1980-1989: ARCA Racing, Speedway Style
TOLEDO, Ohio (November 11, 2009)-The early 1980s brought trying times as the ARCA community pondered how to proceed following the death of founder John Marcum but thanks to a dedicated group of new leaders the ARCA sanction established itself as a legitimate developmental series by decade's end. Speedway races became a staple on the ARCA schedule, long-time associations with tracks such as Pocono Raceway were formed and up-and-coming NASCAR drivers were noted for their ARCA speedway race wins. The stars of the 1980s, along with champions from each of ARCA's 56 years, will be honored at the ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship Awards Banquet in Covington, Kentucky, on Saturday evening, December 5.
From the Series' inaugural race at Dayton Speedway in Ohio on May 10, 1953, to the 2009 Championship race at Rockingham Speedway in North Carolina on October 11, 2009, it's the stars of ARCA that have formed the most memorable racing moments in ARCA's history. In the 1980s, those stars included Champions Bob Dotter, Larry Moyer, Scott Stovall, Lee Raymond, Bill Venturini, Tracy Leslie and Bob Keselowski.
A group of ARCA's expert insiders will provide their opinion and analysis for each of ARCA's six decades, beginning with the inaugural 1953 season and ending with 2009. ARCA Insiders include history buffs Ron Drager, the current president of ARCA, Bill Kimmel, Jr., crew chief of the No. 44 Ansell-Menards Fusion driven by Frank Kimmel, and SPEED commentator Phil Parsons, who will serve as the Master of Ceremonies for this year's Championship Awards Banquet.
ARCA Insiders Reflect on 1980-1989: ARCA Racing, Speedway Style
Bob Dotter, Larry Moyer, Scott Stovall, Lee Raymond, Bill Venturini, Tracy Leslie and Bob Keselowski Crowned Champs
Ron Drager: President of ARCA:
Ron Drager "Perhaps the defining period in ARCA's 57-year history occurred early in the 1980s. On Saturday, May 16, 1981, ARCA founder, leader, godfather, owner and president John Marcum died at age 67 in Dayton, Ohio, where he was promoting an ARCA race at Dayton Speedway. Marcum had, over 3 decades, built a strong network of support for ARCA throughout the racing industry on a very personal level. It remained questionable if the company he created with his wife Mildred in 1953 and worked tirelessly and relentlessly to build could survive without him at the helm. To compound matters, the economy in general and motorsports in particular were stuck in struggle mode; only 8 races were on the 1981 ARCA national tour schedule, and 3 were at ARCA-promoted Flat Rock Speedway. Enter a small but determined group of long time ARCA officials, buoyed by the pledge of support from Bill France Sr., and ARCA cofounder Mildred Marcum and her daughter Suzie Drager. These officials, led by Bob Loga and Rollo Juckette, were joined by Marcum's grandson Ron Drager and, with significant support from France Sr. found traction as early as 1982 in the form of series title sponsorship from Alabama Int'l Motor Speedway-the ARCA Talladega Supercar Series. France Sr., retired from the NASCAR Presidency, used his influence to introduce ARCA racing to Atlanta, added a 2nd race each season at Talladega and orchestrated ARCA-USAC Stock Car cosanctioned events at Springfield, DuQuoin and Milwaukee. The 1980s answered the question as to whether ARCA could become a living legacy to Marcum.
Superspeedway racing picked up steam during the 1980s as 51 races were held on tracks over a mile in length-twice as many as had been run in the previous 3 decades. The 200-mph qualifying run became commonplace, beginning with Billie Harvey at Talladega in '81, peaking with Bill Venturini's 205.432 mph lap at Talladega in 1987 and closing out with Charlie Glotzbach's 201.456 mph at Talladega, the last recorded 200 mph+ qualifying run. Chattanooga Tennessee NASCAR veteran Grant Adcox decided to become an ARCA racer and won 4 of 6 long track races in 1986, adding 4 more through 1988. Davey Allison racked up 6 ARCA superspeedway wins and the 1984 Rookie of the Year award en route to a NASCAR Cup ride. Joe Ruttman, Tim Richmond, Mark Martin, Rick Wilson, Michael Waltrip, Ben Hess and Ernie Irvan also posted wins and Harry Gant and Brett Bodine won poles on the long tracks in ARCA competition before tasting success at the NASCAR level.
