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A Look Back At The First National Short Track Championship

Dick Trickle was the winner of the inaugural National Short Track Championships 200 at Illinois’ Rockford Speedway in 1966. (Stan Kalwasinski Collection)
Dick Trickle was the winner of the inaugural National Short Track Championships 200 at Illinois’ Rockford Speedway in 1966. (Stan Kalwasinski Collection)

With the 55th annual National Short Track Championships 200 late model race set for this Sunday afternoon, Oct. 4, at Illinois’ Rockford Speedway, let’s take a look back at the inaugural National Short Track Championship 200, held in 1966.

The Oct. 5, 1966 issue of National Speed Sport News proclaimed, “NATIONAL SHORT TRACK TITLE IS PROPERTY OF DICK TRICKLE – Rockford, Ill., October 2—Dick Trickle took command in the 136th lap and breezed to victory in the 200-lap National Short Track Late Model Championships at Rockford Speedway on Sunday.”

Trickle, the Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., racer who would turn 25 years old in a few weeks, wheeled his Tee Pee Supper Club-sponsored, two-barrel carburetor-equipped, 1963 Ford No. 99 to the victory.

Trickle took the checkered flag from starter Jack Heiman and finished more than a lap ahead of Roy Martinelli, who was driving his Martinelli Brothers-owned ’64 Chevy convertible. Trickle, who was the 1966 Central Wisconsin Speedways Association Class A champion, took home $1,645 for this winning effort that Sunday afternoon.

Trickle had little or no competition after the 154th circuit when Johnson, who had been riding close behind in his ’64 Chevy, blew a tire. Trickle took the lead from Johnson, who was driving the other Martinelli Brothers entry. The lanky Johnson, from Highland Park, Ill., had earlier taken the top spot from Eddie Hume and his ’59 Plymouth on the 114th circuit.  Martinelli and Johnson were regulars at O’Hare Stadium in Schiller Park, Ill., with Martinelli, the Prairie View, Ill., driver, winning the 1966 late model championship at the Chicago area track.

The top-10 finishers in the 30-car field were 1. Dick Trickle, ‘63 Ford, 200 laps; 2. Roy Martinelli, ‘64 Chevy, 199 laps, 3. Bruce Sparrman, ‘57 Chevy, 199 laps, 4. Don Leach, ‘65 Chevelle, 198 laps, 5. Eddie Jast, ‘64 Chevy, 196 laps, 6. Bob Senneker, ‘57 Chevy, 196 laps, 7. Gene Marmor, ‘64 Chevy, 195 laps, 8. Bobby Wawak, ‘64 Mercury, 195 laps, 9. Ron Wishard, ‘64 Chevy, 194 laps, 10. Elmer Musgrave, ‘61 Ford, 194 laps.

A copy of the Rockford Speedway Souvenir News proclaimed the first National Short Track Championships. (Stan Kalwasinski Collection)
A copy of the Rockford Speedway Souvenir News proclaimed the first National Short Track Championships. (Stan Kalwasinski Collection)

The day before, William “Whitey” Gerken of Melrose Park, Ill., Rockford’s 1966 late model champion with 11 feature wins to his credit, was the fastest qualifier during time trials as he wheeled his Ced’s Muffler-sponsored 1965 Chevelle convertible No. 54 around the high-banked, quarter-mile oval in 15.17 seconds.  Earlier in the year on June 11, Gerken was the first driver to break into 14-second bracket during qualifying at Rockford with a lap of 14.98.

Wisconsin’s Marv Marzofka was second fastest with a lap of 15.20 seconds with the fastest 10 qualifiers automatically making the field. The rest of the top-10 were Gene Marmor (’65 Rockford champion), three-time Rockford champion Don Harvey of Loves Park, along with Michigan driver Bob Senneker and Bruce Sparrman from Minnesota in addition to Wisconsin drivers Eddie Hume, Nelson Drinkwine, Tom Reffner and Jim Back.

The rest of the field came through two 50-lap qualifying races on Saturday night that saw Trickle and Martinelli score the victories.  Trickle bested former Soldier Field champion and USAC racer Sal Tovella and Johnson in the first one with Martinelli grabbing the checkered flag over O’Hare regular Bob Urban and Wisconsin’s Lyle Nabbefeldt in the second 50 lapper.  A 30-lap race for non-qualifiers was held on Sunday with John Kennedy of Villa Park, Ill., scoring the win over Bob Dotter of Chicago and Norm Meinert of Davis, Ill.

Trickle told his hometown newspaper, The Daily Tribune, the day after the race, “The Rockford race was the biggest race of my career. I was out to do nothing less than win.  They had some top drivers there and I guess they were really surprised to see me win.  They were especially surprised to see me take it with a two-barrel carburetor when every other driver in the feature was running a four-barrel carburetor.”

Promoter Hugh Deery was said to have paid Trickle his winnings in small bills with Trickle stuffing his pockets before the ride back home to Wisconsin. Deery and the speedway’s Director of Competition, Bill Earnest, conceived the idea of that inaugural National Short Track Championship as a $8,500 purse was posted for the two-day event with $1,200 going to the winner. From 1957 through 1966, full-bodied late model stock cars with full-fenders and bumpers were eligible. A four-barrel or two-barrel carburetor could be used on a stock-appearing engine ahead of an unaltered firewall. Any tire could be used.

Thanks to National Speed Sport News and The Daily Tribune of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., for covering this event.




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