THROUGH THE YEARS ... 1957
By Stan Kalwasinski
1957 saw NASCAR’s convertible division once again visit Soldier Field, while late model stock cars became a weekly feature at Raceway Park .
Glen Wood of Stuart , Va. , who later would gain notoriety as a member of NASCAR’s famed “Wood Brothers” racing team, captured the 100-lap NASCAR convertible feature event at Soldier Field on June 29. Only eight NASCAR regulars made the trip to Chicago and they finished in the first eight positions. Trailing Wood’s ’56 Ford were Wilfred “Possum” Jones, Larry Frank, Joe Weatherly, Ken Rush, Bill Poor, Bob Welborn and Ted Chamberlain.
The official results showed a field of 24 cars with Roseland’s Bill Brown pacing the early laps. Welborn, the ’56 NASCAR convertible champion, took the lead from Brown and held it until the 86th lap when brake problems forced him out of the race. A short field of NASCAR regulars allowed a number of local drivers and others to fill the field. Other familiar names in the lineup included Detroit ’s Mason Bright, Dave Hirschfield, who finished ninth and 10th, along with Bill Vesper, Al Swenson, Tom Pistone and “Mr. Moto” – whose real name was Bob Denny.
The 12th annual Chicago Park District Police Benevolent event kicked off the racing season at Soldier Field on June 1 as local and national celebrities crowded the arena with actor Jack Webb of Dragnet TV show fame being one of the celebs. A 50-lap NASCAR Short Track Grand National race highlighted the evening with Chicago ’s Tom Pistone and his ’57 Chevy scoring the win. Chasing Pistone as starter Art Kelly’s checkered flag fell were Bill Brown, Gene Marmor, Don Oldenberg and Bill Amick of Portland , Ore. A crowd of 62,000, reported to be the largest in Chicago stock car racing history, witnessed the program, but Soldier Field and NASCAR would go their separate ways by the end of the year.
Oldenberg would claim track championship honors at Soldier Field, which again was the scene of “short season” as various other events interfered with the racing at the lakefront arena. The 35-year-old Highland , Ind. driver and his Buick won a number of features at the “Field” with the first one coming on June 22. Wisconsin ’s Frank Burany claimed two United States Auto Club (USAC) midget 100 lappers, scoring wins on June 8 and again on July 27.
Owners and promoters, Pete Jenin and Jimmy Derrico opened up Raceway Park on Easter Sunday afternoon, April 21, with Bill Van Allen scoring the victory in the 50-lap opening day headliner. Van Allen and his Braley Electric-sponsored “modified” Nash Rambler No. 6 defeated two-time track champion Bud Koehler and Harry Simonsen. Five of the first seven scheduled shows at the “World’s Busiest Track” were lost to the weather with Van Allen winning again on May 6. The cigar-chewing Johnny Schipper posted his first ever feature win on May 22, wheeling the ex-Bob Button championship-winning ’50 Olds.
Raceway officials announced the scheduling of an “all late model” show on Wednesday, June 12, working with officials from O’Hare Stadium. The event was rained out and rescheduled for the following Wednesday. ’55 track champion Tom Cox, who was now a O’Hare regular, won the 30-lap feature race in his ’56 Pontiac. Chasing Cox at the checkered flag were Fred Lorenzen in a ’57 Olds, Gene Marmor in a ’56 Chevy, Bill Brown in his ’55 Buick and Bob Pronger in a ’57 Ford. A field of 18 late models started the main event.
Koehler and his “fresh” ’56 Studebaker Golden Hawk won a couple of early Raceway late model feature, along with the likes of Pistone and Brown. Late model rules were in force with Pistone claiming a total of seven including the 75-lap Mid Season Championship battle on July 24. In early August, Van Allen returned to Raceway with his own ‘56 Golden Hawk, capturing the 100-lap Season Championship race on August 24 and the track’s annual 300-lap Classic on September 7. The race marked the first time that Raceway hosted with 300-lap battle under the lights. Van Allen bested Oldenberg by a three-lap margin. Brown, Johnny Kapovich, Bob Williams and Louie Panico rounded out the top six. Koehler, who would be crowned the ’57 Raceway champion with a total of eight feature wins, was leading the 300, but was forced out on the 60th lap with transmission problems. Augie Wolf was the track’s novice division titlist.
