Baranek: Hall of Famer? Wayne Adams called on first ballot
Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5947 April 24, 2012 6:42PM
Paul Shafer Sr., a former late-model star in the Chicago area in the 1980s, won his first oval-track race since 1992 Saturday at Illiana Speedway, capturing the Legends feature. | Supplied photo
At Illiana Speedway
2011: Blake Brown
2010: Jeff Cannon
2009: Jeff Cannon
2008: Mike White
2007: Jeff Cannon
2006: Mike White
2005: Pat Kelly
2004: John Nutley
2003: Dave Weltmeyer
2002: Boris Jurkovic
2001: Steve Moenck
2000: Pat Kelly
Updated: May 26, 2012 8:07AM
For 42 years, Wayne Adams welcomed fans to the start of the racing season at Raceway Park. There is good reason to let him have the first words of the 2012 campaign.
Adams, of Dolton, was inducted April 15 into the new Illinois Stock Car Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Forest Hills Lodge in Loves Park.
The new Hall of Fame was created by a group headed by former area dirt track stock car competitor Art “Fireball” Fehrman.
Adams, who earlier this month turned 93, was one of 15 racing notables who made up the inaugural class. Among the others were Andy Granatelli and Fred Lorenzen, and local racing icons Gene Marmor, Joe Shear, Bill Van Allen, Dick Nelson, Arnie Gardner, Don Waldvogel, Tom Pistone and Sal Tovella.
Among the announcing fraternity inducted Adams is first — which is where he ranks on a whole lot of longtime fans’ lists of their favorite track voices.
Adams was masterful at being informative and for sprinkling in anecdotes he collected from the pits before the races.
“An announcer’s job is to make people enjoy the races,” he said during a wonderful conversation we had Monday. “I enjoyed it so darned much, maybe that’s what worked.”
From 1947 through ’89, there was none better.
Saturday night at Illiana Speedway saw the largest field of late-models (21) for an opener that we’ve seen in some time. The feature was a good one, with veteran Danny Darnell and youngster Mark Sontag Jr. putting on a great side-by-side show for several laps before giving way to eventual winner Eddie Hoffman.
One track record was set in the turbo stox division when Johnny Senerchia turned a quarter-mile qualifying lap of 17.610 seconds. Senerchia also won his fast heat and the feature.
Remember Paul Shafer? You’ve been around for a while if you do. He was a late-model terror in the Chicago area from the mid-1980s into the early ’90s, especially at Kankakee Speedway, before retiring from oval-track racing in 1992 to get into monster trucks.
Saturday night Shafer jumped behind the wheel of a Legends car that his son, Paul Jr., previously had driven and won the 20-lap feature. Paul Jr., meanwhile, made his late-model debut and was the second-fastest qualifier.
“I thought, ‘Well, why should I watch? I might as well go out and race these things,’ ” a smiling Shafer said later.
It was good to see Bill Serviss behind the wheel again of his turbo stox No. 17. Serviss, a four-time champion, suffered a work injury Aug. 5 and missed the rest of the 2011 season.
“That was hard, but I also lost my mother during that time,” Serviss said. “So I’m racing for her this year.”
As for the back injury ...
“I’m always going to have problems with my muscles, stretching them all the time,” Serviss said. “But my bones, I’m 100 percent there. My back is getting stronger as I’m going. I bought a Hans Device this year just to protect myself.”
It was a weird start for former track champion John Nutley, who after practice switched from the car he was going to run at Illiana to one he had set up for Plymouth on Sunday. He qualified so far off the pace that he started near the front of the slow heat. Nutley won that race going away, but wasn’t able to challenge the leaders during the 30-lap feature.
“When we switched we put the wrong gear in it for qualifying,” Nutley said after winning the heat. “I don’t like this (competing a slow heat). That’s not the way I like to run. But it is what it is. It’s the beginning of a new year. So we’ll take it.”
Nutley said his plans for 2012 include racing full-time at Illiana and an occasional JEGS show. He says he is not running at Grundy County Speedway, where he finished second behind Hoffman in 2011.
Speaking of the JEGS/CRA Series, Illiana will host the “All Stars Tour 100” on May 19.
Grundy is to kick off its new season Friday night. There will be regular weekly programs before the first special features Twin 25s for late-models May 25.
The STARS open-wheel midgets will run several Saturday programs at Grundy starting with their opener June 2.