KALWASINSKI: Big Stories At Chicagoland
Midget racing will return to Joliet Memorial Stadium in a few weeks. The event, titled the “Last Stand at the Stadium” is scheduled Sept. 11-12 and marks the return of midget auto racing to the Joliet arena for the first time since 1986.
With the Park District-owned facility ready for a major remodeling effort, the flat quarter-mile paved track will be torn out and replaced by a new football field and Olympic-size running track.
The longtime home of the United Auto Racing Ass’n and later Bob Tezak’s World of Outlaw Midgets, the “Stadium,” has a long history of midget racing, dating back to the first UARA event held in 1952.
No doubt trying to save drivers from getting pelted with cinders, clay was poured over the cinder running track a year or so later with asphalt becoming the racing surface prior to the 1964 season.
Pieced-together records show that longtime Illinois midget-racing standout, the late Bob Tattersall won 33 UARA features at the Joliet speedway.
Picking up the pieces of area midget racing when UARA and WOOM passed on, the United Midget Auto Racing Ass’n, headed by Steve Thinnes, will handle the sanctioning duties for this event.
A number of veteran drivers are expected to take their “one last shot” at the speedway, including Don Carter, Jr. and Dennis Devea, both front runners at Joliet during their prime. Devea had the distinction of winning the last midget feature at the track on Aug. 30, 1986.
With facility expenses, wheel fencing, etc. in excess of a reported $20,000, the event’s promotional team will face some stiff challenges. Hopefully, both old time midget fans and current race fans will buy tickets to pack the 10,000-seat venue.
n A veteran of area paved-track late-model competition, Tom Smith is the new promoter of Kankakee County Speedway, part of Chicagoland’s dirt-track racing scene for more than 60 years. Located on the property of the Kankakee County Fairgrounds, the quarter-mile track shut down in June after promoter Doug Judy couldn’t make a go of it.
A little more than three years ago, the 40-year-old Smith purchased the paved Plymouth (Ind.) Speedway and, along with his partner, Bobby Blount, pumped life back into it. Negotiating with the fairboard, Smith took over the promotional reins at Kankakee and put on his first Friday night of racing in late July, using a $20-per-carload special to get people in the grandstands.
Smith, who owns a successful Chicago-area landscaping and tree-trimming business, should get the job done at Kankakee, having been a “racer” for some 20 years and having learned some of the promotional “ropes” at Plymouth.
– Becoming the first driver to post three-consecutive titles, Dennis Erb, Jr. captured this year’s overall UMP DIRTcar Summer Nationals championship.
Winning and surviving on the circuit nicknamed the “Hell Tour,” the 36-year-old Erb won three features during the grueling, month-long series, which saw 23 features completed.
– Defending track champion Brett Sontag of Joliet looks to be on his way to winning another late-model championship at Grundy County Speedway in Morris.
By mid-August, Sontag, who is going after his fourth Grundy late-model crown, has won six features at the third-mile asphalt oval that has been rained out five times this season.
The 38-year-old Sontag and Chicago-area late-model frontrunner Eddie Hoffman have had a number of “spirited” battles, which no doubt has been one of the reasons for some sizeable crowds during the Friday night action.