MORRIS, Ill. — Grundy County Speedway will host the 60th annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 presented by Elite Trade Show Services late model stock car special this Saturday.
Back in September of 1962, Harry Molenaar presented the first Tony Bettenhausen Memorial at his Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind. The event was to honor Tony Bettenhausen and start a building fund to erect a hospital in the south suburban area of Chicago to honor the late Bettenhausen, who died in a practice crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May of 1961. The hospital would eventually be erected, becoming known as the South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill.
Bettenhausen, who farmed some 600 acres in his hometown of Tinley Park, Ill., was the area’s favorite racing son – who competed in various sorts of motorsports action from the late 1930s until his passing. Whether it was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he competed in the Indianapolis 500 14 times, or the Milwaukee Mile, or at area short tracks like Illiana, Raceway Park and Soldier Field – Bettenhausen was a crowd favorite.
The first Bettenhausen 100 lapper was sanctioned by the United States Auto Club and saw Troy Ruttman wheel his 1962 Mercury to the win. Ruttman, who won the Indianapolis 500 in 1952, defeated Don White, Norm Nelson and Paul Goldsmith that day.
Goldsmith, the former Illiana motorcycle champion, won the Bettenhausen 100 in 1963. Goldsmith, driving a Norm Nelson-entered ’63 Plymouth, took the checkered flag in front of his car owner, Nelson, who was followed by John Rostek and area racers Elmer Musgrave and Sal Tovella. The likes of A.J. Foyt, Curtis Turner, Pat Flaherty and Bettenhausen’s oldest son, Gary, were also in the field that day.
Nelson came back in 1964 and won the final USAC-sanctioned Bettenhausen 100 lapper ahead of Don White and Indianapolis 500 driver Lloyd Ruby.
Molenaar and USAC had their differences in 1965 over car shortages and increased purses with future scheduled USAC stock car races at Illiana being canceled after a Fourth of July 100 lapper, which was won by Nelson. Molenaar made the 1965 Bettenhausen event an open competition program with the feature race being toned back to 50 laps for area and visiting short track cars.
The first open competition Bettenhausen event was a huge success with 77 entries on hand. Conan Myers, from Fort Wayne, Ind., and his lightweight ’57 Chevy convertible came home the winner of the main event, defeating short track aces Joe Shear, Roy Martinelli and Bill Lutz.
Myers won again in 1966 with the feature race being increased back to 100 laps. Lutz and Elmer Musgrave chased Myers to the finish line. Myers would win the Bettenhausen 100 again in 1971, becoming the first three-time winner of the event.
Joy Fair won the 100 lapper in 1967 and again in 1969 – marking the only two Bettenhausen races Fair ever competed in. Buck Hinkle, who hailed from Gary, Ind., became the first Illiana track champion to win the Bettenhausen Classic, winning the 100-lap chase in 1968 after garnering track championship honors in 1967.
The 1970s saw the likes of Gene Eding, Joe Ruttman, Tom Jones, Tom Reffner, Ed Hoffman, Tony Izzo, Joe Shear and Ray Young win Illiana’s annual race with Young winning back-to-back contests in 1976 and ’77.
Winners in the 1980s included Hoffman, Jim Sauter, Larry Schuler, Ted Musgrave, Scott Hansen and Frank Gawlinski. A nine-time late model champion at Illiana, Gawlinski would win a record nine Bettenhausen 100 lappers, starting in 1981 when the race was held the under the banner of John McKarns’ ARTGO Racing for the only time.
Besides Gawlinski seemingly winning each year, the 1990s saw Larry Schuler added two more Bettenhausen wins to his racing resume with Dave Weltmeyer winning back-to-back victories in 1995 and ’96. Second generation racer Eddie Hoffman captured his first Bettenhausen 100 in 1998.
Rolling into the New Millennium, Weltmeyer added two more victories, giving him a career total of four. Eddie Hoffman scored three victories, also giving him a career total of four. Pat Kelly won three Bettenhausen 100 lappers; Brett Sontag three; Boris Jurkovic two and Brian Campbell two. Indiana’s Scott Tomasik won the last Bettenhausen Classic held at Illiana in 2015 as the speedway closed its gates for the final time that year.
With Illiana closing after the 2015 racing season, the Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 was moved to the Grundy County Speedway – the third-mile paved raceway located at the Grundy County Fairgrounds on Illinois Route 47.
Hailing from Plainfield, Ill., Ricky Baker, a two-time Grundy late model titlist, won the first Bettenhausen 100 held at Grundy in 2016 and repeated his winning effort in 2017. Indiana’s Paul Shafer Jr. also posted two consecutive victories in 2018 and ’19.
Last year, Michael Bilderback was the winner of the Bettenhausen 100 lapper at Grundy during the pandemic-shortened season. A three-time late model champion at the Rockford Speedway, Bilderback took the checkered flag ahead of Ricky Baker. Eddie Hoffman finished third, followed by Blake Brown, fastest qualifier Rich Bickle Jr. and Nathan Kelly.
With 29 different drivers winning the Bettenhausen race through the years, this Saturday’s 100-lap event will see $6,000 going to the winner. Entries include Hoffman, Baker, Shafer, Bickle, Schuler, Ty Majeski, Anthony Danta, Wes Griffith Jr. and D.J. Weltmeyer.
Grandstand gates open Saturday at 3 p.m., qualifying at 5:30 p.m. and racing beginning at 7 p.m. Mid American, street stock and pure stock divisions will also be in action.