Racing Reunion

Old race drivers may retire, but racing stays in their blood. Every time we sat down for coffee with other drivers, someone would say that, by golly, we should get together; we should have a racing reunion. Finally, in 1994 several of us got together and decided that if we were going to do it, we'd better do it soon. A lot of the drivers were getting pretty old. It turned out to be a wonderful time and the Montevideo American-News was there to cover it. It was great to find the old article.
Drivers at the Reunion

Drivers attending 1994 Racing Reunion— Attending Saturday's racing reunion at the Montevideo VFW club were (front, from left) Fred Jensen, Lloyd Gulden, Cliff Schrock, Pete Zimmerman, Ron Hadrath, Marvin Anderson, Rich Christians, Ron Nygaard, Duane Kittelson, Punk Anderson, Marv Pitt, Boyd Long. (back, from left) Dick Forbrook, Skip Carlson, Paul Phillips, Butch Phillips, Bob Schuler, Lyle Hoidal, Bernie Hoidal, Norm Milbrandt, Jim Ryman, Don Hudson and John Ruether. (Staff photo by Bruce Olson)

Powder Puff Sign

I think it's a wife thing because I always like to get in the last word. So here goes. The reunion was very interesting. After all those years it was hard to recognize some of the drivers. Our son, Scott, ran into that. He looked like Lyle did back in the racing days and many of the drivers hadn't seen Lyle since then. One of the drivers came up and chewed Scott out for running him off the track years ago. Scott grinned and replied, "I think you've got me mixed up with my old man."

There was a group standing by the bar that included the flagman, Jimmy Ryman, and his brother, Bennie. Now Bennie lived next door to us for many years so Scott knew him, but he didn't know Jim from a flat tire. Thinking Scott was Lyle, Jim got into kind of a snit (or whatever men get into) and asked if Scott wasn't going to talk to him. He really grinned when he found out it was Lyle's son, not Lyle.

Probably the most enthusiastic racer at the reunion was Boyd Long of Clarkfield. He said he wasn't going to say anything, just listen. Didn't last long. He had lots of stories and enjoyed himself more than anyone else there. When he was racing back in the '50s and'60s he was already dubbed Grandaddy Long by the announcer, Clayton Johnson.

Another kind of humorous fact was that the VFW had filled up the cooler with beer, having heard all the rumors of the beer drunk at the Midway after the races on Saturday nights. Turns out the old boys had mellowed through the years. They were all ordering O'Doul's and other non-alcoholic beers. Needless to say, the VFW ran out of the non-alcoholic beer early, but the cooler was still stuffed with cold, REAL beer for anyone who wanted them.

One of the most interesting things at the reunion was the display of model stock cars owned by Glen Schrock. He went to all the races to watch his dad, Cliff Schrock, and his mother and sister took lots of pictures of the cars. Glen would look at the cars, buy the right year model car, put it together and then paint it and letter it so it looked exactly like the original cars. Actually, a lot better since the models were in perfect shape and had no dings. He ended up with a collection of cars that is amazing. There was a lot of excitement when drivers came in and saw their car in the display. For some of them, it was the first time their children had seen their car, other than in pictures.

As they used to say in the old newspaper society columns:
A good time was had by all. (Even with non-alcoholic beer.)
Jeanie Hoidal

Racing Reunion Article

Montevideo American-News, Thursday, July 28, 1994

"Good Old Boys" of racing
  hold reunion

By Bruce Olson, Sports Editor

Architects were completing plans for a new elementary school (Sanford) in Montevideo. "The Ten Commandments" and "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" were the big summer box office hits at the Hollywood Theatre. The year was 1957. The sports pages were dominated by the Montevideo Spartans amateur baseball team and the golf tournaments at the Montevideo Country Club. It was also the year that auto racing was born in Montevideo, when Speedy Acres race track opened on June 2 before 750 spectators on a quarter-mile dirt track located three miles east of Montevideo on the Wegdahl road and 1/4 mile north. The competition was intense on the track, but the rivalries were, for the most part, friendly ones. Friendships were made on and off the track that have endured for more than 30 years. Several of the "Good Old Boys" of the early days of racing in Montevideo gathered at the VFW club Saturday to reminisce and renew old friendships.

