“Chicago Whispers” Dec. 19th; Column & photos by Stan Kalwasinski

Stan Kalwasinski
Stan Kalwasinski photo

Chicago Whispers

By Stan Kalwasinski

December 19, 2018

Chicago, Ill.—A look at Chicago area track and association champions for 2018 includes…

Veteran racer Eddie Hoffman nailed down his fifth late model stock car track championship at the Grundy County Speedway (Morris, Ill.) this past season.  Establishing himself as the winningest driver at the “Friday Night Racin’ Place” since winning his first career late model main event back in 1996, Hoffman won two feature races on the Grundy pavement during the 2018 campaign and bested last year’s champion Billy Knippenberg in the final points tally.  Joe Vinachi, veteran John Nutley and James Gregait rounded out the top five.

Chad Proctor won four feature races on his way to the Mid American Sportsman division track championship at Grundy.  It was Proctor’s third division title.  John Senerchia was the track’s street stock champion.  Scoring his fourth division title, Senerchia won four main events during the season.  Scott Ingram won the Pure Stock (four-cylinder) title with Dan Schmeissing doing the same for the track’s Saturday night racing action.

Jon Reynolds Jr. was the NASCAR late model champion at the Rockford Speedway.  Winning the Rockford crown for the second time in his career, Reynolds, nicknamed “Driver X”, won three features at the historic quarter-mile paved oval to repeat his 2014 title-winning effort.

Howie Ware was the track’s sportsman champion with Frank Beldowski winning the American Short Tracker (four-cylinder) title.  Kevin Memoli captured the roadrunner (street stock) division crown.

Jamie Lomax had one of those career-seasons, winning 20 DIRTcar UMP modified feature races, ending up third in the UMP “national” standings and capturing the UMP modified track title at Shadyhill Speedway (Medaryville, Ind.).  Lomax, who is a former two-time modified champion at Indiana’s Plymouth Speedway, nailed down 12 feature races at “The Hill” to propel him to his first Shadyhill championship.  Lomax finished ahead of the DeYoung brothers, Brad and Kevin, in the final standings.

Darren Wireman won three feature races, claiming the track’s UMP Pro Late Models title with Shaun Wiltjer being the track’s stock car champion with two feature wins to his credit.  Other track champions at Shadyhill this year include Sheldon Oberle (bombers), Chris Graham (four bangers) and Maggie Witczak (teen 4s).

Chris Tippit had an impressive year – winning the I-Mod division track titles at both Shadyhill and Kankakee County Speedway.  Tippit won 11 feature races at Shadyhill and 13 at Kankakee, giving him back-to-back titles at both speedways.

Torin Mettille was the UMP Pro Late Models champion at Kankakee for the second year in a row, winning eight feature races at the dirt fairgrounds oval.  Mike Learman was the track’s modified titlist with Joe Brown Jr. winning the stock car division championship for the second year in a row.  Another driver repeating his championship-winning effort at Kankakee was Matt Balthazor, who won the track’s UMP Sport Compact (four-cylinder) title for the second straight year.

Former two-time UMP modified champion at Kankakee, Mike McKinney had an impressive season, winning 27 features races in Midwest modified competition.  McKinney ended up second behind another Illinois speedster, Mike Harrison, who captured an unprecedented seventh career UMP modified “national” title.

Jeremy Spoonmore held off Reno Markham by eight points to win the super late model division crown on the dirt at Sycamore Speedway. Showing he can win on either dirt or asphalt, Spoonmore, who was the Mid American Stock Car Series champion in 2012, won four feature races at Sycamore this season.  Zach Zuberbier was the street stock division champion with female competitor Stacy Doris, who seemed to win all year long, capturing the pure stocks championship.  Jeff Hooker was the track’s Hornets (four-cylinder) champ.

Derek Losh won the UMP modified title at Plymouth Speedway.  Losh nailed down 12 feature races to score his second Plymouth modified crown, the first one coming in 2016.  Ron Wilkes was the track’s super streets champion.  Other Plymouth champions were Kevin Kerlin (thunder stocks), Chad Hartzell (600 sprints) and Eric Saunders (Pro Sprints).

Indiana’s Daugherty Speedway saw Justin Gregory claim UMP modified title honors with Mike Staggs winning the Pro Late Models crown – his fourth straight championship.  David Hurst was the track’s street stock champ.

Billy Hulbert was the champion in midget racing action during the inaugural season of the POWRi Pavement Series.  Hulbert won three feature races at the third-of-a-mile Grundy oval.  Scott Koerner won his second Illini Racing Series midget crown, winning three feature races along the way.  Former Illinois resident, Scott Hatton was the Badger Midget Auto Racing Association champion for the fifth time in his career.  Hatton, who now calls Wisconsin home, won two feature races and defeated Illinois drivers Tyler Baran, Ryan Probst and veteran Kevin Olson in the final points.  Both Baran and Probst also won two Badger feature races apiece.

The Interstate Racing Association winged sprint car series saw a new champion crown in the likes of Jake Blackhurst.  Blackhurst captured four feature races on his way to the title.  Veteran Tim Cox was the champion of the new Wisconsin Wingless Sprint Series, winning one main event in 2018.

Jeremy Miller captured his fifth career Big 8 Late Model Series crown.  Ron Vandermeir Jr. took championship honors for the Mid American Stock Car Series, winning three times on the traveling, pavement-only, stock car circuit.  Local speedster Tony Brutti won the CRA Late Model Sportsman championship.   Florida’s Dalton Zehr was crowned the ARCA Midwest Tour champion for 2018 with his lone series win being the Wayne Carter Classic 100 at Grundy.

The year was not without sorrow as a number of members of the area racing community passed away including Frank Gawlinski, the nine-time late model champion at the now-shuttered Illiana Motor Speedway, and Roy Martinelli, two-time late model titlist at the old O’Hare Stadium. Others who passed on include stock car drivers Terry Laxton, Rick Kleich, Erv Dunner, Bill Bain, Bill Kollasch, Keith Parker, “Swede” Pedersen, Bill Bottoms, Jason Parratt and Tim Erjavac, along with midget champions Dick Pole and Bill Minkler Jr. and northwest Indiana dirt track racers Josh Klein, Scott Minter and Charlie Poague.

In addition, those who have left us include early USAC stock car owner Marty Salerno, race promoters, Aaron Willis, who headed up the UMARA midget group, and John Roulo, part of Tri-R Promotions, track officials Jim Corsaro and Darryl Punke, photographer Jack Markley and Art Hellyer, who announced the races at O’Hare in the 1960s, in addition to long-time race supporters Dave “Skip” Gough, Buck Roderick and Ralph “Rufus” Craven.

Also passing away were Jean Lutz and Beverly Skarupinski. Lutz was the wife of the late O’Hare Stadium champion Bill Lutz and the speedway’s 1957 queen.  Skarupinski, along with her husband Bill, simply known as “Bill and Bev”, were the car owners of the familiar silver and black No. 3 late model with the big “windup key” on the trunk lid at Grundy, Illiana and Raceway Park for many years.  Rest in peace, everyone.

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