Eddie Hoffman poses next to his familiar No. 8 in 2020. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo)

Hoffman: The King Of Grundy County

CHICAGO — Eddie Hoffman racked up his eighth late model stock car championship at Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill., this year.  

Hoffman, wheeling his Feece Oil Co./Advanced Generator-sponsored Chevrolet No. 8, won three features during the campaign, giving him 153 feature victories at Grundy — making him the all-time win leader at the third-mile paved oval.

Hailing from Wheaton, Ill., Hoffman, owner of a trucking and construction business, is among an elite group of Chicago area racers that have won more than six late model titles at one specific speedway. 

Bud Koehler leads the group with 11 championships at Blue Island’s Raceway Park. Tony Izzo won nine titles on the clay at Chicagoland’s Santa Fe Speedway with Frank Gawlinski also grabbing nine late model crowns at Indiana’s Illiana Motor Speedway.  

Hoffman finds himself fourth on the list, ahead of Dick Nelson with seven at Santa Fe and Hoffman’s Dad, Ed, with seven at Illiana. One has to remember that all of these drivers have won at least one more championship at other raceways, including Ed Hoffman, who won six at Grundy. It’s a good bet that Ed Hoffman’s record, 13 championships, will never be bettered in these parts.  

Eddie Hoffman captured one late model crown at Illiana (in 2012) and won 54 features at the half-mile paved oval, including four Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100s.

“It was a little bit of an odd season,” said Hoffman about 2023. “Certain guys had good speed at certain times during the year. We were pretty good at the beginning. We had a real good middle of the season and got the points lead. We had some mechanical issues there at the end. The Bettenhausen race (on September 23) might have been the first time I didn’t finish a (feature) race this year. We had brake issues.”

Eddie Hoffman on his way to victory at Grundy County Speedway in 2012. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo)

Like most sons and daughters of race car drivers, young Eddie Hoffman found himself watching his dad compete from the grandstands. Hoffman began getting into the pits by “sneaking in” – hiding in the car hauler and staying out of site as he was underage. Finally old enough to get into the pits, Hoffman began playing a bigger part on his dad’s race team.  

Asked about when he got the itch to be a racing driver, Hoffman said, “That was early, probably when I was a teenager, I’m not real sure. That was shut down pretty quick by dad because he wanted to keep racing and was doing well and needed people working on his car. That’s how we got started with the enduro thing. We really didn’t have permission for that.”

Young Hoffman, 25, began a driving career of his own, racing enduro stock cars, beginning in 1985. He was the Midwest Enduro Series champion in 1986 as the title was based on the total laps completed during all events. Hoffman won three of the enduro series contests during that title-winning year.  He was also tough to beat in the enduro action at Raceway Park for a four-year period, winning his first enduro contest at Raceway Park in 1987.  

“There were 50 to 100 cars on the track,” said Hoffman about his enduro racing. “It was mayhem! John McKarns (who founded the Midwest Enduro series with Tom Deery) once told me, ‘Don’t hit anyone but don’t let anyone hit you.’ You could log a bunch of laps and learn how to become a racer.  I remember winning at Rockford (Speedway) for the first time. Dad was there (in the grandstands) watching me race. I’m sneaking out with my enduro car racing and there he is.”  

Hoffman also won the U.S. Enduro Series championships in 1989 and 1991.

“Literally, the first one (championship) was 10 grand with a $500 car,” remembered Hoffman. “You ran a bunch of laps and had to avoid all the people and mayhem. You learned how to react and drive and not think.”

At the end of the 1992 season, Hoffman was the winner of the 50-lap A bracket feature during the first Bahama Brackets at Rockford. The Bahama Brackets tradition continued through this season with the final Bahama event held at the historic speedway a few weeks ago.

Hoffman teamed with David Dotter and began racing street stocks and sportsman cars at Grundy, Illiana and other Midwestern tracks.

“David Dotter started helping me with the enduro cars because they were becoming more sophisticated,” said Hoffman. “He was a street stock guy, building and working on cars. We did some good from time to time with those cars.”