Many of the drivers in attendance began their racing careers at Speedy Acres. Lights were installed at the track later that summer, but by 1960 the races were moved to the present location at the Chippewa County Fairgrounds. Clayton Johnson was the track announcer and Jim Ryman the flagman during the early years. Special events like powder puff races, pitmen's races and businessmen's races were held occasionally. The first scheduled powder puff race had to be cancelled because seven of the eight cars that the gals were scheduled to drive were involved in accidents earlier in the night's racing program. The move to the Fiesta Speedway was made because it was more accessible to the fans, and the track at the fairgrounds, which had been used for harness horse-racing, was a half-mile oval. Many of the drivers built the cement retaining wall in front of the grandstand in their spare time. The late Morrie Weflen was the first season point champion at Speedy Acres in 1957 and at the Fiesta City Speedway in 1960. Weflen and fellow Montevideo driver Jim Norman waged a close competition throughout that first summer. The list of Montevideo and area drivers who raced at Speedy Acres and in the early years at Fiesta City Speedway also included Lyle and Bernard Hoidal, John Ruether, Ron Peterson, Paul Phillips, Gene Christenson, Lew Ostenson, Marv Pitt, Punk Anderson, Butch Phillips, Norm Milbrandt, Ron Hadrath, Duane Kittleson, Rich Christians, Emil Anderson Jr. and Cliff Schrock. The race cars of that era were mostly coupes from the late 1930s and early '40s.

"You could get everything in a junkyard," said Milbrandt, who won the season point championship in 1961. "There were no trailers or racing tires. Most of the tires said 'no hunting' on them." "It's really changed, " said Lyle Hoidal, who, along with Weflen, was the king of the hill in the 1960s. "I don't know if it's better or worse, it's just different. We were turning that track in about the same time they are now, but the track's shorter now. The (car's) suspension wasn't so complicated. We never heard of a weight limit. We got them as light as we could."

"Back when we raced, nobody cheated," said Phillips, which brought laughter from the crowd at the VFW Saturday. "We were going just as fast as they are now. We all prided ourselves as being good sportsmen. I built a car before they built a racetrack. We were back from the service looking for something to do."

It didn't cost much to put a race car on the track in the early years, but there wasn't much money to be won either. "The most I ever put in a car was $600, " said Cliff Schrock of Appleton. "For me it was very little because I had my own shop." "You could build a car for $100, " said Marv Pitt, who also raced in Renville, Lynd, Appleton, Marshall and Willmar. Pitt said his biggest payday was winning $106 at Marshall. "I won the heat, feature and trophy dash and won $5 and a $10 trophy," Ruether laughed. "I'd turn the trophy back in for $5." Saturday's reunion was organized by Paul Phillips, Lyle Hoidal, Norm Milbrandt and their wives.

Women are a common sight in the pit area at the Fiesta Speedway now, but racing was totally a man's game in the early days. "Ladies weren't allowed close to the pits, " said Jeannie Hoidal, "but it was a great life."

During Saturday's reunion the drivers and their spouses were asked to recount their favorite racing stories. Jeannie Hoidal said the reason her brother-in-law Bernard picked No. 11 for his car was that if he was upside-down after a rollover, his number would still be the same. Punk Anderson, who is the flagman at the Fiesta City Speedway, said his career behind the wheel was a short one. He wrecked his car on a Fourth of July race and became a flagman the next week. "I knew I was going to take some money home then, " he said. Many of the stories the drivers told centered around accidents and on-the-track confrontations with other drivers. But all was forgotten after the races when most of the drivers and their spouses would gather at their favorite watering hole, the Midway Cafe. Morey Weflen's widow, Anne, gave a heartfelt thank you to everyone who attended.

"We all care about each other and we've all stuck together, " she said. "Don't think for a minute that Morrie doesn't see what's happening every Friday (racing) night. Drive safely." Another racing reunion has been scheduled for July 20, 1996. "Don't wait too long, some of us are kinda old, " Lyle Hoidal laughed.

Phillips came up with a quiz to match the drivers with their car numbers. Lyle Hoidal and Ron Hadrath were the only ones to get every answer right. A coin flip was held to decide the contest winner. "If I win, it's the only time I'll have ever beaten Lyle, " said Hadrath, who skipped his high school reunion to attend the racing reunion. Hadrath still hasn't beaten Hoidal. Hoidal's prize for winning the quiz was a season pass for the 1995 racing season at Speedy Acres. Hoidal, who raced from 1957 to 1987 and is arguably the name most associated with racing in Montevideo, said he would like to see an old-timers' race scheduled for the Fiesta Speedway next year. "I bet it would be a drawing card, " Hoidal said.

Mario Andretti