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A Look Back at Late Model Racing at Knoxville Raceway

A Look Back at Late Model Racing at Knoxville Raceway
Bill Martin
Friday, September 01, 2017
by Lee Ackerman

26,000 Apple Trees couldn’t keep Bill Martin from Knoxville’s Victory Lane in 1974!

It’s not a race that many people remember and it didn’t pay enough to be listed as one of the major Dirt Late Model races at the Knoxville Raceway, but back on Sunday, April 21, 1974 (it was actually scheduled for Saturday, April 20 but was rained out), they held a race at Knoxville called the Corn Belt Special and when the dirt had settled, the Council Bluffs Apple Farmer Bill Martin emerged victorious and took home the $600 first prize.

Martin had raced very little in 1973, something to do with taking care of those 26,000 Apple trees at the Martin Family Orchard just outside Council Bluffs. “I changed jobs and started to manage my dad’s farm last year,” Martin said in victory lane. “We grow vegetables, too and I had to learn a lot of things. It wasn’t possible to get away very often. I only raced four times last year (1973).”

It didn’t take the former truck driver long to remember from his five years of racing experience as he posted a win in his heat race and a second in the trophy dash while driving his 1972 Chevelle. “What a great way to start out the season.” Martin said after receiving a kiss in victory lane from his wife Vicki.

Make no mistake Martin had to withstand a strong challenge from Waterloo’s Red Dralle. Dralle winner of heat one, had also won the trophy dash, earning the right to start on the pole. Dralle led for the first nine circuits before Martin took the lead on lap ten. Dralled wasn’t done and retook the point on lap 15 before Martin took back the lead for good and lead the remainder of the race.

“It was a great race,” commented Martin after the race. “It’s really fun to have someone beating on your door like Dralle was.” Martin, who has always owned his own car was driving a career owned by Omaha’s Larry Kelley. “I’ve always owned my own car before,” commented Martin. “but I don’t have time to maintain a car now . Kelley bought the car and maintains it now.”

Speaking of car, Kelley bought the car from Ed Sanger of Waterloo, who won 44 races in the car in 1973. “I just hope we can win half or even a fourth as many in the car this year.” stated Martin. Martin also stated that he hoped to do a lot of racing in Central Iowa in 1974, racing at both the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines and maybe some races on Wednesday nights at Oskaloosa.

The race had a unique flagman as well. Chuck Berg of Des Moines flagged the event, the first time he had every flagged an auto race. Berg is usually behind the wheel, but he knew a lot about flagging as well. Berg, a route salesman for a Des Moines Beer Distributor, was a district referee for the American Motorcycle Association for nine years.

“I didn’t have a ride in a stock car going, so I thought I would give this a try,” said Berg. “It isn’t much different from flagging motorcycles except for the start.” Motorcycles typically go from a standing start. Berg began his racing career on motorcyles and was the Iowa Champion in the half mile touring class and Enduro in 1954 and also posted a fifth place finish that year at the Daytona 200. He started racing Super Modified about twelve years before this race.
One of the things that stands out when you look at the results of this race is that some of the cars are actually several years old and while they are not all Chevrolets, the Chevelles seem to dominate when it comes to models.

Red Dralle won the first heat driving a 1973 Chevelle. Dralle was followed by Ottumwa’s John Babb in a 1972 Camaro and Delhi’s John Connolly in a ’73 Nova. Omaha’s Ed Morris took heat two in a ’73 Chevelle with Omaha’s Bob Kosiski second in a ’72 Chevelle and Austin, Minnesota’s Dave Bjorge in a ’72 Monte Carlo.

Council Bluff’s Dave Chase drove a ’68 Camaro to the win in heat three with Knoxville’s Mike Brooks second in a ’65 Chevelle and Cedar Rapids Kenny Walton third in a ’74 Chevelle. Martin won heat four in his ’72 Chevelle over Des Moines’ Don Hoffman in a ’72 Nova and Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids, also in a ’72 Nova.

The trophy dash saw Dralle grab the pole with the win followed by Martin, Morris, Kosiski, Walton and Babb. John Connolly won the a ten-lap pursuit race over Curt Hansen of Dike in a ’74 Chevelle and Council Bluff’s Larry Jiskra in a ’72 Monte Carlo. Jiskra also won the 10-lap consolation race with Bugs Vincent of Nevada second in a ’69 Ford and Bob Bonzer of Liscomb third in a ’69 Chevelle.

The top ten in the feature were: Martin, Dralle, Kosiski, Walton, Hoffman, Hansen, Morris, Connolly, Ed Sanger (’74 Nova) and Art Nesteby of Waterloo in a ’69 Chevelle. Several top drivers were eliminated in accidents. Those included; Chase, Dake and Billy Geil of Des Moines.

Other drivers who were not mentioned above that raced that day included; Bill Rice of Des Moines in a ’65 Chevelle, Bill Wrich of Kennard, Nebraska in a ’72 Monte Carlo, Russ Derr of Keokuk in a ’65 Dodge, Bob Shyrock of Estherville in a ’74 Monte Carlo and Dick Johaneck of Litchfield, Minnesota in a ’62.