KALWASINSKI: A Look Back At Chicago Racing History

Dennis Erb Jr. (28) won late model track championships at Illinois dirt ovals at Kankakee and LaSalle. (Todd Healy Photo)
Stan Kalwasinski

CHICAGO — Before getting too far into the New Year, let’s take a look at the Chicago area racing scene 25 and 50 years ago. The years were 1994 and 1969.

25 Years Ago (1994) – 21-year-old Dennis Erb Jr. had a great season on area dirt short tracks, winning late model championships at both the Kankakee Fairgrounds Speedway and at the LaSalle Speedway. The Carpentersville, Ill., racer won a total of eight feature races between the two speedways.

Jay Fiene was the champion of the Midwestern late model division at Kankakee.  Other Kankakee stock car champions in ’94 were Steve Metz (hobby stocks) and Mike Serena (street stocks).  Other LaSalle champions for the season were Tim Routson (Midwestern late models), Jett Hartzell (sportsman) and Buddy Boyd (street stocks).

John Knaus nailed down his seventh career late model track championship at the Rockford Speedway.  Knaus won 13 feature races at the high-banked, quarter-mile paved oval on his way to the title.  Other Rockford champions included Travis Kvapil (American Short Tracker – 4 cylinders), Bobby Miller (sportsman), Scott Lawver (roadrunners), Tom Schneider (figure 8) and Keir Loveless (women-on-wheels).

Frank Gawlinski was the late model track champion (for the seventh time) at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind.  Gawlinski drove his own Thunderbird and Marv Hixon’s ’94 Grand Prix to the title over Brian Muick and Wayne Para.  Gawlinski won eight feature races at the half-mile paved oval, including a record eighth Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 win.

“Biff” George, son of Chicago Bears football great, Bill George, was the late model titlist at the Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill.  The third-of-a-mile paved oval saw George win two feature races in his ’94 Cutlass and win the division championship over John Brolick and Dave Finney.  Other Grundy champs included Don Ehret (modified street stocks) and Ron Nieckula (street stocks).

Frank Reaber raced to his third late model title at Santa Fe Speedway in Willow Springs, Ill., winning three feature races and besting John Provenzano and John Garrett Jr. in the final points tally.  Joe Rossio Jr. was Santa Fe’s sportsman division champion.  The speedway’s other champions included Jeff Klassert (Lightning Rods – 4 cylinders), Ron Bliss (Short Track American Racer – hobby stocks) and Fran Mills (ladies division).

John Brolick raced to late model division honors at Blue Island’s Raceway Park.  Brolick captured nine feature wins at the tight, quarter-mile, paved oval, taking the title over Bob Cagle and Mike White.  Joe Jones was the semi pro division champion with Ron Haney winning the street stock title and Pat O’Rourke the enduro championship.

Tim Toppel grabbed super late model honors at the Sycamore Speedway over Johnny Heath and Denny Falkos.  Mike Nelms was the track’s spectator division titlist with Brenda DuPree being crowned the powder puff champ.

Wisconsin speedster Steve Carlson won the ARTGO Challenge Series late model title over Kevin Cywinski and Larry Schuler.  Carlson scored four wins during the 17-event season, including a 100-lap victory at Illiana.  Joe Shear won the Wayne Cater Classic at Grundy with Scott Hansen capturing the ARTGO-sanctioned National Short Track Championships 300 at Rockford.  Another Wisconsin racer Tony Strupp opened the ARTGO season at Rockford with a win.

Don Carter Jr. wheeled Jim Anderson’s No. 36 midget to championship honors for United Midget Auto Racing Association open-wheel competition.   Carter finished ahead of John Warren and John Meyers in the final points tally.  Sue Spencer was UMARA’s sportsman division champ.

Eddie Hoffman was the champion of the Mid American Stock Car Series.  The second-generation racer won eight races in 18 starts and finished ahead of Jim Duchow and Mark Sontag in the series’ standings.  Dave Weltmeyer won two times on the ARCA Supercar Series tour.  Weltmeyer made only 10 starts in the series’ 21 races.

Stock car racing at Southlake Speedway in Crown Point, Ind., saw no champions named as the season ended early because of a drivers’ strike.  Kim Mock was the sprint car champion for the International Racing Ass’n.