By Stan Kalwasinski


Longtime Chicago area stock car competitor Sal Tovella introduced his new racing organization – the International Racing Association (IRA) to Midwestern stock car fans.  Chicago’s Bill Venturini was the champion of the new association that attempted to give both USAC and ARCA stock car divisions a run for their money.  A total of eight IRA feature races were held during the season with Venturini scoring four wins on his way to the title.


World of Outlaw Midgets (WOOM) and the United Auto Racing Association (UARA) provided Chicago area midget racing fans plenty of action.


Ohio’s Mack McClellan, driving for WOOM founder, supporter and sponsor Bob Tezak, won his second consecutive WOOM title.  McClellan, who scored seven feature wins during the campaign, finished ahead of Jim Gates, Bob Richards and Bob Bennett in the final standings.  The WOOM circuit saw action on a weekly basis at the paved Joliet Memorial Stadium with Richards winning the “Stadium” title. 


After a 13-race schedule, Bill Minkler, Jr. was the UARA midget champion.  Minkler topped Rich Corson and Steve Spencer for the title. 


Track champion for the second time in his career, Frank Gawlinski was the late model “top gun” at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., winning eight out of 15 of Illiana’s regular late model feature races.  Winning the track championship and the speedway’s annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 lapper gave Gawlinski the distinction of being the first driver to ever win both the track championship and the Bettenhausen 100 in the same year.  Relative newcomer Scott Tanzillo was Illiana’s sportsman class champ.


Harvey native Bobby Weltmeyer was the late model champ at Raceway Park near Blue Island. Weltmeyer won a total of 33 late model main events at the “short” quarter-mile paved oval, including an incredible 18 in a row.  Weltmeyer’s older brother, Dave was the late model titlist at the Grundy County Speedway in Morris, besting Gawlinski and Ron Bloomberg for his first career Grundy crown.


Danny Dean captured 11 feature wins on his way to winning Grundy’s sportsman division crown, while Bill Sontag, Jr. was the budget bumper champion. 


Six-year late model veteran John Provenzano grabbed top honors in Santa Fe Speedway’s late model ranks.  Provenzano captured eight feature wins on his way to his first ‘Fe late model championship.  Jeff Elder won his second straight Santa Fe sportsman division title.  Calling Mississippi home, Brian Leslie won Santa Fe’s traditional season-ending National Clay Track Championship 200 over Tony Izzo and Denny Falkos. 


A lot of open-wheel action took place at Santa Fe with Mel Kenyon (USAC midgets) and Chuck Gurney and Rich Vogler (USAC sprint cars) winning main events.  Other open-wheel winners at Santa Fe included Steve Kinser (World of Outlaw sprint cars) and Bob Richards (WOOM midgets). 


For the fourth time in his career, Jim O’Connor was the dirt late model champion at the Kankakee Fairgrounds Speedway.  O’Connor defeated Roger Long and Izzo for the championship.  Dave Knorr collected seven feature wins on his way to garnering the track’s sportsman division title.  In all, Knorr, a resident of Lowell, Ind., would win a total of 19 feature races during the season at various tracks.

The Rensselaer (Ind.) Raceway saw Dick Potts claim his eighth late model track championship, winning five features along the way.  One of Potts’ victories was the track’s annual Brooks Ford Hoosier Clay Track Championship 100-lap battle.  Knorr was the track’s sportsman class “king.”


Mike Hollifield was a repeat winner in the late model ranks at the Southlake Speedway in Crown Point, Ind.  Mike Kingma was the dirt track’s street stock champion.


Second generation speedster Mike Gardner won the super late model stock car championship at the Sycamore Speedway for the second time.  Don Markham was the track’s late model champ.


John Luther picked up his second straight late model championship at the Rockford Speedway.  For the fourth time in his career, veteran Joe Shear was the winner of the speedway’s annual National Short Track Championships 200, beating John Zeigler and Ted Musgrave.   


Missing a couple of races due to a broken ankle and other injuries suffered in a July crash, Jim Sauter of Necedah, Wis. dominated the second half of the year and won his second straight ARTGO Racing late model tour championship.  Winning five out of the last seven ARTGO features held during the year, Sauter bested Shear and Tom Reffner in the final points tally.  The ARTGO “stars and cars” competed at several area speedways including Rockford, Grundy and Illiana.


Sauter won ARTGO events at Grundy and Illiana, while Al Schill (Rockford), Dave Watson (Rockford) and Junior Hanley (Grundy) were other local ARTGO winners.


Rockford area midget pilot Kevin Olson won the USAC National Midget Championship, driving for fellow Illinois resident Lee Carey.


Tragedy was not absent from the 1982 season as Chicago stock car driver, Gene Richards, 29, died from injuries suffered in a crash during the running of an ARCA-sanctioned 200 mile race at Talladega, Ala. in July.