Raceway Park was the scene of four United States Auto Club (USAC)-sanctioned midget programs with Washington state speedster Clark “Shorty” Templeman claiming two victories and Len Sutton and Gene Hartley each scoring a win apiece. Sutton’s win came on August 14 in the Ashley Wright Kurtis-Kraft roadster over Rex Easton and relative USAC newcomer A.J. Foyt. For the second consecutive year, Templeman claimed USAC’s “national” midget championship.
For the second straight season, Gene Marmor captured late model track championship honors at O’Hare Stadium in Schiller Park . Marmor won a total of 13 feature races at the banked, quarter-mile paved oval, which pretty much sat in the shadows of Chicago ’s O’Hare International Airport. Trailing Marmor in the final standings were Tom Cox, Ken Paulsen and Arnie Gardner. Fred Lorenzen won a total of seven feature races at O’Hare including a 100 lapper on August 25. Lorenzen and his Jake Talarico-owned ’57 Chevy defeated Roy Martinelli, Paulsen, Tony Venturini, Mike Terrafino and Art Seckman. USAC midgets visited O’Hare for the first time on August 21 with Jack Turner of Seattle , Wash. , winning the 100-lap feature over Foyt and Templeman.
Trying to get things underway as early as March 24, Mance Park Speedway in Hodgkins finally got Chicago area racing underway with its opener on April 14. Bill Van Allen, who would go on to claim the season’s overall track championship honors, bested Arnie Gardner and Erik Johnson. For the second time in his career, Kenny Boyer of Highland , Ind. garnered top season track championship honors at Santa Fe Park Speedway near Willow Springs. Boyer, who won the Santa Fe title for the first time in 1953 during the track’s inaugural season, capped off a successful campaign by winning the track’s 300 lapper late in the year. Don Waldvogel from Lockport posted his third track championship on the dirt at the Kankakee Fairgrounds Speedway. Both Waldvogel and Boyer scored 50-lap wins at Kankakee .
Broadway Speedway in Crown Point , Ind. , on Route 53, about three miles south of U.S. 30, opened up for business with open competition midget racing and modified/coupe stock car racing. Building the track since about 1950, Ralph Conner and his son, Don, finally opened the track with midgets racing on Friday nights and stock cars taking over the quarter-mile dirt oval on Saturdays. Ralph Luse of Monon , Ind. was the stock car champion at the Rensselaer fairgrounds oval. Wisconsin racer “Fuzzy” Fassbender was the modified stock car champion on the dirt at the Waukegan Speedway.
Tilford “Red” Aase was the stock car champion at the Rockford Speedway for the second straight year. Motorcycle racing was the mainstay of Illiana Motor Speedway’s summer schedule with auto races being few in number. On Wednesday evening, July 24, Jerry Unser wheeled his ’57 Ford to victory in a 100-lap, USAC-sanctioned stock car battle at the Schererville, Ind. half-mile dirt oval. Unser, the older brother of future Indianapolis 500 winners, Bobby and Al, defeated Fred Lorenzen and Earl “Whitey” Johnson. The pride of the Chicagoland area, Tony Bettenhausen returned to Illiana on Wednesday night, September 4, to compete in a USAC midget event. “The Tinley Park Express” started 14th in the 50 lap main event and wheeled Harry Turner’s Offenhauser engine-powered midget to the win in record time. Bettenhausen defeated Gene Hartley, Rex Easton, Jack Turner, Len Sutton and Chuck Weyant. Earlier in the evening, Sutton set a new qualifying track record for midgets, touring the northwest Indiana oval in 23.93 seconds. Bill Quigley and Vic Ellis won “open competition” open-wheel “big car” events during the season.
Mazon Speedbowl saw Arnie Gardner of Geneva win a 300-lap stock car race on Sunday afternoon, September 15. Hal Ruyle finished second behind Gardner ’s 57 Chevy. Rich Clement came home third, followed by Bob Penoyer. 33 entries were in the race. Bob Tattersall of Streator won both midget feature races during the annual Grundy County Fair. Wheeling the Frank Pavese-owned Ford V8 60 No. 27, Tattersall defeated George Sellery and Ken Rubright in the 30 lap main on Sunday night, September 1. On Labor Day evening, Tattersall again won the feature race after setting a new track record for Ford-powered midgets with a lap of 13.74. Gardner won a 30-lap stock car feature during the Fair on Sunday afternoon, September 1.
