THROUGH THE YEARS ... 1972
By Stan Kalwasinski
Dick Nelson won his seventh career late model track championship at Santa Fe Speedway near Willow Springs. Nelson in his yellow 1972 Chevelle picked up his third straight crown at the popular clay track racing facility. Nelson bested Jim O'Connor and Al Johnson in the final point standings. Bobby Mann and his 1961 Ford claimed the track's top sportsman honors. O'Connor and his Seth Piper-prepared 1972 Chevelle won the speedway's annual National Clay Track Championship 200 lapper at season's end.
In addition to his success at Santa Fe, Nelson, the veteran Chicago area speedster, also claimed late model feature wins at the Kankakee Fairgrounds Speedway, the Grundy County Speedway (Morris) and at the Illiana Motor Speedway (Schererville, Ind.).
Tony Izzo introduced a short-wheelbase Camaro to the late model action at Kankakee and made off with the season championship. Izzo picked up six feature wins in his 1971 model and notched his first career driving crown. Terry Marchukaitus was the sportsman champion, while rookie driver Mark Hubert won the six cylinder title. Nelson captured the season-ending 100 lap chase on the Kankakee dirt quarter mile.
Lee Schuler grabbed top honors in late model competition at the Grundy paved speed plant. Schuler wheeled a 1972 Chevelle to four feature wins during the track's second season of operation. Schuler bested Ed Hoffman, Tom Jones and Ray Young in the final point standings. Lyndell Bumgardner and his 1969 Camaro scored six feature wins on his way to claiming the track's super six (cylinder) driving crown.
Hoosier State racer Elmer Embry picked up top honors in the late model division at the Illiana half mile paved oval. Embry battled with Hoffman almost all season long with Embry besting Hoffman by a mere seven points in a controversial final points tally. Embry and his Tom Cellini-owned 1972 Camaro won three features during the regular season, while Hoffman claimed 13. Eleven different drivers won late model main events during the campaign with Joe Ruttman in a 1972 Chevelle winning Illiana's 11th annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 lap event. Billy K. (Kamizeles) in a 1963 Ford "fastback" was the track's sportsman champion.
Waukegan Speedway saw George Dukas win the late model sportsman championship, driving a 1961 Chevy to 15 feature wins. Dukas started the year at the quarter mile paved oval in what was known as the hobby stock division with the class being renamed late model sportsman after the track's regular late model drivers boycotted the speedway in early July. Rick Kleich (5 features), Lee Schuler (3) and former four-time track champion Jim Cossman (3) were leading feature winners before the late models were dropped from the schedule. Waukegan suffered seven straight weather-related postponements at the beginning of the year.
Bud Koehler was again the man to beat at Raceway Park in 1972. Koehler piloted Bill Koenig's 1972 Monte Carlo and 1969 Camaro to 24 late model feature wins including the track's annual 300 Lap Classic. Registering his eighth track championship, Koehler finished the season with a career total of 391 stock car feature wins at the tight paved quarter mile, finishing ahead of Ray Young, Bill McEnery, Jerry Kemperman and defending track champion Ray Freeman in the points. George Abbott was the track's super six titlist.
Bob Kelly snared top late model honors for the second time in his career on the dirt at the Sycamore Speedway. Kelly and his Chevelle bested Izzo and veteran Arnie Gardner in the final point standings. Marvin Palmer was named the track's “socker stocks” champion.
Second generation driving star Joe Shear copped his sixth straight late model championship at the Rockford Speedway. The high banked quarter mile paved speedway saw Shear start the season with a 1970 Chevelle before bringing out a fresh 1972 Camaro at about mid season. In October, Shear picked up over $3,000 for his winning efforts in Rockford's annual National Short Track Championships 200 lap marathon. Scoring his first Rockford 200 win, Shear defeated Jim Sauter ('72 Camaro) and Dave Watson ('71 Chevelle).
Dick Potts was the late model champion at the almost circle-shaped Rensselaer (Ind.) Raceway. The fairgrounds dirt oval saw Dave Logan win the track's late model sportsman crown with Ron Burke picking up top honors in the modified/coupe division.
Palmer Boyd and Rich Wade raced hard all season long in late model sportsman competition at the Broadway Speedway (Crown Point, Ind.). Guiding a 1963 Fairlane during the campaign, Boyd was crowned the season champion for the second year in a row.
Bob Richards was a dominant figure in United Auto Racing Association (UARA) midget action. Richards and his Sesco-powered, Edmunds chassis mount won eight feature victories on his way to his first career UARA title. 12 of the association's 20 events took place at the Illiana half mile. George Kladis in the Bob Lockard-owned, rotary-style Wankel engine-powered midget was among the winners. Denny "The Kid" Cullick in Harry Turner's Chevy II-powered open wheeler won the National Alliance of Midget Auto Racing (NAMAR) 40 lapper at Illiana.
Once the stronghold of UARA midget racing, Joliet Memorial Stadium once again hosted mini stock racing on a weekly basis. Ken Willis and his Volkswagen claimed the season title.
The United States Auto Club (USAC) midget tour visited the area on four occasions with both Santa Fe and Rockford hosting events. Duane "Pancho" Carter, Gary Ponzini and Joliet's own Jim McClean won at Santa Fe, while Lee Kunzman was the victor at Rockford. 22 year old Rich Vogler of Glen Ellyn captured his first career USAC midget contests during the season, wheeling his Harry Turner-owned ride to victories at Sun Prairie, Wis. and East Moline, Ill. Other local drivers winning USAC midget races were Gary Bettenhausen (4 wins) and Roger West (1) with Bettenhausen also winning two USAC sprint car battles.
Chicago area chargers Bay Darnell and Sal Tovella were regulars on USAC's stock car circuit. Darnell finished fourth in points and Tovella seventh, while infrequent USAC competitor Whitey Gerken finished 20th in the standings.