”.  Pat Kelly was “rookie of the year” for the Mid American Stock Car Series, winning three main events during the season.

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Local modified racers Nick Allen, Beau DeYoung, Brad DeYoung, and Mike McKinney were racing during the winter months.  Allen was a DIRTcar modified feature winner in February at Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park with Beau DeYoung capturing the Toilet Bowl modified special at Clarksville Speedway in Tennessee on March 13th.

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Season Openers

LaSalle Speedway –March 26th & 27th (Thaw Brawl)

Rockford Speedway – April 17th (Spring Classic – Big 8 Late Models)

South Bend Motor Speedway – April 24th

Grundy County Speedway – May 1st  (Cabin Fever Season Opener)

Plymouth Speedway – May 1st (Cabin Fever Season Opener)

Shadyhill Speedway – May 8th (Season Opener/White Lightning Show Down)

Kankakee County Speedway – May 21st (71st Season Opener)

Sycamore Speedway – May 29th (58th Saturday Season Opener)

The address for news and comments is 9618 Cypress Ave., Munster, Ind. 46321-3418 or e-mail to skalwasinski@yahoo.com.