A couple of Chicagoland racers and some other things

THE ODYSSEY CONTINUES… My first article mentioned my fire engine red 1957 Oldsmobile J-2 that won several trophies in early Arizona Drags. A fellow student at Ariz. State Univ. wanted the Olds and paid me $3,500 for it, which was a lot of money for a car in ’57.  Phil Billingsley lived in the same frat house at ASU and he immediately set out to inspire me to obtain the new ‘A’ engine 1958 Pontiac that had just been introduced by GM. Woudenberg Pontiac of Mesa, AZ, sponsored Phil’s Green ‘58. The team was an Arizona legend during 1958-59. After waiting six weeks for my order to arrive, I took possession of a gleaming white 1958 Pontiac Chieftain, stick shift, ‘A’ engine, tri-power machine. It was fast and now I was really ‘hooked’ on drag racing.

CLEAN CAR/DIRTY CAR… My family had business ties in Iowa and Arizona, so I migrated to the Midwest during the winter of ’57-58. When the snow and ice cleared, a group from Kahoka, Mo., and I went to Cordova Raceway near Moline, Ill.

At the time, I knew Arnie Beswick had won Stock Eliminator at the U.S. Nationals held in Oklahoma City, driving a 1954 Olds. I did not know that he too had switched to Pontiac. When I pulled to the line in A/S class eliminations, I heard the announcer state, “watch the clean car on the inside lane, that is Arnie Beswick.” In the other lane was an identical 1958 ‘white’ Pont. Not only was it ‘cleaner’ (we had driven 175 miles), it was just a fender quicker that day too; but it signaled the start of a long friendship with Arnie ‘The Farmer’!

CHICAGO, CHICAGO, THAT TODDLIN’ TOWN!  While California was a ‘hot bed’ of early Drag Racing action and development, no place has ever resonated with the promotional excitement of Ben Crist and Jon Lundberg at U.S. 30 Dragway. The goose bumps would jump up on my arms with Jon’s thundering S A T U R D A Y  N I G H T at beautiful U.S. 30 Dragway! Not to be out done, was Jan Gabriel’s SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY at Union Grove!

Recap of an Alton Dragway handout used after Chris Karamesines astonished the drag racing community of 1960 with his famous 204 MPH run.

It's called CHICAGOLAND. Chicagoland stretches from western Indiana at the tip of Lake Michigan to the east, across Illinois to the Mississippi River on the west, north into Wisconsin, and south to Peoria, Ill., the home of Caterpillar.

My perspective is from outside the area looking in. While I can write volumes about the little 1/8th mile track in Kahoka, Mo., this column is about some of the myriad of deserving racers, who in the 1960s called Chicago home. Certainly two names share Number 1: Chris Karamesines and Don Schumacher! These two ‘superstars’ have done much for the sport, and current racers know that.

I was at Alton (Ill.) Raceway in 1960 when Chris and the late Don Maynard went 204 mph on some sort of rocket fuel.