March 12, 2018
by Stan Kalwasinski
Chicago, Ill. – Before getting too far along into the new racing season, let’s take a look back at Chicago area racing – 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 and 80 years ago. The years were 2008, 1998, 1988, 1978, 1968, 1958, 1948 and 1938.
2008 – Mike White garnered his fifth late model stock car championship at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind. White posted two feature wins on his way to another title at the northwest Indiana “speed plant,” besting 2007 champ Jeff Cannon and Mike Monroe in the final points tally. Another Illinois veteran, John Nutley was the track’s limited late model champion.
Brett Sontag was the “top gun” in the late model ranks at the Grundy County Speedway in Morris. Winner of seven feature races, Sontag bested 2007 Grundy titlist Tom Smith for the year’s championship crown. It was Sontag’s third late model championship at the third of a mile paved oval, – the “Friday Night Racin’ Place.”
Jerry Gille was the 2008 Rockford Speedway late model champion. Gille, who won three feature races during the season, broke Ricky Bilderback’s “strangle hold” of seven consecutive NASCAR late model crowns at the high-banked, quarter-mile paved oval. Minnesota’s Josh Vadnais captured Rockford’s annual National Short Track Championships 200-lap special.
On the dirt at the LaSalle Speedway, Keith Piano was the track champion in the late model division. Piano, who won six feature races, defeated Roger Markham by only one point for the title. Second generation driver Vince Cooper grabbed three feature victories on his way to top honors in the track’s open-wheel modified class.
Dirt track action at the Sycamore Speedway saw Johnny Heath win overall super late model honors for the fourth time. Dave Radloff was Sycamore’s late model stock car “king” with Jay Brendle taking spectator division honors.
Two nearby Indiana dirt speedways were busy with United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) competition. Kamp Motor Speedway near Boswell, Ind., saw veteran Dan Walden win the UMP late model title. The Indiana driver won three feature races on his way to his second late model championship at the speedway, having one the first one in 2000. Relative newcomer Mike Spatola made off with season honors in the track’s UMP modified division. Charles “Bub” Patrick roared to six feature wins on his way to UMP modified crown at the Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind. Almost unbeatable all season long, Butch Toosley was the track’s super street champ with Brad DeYoung winning the I-Mod crown.
For the first time in years, the dirt track at the Kankakee fairgrounds sat dormant.
Around midget auto racing pretty much since a baby, Jimmy Anderson was crowned champion of the United Midget Auto Racing Association (UMARA). Anderson, whose late dad, Jim, was a longtime midget car owner, won one feature race on his way to winning the “emotional” title. David Bryne and Mario Clouser finished behind Anderson in the standings.
The Illini Racing Series saw Joe Knippel being named the group’s top midget driver. It was Knippel’s fifth midget racing crown, including four UMARA “sportsman” championships.
Dennis Erb Jr. had another “incredible” year on Midwestern dirt tracks. The second-generation driver claimed both the UMP DIRTcar Super Late Model National Championship and the overall Summer Nationals Championship. Winner of 13 UMP features during the season, Erb also won the UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned Northern Allstars Late Model Series title.
Eddie Hoffman was the ASA Late Model Series Northern Division champion. Dave Gentile Jr. garnered the overall crown of the US Pro Cup Series with one win to his credit.
1998 – Mike White captured his second straight late model stock car driving title at Illiana Motor Speedway, winning six features along the way to the championship. Eddie Hoffman was the winner of Illiana’s annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 Classic. Gary Raven picked up his second late model season crown at Raceway Park, posting 16 feature wins during the campaign. Making it three straight championships, Joey Izzo was the UMP late model champion at the LaSalle Speedway.
John Brolick was the late model track champion at the Grundy County Speedway. Brolick won five features during the season. Dave Weltmeyer was the winner of the track’s annual Lee Schuler Memorial 50 lapper. Bobby Wilberg copped his fourth straight NASCAR late model driving championship at the Rockford Speedway. Wisconsin’s Steve Carlson again racing the victory bell in Rockford’s National Short Track Championships, which was a 300-lap affair under the NASCAR/RE/MAX banner. Eddie Hoffman won the NASCAR/RE/MAX Wayne Carter Classic at Grundy.
Todd McGarr was the top man in late model racing at Indiana’s Southlake Speedway. McGarr posted his fifth tack championship at the three-eights-mile clay oval. Among his victories was the Harvest 100. Corey Turner was the UMP late model titlist at the Kankakee Speedway. Veteran Bill Davis was the track’s modified division titlist. Joe Rusciano claimed his first super late model driving crown on the dirt at the Sycamore Speedway.
