Illiana Motor Speedway's Tony Bettenhausen Memorial Classic
By Stan Kalwasinski
HONORING A RACING LEGEND
Since 1962, Illiana Motor Speedway has hosted the annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 Classic late model stock car race, honoring one of the area's greatest race drivers, the late Tony Bettenhausen.
A resident of Tinley Park, Ill., Bettenhausen saw his racing career span more than 20 years, covering all types of automobile racing in the United States, including stock cars, midgets, sprint cars and Indianapolis cars.
Raising soybeans on his farm in Tinley Park when not racing, Bettenhausen would race in the Indianapolis 500 14 times, finishing among the top ten on five occasions. A two-time National Indy Car Champion, Bettenhausen died in a practice crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May of 1961 while testing a car for a fellow driver, ending his chances of winning the one he wanted the most--the "500". His sons, Gary, Merle and the late Tony Jr. would follow their dad's footsteps to the famed speedway.
In addition to this "National" reputation, Bettenhausen was area racing's "favorite son" during the 1940's, 50's and into the 60's. Whether he be racing a midget on the dirt here at Illiana, at Raceway Park or at Soldier Field or driving a stock car at the "Milwaukee Mile," Bettenhausen was always a crowd pleaser with his "charge to the front" style of driving.
A CAPSULE SUMMARY OF ILLIANA'S BETTENHAUSEN EVENTS
1962 - Troy Ruttman, the 1952 Indianapolis 500 winner, drove his 1962 Mercury to victory in the 100 lap USAC-sanctioned race, defeating Don White, Norm Nelson, Paul Goldsmith and Herb Shannon.
1963 - Former Illiana motorcycle champion, Paul Goldsmith, captured the second running of the Bettenhausen 100, another USAC contest, driving a 1963 Plymouth to victory over Norm Nelson, John Rostek, Elmer Musgrave and Sal Tovella.
1964 - In the final USAC 100 lapper, Norm Nelson and his 1964 Plymouth bested Don White, Lloyd Ruby, Joe Leonard and Herb Shannon.
1965 - Fort Wayne, Indiana's Conan "Moose" Myers invaded Illiana for the first time and drove his 1957 Chevy convertible in the first open competition Bettenhausen event, defeating Joe Shear, Roy Martinelli, Bill Lutz and Herb Hill in the 50 lap feature race.
1966 - Moose Myers and his '57 Chevy convertible returned again to capture the race, which was increased back to 100 laps. Bill Lutz, Elmer Musgrave, Cliff Setser and Dave Sorg finished behind Myers in the event which saw 47 cars start.
1967 - Michigan's Joy Fair made his first visit to Illiana a profitable one, scoring the 100 lap race victory ahead of fellow Michigan drivers, Homer Newland, Rich Senneker, Bob Senneker and Tom Marks.
1968 - Buck Hinkle, who won the Illiana track championship in 1967, became the first local driver to win the Bettenhausen race as he wheeled his Chevelle convertible to victory ahead of Ray Freeman, Bob Carnes, Elmer Musgrave and Leroy Skiles.
1969 - Missing from the lineup the year before, Joy Fair drove his Cutlass to his second Bettenhausen win, taking the checkered flag in front of Rich Senneker, Dave Sorg, Bob Senneker and Elmer Musgrave.
1970 - Michigan speedster Gene Eding drove a Chevelle to score the win in the 100-lap battle ahead of Bob Pronger, Dick Dunshee, Roy Forbes and Jay Woolworth.
1971 - The 10th annual Bettenhausen event saw Moose Myers score the win in his 1969 Chevelle. Myers defeated Ed Hoffman, Whitey Gerken, Larry Berwanger and Joe Shear.
1972 - Joe Ruttman, younger brother of Troy, drove a 1971 Chevelle to victory in the century contest, besting Rich Davis, Randy Sweet, Ray Freeman and Jerry Kemperman.
1973 - Tom Jones became the second local driver to score a win in the annual end-of-the-year event, wheeling his 1969 Camaro to the win ahead of Ed Hoffman, Dave Evans, Moose Myers and Tom Musgrave.
