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Chicago Whispers - January 27th, 2013
By: Stan Kalwasinski

Chicago, Ill.—Before getting too far into the 2013 New Year, let’s take a look back at auto racing in the Chicago area 25 and 50 years ago.  The years were 1988 and 1963.

25 Years Ago – 1988

Tony Izzo, Roger Long and John Knaus were among repeat track champions at Chicago area speedways during the 1988 season.

Izzo, the veteran dirt track campaigner, added another Santa Fe Speedway late model title to his career accomplishments.  Izzo, who began wheeling late model cars in the mid 1960s at the dirt track near Willow Springs., captured his ninth late model crown at Santa Fe, making him easily the winningest driver in the track’s history.  Izzo, who won 12 features at the ‘Fe in 1988, scored his fifth Santa Fe track championship in a row.  Izzo finished ahead of Jim O’Connor and Jim Partipilo in the final standings.

Tim Boiko drove his Monte Carlo to seven feature wins during the season on his way to winning Santa Fe’s sportsman division crown.  Other Santa Fe champions that year included Ivan Trent (Short Track American Racers), Jim Herhold (Lighting Rods), Gary Greben (Figure Eight) and Diane Bereckis (Ladies Division).

For the second consecutive year, John Provenzano won Santa Fe’s annual National Clay Track Championship 200-lap battle.  Provenzano bested Dennis Erb, Sr. and Fred Lofgren as more than 50 entries were on hand.

Open wheel action at Santa Fe saw Sammy and Jeff Swindell both win “A” features during World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series competition.  Rich Vogler notched a United States Auto Club (USAC) midget feature during the season.
In addition to his Saturday and Sunday schedule at Santa Fe, Izzo took over the promotional chores at the Kankakee Speedway in 1988.  Izzo hosted the stock car racing action at the dirt fairgrounds oval every Friday night after making numerous improvements before the season began.  Winning the late model division title, Roger Long, the “racing farmer,” won seven feature races during the year although he missed several events at season’s end because of engine problems.  It was the third Kankakee championship for Long.  Other Kankakee titlists included Mike Hollifield (limited late model), Steve McCarty (street stock) and 18-year-old Tony Izzo, Jr. (Nim Rod).

Hollifield, the Indiana stock car pilot also captured the late model season title at the Southlake Speedway in Crown Point, Ind.  Eddie Leviner was the track’s street stock champ.

Long before his son Chad’s success in NASCAR, John Knaus made it two NASCAR Grand American late model titles in a row at the Rockford Speedway.  Knaus, who had raced on both pavement and dirt through his career, was a regular in ARTGO and American Speed Association (ASA) competition before returning full-time to Rockford where he raced in the 1970s.  Bryan Young was Rockford’s American Short Tracker champion.  Other Rockford champions were Darrell Williams (limited sportsman), Bryan Sanwick (roadrunner) and Gary Head (figure eight).

Tony Hertko won the late model championships at both the Grundy County Speedway in Morris and at the Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind.  Putting together a season total of 10 feature wins in his Camaro, Hertko became the first driver since Ed Hoffman in 1983 to win the late model crown at both tracks in the same year.  Hertko finished ahead of Rick Kleich, Jr. and Wayne Para in the final Illiana points and Mike Varner and Dan Odell in the Grundy standings.

Second generation racer Ted Musgrave won Illiana’s 27th annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 lapper over Tom Jones, Larry Schuler and Bobby Dotter.  A field of 43 entries was on hand with Para grabbing fast time honors.

Winning a total of 11 feature races, sportsman division driver Craig Johnson also won both the Grundy and Illiana championships in 1988.  Brett Sontag was Grundy’s budget bumper class champion and Larry Middleton, Jr. nailed down the Illiana street stock title.

Mike White drove to 22 feature wins to add his name to the late model champion driver honor roll at Raceway Park near Blue Island.  White finished ahead of Jim Johnson and Gary Raven in the points. Hank Pugh burned up the track’s hobby stock action, winning 17 features and the division title.  Russ Foust picked up mini stock honors and Randy Gifford the spectator class championship.

Sycamore Speedway saw Tom Markham emerge as the super late model champion for 1988.  Tom Hughes was named the speedway’s late model champion, while Dan Markham won the spectator title and Kim Brazelton the powder puff division crown.

Running a half dozen events at area speedways, the ARTGO Challenge Series saw the first non-Wisconsin driver win the circuit’s season championship with Michigan’s Butch Miller grabbing the honor.  Miller won five ARTGO events in 16 starts.  Miller was also the ASA champion in 1988, winning six races of a 16-race schedule.  ASA also presented its Grand Marque Series with Indiana’s Ray Fullen wining the season championship.

ARTGO co-sanctioned Rockford’s annual National Short Track Championships event with the NASCAR All-American Challenge Series.  Wisconsin’s John Ziegler guided his Thunderbird to the victory in the 303-lap race, besting Scott Hansen and Rich Bickle, Jr.

Local open wheel speedster Bruce Field won a USAC Silver Crown Championship Series event at Indianapolis Raceway Park (Clermont, Ind.) in early July.  Field also was a winner in All American Midget Series competition, winning four times, two wins each on the “high-banks” at Indiana’s Salem and Winchester speedways.