Chicago ’s George Sellery was the top driver in United Auto Racing Association (UARA)-sanctioned midget competition. Sellery wheeled Bob Lockard’s No. 99 to the title over Harold “Wild Willie” Wildhaber, Tattersall, Willie Wilson, Bernie Wilhelmi and Johnny Meyers. Warren “Newt” White was UARA’s “rookie of the year.” The UARA midgets competed on a weekly Saturday evening basis at Joliet Memorial Stadium. Sellery won the Joliet “season opener” on June 1, while Wildhaber won the 50-lap Mid Season Championship battle. Meyers closed out the Joliet season by winning the 50-lap Season Championship race on September 28.
NASCAR hosted its annual “Speed Weeks” during February with three area drivers competing in NASCAR’s 39-lap/160-mile run on the 4.1-mile beach and road course at Daytona Beach , Fla. Don Oldenberg, who finished 14th in a “factory-backed” ’57 Plymouth , Ken Love (25th) and Hank Chapman 35th) were the Chicagoland drivers in the 57-car field. Cotton Owens in a “factory-funded” 1957 Pontiac , prepared by Highland , Ind. ’s Ray Nichels, won the race after a duel with Paul Goldsmith, who eventually fell out with a blown engine in his Smokey Yunick ’57 Chevy. Bill Lutz of Louisville , Ky. , two years from winning his first stock car title at O’Hare Stadium, finished sixth in a Petty Engineering ’57 Oldsmobile No. 43, a teammate to Lee Petty’s No. 42 Olds. Ironically, it was the only NASCAR Grand National start that year for Lutz, along with Oldenberg, Love and Chapman.
The day before the 160-mile Grand National contest, NASCAR held a 160-mile convertible division race with Tim Flock wheeling a Bill Stroppe’s “factory” ’57 Mercury to the win. Lutz was in the lineup along with Chicago area “locals” Oldenberg, Bill Vesper, Bob Pronger and Tom Pistone. Pistone and his “57 Plymouth finished 12th for the best effort among the five. Pronger started fourth in a Don Oldenberg-owned Buick “rag top” but finished 23rd in his reddish-colored No. 99. The Buick caught on fire during the race and Pronger drove to the pits with the rear section of his car ablaze. When the ’57 convertible season ended, Bob Welborn had notched his second straight NASCAR title. Oldenberg finished 25th in the standings with seven “top 10” finishes in 12 starts. Making six appearances, Lutz finished 40th in the standings with Pistone ending up 49th with four starts.
Wheeling a ’57 Pontiac, Dave Hirschfield was crowned the stock car champion of the new Independent Car Owner Drivers Association (ICODA), which was formed earlier in the season by drivers Larry Odo and Vince Rizzo. Red Swanberg, Sal Tovella, Tom Croft and Mal Lane were among the top drivers in the final ICODA points. Red Duvall of Hammond , Ind. in his “supercharged” ex-Troy Ruttman ’57 Ford won a 200-lap/100-mile Midwest Association for Race Cars (MARC) race at Ohio ’s Toledo Raceway Park on October 13. Duvall passed leader Nelson Stacy on the last lap as Stacy’s engine “blew up.” Other area speedsters there included eighth place-finishing Tom Pistone, Bob Pronger and Don Oldenberg, who was the afternoon’s fastest qualifier in his ’57 Buick.
A winner on the old board track at Soldier Field in 1939, California ’s Sam Hanks won the 41st Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day in George Salih’s Belond Exhaust “laydown” roadster. Former Soldier Field stock car champion Jim Rathmann came home second with Chicago midget racing “old timer” Paul Russo finishing fourth in the powerful Novi racer. Russo’s teammate Tony Bettenhausen ended up 15th, five laps down to the winner. O’Hare/USAC midget feature winner Jack Turner finished 11th, while Eddie Russo, nephew of Paul and 1950 Raceway Park midget champion, crashed on the “parade lap” with Elmer George and was credited with 32nd position.
Unfortunately, tragedy was part of the 1957 racing scene as Indiana ’s Bill Clemans, a front runner in years passed at Illiana, Santa Fe and at Chicago ’s 87th Street Speedway , died in August from extensive burns suffered in a modified stock car crash at Toronto Canada ’s Pinecrest Speedway. Hank Nykaza, 37-year-old midget racer form East Chicago Heights, died from injuries suffered in a USAC midget racing crash at the “Milwaukee Mile” on August 24.