1974 - The weatherman almost won this year as the event was rained out three straight Sunday afternoons. Making the trek four weeks in a row from his Wisconsin home, Tom Reffner and his 1970 Mustang grabbed top honors over Larry Schuler, Dick Trickle, Rick Knotts and Don Axtmann.
1975 - Perennial Illiana champion Ed Hoffman drove his 1975 Camaro to capture the 100 lap contest ahead of Larry Schuler, Jerry Kemperman, Bob Carnes and Bob Roper.
1976 - Veteran Chicagoland campaigner Ray Young added his name to the record books as he and his 1976 Camaro made off with the 15th annual Bettenhausen race. Young, whose Bettenhausen race record dated back to 1965, drove to the checker in front of Jerry Kemperman, Dave Roahrig, Bob Schippers and Larry Knowlton.
1977 - Ray Young made it two in a row, guiding his 1977 Camaro to the 100-lap win ahead of Joe Shear, Ed Hoffman and the Musgrave brothers, Tom and Ted.
1978 - Chicago area dirt track star Tony Izzo surprised the pavement racers by taking home top money in the 100 lapper. Izzo's Camaro crossed the finish line ahead of Ray Young, Ed Hoffman, Jerry Kemperman and Dave Weltmeyer.
1979 - Joe Shear wheeled his Dave Evans-owned 1979 Camaro to the win in the 100-lap chase to become the 14th different winner of the annual end-of-the-season event. Billy Kuhn, Jerry Kemperman, Larry Knowlton and Tony Izzo followed Shear.
1980 - Wisconsin's Jim Sauter gave car owner and former driver, Dave Evans, two Bettenhausen victories in a row as he guided Evans' Camaro to victory in the century affair, besting Ed Hoffman, Larry Schuler, Frank Gawlinski and Tom Jones.
1981 - Under the sanction of ARTGO, the 20th annual running of the "Windy City" area classic saw Frank Gawlinski wheel his 1981 Camaro to the win. The 1980 Illiana champion defeated Tom Jones, Ed Hoffman, Tom Reffner and Bill Venturini.
1982 - Frank Gawlinski wheeled his 1982 Firebird to victory in the 100 lapper, giving him the honor of being the first driver to win the Illiana late model track championship and the Bettenhausen race in the same year. Gawlinski took the checkered flag ahead of Gene Eding, Larry Middleton, Dave Weltmeyer and Tom Cellini.
1983 - Ed Hoffman recorded his second Bettenhausen win. Hoffman piloted his 1983 Firebird to the win in front of Duane Pierson, Dave Weltmeyer, Tom Cellini and Burt Weitemeyer.
1984 - Ed Hoffman became the first driver since Moose Myers to win three Bettenhausen events. Hoffman's 1984 Firebird bested Frank Gawlinski, Larry Schuler, Dave Weltmeyer and Larry Middleton.
1985 - Frank Gawlinski became the third different three-time winner, driving his Firebird to victory in the 100 lapper in front of Steve Seligman, Dave Weltmeyer, Ted Musgrave and Rick Kleich.
1986 - Larry Schuler captured the 25th annual Bettenhausen Classic behind the wheel of a 1986 Camaro. Schuler defeated Bobby Dotter, Bob Weltmeyer, Larry Middleton and Frank Gawlinski.
1987 - Becoming the first four-time winner of the Bettenhausen Classic, Frank Gawlinski drove his 1987 Camaro to victory ahead of Steve Seligman, Larry Schuler, Tony Hertko and Mike Varner.
1988 - Wisconsin speedster Ted Musgrave drove his 1988 Camaro to victory in the 27th running of the Bettenhausen event. The second generation driver, who watched his dad, Elmer, compete at Illiana, bested Tom Jones, Larry Schuler, Bobby Dotter and 1988 track champion Tony Hertko.
1989 - Green Bay Wisconsin's Scott Hansen gave the "Dairyland State" drivers two wins in a row as he made off with the 100-lap chase. Hansen piloted his 1989 Camaro to victory over Tony Hertko, Tracy Schuler, Steve Holzhausen and Larry Middleton, Jr.
