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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing


Keith Vercauteren
Mid American Stock Car Series
April 30, 2014

When I heard the news that the Vercauteren Memorial was returning to Wisconsin International Raceway in 2014, I was very excited to say the least. I may have jumped up into the air or high-fived one of my cats. WIR is a very special place for the Vercauteren family.

The Vercauteren Memorial Race began in 1990 to honor my grandparents, Harold and Regina Vercauteren. Starting out at the dirt track in my old hometown of Chilton, it moved to the pavement of WIR with the formation of the Mid-American Stock Car Series in 1993. The event took on greater significance after my dad, Mid-American founder Gary Vercauteren, passed away in October of 2005. When the annual Red, White and Blue State Championship Series became part of the regular Thursday night program in 2009, it became difficult for the Mid-American Stock Car Series to schedule a race at what was, in many ways, its home track.

The Memorial race winner’s prestigious award, the Vercauteren Memorial Traveling Trophy, has done a fair bit of additional travel with Mid-American on the interim, as the Vercauteren Memorial Race visited tracks such as the 141 Speedway (before it was converted to a dirt track) in Francis Creek, the scenic 4-mile Road America in Elkhart Lake, the picture-esque Norway Speedway in Upper Michigan and down at the high-banks of Rockford Speedway in Illinois. All great tracks, of course, but it will be good to be home.

My dad (Gary) had been attending races at WIR since its inception when it was known as the KK Sports Arena, which included a drag strip, a ¼ mile oval and finally a ½ mile oval. He and the rest of the Vercauteren Clan were already veterans of the Northeast Wisconsin dirt-tracks including Shawano, De Pere and Seymour, taking pictures and selling racing newspapers. The most well-known portion of the KK Sports Arena, the ½ mile oval, was paved in 1968. After a few lean years and some restructuring, the track was renamed Wisconsin International Raceway in 1971. My dad was named the public relations director for the track in 1972, and was instrumental in the forming of the popular Red, White and Blue State Championship Series that same year. He worked closely over the years with owner Joe Van Daalwyk, and later on with current owner, Joe’s son, Roger Van Daalwyk. When the ARTGO Challenge Series started visiting the track beginning in 1979, he did a lot of work with his good friend, ARTGO president John McKarns.

Long hours were spent at Vercauteren Publishing in Chilton, laying out flyers and creating programs for WIR events. While most tracks’ programs at the time were mainly filled with stats, ads and pictures, my dad fleshed-out the WIR programs with well-written articles. He was involved in working with people from newspapers, radio stations and television stations who were covering the events. He worked hard to promote the sport he loved and the track he loved most.

Some of my earliest memories in life were of being at Wisconsin International Raceway. The late-1970’s and early-1980’s were a very exciting period in short track racing in the Midwest and especially at WIR. The weekly events and the special events, such as the Red, White and Blue Series and the ARTGO Challenge Series, were filled with some of the top drivers of the day. Leadfoot local drivers from the Fox Valley area included the likes of J.J. Smith, Roger Regeth, Terry Baldry, Lowell Bennett and Scott Hansen. From the tough Central Wisconsin circuit came heavyweights such as Dick Trickle, Tom Reffner, Jim Back, Rich Somers, Marv Marzofka, Larry Detjens and Jim Sauter. Hard-chargers coming north to race from Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois included drivers such as Dave Watson, Alan Kulwicki, Joe Shear, Johnny Ziegler, Larry Schuler and current Mid-American Stock Car Series owner Doug Strasburg. The list of talented drivers from all over the country who have competed at the ½ mile, D-shaped oval could go on and on.

When my dad and my uncle Pete formed the Mid-American Stock Car Series in 1993, it was pretty obvious more than a few races each season would be held at WIR. The Red, White and Blue Series included the Mid-Ams, as well as visits from the ARTGO Challenge Series using Mid-Am as a support series. Usually the series visited the track at least 3 times a year, and sometimes 4 or more. Tight racing and close finishes were common in Mid-Am visits to the track. I’m certain that will continue with the series returning.

As I pull into the parking lot of WIR on May 10th, I’m sure I will feel that buzzing excitement as I always have. And if I listen in a certain way, I’ll probably hear my dad’s laughter over the loudspeaker.

Visit Mid-American at http://www.midamericanracing.com/, WIR at http://www.wirmotorsports.com/ and Fox River Racing Club at http://www.frrcracing.net/.

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