“Chicago Whispers” June 10th; Column & photos by Stan Kalwasinski

Chicago Whispers          Stan Kalwasinski photo
Stan Kalwasinski
June 10, 2018

Chicago—Rainy weather over the weekend forced the cancellation of stock car racing programs at both the Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill., and the Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind.

Friday night’s event at Grundy was slated to be the ninth annual Frank Welch Memorial with the 94-lap late model event honoring the late Frank Welch, who was instrumental over the years for the success of the third-of-a-mile paved oval located at the Grundy County Fairgrounds.  The Welch race has been rescheduled for this coming Friday evening – June 15.

Welch, who passed away in in 2009 at the age of 89, was part of the racing scene in the Grundy County area for many years.  A resident of Morris, Ill., and longtime President of the Gundy County Fairboard, Welch had been part of the management team at Grundy since the track opened in 1971.  Prior to that, he was a track official, handling one chore or another for promoter, Wayne Carter, at the old Mazon Speed Bowl, which preceded the current Grundy speed plant.

In 1952, Welch was the stock car champion at the high-banked, quarter-mile paved Mazon oval.  Welch battled the likes of Bud Ferguson, Joe Birsa, Bob Watters, Bernie Wilhelmi, Bob Tattersall and others in the stock car action at the speedway.  The era saw the competition made up of mainly 1939-40 vintage Ford coupes with flathead eight-cylinder engines providing the power.

“Those old coupes were the best balanced car for their time,” reminisced Welch years later.  “There were a few ‘270’ GMCs running but they were a little heavy in the front.”

Welch and his 1939 Ford No. 94 claimed season championship title honors at Mazon during the 1952 campaign.  Welch was a frontrunner at Mazon for a number of years until he injured his back in an automobile-accident in the mid 1950s.  Hanging up his helmet, Welch became a track official at Mazon, doing everything from handling the pit steward chores to flagging, announcing, timing and scoring the races.

Past winners of the Welch Memorial include Ricky Baker (2017 and 2013), Larry Schuler (2016), Boris Jurkovic (2015), Brett Sontag (2014 and 2010) and Eddie Hoffman (2012 and 2011).

The late model competition at Grundy so far this year has been pretty evenly matched with five different late model feature winners in the first five events of the 2018 season.  Schuler, Hoffman and Jurkovic have posted wins in addition to Anthony Danta and defending late model champion, Billy Knippenberg.

UMP Summer Nationals

The 2018 edition of the DIRTcar UMP Summer Nationals “Hell Tour” begins this week.  The first stop is at Illinois’ Peoria Speedway this coming Wednesday, June 13.  The first week of the annual grueling dirt late model tour also includes events at Illinois tracks Kankakee County Speedway (Thursday, June 14), Sycamore Speedway Friday, (June 15), The Dirt Oval at Route 66 (Saturday, June 16) and at Indiana’s Plymouth Speedway (Sunday, June 17).

Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., who has won the last three consecutive Summer Nationals championships, will not defend his crown this year as he will be running a limited schedule on this year’s “Hell Tour.”

Autobahn Country Club

I was the guest of Eddie Dunne this past Friday at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet.  Situated on 350 acres of gently rolling countryside, the private motorsports club, the brainchild of Mark Basso and several others, is home to three challenging road courses including a full 3.56 mile track.  The track can be divided between a 1.5 mile North Circuit and 2.1 mile South Circuit that can be run simultaneously.

In addition to the main circuit, the facility, which opened in 2004, has a variety of off road surfaces, a .60 mile go kart track, multiple autocross locations, and three-acre skid pad.  These circuits can be used in tandem or separately for your performance event experience.

A number of privately-owned garages/condominiums are scattered along the perimeter of the road courses with ready-to-rent  garages available for members.  A club house, a Sunoco fuel station and several race car shops are on the property as well.  1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal is a member with three-time Indy 500 veteran Tom Bagley being the “course pro.”

Bagley gave me a 100 miles per hour-plus ride in a yellow Lexus, hustling the pleasure car around the multiple turns, 3.56-mile raceway.  It was quite the ride and gave me a small idea of what professional race car drivers encounter in competition on a road course.

Dunne, a former stock car racer at the old Waukegan Speedway and at Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva Raceway, was among the drivers that participated in the Friday evening’s Chase Racing, which is similar to bracket racing with cars leaving the starting line based on their earlier timed laps with slower cars leaving first.  After “break out” penalties, etc. were accessed, Ron Rashinski was declared the winner.  Dunne, who has won his fair share of races at the Joliet road course, finished 14th in the field with his Mustang having some type of engine issue.  Another Lake Geneva “alumni” Denny Hiffman competed in the event.

The complex is located on Centerpoint Way, between Interstate 55 and Route 52.  Check out its website at www.autobahncc.com.

Midget Racing in the Area

Jimmy Anderson won the inaugural POWRi pavement midget event at Grundy a week ago Saturday with Jordan Caskey scoring the victory in the 20-lap Illinois Racing Series midget race at the South Bend Motor Speedway last night.  The POWRi midgets return to Grundy on June 29 with the Illini speedsters going back to South Bend on July 7.

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