CHICAGO — Chicagoland stock car champion Larry Middleton died Jan. 10 at the age of 80.
Middleton was a two-time late model champion at Blue Island’s Raceway Park and captured one late model title at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind.
Previously doing some street racing, Middleton jumped into stock car racing at Raceway Park in 1963 when he purchased Legs Whitcomb’s opening day/feature race-winning ’57 Chevy. Painting “71s” on the blue-and-yellow car and with no previous stock car driving experience, Middleton joined competition that included drivers such as Bud Koehler, Bob Pronger, Bill Cornwall, Ray Young and Ted Janecyk.
The 1960s saw Middleton become a regular competitor in Raceway Park’s sometimes four-nights-a-week action. He was 18th in the points in 1964, winning his first heat race and 16th in 1965, driving updated 1963/64 Chevrolets. He had a new Chevelle ready for the 1968 season but sold it to Bob Pronger a week before the season began — deciding instead on a new house for his family.
Returning to racing, various years and models of Chevrolets were Middleton’s race cars. He was the 10th ranking driver at Raceway Park in 1970 but was still looking for his first feature win. He jumped to sixth in the points in 1973, winning his first three features. Middleton climbed to fourth in 1974, grabbing four main event victories along the way. He came home third in the standings in 1975, winning seven features, including the track’s annual 300-lap Classic.
Calling East Hazel Crest, Ill., home and a pipe fitter by trade, Middleton was ready to contend for a track championship. He finished second in points in 1976, notching eight victories in his own ’74 Camaro. In 1977, Middleton won 20 features en route to the track championship aboard a 1975 Camaro.
Teaming with car owners Joe D’Ambrose and Ted Kerner Jr., Middleton won another 17 features and the track title in 1978. He ended up with 65 late model triumphs at Raceway Park.
Shifting his racing to Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill., and Illiana Motor Speedway, Middleton was the third-ranking late model driver at Grundy in 1979, winning two features in Larry Hryn’s Camaro No. 8. Racing only part of the season, he was 19th in the points at Illiana in 1981.
Middleton joined forces with Bill and Bev Skarupinski in 1982 and began driving their Bill’s Auto Repair No. 3 late model with the big “windup key” on the trunk lid. He scored feature wins at both Grundy and Illiana, including Illiana’s 40-lap Spring Championship in 1984.
Middleton and the Skarupinski gang as they won the late model title at Illiana in 1985. To put “icing on the cake,” Middleton captured the ARTGO Challenge Series Chicagoland Showdown at Illiana in June, guiding the Skarupinskis’ Firebird, a former Dick Trickle-car, to the win.
Middleton was fourth in the points at Illiana in 1986 and seventh in 1987, driving for Marv Hixon. His race car driving days were numbered as his son, Larry Jr., entered competition at Illiana in 1988 with young Middleton winning the street stock championship at the half-mile paved oval.
Middleton continued being busy in racing whether it was helping Larry Jr. or his grandkids compete in go-karts. His grandson Tyler also raced stock cars before becoming a veterinarian.
Middleton was inducted into the Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2018.