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KALWASINSKI: Chicago Chips

HoF member George Kladis passed away the day before the annual event at the age of 73.  Kladis is shown warming up his UARA championship-winning midget at Chicagoland’s Raceway Park in 1971. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo)

HoF member George Kladis passed away the day before the annual event at the age of 73. Kladis is shown warming up his UARA championship-winning midget at Chicagoland’s Raceway Park in 1971.
(Stan Kalwasinski Photo)

CHICAGO — The 10th annual Mazon Speed Bowl/Grundy County Speedway Racers’ Reunion and Hall of Fame induction ceremonies took place Aug. 31.

Held at the Grundy County Fairgrounds, where the Grundy County Speedway is located, the event again drew a good crowd of racing enthusiasts, who were on hand to honor this year’s inductees.

As always, Ron Kessler and the entire Hall of Fame committee worked hard at putting this year’s program together. Almost a dozen vintage midget race cars were on hand, which, along with over 4,000 racing photos on display, stirred up a lot of memories. Joe Kirkeeng, president of the Short Track Auto Racing Series midget group, was the master of ceremonies of the event.

This year’s class of HoF inductees included Bruce Field, Ken Hopkins, Tom Legner, Paul Rademacher, Chuck Stebbins, Bob Thorson, Dennis Tjelle and Burt Weitemeyer.

A longtime open-wheel racing ace, Bruce Field began racing go-karts at the age of 10 in New York. Moving to Illinois, Field began helping the likes of top driver/car owner midget racing combo — Ray Elliott and Lou Cooper. He entered United Auto Racing Ass’n midget competition in 1970 and took home a sixth-place finish in the final points and rookie of the year honors, driving for Bud Graham. Field won his first UARA feature at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., May 26, 1972.

Over the years, “Racy Bruce” won countless midget races with a United States Auto Club Silver Crown victory at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1988, highlighting his career.

Another midget speedster, Ken Hopkins raced quarter midgets until he turned 21 and then began “cutting his teeth” in his Dad’s 1946 Kurtis Kraft Offenhauser. Hopkins’ name first appeared in the UARA final standings in 1974, finishing 31st. Hopkins, a long time campaigner in the UARA and World of Outlaw Midgets ranks, won his first feature race at the old Joliet Memorial Stadium, which was the home of the UARA group for many years.

Tom Legner followed his Dad Norm’s footsteps into stock car racing, beginning his racing career in 1971 at Grundy in mini stock action. Legner moved up into Late Model competition in 1976 and competed at various tracks in and around the Chicagoland area. Three sons have followed his racing, becoming drivers themselves and six grandsons could produce fourth generation drivers in the family.

Posted by on Sep 6 2013 Filed under Columns, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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