KALWASINSKI: Chicago Chips


CHICAGO — It could be the biggest short-track stock car racing event in the Midwest this year. That is what race officials are hoping as the American Speed Ass’n Midwest Tour event — the Swiss Colony Howie Lettow Memorial 150 presented by RaceTeamGear.com fast approaches.

The special midweek evening event is scheduled June 12 at the famed Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis.

Race officials expect more than 50 entries for the ASA series event, which is being held in honor of longtime Midwest winning stock car crew chief Howie Lettow. A Wisconsin native, Lettow was one of the country’s leading short track car crew chiefs before he passed away in 2010 after a battle with cancer. Over the years, Lettow mentored numerous young drivers on their way to race victories and stardom. NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson is the most successful driver that Lettow tutored.

Under Lettow’s wing, Johnson, a young California racer, was ASA rookie of the year in 1998, laying down roots for his five NASCAR Cup titles to come. Other notable drivers that Lettow “coached” over the years include NASCAR drivers David Stremme, Kelly Bires, Ted Musgrave and Tony Raines, in addition to Wisconsin speedsters Steve Holzhausen, Scott Hansen and the late Pat Schauer.

Lettow was helping his friend Pat Schauer in 1981, Schauer’s first in ASA competition. Tragically, Schauer was killed in a crash at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway that year and was crowned the ASA Rookie of the Year posthumously.

A number of NASCAR drivers are among the entries, including Matt Kenseth, and his son, Ross, Aric Almirola, David Ragan, Scott Wimmer, Bires, Stremme and Raines, in addition to a strong dose of Midwest stock car talent. Another interesting entry is 16-year-old Chase Elliott, son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott and a development driver for Hendrick Motorsports.

Both Bires and Stremme enjoyed success with Lettow during their ASA racing days. Bires was the 2006 ASA champion with him and Lettow scoring a win at the “Mile” during their championship season. In 2002, Stremme teamed with Lettow with Stremme capturing two ASA wins and being named ASA Rookie of the Year.

Rusty Wallace, the 1989 NASCAR Cup champion, is coming out of retirement to compete in the Lettow 150. Retiring from NASCAR competition in 2005, Wallace returns to the famed speedway where he began making his mark on the “national” racing scene as he won five USAC and ASA stock car events at Milwaukee. Last week, Wallace was at the Milwaukee Mile for a special test session, which saw some 30 teams take part.

The Big 8 Series (limited) late models, along with ASA Midwest Trucks and vintage stock cars, will also be part of the program. A portion of the proceeds from the event will be donated to the Midwest Athletes against Childhood Cancer fund. For more information, go to www.asamidwesttour.com.

Illinois stock car veteran Kevin Weaver seems to be tough to beat in the weekly dirt track late model stock car action at the Tom Smith-promoted Kankakee County Speedway. Weaver has now won four out of the five United Midwestern Promoters features this season at the quarter-mile oval, which is located at the Kankakee County Fairgrounds.

This past Friday, Weaver again showed his dominance as he powered to an impressive victory over Steve Dimmick, Rusty Schlenk and last year’s division champion Mike Provenzano.

Indiana’s Jamie Lomax won the 30-lap, $1,000-to-win UMP modified special over Dave Porth and Jim Farris. More than 30 modifieds were on hand for the action. Another Indiana speedster, Nick Allen had won three straight UMP modified main events at Kankakee before Friday night, but had to settle for an eighth-place finish.

The UMP Summer Nationals will visit Kankakee June 14 for a $5,000-to-win 40 lapper. A $1,500-to-win UMP modified feature will also be on tap.

Another racing veteran, Jesse Bitterling of Star City, Ind. is the only UMP modified driver so far this year to score two victories at the Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind. Bitterling’s most recent Shadyhill win came on May 26. Known as the “Star City Streak,” Bitterling, who has been racing since 1984, has also been making trips to Ohio’s Eldora Speedway for UMP modified racing.

“We finally figured this car out,” Bitterling said after his latest victory. “We got torn up at Eldora last week and spent the past week replacing all the bolt-on stuff (on the car). I was running third (at Eldora) and got pushed into the fence pretty hard.”

Asked about racing at Shadyhill, Bitterling commented, “It takes a lot of finesse. I learned over the years that your right foot is a tool not a switch. Drivers have asked me how to run this track later in the night and I’ve told them to sometimes not push that right foot down as much.”

Second-generation racer Nathan Kelly won the first “round” of the North Grand Auto Parts Challenge at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., this past Saturday.

The three-race series pits Illiana’s turbo stox division drivers against street stock class drivers from the Grundy County Speedway in Morris. The 16-year-old Kelly is the son of longtime late model frontrunner Pat Kelly. A weekly competitor at Grundy, Kelly wheeled his Monte Carlo to an impressive victory on Illiana’s half mile paved oval, defeating John Senerchia (another Grundy regular) and Illiana turbo stox point leader Jacob McKown.

Round two of the North Grand Auto Parts Challenge will take place at Grundy with the finale set for the Illiana quarter-mile in September. Illiana will host its 11th annual Elmer Musgrave Memorial presented by Texas Corral June 16. Twin 56-lap late model features will highlight the program, in addition to an appearance by former NASCAR Truck Series champion Ted Musgrave.

Midget racing got underway this past Saturday at the Grundy third-mile paved oval. Competitors from both the Short Track Auto Racing Series and the Illini Racing Series groups saw action. Jimmy Anderson won the STARS main event, while Patrick Bruns claimed the IRS feature. Officials report that 23 IRS cars were on hand with five rookie drivers being in competition. IRS visits the Sycamore Speedway June 9. It marks the first time probably in some 30 years that midgets will race at the Sycamore dirt oval.

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