CHICAGO — Eddie Hoffman and Nick Allen were big winners in racing action in and around the Chicago area in 2011.
Hoffman, the veteran speedster from Wheaton, Ill., won a total of 16 events during the season and was crowned the Late Model stock car champion at the Grundy County Speedway in Morris. Hoffman garnered 10 victories at Grundy on his way to his third title at the third of a mile paved fairgrounds oval, where he was also the champion in 2004 and 1997.
A second-generation racer, Hoffman also picked up five more wins at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., including a Championship Racing Ass’n JEGS All-Stars Tour 100 lapper. Hoffman also posted a JEGS series victory at Michigan’s Dixie Motor Speedway.
For the second time in his career, Billy Knippenberg was named Grundy’s Mid American Sportsman champion, winning two feature races along the way. Knippenberg, who claimed late model championship honors in 2005, was Grundy’s Mid-American division champ in 2000.
Other Grundy champions were Logan Love (street stocks) and Rich Dearborn (4 Cylinder).
Allen, who hails from Wheatfield, Ind., grabbed United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) DIRTcar modified track championships honors at both the Kankakee County Speedway and at his “home track” — Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind.
Allen scored five feature wins at Shadyhill on his way to his fifth modified title at the speedway. Allen won four main events at Kankakee. Allen finished third in the “national” UMP modified standings with a total of 13 feature wins in 2011.
Veteran Mike Kingma raced to his third consecutive Independent Modified Ass’n (I-Mod) track title at Shadyhill with six feature wins to his credit. Kingma also claimed I-Mod division honors at Kankakee, nailing down five feature victories.
Mike Provenzano was the UMP late model champion at both the Kankakee fairgrounds oval and at LaSalle Speedway. Provenzano is now a three-time late model titlist at Kankakee and a two-time champ at LaSalle.
Other Kankakee champions include Lee J. Hall (UMP Stock Cars) and Dave Polak, Jr. (UMP Compacts). Shadyhill saw Nate Payton (UMP Stock Cars) and Skylar Antonelli (Teen 4’S) among its other champions. Matt Gremminger (UMP Modifieds), Roger Rickels (UMP Street Stocks) and Allen Provenzano (UMP 4 Cylinders) rounded out the champions at LaSalle.
Wisconsin’s Blake Brown became the youngest late-model stock-car champion at Illiana, winning the title at the half-mile paved oval at the age of 19. Alex Arelano and Eddie Wolf both became two-time champions at the Indiana oval with Arelano repeating his Legends title after winning class honors in 2009 and Wolf picking up the Turbo Stox crown after winning division laurels in 2004. Chris Czaszwicz was the Pure Stocks division champ at Illiana.
Ryan Carlson won his first NASCAR late-model stock-car season crown at the Rockford Speedway. Carlson posted five main event victories at the high-banked quarter-mile paved oval during the campaign.
George Sparkman became a five-time Rockford champion, again winning class honors in the American Short Tracker ranks. Alex Papini was the speedway’s Roadrunner division champ. 15-year-old Austin Nason became the youngest champion in track history as he garnered the Sportsman class title.
Johnny Heath claimed yet another Super Late Model crown at the Sycamore Speedway. Heath now has a total of five Super Late Model titles to his credit, previously winning in 21008, 2004, 2003 and 2002.
Steven Gardner and Jordan Jackowiak ended up in a tie for championship honors in the Late Model division. Other Sycamore champs include Michael Brancecum (Spectator) and Stacy Roach (Powder Puff).
Traveling throughout the Midwest during the summer, Keith Sterkowitz of Cedar Lake, Ind., went on to capture overall series honors for the Sullivan RV CRA Late Model Sportsman stock car tour.
Sterkowitz won a total of six series events, including four in a row. Three wins came at Indiana’s Anderson Speedway with two victories at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway. Sterkowitz also claimed a win at Michigan’s M-40 Speedway.
Wisconsin’s James Swan became a five-time champion of the Mid American Stock Car Series that saw action at both Grundy and Rockford during the year. Steve Rubeck was the Big 8 Limited Late Model Series titlist.
The new Short Track Auto Racing Series (STARS) hosted midget racing on a regular basis at the Grundy speed plant with Jimmy Anderson winning the series’ inaugural midget crown. Other STARS champs for the season were Ed Ensor (Dwarf Cars), Andy Jones (Legends) and Joshua Caskey (Mini Cup).
Rookie driver Ray Seach was the midget racing champion for the Illini Racing Series. The 17-year-old driver from Beloit, Wis. wheeled the Dave Budres, Sr.-owned Manic Racing open-wheeler to the title.
Alaska native Billy Balog won his fourth consecutive Bumper To Bumper Interstate Racing Association Outlaw Sprint Series title. Balog, who now resides in Brookfield, Wis., won 12 feature races during the 23-race series.
Perhaps the biggest single victory turned in by a local driver was Boris Jurkovic winning the 40th annual Winchester 400 late model battle at the historic, high-banked half-mile paved track in Winchester, Ind., Oct. 16. The 400 lapper marked was the season finale for the CRA Super Series.
The season was not without sadness as a number of former drivers, mechanics and race officials passed on. Among those were former drivers Al Johnson, Dennis Rubino, Jerry Vandermeir and Bob Copley.
1960 Indianapolis 500 winner Jim Rathmann, a former stock car champion at Chicago’s Soldier Field, passed away as did Michigan’s Joy Fair, who won Illiana’a annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 in 1967 and again in 1969. Mechanics Seth Piper, “Dink” Cornell and Lou Ligino also left us in addition to former Kankakee racing photographer, Don Hartman.
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