A Look Back At The First Wayne Carter Classic

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Tom Reffner poses with Art Frigo after Reffner captured the first Wayne Carter Classic late model stock car special at Illinois’ Grundy County Speedway in September of 1975. With the help of John McKarns, Frigo had established ARTGO Racing in a matter of weeks. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo)
Tom Reffner poses with Art Frigo after Reffner captured the first Wayne Carter Classic late model stock car special at Illinois’ Grundy County Speedway in September of 1975. With the help of John McKarns, Frigo had established ARTGO Racing in a matter of weeks. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo)

MORRIS, Ill. – With the ARCA Midwest Tour Wayne Carter Classic 100 late model stock car special set for Saturday evening, July 11, at Grundy County Speedway, it seemed like an appropriate time to look back at the inaugural Wayne Carter Classic.

The year was 1975. Gerald Ford was President of the United States. John McKarns was working in various capacities at two Illinois speedways – Grundy County Speedway and Waukegan Speedway, including doing public relations duties. Bob Roper was one of the top late model drivers at those tracks and he worked for Chicago area businessman Art Frigo.  This is some of the background information as ARTGO Racing and the first Wayne Carter Classic late model stock car special came together.

As local Chicago area paved track stock car racing rolled along in 1975 at Grundy, Waukegan, Blue Island’s Raceway Park and Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., Frigo showed an interest in promoting a late model stock car race.  Frigo enlisted the help of McKarns and the Grundy third-of-a-mile paved oval was picked as the site with Sunday afternoon, Sept. 7, being the date for the first ARTGO special.

The ARTGO name was derived from Frigo’s first and last names – ‘ART friGO.’ The event was quickly publicized in various weekly racing newspapers including the Wisconsin-based Midwest Racing News and Checkered Flag Racing News.

Frigo and McKarns visited Wisconsin Int’l Raceway in Kaukauna, Wis., on August 17 to sign up top Wisconsin state drivers. The Wisconsin Int’l Raceway oval was hosting its Red, White and Blue State Championship 100-lap finale that Sunday afternoon. Frigo and McKarns signed up various drivers, including Dick Trickle and Tom Reffner, who agreed to appear at Grundy. Trickle had set a national feature win record of 67 victories in 1972 and Reffner was on the verge of tying or even breaking the mark as the Midwest season came to a close.

Hailing from Rudolph, Wis., Reffner was wheeling a 1974 AMC Javelin, powered by a 380 cubic inch engine. A pipefitter by trade, Reffner and his crewman, Pete Haferman, were racing full-time during the summer.

“The car is still running real good,” said Reffner as the year wound down. “I suppose I have a chance to break the record.”

Previously, Reffner had driven Fords during his career before switching to the American Motors product before the ’75 season began.

“Good AMC (engine) parts were not available until the middle of last year,” Reffner said in August of 1975. “All speed parts cost money, but I am just happy to be able to get good parts.”

Trickle was wheeling a 1970 Mustang during the 1975 season and doing his fair share of winning too. Calling Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., home, Trickle used a Mustang to set his feature win record in 1972.

The 100 lapper at Wisconsin Int’l Raceway was won by Johnny Ziegler, with Trickle grabbing third. Reffner was unable to compete as his Javelin was demolished in a high-speed crash at Capital Speedway near Madison, Wis., the previous Friday night. Trickle was also involved in the accident that sent Reffner to the hospital for an overnight stay.

Reffner went right to work, putting a new frame under the Javelin with new body parts also needed. On Labor Day Monday, Reffner showed up at Grundy to compete. Reffner set a new qualifying track record (16.34 seconds) and finished third behind 50-lap feature winner Tom Musgrave and Tom Jones. Racing out of Mundelein, Ill., Musgrave, a second-generation racer, would capture his second consecutive late model crown at Grundy in 1975, winning a record nine features in a row in his ’73 Camaro. Chicagoland stars Ray Young, Larry Schuler, Jones and Ed Hoffman finished behind Musgrave in the final points.

Tom Reffner and his No. 88 1974 AMC Javelin won the inaugural Wayne Carter Classic at the Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill., on Sept. 7, 1975. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo)
Tom Reffner and his No. 88 1974 AMC Javelin won the inaugural Wayne Carter Classic at the Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill., on Sept. 7, 1975. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo)

Sunday, Sept. 7, was a sunny day with 49 entries crowding the pits for the inaugural Wayne Carter Classic, which was scheduled for 59 laps. The original rules for the event consisted of 38 words with no weight or cubic inch limit and $60 price limit tires. The feature race was to honor Wayne Carter, who had brought auto racing to the Grundy County area 59 years earlier.

Reffner and his Javelin, equipped with Hoosier tires, grabbed fast time, setting a track record of 16.25 seconds. Hoffman, Jones, Joe Shear, Dave Watson Larry Detjens, Ted Musgrave, Trickle, Schuler and Mike Miller made up the rest of the top 10 in qualifying.

Reffner and his SuperAmerica-sponsored No. 88 passed leader Bob Roper after 44 laps, using the outside groove to get by Roper, who qualified 11th fastest and was driving Marv Palmer’s Camaro No. 6. Reffner won $825 from the $5,855 posted purse.

Reffner took starter Frank Ropp’s checkered flag ahead of Roper, Shear, Tom Musgrave and Trickle, who was driving Ted Musgrave’s Mustang No. 71 after his own No. 99 had mechanical problems before the feature. Rounding out the top 10 were Don Leach, Johnnie Reimer, Jones, Young and Detjens. Schuler finished 12th with Hoffman dropping out of the race and being credited with a 21st finishing spot. Twenty-five cars started the race.

Others in the feature lineup included Watson, Miller, Jerry Kemperman, Lee Schuler, Al Schill, Larry Morris, Whitey Harris, Dave Evans, Carl Major, Red Hutchison, Lyndall Bumgardner, Jim O’Connor and John Provenzano.

Preliminary race winners were Evans, Harris, Provenzano, Bumgardner, Bob Strait and Shear, who won the afternoon’s opening event – the 15-lap Challenge Cup contest.

The Carter Classic victory was the 60th feature win of the year for the 34-year-old Reffner, who already had 15 years of racing under his belt. By season’s end, Reffner would tie Trickle’s feature win mark of 67. Trickle and Reffner’s record feats were chronicled in 2019 in the book, 67 Trickle and Reffner, written by Father Dale Grubba.

The Wayne Carter Classic would become pretty much an annual tradition at Grundy County Speedway with the ARTGO late model series eventually being run by John McKarns starting in 1979. The 1997 season would be the final year for the ARTGO tour, with NASCAR taking over the series, running it from 1998 through 2006.

No Wayne Carter Classic was held between 2000 and 2010, with the event returning in 2011 and held annually since with the exception of 2019. The event has been sanctioned by the ARCA Midwest Tour since 2011 with the organization led by John McKarns’ son, Gregg. Overall, 33 races have been held with 22 different winners taking the checkered flag.