Joe Roe notched season championship honors for the seventh time in Interstate Racing Association sprint car competition. David Gough was the UMARA midget champion with Sue Spencer claiming UMARA sportsman midget division honors.
The new Route 66 Raceway in Joliet opened with the multi-purpose facility hosting a National Hot Rod Association event in late May. By season’s end, sprint cars and stock cars would take to the new speed venue’s half-mile dirt oval.
1988 – Tony Izzo, John Knaus and Roger Long were among repeat track champions at Chicago area speedways. Izzo became a nine-time late model champion at Santa Fe Speedway near Willow Springs. Izzo, won 12 feature raves on the dirt during the season and posted his fifth straight title at the “Track of Clay.”
Long, the racing farmer, won seven feature races during the Friday night late model action at the Kankakee Fairgrounds Speedway. It was Long’s third track championship at the Kankakee dirt oval. John Knaus made it two NASCAR Grand American championships in a row at the Rockford Speedway. Michigan’s Butch Miller won the ARTGO All Star 100 at Rockford. Wisconsin’s John Ziegler won Rockford’s NASCAR/ARTGO-sanctioned Nationals Short Track Championships event.
Tony Hertko won the late model championships at both the Grundy County Speedway and at the Illiana Motor Speedway. Hertko won a total of 10 feature wins between the two paved tracks. Joe Shear won the ARTGO Wayne Carter Classic and Ted Musgrave won the annual Bettenhausen 100 lapper at Illiana. Mike White drove to victory in 22 feature races to add his name to the late model champions honor roll at Raceway Park.
Mike Hollifield was the late model titlist at Southlake Speedway in Crown Point, Ind. The Indiana racer was also the limited late model champion at the Kankakee oval. Tom Markham claimed super late model track championship honors at the Sycamore Speedway. John Warren captured his second consecutive UMARA midget racing title.
1978 – Larry Middleton wheeled a ’78 Camaro to the late model track championship at Raceway Park. Middleton won a total of 17 feature races during the season. Two female competitors, champion Barbara Bosak and Nancy Prince, dominated Raceway’s hobby stock division, winning a total of 21 feature races among them. Ed Hoffman was the late model kingpin at Illiana Motor Speedway while veteran Ray Young nailed down the late model crown at the Grundy County Speedway.
Tony Izzo grabbed his second late model title on the dirt at Santa Fe Speedway. The Camaro-driving Izzo enjoyed a successful end-of-the season run, winning Santa Fe’s annual National Clay Track Championship 200 as well as the annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100-lap late model special at Illiana.
Don Leach was the late model track champion at the Rockford Speedway. Stock car legend Dick Trickle was the winner of Rockford’s annual National Short Track Championships 200 lapper. ARTGO Racing made it first ever appearance at the Rockford oval in July with Trickle winning the All Star 100 event which saw NASCAR stars Bobby Allison and Neil Bonnett compete.
Local dirt track action saw Arnie Gardner take late model season honors at the Kankakee Fairgrounds Speedway and Don Collins at the Waukegan Speedway. Bill Davis was the late model champ at the Broadway Speedway in Crown Point, Ind., with Dick Potts winning the late model stock car crown at Indiana’s Rensselaer Raceway.
Open wheel action saw Don Carter Jr. win the United Auto Racing Association (UARA) midget racing crown with Bob Robel being named Waukegan Speedway’s modified champion.
1968 – Soldier Field, the scene of area racing since the 1930s, would close its gates to racing after four stock car programs were held with Sal Tovella winning the final late model feature event ever held in early June. Erik Johnson captured 14 feature races on his way to winning the late model championship on the pavement at the O’Hare Stadium. A week or so after the season finale in September, the O’Hare high-banked oval would be totally dismantled, closing out another chapter of area racing.
Bob Kelly and his ’66 Chevelle made off with late model track championship honors at Santa Fe Speedway. Bill Van Allen would win Santa Fe’s National Clay Track Championship 200 lapper, his fourth career victory. Jerry Kemperman enjoyed a title-winning season at Raceway Park, winning 15 main events in his Dave Roulo-owned, full-size ’67 Chevy. Kemperman would also be named the late model champ at the Mazon Speed Bowl for its shortened season. Ray Freeman wheeled his ’67 Chevelle convertible to win Raceway’s annual 300 Lap Classic.