Chicagoland driver Bob Dotter, who lost an arm in a construction accident before he started his racing career, became the only driver in series history to win championships for 3 different car owners-Bill Hahnlein in 1980, Bill Goudie in 1983 and Jeff Fortier in 1984. Dotter went on to finish in the top-10 in points every season of the '80s. Fellow Chicago driver Venturini, whose wife and car owner Cathy led an all-female pit crew, finished 2nd in points in 1983-84-85 and 3rd in '86 before claiming the first of his 2 titles in 1987. Fort Wayne, Indiana drivers Larry Moyer and Scott Stovall won championships in 1981-1982. Dayton, Ohio 2nd generation ARCA driver Lee Raymond gave car owner Jim Coyle championships in '85-86 to match the pair won by Marvin Smith in the '70s, all in Coyle's famous orange #1 Riverside Auto Parts rides. Michigan drivers Tracy Leslie and Bob Keselowski closed out the decade with championships in 1988 and 1989. Stovall, Venturini, Mark Gibson, Dave Weltmeyer and Bobby Gerhart won Rookie of the Year titles. Two race driving brothers-Clifford Allison and Ron Keselowski-won crew chief of the year crowns for the performances of their siblings, Davey Allison and Bob Keselowski. Ed Hage's Oldsmobile V-6 led the series in '85 with 3 wins and 3 poles, there were 12 different race winners and 13 different pole winners in 1986 and Ramo Stott joined Iggy Katona and Charlie Glotzbach as the only drivers to win in 3 different decades with his 1988 win at Hazard, Kentucky. Chicagoland racers the Roulo Brothers, Duane Pierson, Don Marmor, Dotter, Venturini, Bob Strait, Bob Schacht, Dave Weltmeyer, Gene Richards, Rolf Helland, Mike Lorz and others has success.
Females made their presence known with Patty Moise winning 3 superspeedway pole awards and Patty Simko recording both the fastest female qualifying lap (199.604 mph at Talladega) and the best-ever female short track finish (3rd at Toledo).
Phil Parsons won in 1980 at North Wilkesboro, Ken Schrader made his first ARCA start at Daytona in 1981 in a Ford powered by the first-ever Jack Roush superspeedway stock car engine, Dean Roper won 9 times on the dirt at Terre Haute-Springfield-DuQuoin-Indianapolis, and drivers named Bob were on a tear with victories throughout the decade by Bob Dotter, Bob Schacht, Bobby Jacks, Bob Brevak, Bob Strait and Bob Keselowski. The first-ever live national television broadcast of an ARCA race occurred during the '80s, in 1983 at Pocono with Schacht winning the race. Loctite Corporation's Permatex brand ushered the decade out with its title sponsorship of the Permatex Supercar Series."
Bill Kimmel, Jr: Crew Chief of the No. 44 Ansell-Menards Fusion:
Bill Kimmel "The early 1980s are pretty vague for me because I was in college then and doing a lot of my own racing around home. Salem Speedway was hit by a tornado in 1981 so there was no racing at Salem Speedway at all and ARCA racing was disappearing from the Louisville area. When ARCA left this area the Kimmel family went away from ARCA racing a little bit. For my deal, ARCA was no longer here in Southern Indiana and we had to do everything we could to start our own racing careers. The Fairgrounds Speedway in Louisville was closing at the time and the Sportsdrome in Jeffersonville was starting to run Late Models so that is where I was. John Marcum was in really bad health and when John passed away in 1981 that was a real low for ARCA because he was their founding father. ARCA started picking up again under Bob Loga and drivers like Davey Allison were starting to run some ARCA races by the late 1980s but the early 1980s were a struggle.
