CHICAGO — Looking back at Chicago area racing 50 years ago.
Tennessee native, Ray Young had a rapid-running ’57 Ford No. 99 and made off with 16 feature wins on his way to grabbing the late model track championship at Raceway Park near Blue Island.
Young bested Don Oldenberg, Bill Cornwall, Bud Koehler and Ted Janecyk in the final points tally. Among Young’s victories was winning the track’s annual 300-lap Classic ahead of Johnny Kapovich and Janecyk. During the race, Stash Kullman and his ’57 Chevy flew over the wall and landed on cars in the parking lot. He escaped injury. Don Saynay won 12 feature races on his way to the rookie division crown. One June 20, Missouri’s Bob Wente won a United States Auto Club 50-lap midget feature at the “World’s Busiest Track.” Local midget speedster Johnny Riva won another USAC 50 lapper on July 25 in his Jack Sims-owned, Offenhauser-powered mount.
“Gentleman” Bryant Tucker, the “Bad Cat,” racked up his third consecutive late model driving title at Chicago’s Soldier Field on the city’s lakefront. Tucker and his trusty ’57 Buick No. 25 nailed down three feature wins during the campaign, which saw Harry Simonsen and his ’57 Chevy win the track’s 50-lap season championship race in September, defeating Tucker and Bob Chapman. Marty Boecher claimed the novice division title.
Wheeling the Martinelli Brothers-owned ’61 Chevy No. 7, Erik Johnson was the late model stock car titlist at O’Hare Stadium in Schiller Park, which had dropped the sanction of NASCAR in favor of its new American Racing Organization. Johnson posted a record 18 feature wins during the year, besting Bill Lutz, Roy Martinelli, Terry Parker and Butch Linden in the final points. Lutz drove Mike Terrafino’s ’61 Chevy to win the tracks first annual O’Hare American 500. Lutz defeated a pit stop-plagued Johnson by eight laps, followed by Linden, Neil Houston and Gene Marmor. The Cadet division saw Ron Hieber and his Ford claim top honors. Don Sorce was named the track’s open-wheel modified stock car champion. Johnny Reimer won a 100-lap modified headliner in early September at the banked, quarter-mile paved oval.
Bill Van Allen, wheeled his Seth Piper-tuned ’60 Studebaker Lark No. 6 to late model track championship honors on the dirt at Santa Fe Speedway near Hinsdale. Van Allen collected 15 feature wins along the way, including the track’s annual 200-lap season finale in September ahead of Dave Hirschfield and Clem Lewandowski. Other late model winners during the season included Rich Clement with five, Don Waldvogel with four, Tom Croft with two, Hirschfield two and Ken Boyer, Ken Finley, Bob Kirkpatrick and Dick Nelson with one each. One of Waldvogel’s wins was a late-season 100 lapper over Nelson and Bobby Burger. Al Johnson was the track’s sportsman division champion.
Texan Johnny Rutherford, who would go on to win the Indianapolis 500 three times during his career, tested the newly paved Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind. May 13. Rutherford became the first driver to win a feature race on the track’s fresh asphalt as he won an International Motor Contest Ass’n sprint car main event at the half-mile speed plant.
Troy Ruttman, winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1952, wheeled his 1962 Mercury to victory in the first annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial stock car race later in the year. The USAC-sanctioned 100 lapper saw Ruttman defeat Don White and Norm Nelson. Other USAC stock car winners during the year at Illiana included Nelson (two wins), Paul Goldsmith (two wins) and Whitey Gerken (a 100 lapper on July 21). On his way to winning the USAC midget championship, Jimmy Davies of Monticello, Ind., and Bob Wente won USAC midget events on the half-mile. Bill Carr was the champion for the weekly stock car action, which featured the old coupes of the Steel City Racing Ass’n.
Driving Ray Nichels’ Pontiacs — based in Highland, Ind., Goldsmith of St. Clair Shores, Mich. captured overall USAC stock car honors with eight wins. Six of the 22 USAC races held during the season were at Illiana. Goldsmith was trailed in the final points by local drivers: Elmer Musgrave (4th), Gerken (10th), Whitey Johnson 12th), Sal Tovella (14th) and Dave Lundman (19th). 13 other Chicago area drivers rounded out the “top 50” in the USAC standings, including 1956 Indianapolis 500 winner Pat Flaherty (35th).
Sugar Island Park Speedway, supported by the Kankakee Valley Stock Car Ass’n, saw Joe Weaver and Wayne Dietz win track title honors at the small dirt track. Weaver was the late model titlist, racing against the likes of Pat O’Hara and Earl Hubert. Dietz was the old model division titlist. Everett Vaughn won the track’s 75-lap late model season championship race. “Spot” events were also held at the Kankakee Fairgrounds dirt track.
Eddie Stillman was the modified champion on the dirt at the Waukegan Speedway. The Wisconsin driver nailed down his third Waukegan championship. Dennis Burgan used Studebakers to claim top honors in the sportsman division. Larry Cope was the champion at the Broadway Speedway in Crown Point, Ind., which featured old coupes on the dirt. Hedy Honn claimed the coupe title at the Rensselaer Raceway at the Jasper County Fairgrounds. Elmer Embry was declared the winner of the dirt track’s annual 100-lap battle after officials declared Jerry Brown illegal.
Al Shear won his third stock car championship at the high-banked Rockford Speedway. USAC midgets made two visits to the quarter-mile paved oval during the season with Bob Tattersall winning a 40-lap chase June 2 and Don Branson winning a 100-lap affair Aug. 15. Both Illinois drivers won behind the wheel of Ralph Wilke’s Leader Card Special.
Stock cars and midgets raced early in the season at the Aurora Downs horse track. Ken Finley and Tom Cox in stock cars and Bob Hauck in midgets were early season winners. Mel Kenyon won a 50-lap USAC midget feature race at the Mazon Speed Bowl Sept. 2 during the annual Grundy County Fair. United Auto Racing Ass’n midgets and stock car racing were also part of the fair’s motorsports action. Earlier in the year, Harry Turner, whose racing career dated back to the 1930s, copped an “open competition” midget race at Mazon, using the name of “Jack Carter.”
Veteran open-wheel racer, Danny Kladis captured the overall UARA midget racing title. A 29-year veteran of racing, including participating in the Indianapolis 500 in 1946, Kladis, in his Bob Lockard-owned midget, captured 11 features wins during the campaign, including the 100-lap season finale at Joliet Memorial Stadium in September. Kladis finished ahead of former UARA champion Ray Elliott, who had previously scored the titles in 1947, ’48 and ’49, and newcomer Henry Pens in the points.
Chicago racing ace Harry Heuer won the three major sports car events at Meadowdale International Raceways in Carpentersville during the season. Heuer in his Chaparral won 75, 130 and 85-mile events during the year. The 3.27-mile road course featured the 180-degree, steeply banked “Monza Wall.”
The local racing season started Jan. 13 with Jimmy Davies winning a 50-lap USAC midget feature event indoors at the International Amphitheatre on Halsted Street in Chicago. Chuck Weyant took home top honors on March 24, capturing another USAC indoor event — a 100 lapper with a reported almost 12,000 fans in attendance. For the fist time ever, indoor drag racing was conducted inside the Amphitheatre building Dec. 30.
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