Stan Kalwasinski Photography
by Stan Kalwasinski
Rockford, Ill., April 13—A large crowd assembled at the Hoffman House for the second annual Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame induction banquet on Saturday evening. This year saw 11 individuals inducted into the hall of fame after 15 were inducted during last year’s inaugural ceremonies.
The list again represented a solid contingent of Illinois stock car racing legends. Jim Cossman and Roy Martinelli were Northwest Region inductees. Cossman was a long-time competitor at the old Waukegan Speedway, where he captured four track championships during his career. With all of his championships coming on the dirt before the track was paved prior to the 1969 season, Cossman reminisced about those “Chicago guys” coming to Waukegan and making the competition even harder.
Martinelli was a two-time track champion at O’Hare Stadium in Schiller Park, which once stood in the shadows of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Starting his career at the Waukegan oval, Martinelli pretty much became a fixture at O’Hare by 1960 and was one of the track’s leading drivers and car owners until the track closed after the 1968 season. At one time, Martinelli and his brother, Reno, fielded a three car team for himself, Erik Johnson and other top drivers.
The Northeast Region was represented by inductees Ray Young and the late Bud Koehler. Young, the “tobacco chewin’ truck driver,” won track championships at five different area speedways during his career. A lot of his success came at Raceway Park, where he started his career and won a total of 107 feature races and two track championships. Three track titles at Waukegan were also part of Young’s racing, which saw him move into American Speed Association competition before running his final full-season in 1982.
Bud Koehler was the “King of Raceway Park” as the former midget racer would win a total of 11 stock car titles and 490 feature races at the speedway, which was located minutes from his Blue Island home. Racing stock cars for the first time in 1949, Koehler retired from competition after the 1978 season. He won three-consecutive Raceway driving titles during a period from 1974 through 1976, enjoying his best single-season winning effort of 30 feature wins in 1967. He won the track’s grueling annual 300 Lap Classic seven times. Koehler was 82 when he passed away in April of 2003.
The Midwest Region saw dirt track stars Jim O’Connor and Rich Clement inducted. O’Connor, who began racing at the old Sugar Island oval near Kankakee in the 1960s, became a front runner at both Santa Fe Speedway and the Kankakee Fairgrounds oval. O’Connor won three Santa Fe late model championships during a four-year period and four titles at Kankakee. O’Connor was a four-time winner of Santa Fe’s annual National Clay Track Championship 200 lapper.
Clement began racing in the novice class at the old Mance Park Speedway in Hodgkins. He and Ken Finley tied for late model championship honors at Santa Fe in 1959. He won Santa Fe’s Clay Track championship event in 1959 and 1963. He garnered top late model honors at the Kankakee Fairgrounds track in 1974. During his racing career, which included USAC stock cars, he began to develop wheels for local stock car competition, eventually getting them approved and accepted into USAC and NASCAR racing, building a successful business in the process. Wheels for Indianapolis-type cars and drag racing have also been part of Clement’s racing background.
Two racing greats, Herb Shannon and Jack Tyne, now both deceased, were inducted into this year’s class as they represented the South Region. Shannon was a hard charger at the Peoria Speedway, winning two championships at the old track and one at the new speedway. His 1957 title-winning year saw him win 19 out of 26 features held. He was a two-time winner of Peoria’s Illinois State Championship race. Shannon competed in USAC stock car competition from 1956 until 1982. He was fifth in the USAC standings in 1963. Shannon wheeled a “factory-backed” Dodge to a fourth place finish in Colorado’s Pikes Peak Hill Climb event in 1965. He competed in three NASCAR Grand National races, finishing 24th in the 1965 Daytona 500. Shannon passed away on September 8, 2012 age the age of 81.
Hailing from Streator during his career, the late Jack Tyne was a multi-time stock car track champion at the Fairbury Speedway and also captured honors at the Farmer City dirt oval. If there was a dirt track in Illinois, Tyne probably competed there from the Springfield Mile to the smallest clay track “bull ring.” Tyne, who began his racing career at the age of 16 at the old Third Street Speedway in his hometown, passed away in July of 2009. He was 80 years old.
The late Hugh Deery of the Rockford Speedway passed away in July of 1984, but not before building the Rockford oval into one of the nation’s short track success stories. Deery was this year’s race track promoter inductee. Whether it was a new idea for race track refreshments, an idea of a season-ending special or a whole set of new technical stock car rules, which he instituted in 1974, Deery was at the top when it came to race track promotion. The Deery Family, led by Deery’s wife, Jody, still own and operate the speedway to this day.
Santa Fe Speedway track announcer Jan Gabriel was part of this year’s hall of fame induction class. Beginning in 1968 and for 14 consecutive summers, Gabriel handled the microphone duties at the “track of clay” – working as many as four-nights-a-week. He was part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track announcing crew for three years and, after his Santa Fe days were over, began producing the nationally-syndicated “Super Chargers” TV series for 12 years. Gabriel passed away at the age of 69 on January 10, 2010.
Finally, Wayne Lensing was honored as this year’s stock car builder inductee. Born in Iowa, he got interested in stock car racing as a teenager while working at a local hometown garage. He moved to Illinois and began racing at the Rockford Speedway, winning the very first race he ever competed in, wheeling a ’58 Chevy convertible to the checkered flag in 1969. Stock car racing titles at both Rockford and the old Lake Geneva Raceway in Wisconsin came later with Lensing beginning to pay more attention to building race cars instead of driving them. He started his own company – Lefthander Chassis in 1982 and built the business into one of the most successful and well known stock car chassis-building and parts companies in the country. In 2001, he created the Historic Auto Attractions museum in Roscoe, which is the home of the Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame.
It was a busy night as some of the greats of Illinois stock car racing were honored and remembered.