|by Tom Lathen
The Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame will enshrine six new inductees at the organizationís 21st annual Induction Ceremonies to be held later this year in Lincoln. In a change from previous years, this yearís Induction Ceremonies will be on Saturday, October 27 at Courtside Banquet Hall in Lincoln. Previously, the organizationís annual Induction Ceremonies had been held on a Friday evening at Lincoln Firefighterís Hall, however timing and space issues prompted the change to a Saturday night at a larger venue.
This yearís diverse class of inductees includes Driver Don Droud, Jr. of Lincoln, Driver/Promoter Larry Gregg of Doniphan, Car Owner/Mechanic Chelse Johnson of Lincoln, Engine Builder Chuck Spanel of Lincoln, Drag Racer Stan White of Palmyra, and Driver/Car Owner Ron Williams of North Platte.
Don Droud, Jr. Following in the footsteps of his father, Nebraska Hall of Fame Inductee Don Droud, Sr., Don Droud, Jr. began his racing career as a 16-year old youngster, racing Street Stocks and then Late Models, before jumping into a Sprint Car in his early twenties. After performing successfully at both Midwest Speedway and Eagle Raceway, Droud turned his attention to regional Sprint Car racing, finishing second in the point standings at Knoxville Raceway in Iowa during his first full season of competition there in 1997. A year later, he became the first driver ever to break the 15-second barrier at Knoxville, and his single lap record of 14.934 seconds stood for seven years at the ďSprint Car Capital of the World.Ē Still an active driver, Droudís career accomplishments include a victory in the inaugural 1200-pound Nationals in Knoxville in 2001, qualifying for the A-main at the prestigious Knoxville Nationals five times, and being a four-time runner-up in the Knoxville Raceway 410 Sprint Car point standings. He is one of the few drivers to qualify for the A-Main at the Chile Bowl, the Belleville Midget Nationals, and the Knoxville Nationals in the same year.
Larry Gregg. Larry Gregg got his baptism into auto racing in 1970 when he and a group of friends purchased a 1957 Ford and began racing at Hastings Raceway and at the Fairgrounds race track in Smith Center, Kansas. Gregg began serving on the Board of Directors at Mid-Continent Raceway in Doniphan in the early 1970s and during his tenure was instrumental, along with NARHoF inductee Chuck Bosselman, in the founding and promotion of the Nebraska Late Model Nationals, The World Modified Championships, and the first World Of Outlaws Sprint Car event held in the state of Nebraska. Gregg, and his wife Karen, purchased Mid-Continent Raceway during the winter of 1981 and successfully owned and promoted the Central Nebraska speed plant through the 1995 season. During those years, Gregg developed the concept of the Central Nebraska Triple Crown, brought a NASCAR sanction to Mid-Continent, brought the Busch All-Star Tour to Doniphan, and also brought in numerous other events including Monster Trucks, 200-lap Enduros, and Semi Truck Races. Gregg passed away in 2014.
Chelse Johnson. Chelse Johnson get his start in auto racing as a car owner in the early 1920s, teaming up with driver Morris Talvinsky, with the duo quickly becoming a force at local County Fair race tracks in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. Johnson partnered with driver Speed Haskell in the late 1920s and later with Texas driver Bill Morris in the early 1930s. The team of Johnson and Morris achieved great success with Morris guiding Johnsonís number-4 Big Car to many victories throughout the region including events in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Ohio. Later Sioux City, Iowa hot shoe Sam Hoffman turned the wheel of the Johnson-owned race car, scoring major wins at Des Moines, Iowa, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Belleville, Kansas. Although multi-car teams were very rare during the time period, Johnson typically arrived at events with as many as four cars ready for competition Other notable drivers who chauffeured Johnson-owned Big Cars included Morris Musick and Johnny McDowell.
Chuck Spanel. A native of Broken Bow, Chuck Spanel begin his career in auto racing in 1977 when he went to work for Larson Balancing in Lincoln, following his graduation from Southeast Community College in Milford. In the early 1980s, Spanel opened his own engine shop in Lincoln, Spanel Engines, Inc. with Late Model drivers Tom Svoboda of David City and Jerry Safranek of Merna being two of his early customers. Over the years, Spanel and Svoboda have teamed up to win over 125 feature races and 12 track championships, with Safranek also winning multiple track championships and numerous weekly races. In the late 1980s, Spanel began building Sprint Car motors, with his customers including successful open-wheel drivers Bruce Divis, John Gerloff and Mike Boston. Spanel later teamed up with Carson Smith and Speedway Motors on Bobby Unserís American Indy Car Series (AIS) entry and the team competed at the Pikeís Peak International Hill Climb from 1993-1998, setting numerous track records and winning multiple events there. In 1999, when his son, Tom, began his go-kart racing career, Spanel began building go-kart engines, helping Tom win numerous IKF, KART and WKA National Championships
Stan White. After watching his high school friends compete at area drag strips, Stan White purchased his first drag car in 1969, racing in the Stock Class car at tracks in Nebraska and surrounding states through 1972. The following season White built a Chevrolet Nova, racing at National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) events in eleven Midwestern states as well as Manitoba, Canada. Whiteís biggest career win came in 1978, when he won the Super Stock division at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, the most prestigious NHRA-sanctioned event in the country at the time. That same year, he also qualified for the World Finals in Ontario, Canada, before eventually losing in the quarterfinals. He set a Super Stock national record at Denver, Colorado in 1979 and also won a National Open event at Fargo, North Dakota that summer. The following season, he was the Super Stock class winner at the IHRA Nationals held in Scribner, Nebraska and televised nationally on ESPN. Although semi-retired as a driver, White continues to race his Chevrolet Nova on occasion at area race tracks.
Ron Williams. Ron Williamsí interest in automobile racing began at an early age, when he began riding his bicycle to the Lincoln County Fairgrounds in North Platte. After driving a drag car for a few years in Nebraska and Colorado, he and a friend, built their first Stock Car in 1965, and for the next 22 seasons, Williams successfully raced Coupes, Super Modifieds and Sprint Cars throughout Nebraska and across the Midwest. During that period, he raced at 38 race tracks in a five state area, racking up countless feature race wins, as well as nine track championships and numerous special event victories. The highlight of Williamsí driving career was a late-race win over Al Unser Jr. at a Racing Promotion Management (RPM) event in Erie, Colorado in 1979. Following his retirement as a driver, Williams put his 17-year old son Tommy Lee into the cockpit of the number-29 Sprint Car and over the next two and a half decades, the team won four additional track championships and raced successfully with the United Rebel Sprint Series. Williams passed away in 2014.
Joe Wade, of Dorchester, will also be honored during this yearís induction ceremonies. Wade, who successfully raced Late Models and Sprint Cars at over two dozen race tracks throughout the Midwest for portions of three decades, was inducted with last yearís 20th anniversary class of Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductees.
The Nebraska Auto Racing Hall of Fame inducted its first class 1998 and since that time has enshrined over 140 members of the Nebraska racing community. The purpose of the organization is to perpetuate the memory of individuals who have brought lasting fame and positive recognition to the state of Nebraska through their achievements in the sport of auto racing.
Tickets for this yearís Induction Ceremony will sell for $25.00 each and will be available to the general public on July 1. Tables for eight persons may be purchased for $200.00. The ticket price will also include admission to the Museum of American Speed, located on the Speedway Motors campus in Lincoln from 1:00 to 4:00 that afternoon. Doors will open at Courtside Banquet Hall at 5:30, with dinner being served at 6:00, and the Induction Ceremony to follow. Courtside Banquet Hall is located at 333 Speedway Circle in Lincoln.