John Warren won two of seven features held in United Midget Auto Racing Association (UMARA) midget competition to win his second straight UMARA driving crown.  Joliet area midget racer Danny Pens won the World Wide Auto Racing midget racing championship.  In March, Pens won a USAC midget race indoors at the Rosemont Horizon.  Champions for the Midwest Mini-Champ Racing Association were Dubs Davis (A Class) and Ed Zwicky (B Class).
50 Years Ago – 1963

Late model convertible stock car competition was the rule of thumb at O’Hare Stadium in Schiller Park with Gene Marmor being crowned the track champion at the paved oval.  Marmor won 16 feature races in his ’63 Chevy “rag top” and bested Erik Johnson and Bill Lutz in the final standings.  Piloting a fresh ’63 Chevy convertible for car owner Mike Terrafino, Whitey Gerken was the winner of O’Hare’s second annual 500-lap classic.  Gerken had a nine-lap lead over second place finisher Elmer Musgrave at starter Art Kelly’s checkered flag.  Rich Davis was the track’s cadet (sportsman) division champion.

Bill Cornwall was the late model stock car champion at Raceway Park – the “World’s Busiest Track.”  Beginning the year with a ’60 Chevy and upgrading it later to a ’63 version, Cornwall finished ahead of Bud Koehler and Ted Janecyk in the final points, winning 18 features along the way.  Jerry Kemperman won the speedway’s 300-lap battle in Dave Roulo’s battered, but fast, ‘63 Chevy, defeating Don Oldenberg and Cornwall in the marathon run.  Ray Freeman was the track’s claiming division champion, winning 13 feature races.

Rabon Hinkle and his 1956 Mercury were champions in the late model action at Illiana Motor Speedway.    Hinkle bested Ed Wilkie and brother, Raleigh Hinkle, in the Steel City Racing Association competition that began in late July.  Paul Goldsmith and his Norm Nelson-owned ’63 Plymouth were the winners of the USAC-sanctioned Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 lapper. Earlier in the year, Goldsmith, in a Ray Nichels-prepared ’63 Pontiac, was also a USAC winner at Illiana over Nelson and A.J. Foyt.   Elmer Musgrave and his ’63 Mercury captured another USAC go at Illiana in late June ahead of Nelson.  IMCA sprint cars took to the paved Illiana half-mile in May with Ohio’s Jim McCune winning a 25-lap feature over Johnny White and Gordon Woolley.

In a 1963 ½ fastback Ford, Curtis Turner, serving a suspension from NASCAR, won a USAC stock car race on the road course at the Meadowdale International Raceways in Carpentersville on July 28, finishing ahead of Don White.  The race was shortened (225 miles from an original 250 miles) because of darkness and the track surface breaking apart. Later in the year, Rick Kleich in a ’62 Chevy would win an “open competition” 100-mile stock car race at Meadowdale over Bill Shoulders and Eddie Meyer.

Sal Tovella and his ’63 Chevy II were the “top guns” in stock car racing at Chicago’s Soldier Field.  Bob Chapman gave Tovella plenty of competition. Tovella won the 100-lap Mid Season Championship and Ted Hane won the 50-lap “season finale” on July 28 as Hane and his Ford Fairlane bested Rich Sundling and Tovella.  Jerry Bloom was the track’s novice division titlist. A former stock car champion at Soldier Field, Fred Lorenzen of Elmhurst was voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver.  Lorenzen and his Holman Moody Ford won six Grand National races and became the first NASCAR driver to ever win over $100,000 in a single season.

Bill Van Allen and his Studebaker Lark garnered top laurels on the dirt at Santa Fe, winning 20 features at the “track of clay.”  Rich Clement won Santa Fe Speedway’s big 200-lap event.  Gene Bragg picked up six main event victories on his way to Santa Fe’s sportsman division title.  Johnny Reimer (modifieds) and Dennis Burgan (sportsman stock cars) were the “top guns” on the dirt at the Waukegan Speedway.  Larry Cope picked up season honors in the modified coupe class at Broadway Speedway in Crown Point, Ind., while Dave Whitcomb was the kingpin in the coupe action at the Rensselaer (Ind.) fairgrounds dirt oval.  Danny Guth in Bill Carr’s Ford won Rensselaer’s 100-lap Season Championship race.

Al Shear won the Forest City 200 at the Rockford Speedway in September.  Former two-time track champion, Red Aase, a 12-year stock car veteran, again won season track championship honors ahead of “rookie of the year” Willie Reints.  Chuck Stoudt became Sycamore Speedway’s first stock car champion.

Russ Sweedler, wheeling Bob Steffes’ Chevy II-powered open wheeler, was the champion in the United Auto Racing Association (UARA) midget ranks.  With UARA racing weekly at the Joliet Memorial Stadium, Sweedler won 11 feature races on his way to the title.  Sweedler finished ahead of veteran Ray Elliott and Bob Hauck in the final point standings.  Henry Pens won a 50-lap UARA midget feature at the Mazon Speed Bowl on the Fourth of July ahead of Jerry Matter.  Veteran Harry Turner won an open competition midget feature at Mazon in September.

Johnny Riva and Chuck Rodee won USAC midget races at Soldier Field.  Don Branson was a USAC midget winner at the Rockford Speedway, while Ronnie Duman and Bobby Grim scored USAC midget victories indoors at Chicago’s International Amphitheatre in January.  Indoor drag racing was also held at the Amphitheatre during the winter months.
Butch Miller (52)
ARTGO Champion Butch Miller at the Rockford Speedway in early April, 1988
(Stan Kalwasinski Photo)
Roger Long (36)
Roger Long won another track championship at Kankakee in 1988
(Stan Kalwasinski Photo)
Mike White (14)
Mike White was the 1988 champion at Raceway Park
(Stan Kalwasinski Photo)
Bill Cornwall (3)
Bill Cornwall receives congratulations after a big win at Raceway Park in 1963
(Bud Norman Photo)
Curtis Turner (26)
Curtis Turner, a regular in USAC in 1963, takes a break at Illiana Motor Speedway.
(Vince Mayer Photo)
Bill Van Allen (6)
Bill Van Allen and his Lark at Santa Fe Speedway in 1963
(Vince Mayer Photo)