1990 - Frank Gawlinski made it Bettenhausen victory number five, defeating Larry Schuler, Len Nowosel, Dale Hirschfield and Steve Holzhausen in the 100 lapper. Gawlinski, the 1990 Illiana season champion, wheeled a 1990 Thunderbird to the checkered flag.
1991 - Frank Gawlinski again showed his dominance of the Illiana half-mile oval by winning his sixth Bettenhausen Classic. Gawlinski and his Thunderbird finished ahead of 1991 Illiana track champion Len Nowosel, Larry Schuler, Larry Middleton, Jr. and Canadian driver Bill Zardo.
1992 - Becoming the first driver to win three straight Bettenhausen 100's, Frank Gawlinski captured the event for his seventh career win. Gawlinski and his 1992 Thunderbird bested Tracy Schuler, Mike Martin, Tom Carlson and Mike Varner.
1993 - Larry Schuler wheeled his 1992 Lumina to victory in the annual 100-lap contest, scoring his second Bettenhausen race win of his career. Schuler took the checkered flag in front of his younger brother, Tracy, who was followed by Mike White, Dave Duckworth and John Sherbit.
1994 - Frank Gawlinski made it career victory number eight, guiding his 1994 Thunderbird to the first prize money. Gawlinski notched another Bettenhausen 100 ahead of Steve Seligman, Dave Duckworth, John Nutley and Brian Muick.
1995 - Dave Weltmeyer became the 20th different driver to win Illiana's Bettenhausen 100 lapper as he wheeled his 1995 Monte Carlo to victory, defeating J.R. Roahrig, John Nutley, John Sherbit and Bobby Gash.
1996 - Winning his second straight Bettenhausen 100-lap contest, Dave Weltmeyer and his 1996 Monte Carlo bested Tom Carlson, Larry Schuler, Joe Walsh and Joe Shear.
1997 - Ringing the Bettenhausen victory bell a ninth time, Frank Gawlinski copped the 36th annual classic, driving his 1997 Monte Carlo to the checkered flag in front of Dave Weltmeyer, J.R. Roahrig, Mike White and Bobby Blount.
1998 - Second generation speedster Eddie Hoffman made off with top honors in last year's 100 lap chase. Hoffman drove Fred Huckstorf's Thunderbird to victory over Dave Weltmeyer, Brian Muick, Larry Schuler and Danny Darnell.
1999 - Larry Schuler wheeled Biff George's Taurus to his third Bettenhausen 100 victory of his career. Schuler finished ahead of Dave Weltmeyer, John Brolick, Larry Middleton, Jr. and John Sherbit.
2000 - Eddie Hoffman became the event's eighth multi-time winner as he piloted his 1999 Monte Carlo to victory in the 50-mile chase. Dave Weltmeyer came home second, followed by Scott Hantz, Rod Wheeler and Ron Breese.
2001 - The 40th annual Bettenhausen 100 lapper saw Dave Weltmeyer guide his Monte Carlo to the checkered flag. Scoring his third Bettenhausen race win, Weltmeyer and his Monte Carlo raced to victory ahead of Mike White, Larry Middleton, Jr., John Nutley and Brett Sontag.
2002 - Battling with Eddie Hoffman most of the way, Pat Kelly wheeled Phil Hines' 2002 Monte Carlo to the victory. Hoffman came home second, followed by Mike White, Steve Carlson and Erik Darnell.
2003 - Grabbing his third Bettenhausen Classic checkered flag, Eddie Hoffman pushed his Tom and Lisa Kmak-owned Taurus to the win. Chasing Hoffman after 100 circuits were Boris Jurkovic, Brett Sontag, Dave Weltmeyer and Mike Monroe.
2004 - Dave Weltmeyer drove his Monte Carlo to victory in the 43rd annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 Classic late model stock car race. Weltmeyer scored his fourth career Tony B. 100 victory over Eddie Hoffman, Pat Kelly, Mike Monroe and John Nutley.
2005 - Pat Kelly guided his Wayne Govert-owned Monte Carlo to his second career Tony Bettenhausen 100 lap victory. Kelly, the season's Illiana late model track champion, bested Boris Jurkovic, Nathan Haseleu, Eddie Hoffman and Mike White.