Remembering Roger West
By Stan Kalwasinski
Joliet, Ill.—Former top area midget auto racer Roger West passed away on May 4 at the age of 78. Suffering from health issues in recent years, West was the 1967 United Auto Racing Association (UARA) champion before going on to United States Auto Club (USAC) midget competition and a try at the Indianapolis 500.
In 1967 West won the UARA title, defeating Bob Richards and Bill Kollman for the championship. West won two UARA “compact sprint” features along the way. He jumped into Dick Herath’s No. 22 at Joliet Memorial Stadium on July 15th and won a 75-lap championship race. Later in the season, West was behind the wheel of his regular Bob Corson-owned ride, scoring a victory on the dirt at Peotone, Ill., on August 25th.
West finished 43rd in UARA points standings in his rookie year in 1963. He was 25th in the standings in 1964 and 11th in 1965. Highlights of the 1965 racing season were two trophy dash victories at the Mazon Speed Bowl over the Labor Day weekend in Joe Mogis’ Falcon-powered No. 95. West ended up sixth in UARA points in 1966, scoring his first career feature win on the flat, quarter-mile, Joliet oval on July 23, 1966, besting Willie Wilson and George Kladis. West would win three straight at Joliet in Bob Corson’s Chevy-powered No. 15 midget.
West won six career USAC midget feature races – winning for the first time in 1968 at Chicagoland’s Santa Fe Park Speedway driving for former Indianapolis 500 competitor and Chicago area midget champ Eddie Russo. On July 19, 1968, West wheeled Russo’s Richmond Tire Co.-sponsored No. 97 to a 50-lap victory at the quarter-mile dirt oval. In 1969, West won twice, scoring wins at Wisconsin’s Hales Corners Speedway, driving for Ed Loniewski, and again at Santa Fe, winning a 50-lap chase on August 8, 1969 behind the wheel of “Dink” Cornell’s black No. 8. He won again in 1970, capturing a USAC main event in Lawton, Oklahoma and at Fairbury, Ill., both times driving the George Middleton Pizza Hut Special No. 15. His final USAC victory came on June 4, 1972 as he piloted Gene Willman’s No. 71 Sesco-powered car first to the checkered flag in a 50 lapper at Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie, Wis., besting Mel Kenyon and Lee Kunzman.
During West’s busy USAC midget years, he finished 11th in the standings in 1968, 10th in 1969, 8th in 1970 (competing in 35 races), 19th in 1971 and 16th in 1972.
West made two USAC Champ Car starts in 1968, competing at Springfield, Ill. and at the “Milwaukee Mile” driving for Joliet car owner Tim Delrose. West finished 10th at Springfield at the wheel of Delrose’s Offy-powered No. 58 dirt champ car.
West went to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1969 as a rookie. Making his first appearance on the track on Monday, May 19th, West was driving the Ford-powered Marathon Special No. 75 and had completed the first two phases of his rookie test.. West was working through the 150 miles-per-hour segment of the test when he spun in turn one and tagged the outside wall. West was not injured, but his car was damaged ending his quest to make the “500” classic.
West’s racing career pretty much came to a close by the mid 1970s although he made a few midget starts in the late 70s and early 80s.
West is survived by his wife of 52 years, Rosemary; children, Roger J. (Susie) West and Jeffrey G. West; grandsons, Tyler D. West and Nicholas W. West; siblings, Royce (Sharon) West, Brian (Denise) West, and Douglas West; special friend, Cheryl Nolden; many nieces and nephews also survive. He was preceded in death by his parents and his brother, David West.
Visitation will be Thursday, May 9, 2019, from 4:00 until 8:00 p.m., at the Fred C. Dames Funeral Home, 3200 Black at Essington Rds., Joliet, Ill. Funeral Services will be Friday, May 10, 2019 at 10:30 a.m. at the funeral home chapel. Interment will follow at Holy Cross Cemetery in Joliet. Memorials in his name to the Alzheimer’s Association (https://act.alz.org/site/Donation) would be appreciated.