I remember the early 1980s with Bob Dotter and Jim Coyle winning Championships but mostly I remember the late 1980s and the tornado going through and taking out Salem Speedway in 1987. As ARCA started picking up again Dad and I went up and talked to some people about reopening Salem Speedway but before we got around to buying it Don Gettelfinger, a good friend of Dad's, bought the thing and he asked Dad and I run the whole show. This was back in 1988 and the first thing we did was call ARCA and bring ARCA Racing back to the Salem Speedway. It was a huge success. We had to delay the start of the race 30 minutes because the crowd was so big, We ran a 200 lap late model race the night before and had a big crowd for that too. Before the ARCA race the crowd was lined up outside all the way out to the road so Don Gettelfinger gave away popcorn to everyone in the stands while we waited for the rest of the crowd to get in. Tracy Leslie really stood out in my mind at that race because he came with a green Howe car that was absolutely immaculate. We pretty much left ARCA in the 1970s so when I saw his car sitting there in the late 1980s I was very surprised to see how far the cars came during those ten years. His car was a piece of art. It was so perfect looking compared to what we were running in the 1970s.
Racing in general was doing real well during the 1980s and ARCA was really picking up especially compared to the hard times that they went through in the early 1980s so bringing ARCA back to the Louisville was a good just a good fit. A new track opened in Louisville during this time and they were drawing thousands of people a night. Bob Schacht won a 500 lapper in ARCA during the 1980s. Keselowski was running real well and Roper was running really hard."
Phil Parsons: SPEED Commentator and Master of Ceremonies for the 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship Awards Banquet:
Phil Parsons "The very beginning of the 1980s was exciting for me personally because I got the opportunity to run a couple of ARCA races. The first one being in 1980 and then a couple more in 1981. I was fortunate enough to win in my first ARCA start ever in 1980 and then the 1981 races gave me my first taste of speedway racing. Really, the 1980s marked the beginning of ARCA's superspeedway era. This is when ARCA became a diverse racing series with a lot of superspeedway races. Previously, ARCA raced at Daytona and Talladega, but in the 1980s the series started to venture off to other speedways as well, with the debut of ARCA racing at Pocono in 1983 and Atlanta in 1984.
When ARCA lost its founder, John Marcum, in the early 1980s it became one of the biggest things to ever happen to the sanctioning body. That was a very trying time for the Series and without Mr. Marcum's tutelage and steering a lot of us around the sport weren't sure where it was going to happen. Fortunately, a couple of people stepped up and the leadership of Rollo Juckette and Bob Loga helped keep the thing afloat.
In the 1980s the series became a terrific venue for drivers and teams to show their stuff with the advent of superspeedway races on the schedule. People really started taking notice of the ARCA Series and that trend continues to this day. Michael Waltrip, Ernie Irvan and other drivers came through ARCA on their way to NASCAR. We had terrific drivers during the 1980s. Bob Dotter, in the early part of the 1980s, won championships. Lee Raymond came in during the mid 1980s to win a couple of championships for Jim Coyle and towards the end of the decade Bill Venturini came in to win the first of his two Championships. Tracy Leslie won an ARCA Championship as a rookie then moved on and had success in the NASCAR Nationwide (Then Busch) Series. At the end of the 1980s the Keselowski family was very successful, with Bob driving cars and Ron serving as crew chief. Although Ron didn't do a lot of ARCA Racing, he was a great driver in his own right, with success in NASCAR and USAC. Ron and Bob's father, John, was successful in ARCA long before they were, and the tradition continues today with a continued presence in ARCA for the Keselowski family.
In the late 1980s Patty Moise found success in ARCA by becoming the first female to capture a superspeedway pole. Bobby Gerhart made his ARCA debut in the 1980s and he has gone on to become very successful with five ARCA 200 at Daytona race wins."
The Stars of ARCA, 1953-2009, will be honored at the 2009 ARCA RE/MAX Series Championship Awards Banquet in Covington, Kentucky on Saturday night, December 5. The banquet is open to the public and tickets are available by contacting Shalene Williams at the ARCA Office (734) 847-6726.