KALWASINSKI: Chicago Chips
Howard Tiedt was the longtime owner and promoter of Santa Fe Speedway in Willow Springs. Taking over the picnic grove and old race track in 1953 that was once operated by his father, Tiedt developed Santa Fe into Chicagoland’s premier racing facility, whether it be stock cars, motorcycles, midgets or sprint cars.
The track actually consisted of two ovals — a quarter mile dirt track and a longer “short” half-mile. Two-nights-a-week of stock car racing was pretty much the norm during the summer over the years with Santa Fe becoming a NASCAR-sanctioned track in 1987. Tiedt passed away in 1990 and Santa Fe held its last racing program in 1995.
In the Car Builder/Mechanic category, Bill Koenig was this year’s inductee. As a car owner, Koenig won numerous late model stock car feature races at Raceway Park with the likes of Bud Koehler, Ted Janecyk and other handling the driving chores. Getting involved in drag racing as a young man, Koenig shifted his attention to stock car racing. With Janecyk behind the wheel, Koenig was the championship car owner at Raceway Park in 1965. Joining forces the following year with Koehler, the Koehler/Koenig team would win a total of six track titles at Raceway Park.
Race official Elmer Steinbeck was the evening’s final inductee. Steinbeck was involved as a mechanic during the early days of Chicago area stock car racing, working with leading driver Tom Cox. His involvement in racing changed when he was asked to score the races at Chicago’s 87th Street Speedway in the early 1950s. Before he knew it, Steinbeck was scoring races seven nights a week and sometimes a Sunday afternoon show too. He worked at 87th Street and Santa Fe Speedway as well as other tracks in the Midwest. He was the chief scorer at O’Hare Stadium from 1957 until the track closed in 1968. Elmer began working at Rockford Speedway and then joined the staff at Illiana Motor Speedway in 1972, retiring from Illiana chief scorer’s position after the 2007 season.
Rainy weather was forecasted for Sunday’s Spring Classic stock car event at the Rockford high-banked quarter-mile paved oval. With gray skies present and the threat of rain in the forecast, General Manager Gregg McKarns shortened up the day’s racing schedule and even moved up the first race starting time in an attempt to get the program in.
Two 20-lap qualifying races for Big 8 Series cars were held with Ryan Miles and Tim Sargent grabbing top honors. Earlier in the day, seven-time Rockford champion Ricky Bilderback grabbed Big 8 Series fast time honors. Tim Hamburg and his ’70 Chevelle won the Tibor Machine Products Vintage Series 20 lapper ahead of Vince Heywood and new HoF member Tom Jones, who was wheeling Pat Heaney’s ’67 Chevelle.
Nine cars started the vintage feature with Hamburg scoring his first ever victory on pavement. Heywood probably had the most vintage-looking car, wheeling a ’48 Chevy. Last year’s vintage feature winner, Dick Kath hit the wall pretty hard in his Chevelle, but escaped injury.
A field of 19 lined up for the Mid American Stock Car Series headliner, including fast qualifier Mark Pluer. Jeff Holtz, who started on the outside of the front row, was the leader when the first yellow flag fell with 29 laps complete and light rain hitting the speedway.
With the track deemed raceable, Holtz brought the field down for the restart. Going into the third turn, the lead cars of Holtz and Jeremy Spoonmore got shoved from behind, causing a jam up. The yellow caution flag flashed again and that was the end of the day’s racing with Holtz being declared the winner, the first ever Mid American series victory for the Franksville, Wis., driver.
Unfortunately, the scheduled 108-lap Big 8 Series main event had to be canceled and will not be rescheduled. Next up on the Big 8 Series schedule is Wisconsin’s Columbus 151 Speedway on Memorial Day Monday, May 26. Rockford kicks off its 67th season of weekly racing this Saturday with NASCAR-sanctioned racing on tap.
Indiana’s Plymouth Speedway has moved its Cabin Fever opener to next Saturday, April 26.
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