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Honoring pioneer racers in the Quad-Cities

13 Apr

They still remember Shorty Bennett, left, 2007 Hall of Fame inductee, who signs autographs for a line of waiting fans on the rear deck of a replica of a Late Model he drove in the 1960s. Phil Roberts photo.

A 1968 photo of Jim Gerber in his Dodge Charger with the late flagman, Buzz Reed. From the Phil Roberts Collection.

Shane Davis following a 1987 IMCA Modified win in Princeton, Ill. Photo courtesy of Shane Davis.

Brian Stuart was just 3 years old when he attended his first race at Quad-City Raceway in East Moline, Ill. Now 34, Stuart has just concluded his third season promoting weekly races at the track. And one of his proudest accomplishments was starting the Quad-City Raceway Hall of Fame, held annually in September in conjunction with a Hall of Fame race at the quarter-mile dirt oval.

“It was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, since before I became a promoter,” he said. “It needed to be done in the Quad-Cities.”
The Hall of Fame idea was on his mind when Stuart took over promotion of the track in 2007, and he quickly decided, “We’re hosting it. This is something we’re going to do.”

But he stresses the Hall of Fame is not just about those who’ve raced at Quad-City Raceway. It’s about racing history and those who made it in the Quad-Cities area of eastern Iowa and western Illinois.

“I love the history of racing around the Quad-Cities,” said Stuart, and he’s seen his share of it. His grandfather, Jack Stuart, turned wrenches on Terry Ryan’s cars and his father, Harry, later did the same thing.
Harry Stewart eventually covered racing at Quad-City Raceway for Hawkeye Racing News and the Milan (Ill.) Mirror newspaper, and Brian Stuart tagged along to the track with him. “My dad couldn’t go the races without me.”

Brian Stuart’s mother, Val, used her son’s love of racing to guarantee Brian’s good behavior. “If you sit still in church,” she’d tell him, “you can go to the races.”

Brian Stuart and I had breakfast one summer day in 2007 to talk about his Quad-City Raceway Hall of Fame idea, and we devised some pre-requisites for nomination to the Hall of Fame.

An inductee must possess one or more of these attributes:

* Success — Lots of wins or some big wins.
* Longevity — Ten or more seasons of racing competition or involvement.
* Notoriety — A Dale Earnhardt-type of guy.
* Congeniality — Great with fans no matter what the situation
* Racing ambassador — A model citizen and good with the media.
* Contribution to racing — An inventor, pioneer or risktaker.

The Hall of Fame, who inductees are selected based on the votes of a committee and racing fans, is not just about the number of driver wins, Stuart stresses.”It’s about drivers who stick around and sign autographs, too.”

The 2007 Hall of Fame inductees were current drivers Hershel Roberts and Gary Webb, retired drivers Shorty Bennett and Ray Guss Sr., deceased former drivers Benny Hofer and Ronnie Weedon and deceased racing sponsor Bob Eriksen.

In 2008, the class included deceased former drivers Dean Montgomery, who later flagged races, and Jerry Reinhart; and retired drivers Shane Davis, who later announced races, Jim Gerber, who later promoted races, Terry Ryan and Ernie Speth; and deceased contributor Doyle Bennett, who once drove but is best remembered for many years as a flagman.

The Hall of Fame inductees in 2009 were current driver Ray Guss Jr.; retired driver Duane Steffe; deceased drivers Tuffy Meyer, Charlie Moffit and Bill Starr; and longtime contributors Gene Freeman, a former crew chief for Ronnie Weedon, and Ken Reimers, a racing official.

Sometimes, Stuart said, racing people just don’t realize how much they are celebrities to racing fans.

He noted that two Hall of Fame drivers, Ray Guss Jr. and Hershel Roberts, recently stood under the grandstand after a night of races at Quad-City Raceway, to meet fans and sign autographs.

“They talked to everybody,” Stuart said. “They were there two hours straight. Drivers like this create their own fan base.”

So what has the response been to the Quad-City Raceway Hall of Fame? “It’s been very positive,” Stuart said, adding that he’s received lots of nice letters. Attendance at the ceremony is growing every year.

A 2007 inductee, Shorty Bennett, promised to return to the ceremony every year and has done so. Other inductees have, too.

“We’re just trying to pay respect to the racers who paved the way for competitors today,” said Stuart.

TWO QCR HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES IN THEIR OWN WORDS

By Jim Gerber, Davenport, Iowa, who has driven everything with wheels but is best known for driving Late Model stock cars.

I was very flattered and surprised that the induction committee thought of me to be inducted into the Quad City Raceway Hall of Fame. As time goes by, there are new race fans, and the drivers of the past are not a part of their racing memories.

I drove at East Moline from 1963 to 1999. Had a lot of fun times as well as some heartbreakers. But that all comes with being a racer.

