The team of driver Bud Koehler and car owner/mechanic Bill Koenig would win their first Late Model track championship at Blue Island’s Raceway Park – the “World’s Busiest Track.” Koehler, who previously had won five stock car championships at the raceway, won an impressive 28 feature races during the season, including the track’s annual 300 Lap Classic in Koenig’s 1965 Chevelle No. 77. Koehler bested Jerry Kemperman and Stash Kullman in the final point standings. Wayne Adams Jr. won the Novice division crown.
Dick Nelson was the top man in Late model action on the dirt at Santa Fe Speedway. Nelson claimed his third track title over Don Waldvogel and Danny Albrecht. Marty Ridderhoff was the track’s Sportsman champion. Santa Fe hosted two big year-end races in 1966 with Nelson winning a 200 lapper in September in his ’66 Chevelle No. 11 and Gilbert “Skippy” Michaels taking a win in a 250-lap Sunday afternoon race in early October, driving an Olds Cutlass convertible No. 7. In was sort of a sad year at Santa Fe as midget driver Jimmy Davies died from injuries suffered in a practice crash at the speedway on June 3. Days later, on June 5, defending Late Model champion Ken Finley would suffer a fatal heart attack after winning the night’s feature race.
Roy Martinelli captured 16 features in his Martinelli Brothers ’64 Chevy convertible No. 7 and won the Late Model track championship at O’Hare Stadium, the banked quarter-mile paved oval in Schiller Park. Winning the title for the second year in a row, Martinelli defeated teammate Erik Johnson and Bob Dotter in the final points. Johnson and his Martinelli Brothers ’64 Chevy convertible No. 8 won the O’Hare American 500 lapper on August 6. Bob Roper was the track’s Cadet (sportsman) champion and Bob Boyce was top man in O’Hare’s Figure 8 competition. Some of the track’s Friday night racing was televised on UHF television, Channel 32.
Eleven feature wins and 18 fastest qualifier awards propelled William “Whitey” Gerken to Late Model season title honors at the Rockford Speedway. During the season, Gerken and his fast Ced’s Muffler Service-sponsored ’65 Chevelle convertible No. 54 set a new qualifying track record at Rockford, circling the banked oval in 14.98 seconds. Don Leach was named the track’s Late Model Rookie of the Year. Speedway president Hugh Deery and Director of Competition Bill Earnest saw Wisconsin’s Dick Trickle and his ’63 Ford No. 99 win the inaugural National Short Track Championships 200 at the speedway on October 2, defeating Bruce Sparrman, Don Leach, Eddie Jast and Bob Senneker.
Gerken was also crowned the Soldier Field champion for 1966 as Earnest tried his hand at promoting Friday night races at the mammoth arena in Chicago. Eight racing programs were held with Gerken winning three features. Ted Hane won the season finale on July 22. Mike McGreevy won a USAC National Midget feature race during the year.
Ray Young was the Late Model champion at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind. Young drove his ’64 Ford Fairlane ‘427’ to the title over Buck Hinkle and Bill Carr. Carr won the track’s 50-lap Season Championship race while Conan “Moose” Myers of Fort Wayne, Ind., won the annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial race for the second year in a row. Myers and his ’57 Chevy convertible No. 0 defeated Bill Lutz and Elmer Musgrave in the 100-lap chase.
Johnny Reimer and Jim Cossman were repeat champions at the quarter-mile dirt Waukegan Speedway. Reimer posted his fourth consecutive Modified division title while Cossman won his second stock car championship, winning the Season Championship 50 lapper in his Chevy II in September. Racing on Indiana dirt tracks saw Elmer Embry win the championship for the flathead coupe division at the Rensselaer Speedway. Jerry Glat was the Late Model champion at the Broadway Speedway in Crown Point with Larry Cope taking the championship for the flathead coupe class.
Paul Burrow in a ’57 Chevy was the Late Model champion at the Bo-Jo Speedway in Sycamore. Jim Vandermeir won the 50-lap Season Championship race in September over Burrow and Bill Hollis. Arnie Gardner won the open-competition season finale on September 16 over Vandermeir, Danny Albrecht and Whitey Gerken.
Bobby Shell, Jerry Peterson and Arnie Gardner were Late Model stock car feature winners during racing action at the Mazon Speed Bowl during the annual Grundy County Fair over the Labor Day weekend. Bob Wente won a USAC National Midget 50-lap feature in the Shannon Brothers Offy in August. Other local USAC Midget feature winners were Jimmy Knight with two wins at O’Hare, Henry Pens with wins at both O’Hare and Rockford, Don Meacham at Santa Fe and Bob-Jo and Chuck Arnold at Santa Fe.
The Kankakee Valley Stock Car Racing Association presented weekly stock car racing at the Sugar Island Speedway near Aroma Park. Jim O’Connor (Late Model) and Gary Johnson (Old Model) were the champions at the fifth of a mile dirt track. It would be the final year of racing at the speedway.
Gene Varing copped the United Auto Racing Association (UARA) midget driving championship. Varing and his Chevy II-powered open wheeler won one feature race and finished ahead of John “Pancho” Padilla and Bob Richards in the final points tally. Jim McClean was named the association’s Rookie of the Year. Henry Pens closed out the year by winning the 75-lap Season Championship race at the flat quarter-mile paved Joliet Memorial Stadium. Former UARA driver Chuck Rodee died from injuries suffered in a crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 14.