KALWASINSKI: Chicago Chips


ROCKFORD, Ill. — A large crowd assembled at the Hoffman House in Rockford for the second annual Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame induction on Saturday evening. This year saw 11 individuals inducted into the hall of fame after 15 were inducted during last year’s inaugural ceremonies.

The list again represented a solid contingent of Illinois stock car racing legends. Jim Cossman and Roy Martinelli were Northwest Region inductees. Cossman was a long-time competitor at the old Waukegan Speedway, where he captured four track championships during his career. With all of his championships coming on the dirt before the track was paved prior to the 1969 season, Cossman reminisced about those “Chicago guys” coming to Waukegan and making the competition even harder.

Martinelli was a two-time track champion at O’Hare Stadium in Schiller Park, which once stood in the shadows of Chicago’s O’Hare Int’l Airport. Starting his career at the Waukegan oval, Martinelli pretty much became a fixture at O’Hare by 1960 and was one of the track’s leading drivers and car owners until the track closed after the 1968 season. At one time, Martinelli and his brother, Reno, fielded a three-car team for himself, Erik Johnson and other top drivers.

The Northeast Region was represented by inductees Ray Young and the late Bud Koehler. Young, the “tobacco chewin’ truck driver,” won track championships at five different area speedways during his career. A lot of his success came at Raceway Park, where he started his career and won 107 feature races and two track championships. Three track titles at Waukegan were also part of Young’s racing, which saw him move into American Speed Association competition before running his final full-season in 1982.

Bud Koehler was the “King of Raceway Park” as the former midget racer would win a total of 11 stock car titles and 490 feature races at the speedway, which was located minutes from his Blue Island home. Racing stock cars for the first time in 1949, Koehler retired from competition after the 1978 season. He won three-consecutive Raceway driving titles during a period from 1974 through 1976, enjoying his best single-season winning effort of 30 feature wins in 1967. He won the track’s grueling annual 300-lap Classic seven times. Koehler was 82 when he passed away in April of 2003.

The Midwest Region saw dirt track stars Jim O’Connor and Rich Clement inducted. O’Connor, who began racing at the old Sugar Island oval near Kankakee in the 1960s, became a front runner at both Santa Fe Speedway and the Kankakee Fairgrounds oval. O’Connor won three Santa Fe late model championships during a four-year period and four titles at Kankakee. O’Connor was a four-time winner of Santa Fe’s annual National Clay Track Championship 200 lapper.

Clement began racing in the novice class at the old Mance Park Speedway in Hodgkins. He and Ken Finley tied for late model championship honors at Santa Fe in 1959. He won Santa Fe’s Clay Track championship event in 1959 and 1963. He garnered top late model honors at the Kankakee Fairgrounds track in 1974. During his racing career, which included USAC stock cars, he began to develop wheels for local stock car competition, eventually getting them approved and accepted into USAC and NASCAR racing, building a successful business in the process. Wheels for Indianapolis-type cars and drag racing have also been part of Clement’s racing background.

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Stan Kalwasinski
Stan Kalwasinski has been involved in auto racing for nearly 50 years as both a writer and photographer. He has a particular interest in Chicagoland auto racing — primarily stock car racing. Look for him at tracks in the Chicagoland region of Illinois.