CHICAGO – Before getting too far along into the new racing season, let’s take a look back at Chicago area racing – 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago.
The years were 2008, 1998, 1988, 1978 and 1968.
2008 – Mike White garnered his fifth late model stock car championship at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind. White posted two feature wins on his way to another title at the northwest Indiana speed plant, besting 2007 champ Jeff Cannon and Mike Monroe in the final points tally. Another Illinois veteran, John Nutley, was the track’s limited late model champion.
Brett Sontag was the top gun in the late model ranks at the Grundy County Speedway in Morris. Winner of seven feature races, Sontag bested 2007 Grundy titlist Tom Smith for the year’s championship crown. It was Sontag’s third late model championship at the third of a mile paved oval, the Friday Night Racin’ Place.
Jerry Gille was the 2008 Rockford Speedway late model champion. Gille, who won three feature races during the season, broke Ricky Bilderback’s strangle hold of seven consecutive NASCAR late model crowns at the high-banked, quarter-mile paved oval. Minnesota’s Josh Vadnais captured Rockford’s annual National Short Track Championships 200-lap special.
On the dirt at the LaSalle Speedway, Keith Piano was the track champion in the late model division. Piano, who won six feature races, defeated Roger Markham by only one point for the title. Second generation driver Vince Cooper grabbed three feature victories on his way to top honors in the track’s open-wheel modified class.
Dirt track action at the Sycamore Speedway saw Johnny Heath win overall super late model honors for the fourth time. Dave Radloff was Sycamore’s late model stock car king with Jay Brendle taking spectator division honors.
Two nearby Indiana dirt speedways were busy with United Midwestern Promoters competition. Kamp Motor Speedway near Boswell, Ind., saw veteran Dan Walden win the UMP late model title. The Indiana driver won three feature races on his way to his second late model championship at the speedway, having one the first one in 2000. Relative newcomer Mike Spatola made off with season honors in the track’s UMP modified division. Charles “Bub” Patrick roared to six feature wins on his way to UMP modified crown at the Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville, Ind. Almost unbeatable all season long, Butch Toosley was the track’s super street champ with Brad DeYoung winning the I-Mod crown.
For the first time in years, the dirt track at the Kankakee fairgrounds sat dormant.
Around midget auto racing pretty much since a baby, Jimmy Anderson was crowned champion of the United Midget Auto Racing Ass’n. Anderson, whose late dad, Jim, was a longtime midget car owner, won one feature race on his way to winning the emotional title. David Bryne and Mario Clouser finished behind Anderson in the standings.
The Illini Racing Series saw Joe Knippel being named the group’s top midget driver. It was Knippel’s fifth midget racing crown, including four UMARA sportsman championships.
Dennis Erb Jr. had another incredible year on Midwestern dirt tracks. The second-generation driver claimed both the UMP DIRTcar Super Late Model National Championship and the overall Summer Nationals Championship. Winner of 13 UMP features during the season, Erb also won the UMP DIRTcar-sanctioned Northern Allstars Late Model Series title.
Eddie Hoffman was the ASA Late Model Series Northern Division champion. Dave Gentile Jr. garnered the overall crown of the US Pro Cup Series with one win to his credit.
1998 – Mike White captured his second straight late model stock car driving title at Illiana Motor Speedway, winning six features along the way to the championship. Eddie Hoffman was the winner of Illiana’s annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 Classic. Gary Raven picked up his second late model season crown at Raceway Park, posting 16 feature wins during the campaign. Making it three straight championships, Joey Izzo was the UMP late model champion at the LaSalle Speedway.
John Brolick was the late model track champion at the Grundy County Speedway. Brolick won five features during the season. Dave Weltmeyer was the winner of the track’s annual Lee Schuler Memorial 50 lapper. Bobby Wilberg copped his fourth straight NASCAR late model driving championship at the Rockford Speedway. Wisconsin’s Steve Carlson again racing the victory bell in Rockford’s National Short Track Championships, which was a 300-lap affair under the NASCAR/RE/MAX banner. Eddie Hoffman won the NASCAR/RE/MAX Wayne Carter Classic at Grundy.
Todd McGarr was the top man in late model racing at Indiana’s Southlake Speedway. McGarr posted his fifth tack championship at the three-eights-mile clay oval. Among his victories was the Harvest 100. Corey Turner was the UMP late model titlist at the Kankakee Speedway. Veteran Bill Davis was the track’s modified division titlist. Joe Rusciano claimed his first super late model driving crown on the dirt at the Sycamore Speedway.
Joe Roe notched season championship honors for the seventh time in Interstate Racing Association sprint car competition. David Gough was the UMARA midget champion with Sue Spencer claiming UMARA sportsman midget division honors.
The new Route 66 Raceway in Joliet opened with the multi-purpose facility hosting a National Hot Rod Association event in late May. By season’s end, sprint cars and stock cars would take to the new speed venue’s half-mile dirt oval.