“Chicago Whispers” Sept. 7th; Column & photos by Stan Kalwasinski

Stan Kalwasinski
Stan Kalwasinski photo

Chicago Whispers
by Stan Kalwasinski

September 7, 2018

Chicago, Ill.—Last weekend, Dan Odell quietly announced his retirement from stock car racing after 48 or so years of being a regular, don’t-miss-a-night competitor, at the Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill., during countless nights of late model racing at the “Friday Night Racin’ Place.”

“I’d been thinking about it (retiring) the last few years or so,” said the 66-year old racer from Morris last Sunday at Grundy during the track’s annual Night of Features.  “I would have sold it (the car) three years ago, but I didn’t have anybody interested.  I’ve got someone kind of interested now.  It’s time for me to move on.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m in the way.  I just try to come out and have some fun.  My equipment isn’t near what the other cars are, but I try to look like I belong here. My No. 1 goal is to stay out of trouble.”

Odell let his son, Pete, race the familiar Chevy No. 33 the last two nights of the season, including in Sunday’s Lee Schuler Memorial 61 lapper.  Pete and his brother, Nick, have both competed in the past in non-late model divisions at Grundy with Pete now competing at Illinois dirt tracks.

“I’m helping my son Pete at the dirt tracks like Kankakee and Fairbury, said Dan Odell.  “We went to Charleston last night and he did real good.  He finished fourth in the (street stock) feature and we were never there before.  Right now, helping my son is more fun than anything and kind of a highlight of my career.”

Dan Odell’s career dates back to the old Mazon Speed Bowl and the early years of racing at Grundy, which opened in 1971.

“I had a car for Mazon, but I didn’t have anything to tow it with,” said Odell.  “I was here when the track (Grundy) opened.  My racing career is a lot of water under the bridge.”

Looking back, Odell wheeled a 1968/69-vintage Chevelle No. 37 with a “396” engine in 1973 – pretty much his first full season of racing.  Later, wheeling a Chevy Nova, Odell began racing two nights a week – Fridays at Grundy and Saturdays at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind.   One night at Grundy that Odell would like to forget is August 1, 1975 when he crashed his Nova during time trials and flipped down the main straightaway.

From 1983 through 1991, Odell finished in the “top 10” in the late model points at Grundy seven times.  His best year at Grundy was 1988 when he finished third in the final points tally, racking up his one and only career feature win – that coming on May 27, 1988.  He finished fourth in the points at Illiana that same year.  He finished sixth in the final points tally at both tracks the year before (1987).

As the years rolled on, Odell, whose uncle, Don, was a stock car winner on both the local and national racing scene in the late 1940s and 50s, began racing only at Grundy for the most part.  He was the eighth-ranking driver at Grundy in both 2000 and 2001 with another eighth place finish coming in 2015.  Odell finished 12th in this year’s point standings at Grundy.

Racing on Friday nights next year at the Grundy County Speedway will not quite be the same without Dan Odell.

The Mazon Speed Bowl/Grundy County Speedway Hall of Fame induction ceremonies were held at the Grundy County Fairgrounds on September 1.  This year’s inductees included Randy Weese, Joe Knippel, Mick Strum, George Holterman, Donna Carter, Bob Johansen, Bill Sontag Jr. and the late Marty Davis.

Still racing today, Weese is a two-time street stock division track champion at Grundy, where he began his racing career in 1993.  Weese received the nickname – “The Bandit” for his skill of sneaking up and taking the lead in the closing laps of a main event.  Knippel is a five-time sportsman midget champion, winning four titles with the old United Midget Auto Racing Association (UMARA) and one with the Illini Racing Series.  Strum began his racing career at Grundy in 1974 and won the track’s street stock title in 1976.  Strum has been a track official at Grundy for more than 40 years.

A former midget racer himself, Holterman, with driver Newt White, won the United Auto Racing Association (UARA) midget championship in 1973.  Over the years, Holterman also fielded cars for the likes of John Deering, Rich Vogler, Jigger Sirois, Bob Richards and Charlie Cook.  Carter worked for many years as a timer and scorer for local midget racing, including for organizations likes UMARA, UARA and the World of Outlaw Midgets.  She joins her dad, Don Carter Sr. and brothers, Don Jr. and Danny, as a member of the hall of fame.

Johansen has crewed for numerous drivers at the Grundy oval over the years, including late model racers Biff George, Larry Schuler, Dave Gentile Jr. and Joe Vinachi.  He started his Oval Engineering business in his Morris garage, building stock cars for a number of Grundy drivers, including Jerry Einhaus Jr., who won the Grundy Mid American crown in 2005.  Part of the Sontag racing family, Bill Sontag Jr. was Grundy’s budget bumper division titlist in 1982 and went on to compete in the late model ranks.  Moving away from driving, Sontag was instrumental in many track championships as a crew chief and car builder.  Davis, who passed away in 2012, was the 1997 UMARA midget champion, driving for car owners Doug Morris and Mike Motherway.  Davis also was a winner with the Badger Midget Auto Racing Association, winning his first Badger feature race on the dirt at Wisconsin’s Angell Park in 1981.

The Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame held its Festival Day on August 26 at the Historic Auto Attractions museum in Rockton, Ill., with stock car racing legend Ramo Stott of Keokuk, Iowa, being the event’s special guest.  Stott raced from 1954 until 1990.  He won numerous races in local action around Keokuk, in addition to winning in International Motor Contest Association (IMCA), Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) and United States Auto Club (USAC) national competition.  Stott was the ARCA champion in 1970 and 1971 and the USAC titlist in 1975.  He competed in 35 NASCAR races during his career.  A couple of Stott’s wins that stand out in this writer’s mind are two IMCA victories at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 1967 in his ’67 Plymouth No. 0.

New nominees for the Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame were announced including drivers Dave Evans, Larry Jackson, Bob Dotter and Kevin Gundaker, promoter Gordon Sill, race official Jack Minster, car builder George Appleton and artist/sign painter Dan Colyer, better known to local race fans as James Bond, No. 007.  The hall of fame banquet is set for Saturday, March 23, 2019.

Congratulations to Paul Goldsmith on his recent induction into USAC’s Hall of Fame.  A resident of northwest Indiana these days, Goldsmith, born in West Virginia in 1925, was a two-time USAC national stock car champion (1961 and 1962) and competed in the Indianapolis 500 six times with a third-place finish in 1960 being his best effort.  A winner in national motorcycle racing early in his speed career, Goldsmith also scored nine NASCAR race wins – three of which came in 1966.  Goldsmith is the only competitor to win in both motorcycle and stock car competition on the old Daytona Beach road/beach course.

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