RUDOLPH, Wis.— Wisconsin stock car racing superstar Tom Reffner passed away Friday at the age of 82.
A short track hero in his home state, Reffner won 67 feature races in 1975, tying the record of his fellow competitor and close friend, Dick Trickle, who had accomplished the feat of winning the most feature races in a season in 1967.
Reffner, Trickle and another young friend Marv Marzofka got the bug to go racing in 1958 and before you knew it all three were behind the wheel of a stock car the following year (1959), first racing on dirt tracks in Wisconsin, and later paved tracks in the area that popped up in the 1960s.
A pipefitter by trade, Reffner, who won an estimated 391 feature races during his career, won his first track championships in 1965 at Wisconsin’s Griffith Park Speedway and Black River Falls Speedway. Many of his early victories came at Golden Sands Speedway in Plover, Wis.
Almost countless late model championships and feature wins would come during Reffner’s career, including winning the first Oktoberfest 200 at the LaCrosse Interstate Speedway in 1970, the Old Style 200 at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway in 1971, the annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 at Indiana’s Illiana Motor Speedway in 1974, the inaugural Wayne Carter Classic, the first ever ARTGO Racing event at Grundy County Speedway in Illinois in 1975 and the World Cup 400 at Missouri’s I-70 Speedway in 1976.
Reffner’s miracle season was 1972, winning a staggering 67 main events. Driving his Superamerica-sponsored 1974 AMC Javelin No. 88, Reffner, known as the “Blue Knight” seemed to win races everywhere.
“1975 was just incredible,” reminisced Reffner years later. “I couldn’t believe what we had done. Dick (Trickle) never tried to hold me back. We’d go the 100 miles (from home) to Madison, then over to Michigan, over to Ohio and back to Michigan – all in one week. Never mind keeping my car going. I had fast time in 81 of the 116 events (that year).”
Reffner‘s first major victory was the Oktoberfest event at LaCrosse oval in West Salem, Wis., in 1970. Almost 50 years later, Reffner reflected about the inaugural Oktoberfest 200.
“It was probably the biggest win of my career up to that time. I was running a Mercury Comet Caliente and it was pretty “boxy.” It was kind of hard to tell what kind of car it was,” Reffner said. “I put the new (Cyclone) body on the old car about two or three weeks before Oktoberfest. I got to run the new body one time at West Salem. Wow! What a difference! t was so slick through the air than the old body. I got into that rough wall there. Not enough people had scrapped it by then. Those bricks (used to build the wall) really damaged the body. We had to work on the body before Oktoberfest.
“Once I got into the lead, I found out that I hardly had to use the brakes on that track,” Reffner continued. “It worked better coasting into the corners and getting on the power sooner. It (a good lead) gave me a chance to check out where you could run on the track and not slow your times down. It was a learning experience. It was the first year we ran the new track (the 5/8s). You don’t need a real good car to run fast when the track is new and sticky. For us guys that only ran the local tracks, that (West Salem) was a big track. It was similar to Kaukauna’s KK Sports Arena as far as the gear ratio. There not the same tracks for sure. We didn’t get a chance to run at Kaukauna too much because they were running USAC-type cars.
“I was working out of Jim Back’s garage back then. Jim and I had bought a car. Marvin Marzofka was going to quit racing. I don’t remember why. We asked him to drive our car and he was one of the guys to beat at Kaukauna. Dick (Trickle) was dominating over there that year but Marv did real well with Jim and our other car. Back then, you didn’t get much sleep. It seemed like you were always working on your car, driving to the races in the truck and racing.”
Reffner was a two-time ARTGO Racing champion, winning the titles in 1975 and 1978. He scored 15 career ARTGO victories.
Reffner’s final feature wins came in 1999 as he won a pair of races at Wisconsin’s Marshfield Speedway.
Tom Reffner – a true racing champion.