by Stan Kalwasinski
June 2, 2013
Chicago, Ill.—“Mother Nature” pretty much played havoc with most area short tracks this past weekend with only Rockford Speedway getting in its regularly scheduled weekend night of stock car racing as other tracks fell victims to the rainy weather.
The high-banked, quarter-mile (actually .29-mile) Rockford paved oval got its Saturday night show in with veteran Steve Rubeck of Rockford claiming top honors in the 30-lap, NASCAR-sanctioned, Late Model stock car feature race over Alex Papini. Papini, the 23-year-old, second generation, driver from Machesney Park, has been tough to beat at Rockford this season, already winning four feature races and leading the division standings at the speedway. Rockford has been suffering some low car counts in its Late Model ranks so far this season with only eight cars listed in the final feature finish this past Saturday.
Sycamore Speedway, celebrating its 50th year of operation, was set to host a big night of racing Saturday, featuring DIRTcar United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) late models and modifieds, but the special program was rained out. The event was to showcase the return of“full-bore” late models to the track for the first time in over a decade.
Indiana’s Illiana Motor Speedway, Shadyhill Speedway and Plymouth Speedway were also victims of the rain. Young Paul Shafer Jr. of Portage, Ind., leads the Late Model division standings at Illiana. Shafer is only in his second season of Late Model action at the Schererville half-mile paved oval. Shafer is the son of Paul Shafer, a front running Late Model dirt track competitor from years past, who currently competes in the Legends division on Illiana’s quarter-mile asphalt track.
Mark Ross Jr.
(Stan Kalwasinski Photo)
Mark Ross Jr. put his name in the record books on May 4 as the 23-year-old Highland resident captured the 30-lap Schepel Buick GMC Super Late Model stock car feature race. Scoring his first-ever Super Late Model main event win, Ross kept his Chevrolet Impala SS out front for all 30 circuits.
The car Ross wheeled to the win is a former Jeff Cannon-driven machine, which Cannon, the three-time Illiana champion, helped Ross get ready for the new racing season. Ross had raced late models in 2011, but sat out the 2012 season.
“I couldn’t have done it without him (Cannon),” Ross commented. “He helps me with the setup and tells me what I need to do. He pretty much tells me everything about racing that I don’t know. I wouldn’t be here without him and the rest of my crew and family.”
Another Indiana raceway, South Bend Speedway got in its scheduled heat races for the night, but the rains came after intermission and washed out the feature races. The high banked, quarter-mile, paved South Bend oval will present the 16th annual Jim Blount Memorial Race on Wednesday Evening, July 24. $7,500 will be awarded to the winner of the outlaw late models feature.
Grundy County Speedway in Morris tried everything to get its regular Friday night racing card in with all racing completed except for the Late Model 30-lap main event –another rain victim. The Tom Smith-promoted Kankakee Fairgrounds Speedway canceled its entire Friday night of dirt track racing, rescheduling its weekly action to Sunday evening.
Bill Brown in his Buick convertible at Soldier Field in 1957
(Bob Sheldon Photo Collection)
Chicagoland stock car racing old timer Bill Brown passed away April 19 at the age of 87. Once known as the “Pride of Roseland” in reference to the far southside neighborhood of Chicago that he grew up and lived in, Brown raced both on the local scene and throughout the country, beginning his career around 1950.
Brown was a feature winner at local ovals such as Raceway Park, Soldier Field, Santa Fe Speedway, and the almost forgotten 87th Street Speedway. One of Brown’s big local wins was a NASCAR Short Track Grand National event at Soldier Field in June of 1957 over Tom Pistone in front of over 7,000 fans. Brown also won a 100 miler on the dirt at Santa Fe in 1954 with one of his earliest feature wins coming at 87th Street in 1952.
When late model action was introduced to Raceway Park in 1957, Brown was one of the leading drivers, finishing second in the final point standings behind champion Bud Koehler. Brown scored three late model feature wins during the ’57 season, including taking home top honors in“twin 50s” feature competition on July 4th. Brown scored two more feature wins at Raceway in 1958.
As early as 1953, Brown was listed among drivers competing in the “new car” ranks of the Midwest Association for Race Cars (MARC), the forerunner of the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA). Some 50 years later, Brown would tell the story of taking a Hudson Hornet passenger car and filling the field for a MARC race and coming home with a “top 10” finish.
Brown, along with other Chicago area drivers Don Oldenberg, Bob Pronger, Bill Cornwall, Dave Hirschfield and Red DuVall, competed on the new Society of Autosport, Fellowship and Education (SAFE) all-convertible stock car circuit in 1955. Wheeling a brand new 1955 Mercury Montclair, Brown won the inaugural SAFE Circuit of Champions “All Stars”convertible series 100 lapper at the Alabama State Fairgrounds in Birmingham on May 1, 1955.
Purchasing the new Mercury for $3,500 from Swets Mercury in Blue Island, Brown commented years later that it still had a radio in it when he raced it. Oldenberg was the SAFE champion in 1955 with Brown reportedly finishing second in the standings.
With SAFE merging with NASCAR for the 1956 season, Brown competed in 33 NASCAR convertible races that year, finishing 19th in the points. Brown drove his own Mercury, freshened up to a ’56 version, and the Sam McCuthen-owned ’56 Chevy. A fourth place finish at Sedalia, Mo., in his’56 Mercury was his best NASCAR convertible effort.
Brown competed in only one NASCAR Grand National event, the predecessor of the current Sprint Cup Series, racing in the Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C. on September 3, 1956. Driving a Buick, Brown started 56th in the 70-car field and was involved in a scary-looking accident as Brown crashed through the guard rail and ended up outside the track in a destroyed race car, but escaping injury.
Brown raced into the early 1960s. Rest in Peace, Bill Brown.
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