A driver doesn’t begin on top, and when Kenyon first made his way to Joliet in 1958 he was, in his words, “learning how to get bent.”
Things would get better.
“In 1961 and 1962, John Rutherford was my teammate, and we eventually had a good time racing here,” Kenyon said. “I raced on the cinders, and you would hook a wheel over the curb and the left front wheel was always beaten and battered up.”
In an odd way, an unfortunate incident would have a dramatic effect on the future Hall of Fame member.
“In 1962 I had burned a piston at Sun Prairie and blew the engine, although I still finished third,” Kenyon noted. “So the next time I came here, I had fast time and won the feature, but I had a big engine. The limit was 151 cubic inches and mine was 192. I got a six month suspension, and that forced us into buying an Offenhauser engine from Howard Linne, so I shipped out of here and went to USAC.”
As fans continued to salute Mel, Aaron and other familiar faces, the modern-day stars went about their business. So many who crowded the pit area weren’t even born when Dennis DeVea took the last checkered flag in late August of 1986.
For them, their focus was on the here and now.
Young Hoosier Grant Galloway had graduated from the Kenyon midgets to the full-throated variety, and he was still getting used to extra horsepower.
“My first time out I just tried to take it easy,” Galloway said. “When I started out I was nervous, so they made me start last and I finished fourth out of 20 cars. I love it and it has been going well.”
Like everyone else on a busy Friday afternoon, he was trying to find the quick way around the tight oval.
“There are a couple of big bumps and if you hit them your car will jump around. But I think we will be okay.”
Like those men many years his senior, Galloway’s career was launched as a family effort.
“My sisters are cheerleaders, Mom is in charge of buying things, and Dad and I work on the cars,” Galloway explained. “Dad and I have ups and downs, and sometimes we fight in the shop, but I guess you can call it bonding time.”
Fans had the luxury of just soaking in the moment, and there were plenty of things to keep them entertained. Throughout the event, fans made their way to a display of vintage cars, kids prepared for Big Wheel races, and former drivers relived the past with fans during an autograph session.
An additional thrill for all concerned came when former champion drivers slipped behind the wheel one more time and cut a few laps around the tight quarter-mile oval.
Moments after having a chance at the wheel, former UMARA champion John Myers was still breathing hard, but beaming from ear to ear.
“That was a kick,” Myers said. “My dad ran the very first show here in 1952, and my brother Bob and I drove the very last show before tonight. I drove a car all of the last year here, and later I was a partner in the ownership of UMARA. So this is great. I came out here as a kid and couldn’t get in the pits, but my dad used to buy Illustrated Speedway News and I was the newsboy. I remember teasing dad one night because I had made five bucks selling newspapers and that was more than he made. That was the last time I teased him about that!
“One night we got rained out and Jim Hurtubise was here to run. So all of the drivers went to a place called the Port Hole Tap in Rockdale, and they started feeding Jim’s German shepherd beers and they got the dog drunk,” Myers added. “My mother thought that was just terrible. It is nostalgic because midget racing has been a big deal in my family, and both my dad and my brother are gone. Getting a chance to drive Mike Graham’s car was a real thrill.”
Danny Carter Jr. also had great days in the sport. In a long and productive career, Carter won UARA and UMARA titles and captured the Joliet Memorial Stadium crown twice.
One look at Carter after taking his turn behind the wheel spoke volumes.
“It’s very emotional,” Carter said. “We lost my dad and big Jim (Anderson), and big Jim was like a second father to me. I ran for him for 21 years. I don’t know if I want to get back in the car again, because if you soften the springs up it can be pretty fast. It brings back so many memories. People were like family back then, people helped each other, and that’s what racing was all about. Today’s racing is too high-dollar and cutthroat. Back then, if a guy needed a motor and you had one, you would run back home and give it to him.
”I didn’t think these cars would run here again. They are about 200-300 pounds lighter than what we were, and have about 125 more horses, but this is a blessing from a guy upstairs.”
Equally emotional was Bob Richards. Richards, a Stadium legend won two Joliet titles, and four UARA crowns. He too needed a moment to gather himself.
“It has been like 20 years since I have been here,” Richards said. “I won 23 features here, 2nd behind Bob Tattersall who was my hero. Luckily, I got to race with him a few times before he passed away, so being 2nd to him isn’t bad. It’s emotional because it brings back so many memories, and you have so many people come up to you and ask if you remember them, so it is really nice. I came here when I was 10 with my mom and dad, and we saw Tattersall and Willy Wildhaber, and later Hurtubise and Kenyon.
”I said some day when I am old enough I’m going to do that – and I did. My first race was in May 1964 and in the fifth race I ran I won the feature.”
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