by Kyle Ealy
Let’s take a look back – 35 years ago this month to be exact, and see what was going on at area race tracks.
Duane Steffe of Colona, IL, captured his fourth Late Model feature of the season at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport on August 4 that saw multiple cautions in both the Late Model and Sportsman main events. Steffe, driving a brand new Camaro owned by Zip Lekander of Burlington, used the fourth restart near the end of the 25-lap feature to slip by Ray Guss Sr. of Milan, IL for the top spot. Guss, who led the first 20 circuits, settled for second while Ron Weedon of Pleasant Valley hard-charged to third. The Sportsman feature, won by Denny Stewart of Davenport, had four restarts in the first four laps. Drivers finally completed the scheduled 15 laps after promoter Bill Schwader threatened to stop the race five minutes after the last restart because of the 10:30 pm curfew.
West Liberty Raceway would be the victim of a strike by Late Model drivers on August 5. Drivers and car owners pulled their vehicles on the track, blocking the race proceedings while protesting a previous decision handed down by promoter Dale Gegner. Gegner had suspended a driver the previous week (July 29) and refused to admit the driver to the pit area. Owners and drivers, in support of the suspended driver, blocked the race track and the program was canceled. On Monday, August 7, the West Liberty Fairboard voted to suspend all racing activity until drivers and owners could abide by the rules and procedures. “”When the time comes when I can’t operate a race track according to the rules and procedures that were adopted at the beginning of the season, I will resign and close down the race track,” Gegner remarked. “Blocking a race track and denying fans a show they had purchased tickets for is not right. After a two-week layoff, racing action would return on August 19.
Joe Merryfield of Des Moines started in the eighth position and won the 50-lap purse of $1,250 in the El Kahir Shrine special at Hawkeye Downs on July 8. Fifty-eight Late Models checked in with Ed Sanger of Waterloo setting a new track record on the evening, touring the half-mile in 23.76 seconds. Three others broke the old mark of 23.97 seconds held by Curt Hansen of Dike. Merryfield bid his time to win the feature as he was fifth after 10 laps, moved up to fourth by lap 15, was up to second by lap 19 and moved past Denny Osborn of Cedar Falls on lap 30 to take the top spot and hold on for the win. J.J. Smith of Appleton, WI, made the long haul from up north to grab second place money and Bill Rice of Des Moines took third.
Before packed grandstands on both Friday, August 11 and Saturday, August 12, race fans witnessed two outstanding nights of stock car racing during the Wapello County Fair in Eldon. Bill Rice of Des Moines would score the Late Model feature victory on Friday night, leading green to checker. Tony Stewart of Washington would hold off the advances of John Miller of Keokuk and Jim Dorothy of Keosauqua to take the Sportsman main. On Saturday evening, Roger Dolan of Lisbon and Mike Niffenegger of Kalona went hub to hub for 20 laps in the Late Model feature with Dolan wining by an eyelash. Ed Pilcher of Bloomfield would win a crash-filled Sportsman feature on Saturday that saw Jim Dorothy slam into the concrete retaining wall after his steering gave out. Dorothy was taken to the Ottumwa Hospital with numerous bruises but no broken bones.
The Jones County Fair in Monticello crowned champions during their annual Saturday afternoon of action on August 12. John Connolly of Delhi (Late Models), Chopper Safely of Waubeek (Altered Street Stock), Mark Bone of Monticello (Unaltered Street Stock), and Chuck Martelle of Dubuque (Sportsman) were all feature winners before a capacity crowd.
Kenny Walton of Marion, IA, and Rocky Hodges of Des Moines took home the big dollars from the fourth annual Pepsi-Mountain Dew Special at the Southern Iowa Fairgrounds in Oskaloosa, on Wednesday, August 16. Walton made his first win of the season a big one in winning the Late Model 50-lapper. Walton, who started in the fifth row, was already in the sixth spot by lap five and steadily weaving his way to the front. On lap 29, Walton would slip by race leader Bill Rice of Des Moines for the top spot and hold it for the remaining 20 circuits. Ed Sanger of Waterloo would overtake Rice as well for second and finish there behind Walton. Rice followed in third with Joe Merryfield and Curt Hansen of Dike all finishing on the same lap.
Ken Kennedy of Dubuque took the lead immediately in the 20-lap Super Stock feature, survived seven cautions, and raced to his first win of the season at Jackson County Raceway in Maquoketa on August 19. Kennedy, who also won his heat, took the win over John Ward of Bernard, Scott Nesteby of East Dubuque, IL, Joe Churchill of Peosta, and Mark Liebfried of Rickardsville. Bruce Current of Maquoketa won a crash-marred Sportsman feature, his fifth since his mid-season debut. Phil Roberts of Walcott won the officials race.
Arnie Gardner of Geneva, IL, a 52-year-old veteran of racing, showed the young guys a thing or two as he lapped half of the field in winning the third annual Pabst Blue Ribbon 100 at Quad City Raceway in East Moline on August 22. Gardner, known as the “Silver Fox” lapped 10 of the 20 starters in the long-endurance battle and completely dominated the race from start to finish. The race was for second place as Al Terrell of Peoria, Duane Steffe of Colona, IL, Don Bohlander of Glasford, IL, and Roger Long of Fithian, IL, battled back and forth for the runner-up spot for most of the contest. They would finish in that order.
Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids had his work cut out for him as he fought tooth and nail before finally prevailing to win the Late Model feature at Freeport Raceway on Sunday, August 27. The first five drivers, Ray Guss Sr. of Milan, IL, Dake, John Connolly of Delhi, Gary Webb of Davenport and Ken Walton of Marion, all wanted the top spot and battled bumper to bumper and fender to fender. Dake would finally get around Guss on lap 14 for the lead, but had to fight every inch to preserve the victory. Walton would break the track record in time trials, touring the half-mile in the unbelievable time of 23.68 seconds.