KALWASINSKI: Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame
LOVES PARK, Ill. — Many of the people in attendance commented that this should have happened a long time ago.
Saturday evening, April 14, saw the first induction ceremony take place for the Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame at the Forest Hills Lodge, which sits adjacent to the Rockford Speedway.
The idea of a hall of fame had been talked about previously with the idea bounced around by various individuals over the years.
Art “Fireball” Fehrman, a former Chicago area stock car racer, made up his mind and put the creation of an Illinois hall of fame into motion a year or so ago. Saturday’s activity saw the culmination of his work as a group of 15 became the first class of honored inductees.
“It’s a dream come through,” commented Fehrman after the ceremonies.
Fehrman watched his dad, Art Sr., and others compete at the almost-forgotten Mance Park Speedway in Hodgkins when he was a youngster before becoming old enough to compete at Chicagoland’s old Santa Fe Speedway.
“We pulled it off,” Fehrman said. “ It’s a great crowd here tonight with people coming from all over the United States. The hall of fame is here for the ‘long run’ and it will be here for years and years to come for fans to enjoy it and to preserve the stories and accomplishments of the inductees.”
The day started at Wayne Lensing’s Historic Auto Attractions in Roscoe, where each inductee has a display, chronicling his achievements in stock car racing. Lensing, who also owns Lefthander Chassis, has gathered various pieces of racing memorabilia to add to the museum’s racing section.
Lensing, along with Fehrman and his wife Pat, who has been nicknamed, “Mrs. Fireball,” are board of directors of the hall of fame. Other directors include Jerry Gille, Herb Shannon Sr. and his son, Herb Jr., and this writer.
Wisconsin racing historian, Pat Heaney gave Fehrman the initial idea of his putting together the hall of fame, telling Fehrman, “You ought to create a hall of fame for Illinois. There is a rich history of stock car racing (there).”
Drivers among the inaugural class of inductees include Fred Lorenzen, Gene Marmor, Joe Shear, Arnie Gardner, Dick Nelson, Don Waldvogel, Bill Van Allen, Tom Pistone, Sal Tovella, Les Snow, Ronnie Weedon and Don Bohlander. Andy Granatelli was inducted as a track promoter and Wayne Adams as the announcer inductee. Bob Boyce was honored as a hall of fame car builder.
Before his days of fame with STP and the Indianapolis 500, Granatelli headed up the promotion of Chicago’s Soldier Field with hot rods, and later stock cars, competing there in the late 1940s and early 50s before tens of thousands of fans each race night. Granatelli had planned to attend the event, but health issues prevented him at the last minute from flying in from California.
Pistone, one of Granatelli’s “boys,” had also planned to attend, coming up from his Charlotte, N.C., home, but his wife became ill, causing his absence. Pistone won three consecutive stock car championships at Soldier Field during Granatelli’s promotional reign before moving on to NASCAR racing.
Perhaps the most touching part of the evening was when former Chicago area stock car champion, Gene Marmor, in a wheel chair, was escorted to the stage by his sons, Don and Darrell, who spoke on behalf of their dad. Fred Lorenzen’s daughter, Amanda, and son, Chris, accepted their dad’s award as the former Chicago area and NASCAR great could not attend because of health reasons.
Inductee Sal Tovella told all kinds of stories, one of which involved his first stock car feature victory at Soldier Field in 1952. Tovella had driven his “battered” ’49 Ford to victory at Chicago’s huge lakefront arena, only to be informed by Granatelli that he had been protested by his racing partner, Tom Pistone.
“We (Pistone and I) were partners in those days,” Tovella said. “We pretty much would do anything to go racing.”
The stories and memories flowed Saturday evening and will for years and years to come if Art Fehrman and the Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame have anything to say about it.
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