KALWASINSKI: New Illinois Stock Car Hall Of Famers

New Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame inductee Dave Weltmeyer and his wife, Toni.  (Stan Kalwasinski Photo)
Stan Kalwasinski

CHICAGO — The Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame held its sixth annual reception and banquet in the Rockford area on Saturday, April 8.

A reception was held in the afternoon at Wayne Lensing’s Historic Auto Attractions museum in Roscoe with the induction banquet held later in the evening at the Hoffman House Restaurant in Rockford with more than 250 people in attendance.

Seven new inductees were honored. Among the new half of fame members were drivers Bill Lutz, Tony Izzo, Dave Weltmeyer and Dick Taylor, along with promoter John McKarns, race official Jack Heiman and car builder/mechanic Seth Piper.

Racing around Kentucky and southern Indiana, Lutz, a native of Kentucky, began making trips to Chicago area speedways, where he posted victories at such tracks as Soldier Field and O’Hare Stadium. Lutz was a two-time late model champion at O’Hare (1959 and 1964), also winning the track’s annual O’Hare American 500 twice during his career. He was the Chicago City Series Champion in 1958, which pitted drivers from O’Hare, Solider Field and Blue Island’s Raceway Park against each other in a special three-race series.

Lutz, who passed away in 2010, competed in USAC and NASCAR competition. He raced on the Daytona Beach, Fla. road and beach course in February of 1957. Driving his Petty Enterprises 1957 Oldsmobile No. 43, a teammate to NASCAR champion Lee Petty, Lutz started 27th in the field and came home in sixth place.

Izzo began his racing career around 1964, competing in the sportsman stock car division at Chicagoland’s Santa Fe Speedway. He moved up into the late model ranks soon after and before his career was over, Izzo captured a total of nine late model titles at the popular clay oval. He won Santa Fe’s National Clay Track Championship 200 lapper three times. He was the late model titlist at the Kankakee Fairgrounds Speedway in 1972, introducing a rapid-running, short wheelbase, Camaro to the local dirt track stock car wars.

Showing paved track racers the short way around, Izzo was the winner of the annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., in 1978. After his racing career was over, he promoted tracks at both Kankakee and LaSalle and supported the racing efforts of his two sons, Tony Jr. and Joey.

Weltmeyer has the distinction of being among three drivers that have won late model track championships at Raceway Park, Illiana and the Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill. Following his dad Norm’s racing footsteps, Weltmeyer began racing in six-cylinder competition at Raceway Park before his 16th birthday. He would win three late model crowns at Raceway Park, taking honors in 1979, 1980 and again in 1983. He grabbed the late model season crown at the Grundy fairgrounds oval in 1982 and 1986.

Illiana was the scene of his first late model feature win in 1977 with Weltmeyer garnering the late model title at the half-mile paved oval in 2003. Trying his luck in both USAC and ARCA competition over the years, Weltmeyer developed into an ARCA “short track ace” during the latter part of his career, winning a total of 13 ARCA main events. Weltmeyer enjoyed seven straight seasons with at least one ARCA win. Closing out his racing days, Weltmeyer has helped his son, D.J., with his racing career.

Taylor started his stock car racing career in 1967 at the age of 21. He competed in street stock and sportsman divisions before advancing into late models in 1972. During a 46-year racing career, Taylor won over 200 feature races and 15 track championships. In the 1970s, Taylor was one of a few Illinois drivers to race and win with a Chrysler Kit Car, which was powered a 440 cubic inch engine.

Some of Taylor’s biggest victories include winning the 1981 Illinois State Championship race at Peoria, the Coca Cola 100 at the Macon oval, UMP Summer Nationals victories at both the Macon and Godfrey speedways, the Herald Review 100 at Macon in 1987 and a victory in USAC competition at the Springfield Mile in 1987. For many years, Taylor’s winning No. 24 was sponsored by the Springfield Cardinals minor league baseball team. With his racing career coming to an end, Taylor has mentored his sons, Matt and Guy, in the racing game.

McKarns, pure and simple, was a race fan. Having a love and passion for the sport of auto racing, McKarns enjoyed numerous successes in the various avenues of motorsports that he ventured down, including heading and developing the ARTGO Challenge Series late model stock car tour. Growing up on a farm in Ohio, McKarns saw his first stock car race with his dad and brother in 1952. He became an avid fan and soon began reporting on the racing events for a local newspaper.

Going to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., McKarns got his first glimpse of Chicago area stock car racing at tracks like Solider Field, Raceway Park, O’Hare Stadium, Santa Fe Speedway and Waukegan Speedway. He applied for jobs at both O’Hare and Waukegan and was hired by Waukegan management as the track’s new assistant pit steward. He became the speedway’s “PR” man and announcer and, later, had these same jobs at the new Grundy County Speedway. McKarns’ whole life would change when he met Chicago area businessman Art Frigo in 1975.

Front running stock car racer Bob Roper worked for Frigo and Frigo expressed an interest of promoting a special late model stock car event in the Chicago area. The special event was the Wayne Carter Classic at Grundy in September of 1975 with the race being the start of ARTGO Racing, which McKarns, who passed away in 2010, would later own and nurture through 1997.

Heiman was the official starter for many years at the Rockford Speedway, flagging numerous events at the quarter-mile paved oval, including the inaugural National Short Track Championships in 1966, which was won by Dick Trickle. Heiman racing career began in California, where he became a crewman on Rodger Ward’s USAC stock car team. It was during this time that Heiman taught himself the art of sign painting and race car lettering with Heiman lettering numerous national and local race cars.