KALWASINSKI: Chicago Racing In 1961
Stock-car racing continued to be held on a weekly basis at Soldier Field — the giant sports arena on Chicago’s lakefront. For the second straight year Bryant Tucker of Hillside garnered late-model laurels on the flat, quarter-mile paved oval.
Tucker won eight feature races in his No. 25 ’57 Buick with only Whitey Gerken and Bob Chapman able to score wins in addition to the 37-year-old Tucker. Les Snow of Bloomington won a 30-lap United States Auto Club (USAC)-sanctioned stock car race on Soldier Field’s half-mile track in a Pontiac June 17, defeating Norm Nelson, Elmer Musgrave and Don White. The quarter-mile track was stretched with the oval being extended to the far north end of the stadium.
Jimmy Davies and Tommy Copp would win USAC midget feature races at the Field during the season. Pete Schintgen took home top honors in the novice division.
When the United Auto Racing Ass’n midget racing schedule was released by president Mike King, more than 90 dates were shown. It seemed like the UARA midgets competed at almost every local track.
When the season ended, Indiana’s Leon Duray “Jigger” Sirois was crowned the UARA champion as he drove the Larry White-owned, Ford-powered midget to the title. Finishing behind Sirois in the final points were Danny Kladis, Mel Kenyon and Ray Elliott. Bob Lockard was the overall championship car owner.
UARA also named an Offenhauser (Offy) engine midget division champion with Johnny Riva, driving for car owner Jack Sims, nailing down the title.
Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind. was the site of weekly stock car racing under the sanctioning of the Steel City Racing, Inc. group. Bud Weber of Steger won the track’s 100-lap Season Championship race on Labor Day Monday over Rob Roadruck, Luke Gilbert and Bill Carr of Gary, Ind., who claimed overall track championship honors at the half-mile dirt oval.
Illiana also hosted as series of USAC-sanctioned 30-lap stock car features during the season. Paul Goldsmith in a Ray Nichels-owned and prepared Pontiac won three of the short distance events, while Don White won the other. Carroll Resweber won an AMA-sanctioned motorcycle event in August.
Don Harvey wheeled his No. 7 Oldsmobile to track championship honors at the high-banked, quarter-mile paved Rockford Speedway oval. It was Harvey’s third Rockford stock-car championship.
Bill Strom of West Allis, Wis., was the modified track champion at the Waukegan Speedway, while Eddie Jones was the sportsman division champ at the quarter-mile dirt oval. Strom won his first modified feature race of his career at Waukegan, scoring the win in a 25 lapper June 4.
Roger Penske, behind the wheel of a Maserati, won the eighth annual Wisconsin Grand Prix on the road course at the Meadowdale Raceways in Carpentersville in August.
Erik Johnson, second-ranking driver at O’Hare, was named the late-model stock-car champion for action at the Mazon Speed Bowl. Warren “Knute” White was the track’s midget champion. Mazon was the first to kick off the local outdoor racing season, hosting a midget racing program April 23, with Iowa’ Dick Ritchie winning the day’s 50-lap main event.
Chicagoland’s William “Whitey” Gerken defeated a stellar field as he captured a 250-mile USAC stock-car race at The Milwaukee Mile Sept. 17, driving Gene Marmor’s No. 44 ’60 Chevy to the win.
Taking the lead for good on lap 238, Gerken, who suffered broken ribs in a crash at Milwaukee a month earlier, defeated Norm Nelson, John Rostek and Dick Rathmann. Gerken’s usual ride, a fast ’61 Chevy, was demolished in the Milwaukee wreck Aug. 17.
USAC midgets competed indoors at Chicago’s Int’l Amphitheatre during the winter. Missouri’s Bob Wente captured two features while Indiana’s Bob McLean won one. Wente, behind the wheel of the Bob Higman Offy-powered midget, won the 100-lap season finale March 25 ahead of Bobby Grim, Chuck Rodee and local veterans Johnny Roberts and Ray Elliott.