“Chicago Whispers” Jan. 5th; Column/Photos by Stan Kalwasinski

Chicago Whispers

By Stan Kalwasinski

Chicago, Ill.—Before getting too far into the New Year, let’s take a look at area track and association champions for the 2021 racing season.

For the seventh time in his career, Eddie Hoffman won the late model track championship at the Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill.  Previously, Hoffman shared the honor for the most late model titles at the third-of-a-mile paved speedway with his dad, Ed.  Eddie Hoffman won three feature races during the 2021 season to win the record championship ahead of Clay Curts.  Former champions Anthony Danta (2016), Ricky Baker (2013 & 2014) and James Gregait rounded out the top five.   Hoffman now has 148 career feature wins at Grundy to lead all drivers.

Blake Brown won eight feature races on his way to winning the Mid American Sportsman title at Grundy over Tristan Batson and Marqus Hoover.  Scott Gardner claimed his first career Grundy track championship, winning the street stock division crown.  Gardner finished ahead of Chad Bayuk and Randy Weese.  Cameron Preisler was the track’s pure stocks (four cylinder) class champion.

A former two-time late model champion at Grundy, Billy Knippenberg saw his move to dirt track racing a few years ago more and more successful as he captured the DIRTcar Pro Late Models titles at both the Kankakee County Speedway and at Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind.

Knippenberg, who started his speed career on the dirt at Chicagoland’s Santa Fe Speedway in the 1990s, won two feature races at Kankakee and bested Chase Osterhoff and Austin McCarty in the final points.  At Shadyhill, Knippenberg finished ahead of Michael Marden and Jace Owens in the standings, scoring four main event wins.  Knippenberg finished second in the overall national DIRTcar Pro Late Models standings with a total of eight feature wins.

The Kankakee speed plant saw Nick Clubb, with four feature victories, win the DIRTcar modified title over Jason Hastings and Shawn Scripter.  Other Kankakee champions include Zane Reitz (stock cars), Nathan Arterberry (factory stocks), Mark Rhoades (pro modifieds) and Matthew Balthazor (sport compacts).

Winning five features, Brad DeYoung was the modified titlist at Shadyhill for the third time in his career.  DeYoung finished ahead of Tom Bell and Brian Craig in the final standings.  Sheldon Oberle was the bombers division champion with 10 feature wins to his credit.  Harley Sutton took top honors in the four-banger class.

Sycamore Speedway saw Greg Cantrell Jr. win the track’s super late model division title for the third straight year.  Cantrell beat 2018 champion Jeremy Spoonmore by a mere eight points.  Kyle Monk finished third in the standings.  Tim Provenzano claimed pure stock class honors while Dave Dulceak won the street stock title.

Jon Reynolds Jr. was the NASCAR late model champion at the Rockford Speedway.  Repeating last year’s title effort, Reynolds won his fourth Rockford late model crown in 2021, besting Tom Gille, former two-time champion Jerry Gille and Dennis Smith Jr.  Johnny Robinson (sportsman) and Kelly Ewink (American Short Tracker) became two-time champions in their respective divisions.  Other Rockford champions include Phil Speciale (roadrunner), Erik Pearson (bandits), Jeremy Watson (figure 8 bandits) and Dakota Paris (original sixers).

Frank Marshall was the modified champion at Indiana’s Plymouth Speedway for the third time in his career.  Marshall won two feature races and finished ahead of Zeke McKenzie and Ethan Boomsma in the final points.  Other Plymouth champions include Ron Wilkes (super streets), Lee Hall (thunder stocks), Josh Lank (four cylinders) and Ed Cleveland (600 open sprints).

South Bend Motor Speedway in Indiana saw Jaden Cretacci take home top honors in the track’s outlaw late model ranks, winning the championship over Steve Stacy and Kevin Sauer.  Austin Maynard dominated the track’s sportsman division.  Other South Bend titlists include Logan Maynard (street stocks), Derek Davis (front wheel drive), Brenden Davis (hornets) and Dustin Williams (mini stocks).

Scott Koerner captured the Illini Racing Series midget championship again in 2021, giving him a total of five series titles, including four now in a row.  Koerner won four main events and finished ahead of Tom Eyman and Ryan Finley in the final points standings.

Chase McDermand won an impressive 10 feature races on his way to the Badger Midget Auto Racing Association crown.  McDermand captured his third straight Badger midget title ahead of Zach Boden and Lamont Critchett.

Besides his Rockford championship, Jon Reynolds Jr. also won the Big 8 Late Model Series championship, his second series title – the first coming during the tour’s inaugural season in 2005.  Ron Vandermeir Jr. was the Mid-Am Racing Series titlist again in 2021 – his fourth consecutive stock car championship.  Vandermeir finished ahead of rookie of the year Timmy Stewart and Andrew Meyerhoffer in the final standings.

The Interstate Racing Association winged sprint car series saw Jake Blackhurst win the championship.  Ryan Marshall was the Wisconsin WINGless champion.

Ty Majeski captured his fifth career ARCA Midwest Tour late model championship, winning four main events on his way to the title.  Hunter Jack was the ARCA Super Series titlist with Cody Coughlin winning the ARCA CRA Jegs All-Stars championship for the fourth time.

DIRTcar Racing national champions include Bobby Pierce (late Models), Nick Hoffman (modifieds), Jose Parga (Pro Late Models), Owen Steinkoenig (pro modifieds), Wes McClara (sportsman), Nick Macklin (stock car), Trevor Isaak (factory stock) and Joshua Hawkins (sport compact).  It was Pierce’s fourth DIRTcar national title, Hoffman’s third and Parga’s second.

The year was not without sorrow as a number of members of the racing community passed away including stock car racers Gene Breeden, Don Tite, Bob Halston, Barrie Fritsche, Dino Daminato, Butch Van Duser, Leroy Roberts, Kurt Kuhnke, Dawn Wiltjer, J.P. Gatti, Bob Anzinger, Ramo Stott, Dave Kazmarczyk, Denny Ray Miller, Larry Robb, Corky Ritter, Al Maresh, Victor Benedetto, Slick Sills, Terry Hayes and Don Waldvogel, a former champion at both Santa Fe Speedway and Kankakee Fairgrounds Speedway in addition to stock car owners Bill Hahnlein and Bill Skarupinski and mechanic Herm Werkman.

Also passing were midget drivers Gene Drangmeister and George McBeath Jr., along with midget car owner Roy Koehler, announcer John Magnuson Jr., scorer Ron Goodaker,  photographers Jim Ambruoso and Russ Lake, promoters Ray Toft and Jim Adrian Sr., TV host Bill Wildt and Mary Murawski, wife of Roby Speedway historian Jerry Murawski.

And finally, Wayne Adams, part of the area racing scene for more than 50 years, passed away in late May at the age of 102.  Adams was the announcer at Blue Island’s Raceway Park from 1947 through 1989 and wrote countless stories and columns for the old weekly auto racing newspaper – Illustrated Speedway News, beginning in 1940.

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