In those days we built almost everything ourselves. Even down to the wheels. I remember spending many hours making wide rims by cutting two Buick rims apart and welding the wide halves together, then welding the wide bolt pattern Ford centers into them.

A funny thing happened one day when I was starting to weld the center onto a wheel. I would put a spindle with the hub in the vice, bolt the center onto it, then set the finished wheel on the center to make sure it was straight. The assembly was high enough that I would stand on our anvil to do the welding.

One day I got on the anvil, flipped the welding hood down and promptly fell off. The garage doors were open behind me. And I saw the reflection in the glass of the welding helmet, and when I moved my head it disoriented me.

I enjoyed my two years promoting races at Davenport Speedway. I really thought an open wheel show would be successful. We ran Midgets and IMCA-type Modified stock cars one week and the next it would be Sprint Cars and the IMCA-type cars. The racing was really close and exciting, but it was always the same 700 or so spectators every week. Not enough to pay the bills.

One of the things that used to aggravate me was to go to a track that was a big mud ball and spend at least a half an hour ironing it out. When I prepped the track, it was ready to hot lap on. Smooth and tacky. About three or four laps to warm the engine and then go for it. The water was deep under the surface. It didn’t look tacky, but many Midget guys got a surprise in time trials when they missed the setup and ended up on their head.

I kept reshaping the track each week to give it multiple grooves. I remember one night in the Modified stock car feature when they ran most of the race three abreast lap after lap. Really exiting.

I tried a lot of unconventional things to try to draw new fans. One was a motorcycle wheelie contest. One-hundred bucks to the rider who could ride the farthest on one wheel. Guess who won that? Kevin Doty (who later died in a 2005 Midget racing accident). He borrowed a bike from a fellow contestant, who as I remember had gone the farthest up until then, and rode almost the whole way around the quarter mile.

I lost a lot of money but would do it again because I love open wheel racing.

By Shane Davis, Rock Island, Ill., who has driven Late Models but achieved most of his success in Modified cars.

I grew up the son of a race car driver. Back in the day, they were easy to find. Just head down to your local filling station, and you were bound to find a stock car parked out in front. Your local racing hero probably worked at the station, as the whole staff typically supported their driver’s racing efforts, and crewed on the car.

I grew up in a time when racing was cool. But not very refined. The races we ran had better purses than today, when you compare the cost of racing vs. what you were paid to win.

What money was won went back into the car. We weren’t getting rich, but we sure had a lot of fun! Our routine consisted of working all day at our jobs. Around 5 p.m., the family would gather in the kitchen for supper. After a short rest, we would head out to the garage to work on the race car. We would work in to the wee hours of the morning, and get back up the next morning, and do it all over again.

My dad always told me if you work hard, you will be rewarded. We worked hard on that race car, and it converted to success on the track.
I learned a lot about life in my years of racing. How to have respect for your elders or people in authority. How to work in a team effort. How to manage money.

I developed determination and a solid work ethic. But what I cherish most are the great friendships that were developed in the garage and at the track. Many of those relationships remain today, along with the great racing memories.

Winning the 1987 IMCA Modified national championship will always hold a special place in my heart. My Modified racing team always told me I was the best. But I never had a chance to race against the best — Dean Montgomery, Jim Gerber, Gary Kerres, Ray Guss Sr. or Ronnie Weedon. The list is endless.

As time passed, I knew it was time to hang up the fire suit. I had always enjoyed listening to the golden voices of Paul Liebbe and, later, Phil Roberts on the “Around the Track” radio show and at the local speedways.

The good Lord blessed me with a nice voice, and in 1993 I got my first announcing gig at the old Hawkeye Raceway near Blue Grass, Iowa. I have had the pleasure of announcing at a lot of tracks in my post-driving years. I never had a day when I didn’t look forward to going to the track and getting behind the microphone.

In 2008, I was inducted in to the Quad-City Raceway Hall of
Fame. It was the icing on the cake. The good Lord commands us to “Do your work with passion. Do it with all of your might.”

I would like to be remembered for my love and passion for the sport of dirt track racing. As a driver, I always tried to get everything possible out of my car to bring success to the team, and to put on a show for the fans in the stands. I treasure all of my racing memories as a driver and announcer. I have been truly blessed.

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This story was published in Late Model Illustrated magazine.

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1 Comment

Posted by on April 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

One response to “Honoring pioneer racers in the Quad-Cities

  1. Mike Bull

    August 8, 2010 at 1:31 am

    i have some photos and memorabilla from my grandpa who help start up racing in the q-c.i have a program from 1950 quad city speedway,quad city devil driver patchs…..etc…..i would love to hear from ya to see if youre interested in seeing this stuff.thanx…..Mike Bull

     

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