The second-generation driver moved to Mid-American Stock Car Series (sportsman stock car) action and won three consecutive series titles, 1993 through 1995. Driving Dotter’s cars, he amassed 23 victories during that span.

“It was right up David Dotter’s alley,” said Hoffman. “The connection with his brother (NASCAR racer) Bobby Dotter provided old bodies that could be put on stock frames. Those years were real promising. The series had sponsors, good marketing and ran tracks like Road America. 

Ed Hoffman W Eddie & Art Kelly Tb100 1975
Young Eddie Hoffman poses with his Dad, Ed, and starter Art Kelly after Ed Hoffman won the annual Tony Bettenhausen Memorial 100 late model special at Indiana’s Illiana Motor Speedway in 1975. (Stan Kalwasinski Photo)

“I’ll never forget, we went to Road America in Elkhart Lake and I just couldn’t run consistent laps (on the road course) in practice,” Hoffman said. “So I went and got a map of the track and taped it to the dash board. It sounds kind of stupid or funny, but it really helped me get around the place.”

Driving for Fred Appleton of Appleton Power Rack & Pinions, Hoffman began his full-time late model career in 1996, competing on the ARTGO Challenge Series late model tour, racing against the likes of Joe Shear, Steve Carlson and Jim Weber. He finished sixth in points and earned the rookie-of-the-year award.

Hoffman scored his first Grundy victory on June 28, 1996 and was named the track’s top late model rookie. He earned the first of his eight late model crowns at Grundy the next season.

The same year Hoffman and Appleton won the ARTGO Challenge Series championship with Hoffman becoming the first driver ever to win rookie-of-the-year honors one year and capture the championship the next.

Hoffman won twice on the ARTGO trail during his championship season, winning his first ARTGO main event at Rockford Speedway on June 1, 1997.

“I still look back at that (ARTGO) championship as being one of the biggest accomplishments of my driving career,” said Hoffman.

The Appleton team dissolved after the 1998 season with Hoffman joining Wisconsin car owner Don Fanetti in 1999 and concentrating on the American Speed Ass’n tour. In 2000, he hooked up with Tom Kmak.

“I ran for Tom and Lisa Kmak (TK Racing) for 14 years,” said Hoffman. “That’s unheard of for a driver/owner combination. We probably ran 40 races a year. It worked out well. We did a lot of travelling and won some races and championships. I had a lot of success. It kept me away sometimes from Grundy. There were probably 10 years or so there that we couldn’t run for a Grundy championship.”

Hoffman, who earned the nickname “Fast Eddie,” enjoyed racing success with either Kmak’s Lisa Thomas Salon entries or his own equipment. He’s been successful in ASA, the Championship Racing Ass’n and the NASCAR RE/MAX Challenge Series. He claimed four main event wins in ASA competition in 2007 He won the annual Oktoberfest event at Wisconsin’s LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway three times.

Hoffman topped the annual National Short Track Championships late model special at Rockford Speedway four times, winning for the first time in 2001 and the last time in 2013. Victories at Grundy include five Lee Schuler Memorials and three Wayne Carter Classics.

Hoffman has been a winner in Florida, Colorado and Tennessee, winning four times in Nashville — three at the fairgrounds oval and once at Nashville Superspeedway.  

“Nashville was always cool with the guitar (trophy),” said Hoffman. “We won four guitars! One of the races was the Adam Petty Memorial and Tom (Kmak) got that one (guitar). I have the first one. Those races will always standout. 

“The one at Lakeland (Florida) during the winter was another one. It seemed like everyone from around the country was there. Those big ones (wins) were cool, but (at the time) you don’t realize what you’ve done. You don’t seem to have time to enjoy it. You have to get ready and go on to the next race.”

Hoffman is the first to admit that money, technology and a good team are important for winning.

“Technology is making racing expensive and harder to do,” commented Hoffman. “The quest of going fast, which is racing, is where you bring technology in. It takes money and if you can get that full-time guy or guys then you’re just going to go faster. Sponsors make a difference. You now they are there and it helps. Racing costs a lot. Maybe I could travel more and race more but I have to work more for the racing I want to do.”

Is championship No. 9 at Grundy in the future for Eddie Hoffman? Only time will tell.