KALWASINSKI: Chicago Chips


CHICAGO — The Rockford area was the scene of local racing activity this past weekend. Saturday saw the Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame hold its third annual induction ceremonies banquet, while Sunday was slated to be the 37th annual Spring Classic, highlighted by a 108-lap feature race for Big 8 Series late models.

Elmer Steinbeck (left) and Tom Jones – new Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame members. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo)
Elmer Steinbeck (left) and Tom Jones – new Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame members. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo)

The Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame activities started in the afternoon at Wayne Lensing’s Historic Auto Attractions Museum in Roscoe, where this year’s inductees, their family, friends and race fans gathered to see the new display cases for each HoF inductee and overall growth of the various displays. Lensing, along with Art Fehrman and his wife, Pat, put in countless hours to make each inductee display a special representation for each new hall of famer.

The induction ceremonies banquet took place Saturday evening at the Hoffman House restaurant, located at the Holiday Inn in Rockford. The late Whitey Gerken, Tom Jones, Frank Schickel and the late Bryant Tucker were the 2014 driver inductees. Joining them were Santa Fe Speedway promoter, the late Howard Tiedt, race official Elmer Steinbeck and car builder/mechanic Bill Koenig

Representing the Northwest Region was Whitey Gerken, the longtime frontrunner on area stock car ovals, as well as a competitor in USAC and NASCAR competition. Gerken was always among the top drivers at the old O’Hare Stadium in Schiller Park. He claimed track championship honors at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 1966 and at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., in 1968. Gerken won O’Hare’s All American 500 in 1963 and the National Short Track Championships 200 lapper at the Rockford Speedway in ’68. Gerken died from injuries suffered in a crash at Illiana in October of 1973.

Tom Jones was the Northeast Region inductee. Jones began racing stock cars at O’Hare in 1964. He won the track’s Cadet/Hardtop division championship the following season and moved into the track’s late model division the following year. Jones competed in USAC stock car ranks for a number of years, before winning Waukegan Speedway late model crowns in 1975 and 1977. He claimed the Grundy County Speedway (Morris) late model title in 1981 and the following year (1982) pretty much became a full-time competitor on the American Speed Ass’n tour. His biggest victory came in ASA action at Pennsylvania’s Jennerstown Speedway, winning a 400-lap contest in 1993.

From the Bloomington area, Frank Schickel, who represented the South Region, drove stock cars in a career that spanned over five decades. A ’55 Chevy was his first race car and he became a dirt track driving ace at such tracks as Danville, Fairbury, Farmer City, Granite City, Kankakee and the mile track at Springfield. Schickel was the track champion at Fairbury in 1973, 1976 and 1977. His sons, “Junior” and Eddie and granddaughter, Lisa, also became top late model drivers in their own right.

“Gentleman” Bryant Tucker was the fourth driver inducted with Tucker representing the Midwest Region. Tucker started racing hot rods on the dirt at DeKalb in 1948 and moved to stock cars at Raceway Park and other Midwestern ovals. He won the stock car championship at Raceway Park in 1953, driving a ’41 Buick. Tucker moved to Soldier Field and won three straight late model crowns at the huge arena (1960, 1961 and 1962), piloting a ’57 Buick and was also the late model champ at the old Mance Park Speedway in Hodgkins in 1960. Tucker, who passed away in 1998, closed out his stock car racing career at O’Hare in 1966.

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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.