Whitey Gerken was the late model track champion at Illiana Motor Speedway. Buck Hinkle drove his ’65 Chevelle convertible to the win in Illiana’s annual Tony Bettenhausen 100. Gerken also captured the National Short Track Championships 200 at the Rockford Speedway where Joe Shear notched his second late model driving championship.
Before becoming a paved track for the 1969 season, Waukegan Speedway saw Jim Cossman win the late model crown and Johnny Reimer the modified championship. Wally Lambert was the UARA midget champion.
1958 – A Chicago “City Series’ for paved track late model stock car drivers was held at three area speed plants. Soldier Field, O’Hare Stadium and Raceway Park each hosted a special event with Fred Lorenzen scoring victories at Soldier Field and O’Hare and Bill Van Allen winning at Raceway Park. Bill Lutz and his ’56 Chevy recorded two seconds and a third-place finish on his way to the overall “City Champion” crown.
Lorenzen was the “top gun” at O’Hare, winning 18 main events and track championship honors. Van Allen, in a ’56 Studebaker Golden Hawk, was the year’s late model titlist at Raceway Park, winning 12 feature races along the way. Bob Williams was the winner of Raceway’s 300 Lap Classic. Indiana’s Don Oldenberg and his ’57 Buick convertible were the season championship winning combo at Soldier Field. Over 50,000 fans saw Oldenberg win the 35-lap Chicago Park District Police Benevolent race at the “Field.”
In March, sports cars raced for the first and only time indoors at Chicago’s International Amphitheatre with Loyal Katskee of Omaha, Neb., in a Ferrari winning. Scary speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour were achieved on the slippery concrete surface. Sports cars and stock cars raced for the first time at the new Meadowdale International Raceway in Carpentersville. California’s Chuck Daigh was the winner of the first major sports car race held at the 3.3-mile Meadowdale road course with Fred Lorenzen winning a late-season USAC stock car event.
Don Waldvogel was the late model champion at Santa Fe Speedway with Bill Gibson winning the 100-lap National Clay Track Championship season finale. Arnie Gardner was the track champion at the Mance Park Speedway in Hodgkins while Bob Udell captured the stock car driving crown at the Rockford Speedway. Eddie Stillman was Waukegan Speedway’s modified champion and Harold “Wild Willie” Wildhaber was the UARA midget champion.
1948 – The birth of weekly short track stock car racing in the area took place late during the season at Gill Stadium on Chicago’s southeast side. Starting out simply as an added attraction to the weekly UARA midget races, the stockers got their own racing dates beginning Labor Day night. Stock cars also competed at Raceway Park and at Indiana’s Schererville Speedway, which would later be renamed Illiana Motor Speedway. Area midget racer and Indianapolis 500 competitor Danny Kladis drove a Jeep to win the first ever stock car event held at Raceway Park, a 300-lap contest on Halloween.
The new Rockford Speedway would open with California’s Johnny McDowell winning the fist midget feature race held. McDowell would claim the season driving title at Soldier Field. Johnnie Parsons was the winner of the annual Park District Police Benevolent midget race. Ray Richards was the top midget driver at Raceway Park with Don Brennan winning the indoor midget championship at the International Amphitheatre. Ray Elliott was the UARA midget titlist, the second of his career.
1938 – After suffering s rainout the week before, Raceway Park held its inaugural midget racing program on September 24 with Harry McQuinn winning the main event. The Indianapolis-based McQuinn was also named the midget champion for the indoor midget action at Chicago’s 124th Field Artillery Armory and for the outdoor competition at Chicago’s Riverview Stadium that year. In November, Paul Russo won a 25-lap midget main event on a specially-built board track that was set up inside the Armory. Time to set it up and the possibility that the track warped when stored outside made board track racing at the Armory only a one-time affair.
Joie Chitwood, Jimmie Wilburn, Johnny McDowell, Ted Tetterton and Elbert “Pappy” Booker were among the winners of “big car” races held at the five-eights-of-a-mile dirt Hammond (Indiana) Raceway. Mike Calderone won a 100-lap stock car race at the Hammond oval. American Automobile Association (AAA) “big car” races were held at the Cook County Fairgrounds in Maywood, which later would be the site of the Maywood Park horse racing track. Chicago area speedsters Jimmy Snyder and Duke Nalon were winners at Maywood during the season.
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