“Chicago Whispers” January 3rd; Story & Photos by Stan Kalwasinski

Stan Kalwasinski photo Chicago Whispers
By Stan Kalwasinski

     January 3, 2018

Chicago, Ill.—Before getting too far into the new year, let’s take a look at Chicago area racing track and association champions for the 2017 season.

Billy Knippenberg was the late model stock car track champion at Grundy County Speedway in Morris.  Knippenberg grabbed his second Grundy late model (he also won in 2005) by beating Eddie Hoffman and James Gregait.  Knippenberg won one feature race during the season at the third-of-a-mile paved oval.

Matt Clemens was the track’s Mid American sportsman champion, repeating his 2015 effort.  Clemens won four feature races during the campaign.  For the third time in the last five years, John Senerchia was Grundy’s street stock titlist, winning five feature races along the way.  Michael Tobuch won his second consecutive pure stocks (four-cylinder) title for the Friday night racing with Scott Gagen being named the pure stocks champion for the track’s Saturday night action.

Rockford Speedway saw Michael Bilderback win the NASCAR-sanctioned late model track championship.  Bilderback, who won four feature races at the high-banked quarter-mile asphalt oval, grabbed four feature wins during the year and finished ahead of Matt Berger Jr. and 2014 track champion Jon Reynolds Jr. in the final points tally.

Chad Smith won his first Rockford track championship, winning the sportsman division title.  Zach Rodriguez was the track’s American Short Tracker champion with Josh Thiering taking the roadrunner division crown.

Winning three feature races during the season, Torin Mettile was the United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) Pro Late Models titlist at the Kankakee County Speedway.  Jay Morris and Phil Line trailed Mettile in the final points.  2012 division champion Jamie Lomax was again the UMP Modified champion at Kankakee with Joe Brown Jr. being the UMP Stock Cars titlist.  Other Kankakee champions were Matthew Balthazor (UMP Sport Compacts) and Chris Tippit (I-Mods).

Jay Brendle continued his domination of the super late model division on the dirt at the Sycamore Speedway as Brendle wrapped up his fourth consecutive track championship.  Rowdy Burns and Jeremy Spoonmore finished Brendle in the championship chase.  Other Sycamore champions were Zach Zuberbier (street stocks), Mike Nelms (pure stocks) and Mike Cunz (four-cylinder hornets).

Brad DeYoung notched his second career UMP Modified championship on the dirt at Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind.  DeYoung, who won the modified title at Shadyhill in 2015, bested Kurt Allison and eight-time division titlist Nick Allen in the final points rundown.  Scoring his fourth division championship, Travis Wolford was Shadyhill’s stock car champion.  Division champion at Kankakee, Chris Tippit also won the I-Mod division championship at Shadyhill, joining Terry Henderson (pure streets), Jacob Wilkinson (sport compacts) and Megan Jones (Teen 4s) as track champions for 2017.

Randy Lines won six feature races on his way to winning the UMP Modified division crown at Indiana’s Plymouth Speedway as he bested former track champions Frank Marshall and Lomax in the points.  A relative newcomer to dirt track racing, Shaun Wiltjer was the track’s super street titlist with Tom Grall winning the thunder stocks championship.  Other Plymouth champions for the year were Chad Hartzell (600 open sprints), Garrett Saunders (pro sprints) and Ryin Zelmer (mini wedges).

Indiana’s Daugherty Speedway saw Matt Mitchell win the UMP Modifieds crown.  Mike Staggs won his third straight Pro Late Models title on the dirt with Jim Ransom (street stocks), David Hurst (pure streets) and Jace Owens (sport compacts) also being among Daugherty champions.

Winning five feature races during the year, Ryan Probst was the Illini Racing Series midget champion.  Probst bested Jordan Caskey and last year’s series champion Scott Koerner in the final standings.

Alaska native Bill Balog was the champion of the Interstate Racing Association Bumper-to-Bumper Outlaw Sprint Series traveling circuit for the eighth time in his career.  Other association champions include Rusty Schlenk (DIRTcar UMP Late Models), Mike Harrison (DIRTcar UMP Modifieds), Logan Runyon (ARCA CRA Super Series), Carson Hocevar (ARCA CRA JEGS All Stars), Michael Bilderback (Big 8 Late Model Series) and Dan Gilster (Mid American Stock Car Series) with Ty Majeski capturing his fourth consecutive ARCA Midwest Tour title.

Some highlights of the season included…

Ricky Baker was the man-to-beat in long distance late model races at the Grundy paved oval with the former two-time track champion winning five special events there in 2017.  Concentrating his racing efforts on the ARCA Midwest Tour circuit, Baker ran a limited schedule at Grundy but seemed to win if he was in the starting lineup.  Among Baker’s victories at Grundy were the Frank Welch Memorial 94, Grundy’s 40-lap Mid Season Championship race, the ARCA Midwest Tour Wayne Carter Classic, the 61-lap Lee Schuler Memorial and the annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 lapper.

Under the promotion of Sherri Heckenast, the Dirt Oval at Route 66 in Joliet reopened for dirt track racing for the first time since 2005 with a schedule of special events being held.

Randy Lines won the 17th annual Firecracker 50 for UMP DIRTcar modified stock cars at Indiana’s Shadyhill Speedway on the Fourth of July.

Michael Bilderback clinched an unprecedented third consecutive Big 8 Series late model title, winning the 108-lap series event at the Rockford Speedway, which was part of the 52nd Annual National Short Track Championships (NSTC) in late September.  Wisconsin’s Alex Prunty won the 200-lap NSTC super late model event a day later.

Dennis Erb Jr. won the $12,000-to-win World of Outlaws Late Model Series special at the Dirt Track at Charlotte in early November.

The year was not without sorrow as a number of members of the area racing community passed away including stock car drivers Matt Arvia, Paul Bauer, Ron Bowgren, Jack Carey, Jim Cossman, Bill Clemmons, Cloyce Friend, Raleigh Hinkle, Harve Hollifield, John Hollifield, Irv Janicki, Kenny Kuehn, Gene Marmor, Terry Nichels, Mel Van Allen, Guy Volk and Ralph Wren, midget racer Jim McClean, stock car owners/mechanics Gary Johnson, Dave Meadowcraft and Bob Novy along with promoter Chuck Painter, Raceway Park’s Barry Szafranski and longtime at-the-track tire representative Tom “Turtle” Weckler.

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