Records show that the track, which for a number of years was in the planning stages by a group which included former midget racing ace, Bob Muhlke, opened its gates for the first time on June 17, 1956 with stock cars and midgets on the inaugural card.
|Chicago Tribune Ad - Opening Day, June 17, 1956.|
Gene Marmor claimed the track’s late model stock car championship that first year, which also saw modified stock cars in competition. Marmor and his Chevy topped Tom Cox and Fred Lorenzen in the final standings in ’56.
Under the promotion of Bill Cherney and Tex Wooten, the speedway would see Marmor win the late model title again in 1957. Marmor in a ’56 Chevy again bested Cox, who was trailed by Kenny Paulsen.
1958 saw Lorenzen, a 23-year-old Elmhurst resident, win the track championship. Lorenzen, who would later go on to fame in NASCAR Grand National racing, captured 17 feature races that year in his Talarico Brothers 1957 Chevrolet. Lorenzen finished ahead of Bill Lutz and Arnie Gardner in the standings.
|1958 O'Hare Stadium Program Cover.|
Lorenzen, who would also capture the 1958 and 1959 USAC “National” stock car championships, won the features at both O’Hare and Soldier Field. Lorenzen came home fifth in the Raceway 100 lap chase that was won by Raceway regular Bill Van Allen and his ’58 Studebaker Hawk late model. Lutz and his 1956 Chevy finished second in all three races and missed winning the finale at Raceway when a rear tire exploded with one lap to go.
Lutz was the late model track titlist in 1959, taking season title laurels over Marmor and Lorenzen.
NASCAR sanctioned the late model racing at O’Hare in 1960 and 1961. Roy Czach was the man to beat in ’60 and ’61, winning back-to-back titles. Czach, who won six feature races in his Hollywood Automotive-sponsored ’57 Chevy, was crowned the 1960 Midwest NASCAR Champion ahead of Skippy Michaels and Lorenzen. Czach was again O’Hare’s NASCAR late model champ in 1961, winning seven main events and topping the points over Erik Johnson and LeRoy Roberts.
Johnson, in his Reno Martinelli-prepped ’61 Chevy “hardtop” No. 7, was the champion in 1962. Johnson won a single-season record 18 features during the campaign and finished ahead of Lutz and “teammate” Martinelli in the standings.
|Erik Johnson is joined by Miss Chicago and starter Art Kelly after a big win at O'Hare in 1963.|
From 1962 through 1966, the speedway, now under the sanction of the American Racing Organization, would host the O’Hare American 500 each year with the 500 lapper being the longest contest in the area. Lutz, with two victories, along with Gerken, Johnson and Martinelli, were winners of the 500 lap grinds.
Teammates Johnson and Martinelli would dominate the track’s late model action in the speedway’s final years. Wheeling their “Pride of Half Day” mounts, the duo would claim the final four track titles with Martinelli and his red and white ‘64 Chevy convertible winning it in 1965 and 1966 and Johnson capturing back-to-back titles in 1967 and 1968. Johnson used his Martinelli Brothers-owned, Wing & Wheel Café-sponsored ’68 Chevelle to grab the ’68 crown.
|1964 O'Hare Stadium Poster.|
Longtime officials, in addition to Lobaza, included starter Art Kelly, assistant starter Jack Minster, scorer Elmer Steinbeck, timer Keith Switzer and pit steward John Stanek, along with public relations man Bud Booth. The announcing chores were handled mainly by the legendary Ed “Twenty Grand” Steinbock and Art Hellyer. Don Theobold provided the laughs as “T-Bone” the Clown.
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Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.