CHICAGO — The Fourth of July already!
Where has the first part of the summer racing season gone?
Years ago, local Chicago area tracks like Raceway Park and Santa Fe Speedway would hold special racing nights on the Fourth of July complete with special feature races and big fireworks shows. Those days have passed, although two tracks in the area are slated to host big events this July 4.
The UMP DIRTcar Summer Nationals “Hell Tour” rolls into town Wednesday at Illinois’’ LaSalle Speedway, which is owned and operated by the Izzo family. $5,000 first place money will be up for grabs for the 40-lap main event at the high-banked quarter mile dirt oval. A $1,000-to-win United Midwestern Promoters Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals headliner for modifieds is also on tap. Illinoi’ Shannon Babb won last year’s “Hell Tour” event at LaSalle. Fireworks will be part of the evening’s program.
Rich Bell, defending track champion Mike Provenzano and Scott Schmitt are in a tight battle for the UMP late model crown at the speedway so far this season. Jamie Lomax of Lake Village, Ind. currently leads the points for the regular Saturday night UMP modified action.
The Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind., will host its 12th annual Firecracker 50 for UMP modifieds on the Fourth of July with $3,000 to the winner and $500 to start.
Local racer Dan Hamstra won the first Firecracker race at Shadyhill in 2001. The last three years have seen Illinois drivers come in and take the victories with Ed Shamart winning last year, Chad Kinder in 2010 and Jeff Leka in 2009.
The last local winner, Nick Allen, a five-time UMP modified track champion at Shadyhill, captured the event in 2008. Leka is the only driver to win the event more than once, having won three times, including back-to-back victories in 2006 and 2007.
A full program of racing will be on tap at The Hill Wednesday, in addition to a huge fireworks display. Racing begins at 7:00 p.m.
Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., hosts its 13th annual Molenaar Memorial Classic for super late models Saturday evening July 7. “Fast Eddie” Hoffman has won the last two Molenaar events at the half-mile paved raceway. Last Saturday night’s feature winner Mike White, a five-time Illiana track champion, is a four-time winner of the Molenaar contest.
The racing program is held in the honor and memory of Harry Molenaar and his wife, Signe. The Molenaars were the founders and long-time owners of Illiana, creating the original dirt speedway out of woods and fields right after World War II. The track was simply known as “Molenaar’s half-mile” in the late 1940s. Harry Molenaar died in 1999, while Mrs. Molenaar passed away in 1994.
Midget racing returns to Grundy County Speedway in Morris on Saturday July 14. Several rather successful midget racing programs have been held so far this season at the Grundy third-mile paved oval. The events have been co-sanctioned by Short Track Auto Racing Series and the United States Auto Club.
The Mopar USAC National Midget Series competed at Grundy last Saturday night with Ohio’s Kyle Hamilton winning the Freedom 50.” Bryan Clauson finished second, with Tanner Swanson third. It was only the second time that the USAC National midgets have competed at Grundy with Darren Hagen having won in 2011.
Racing historian Art Peacock, of Morris, died over the weekend. Peacock, who was involved in several business ventures in Morris over the years, had a young Johnny Rutherford driving his sprint car in the early 1960s. Rutherford, who hailed from Fort Worth, Texas, of course went on to win the Indianapolis 500 three times. P
eacock wrote a book about his sprint car owning days titled: “Adventures of a 1960s ‘Rookie’ Sprint Car Owner.”
Later, Peacock wrote another book: “A History of Auto Racing at Grundy County Fair, Mazon, Ill., Race Tracks 1923-1970,” which chronicled auto racing at various tracks located at the Grundy County Fairgrounds in the tiny town of Mazon.
As mentioned, Raceway Park and Santa Fe Speedway always held special events for the Fourth of July holidays. Twin 50-lap features were Raceway’s drawing card, while Santa Fe held its Stars and Stripes Classic.
Going back 45 years, 1967 was the year that Bud Koehler in his Bill Koenig-owned Chevelle No. 77 won both 50 lappers to celebrate the Fourth at Raceway Park, while Dick Nelson and his Chevelle No. 11 defeated Bobby Burger and Don Waldvogel in the 100-lap special at the ’Fe.
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