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By Kyle Ealy
Cedar Rapids, Iowa – In the 1950’s and 60’s, one of the more popular stops for the IMCA stock car division was Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Starting in 1952 and continuing until 1961, the series would hold two race cards during the All-Iowa Fair, held annually in August. The first of the two would be highlighted by a 100-lap, 50-mile feature; longer than most races on the series’ schedule, but merely a tune-up for what was to come. Termed the “Corn Belt Race”, the second main event, usually held a day or two later, was a 200-lap, 100-mile slugfest.

Two thoughts came to mind when researching this article. Being that the race was in August; the heat had to be unbearable not only for the drivers, but for the fans in attendance. The second notion that came to mind; Completing 200 laps would require 800 left-hand turns of the steering wheel…steering without the “power” that we take for granted today.

To win a race that distance, a little luck can’t hurt either, and that is exactly what the first winner needed – and got.

Wally Dahl, a hard-luck driver from Minneapolis, had been dealing with misfortune all season long. Early in the season he was running second in the national points when he flipped his car at Spencer, Iowa, demolishing it. He took what was left of his car, went home and rebuilt it. A week later he was back on the circuit, however, bad luck continued to follow Dahl wherever he went. At times when it appeared he was heading for a decent payday, his car would break down in the last few laps and he would go home empty handed. He stuck with it, though, in hopes his luck would turn.

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On Tuesday, August 12, 1952, Dahl’s fortune improved as he came from behind in a thriller to capture the inaugural 100-mile Corn Belt race.

Dahl was more than a half-lap behind Jimmy Clark of Fort Worth, Tex., with 25 laps to go, when Dahl’s left front wheel caved in. It looked as though Dahl’s bid was doomed.

But despite animated pleading from his pit crew to come in, Dahl mashed the gas pedal on his 1951 Hudson and decided it was all or nothing. Sure enough, “Lucky Wally” caught Clark on the 192nd lap and won going away as Clark was forced to rock his car through the final five laps to get the most of a dwindling gas supply.

According to Cedar Rapids Gazette race reporter Jack Ogden, the race was ‘one of the best of the season, with a finish that was hard to beat’. Dahl and Clark battled hub to hub with less than 10 laps to go and Dahl was never out of danger, running on only three tires.”

It was a bitter windup for Clark, who trailed Don White of Keokuk for the first 11 laps and then led all the way until the final eight of the 200-lap race. At one point he was more than full lap ahead of the field.

Dahl won the title in 1 hour, 54 minutes, and 36 seconds – a fast pace considering that at least a dozen laps were run under the caution flag. Dahl and Clark were followed by Ernie Derr of Fort Madison, Iowa, Chuck Magnison of Minneapolis and E.T. Durr of Shreveport, La.

Hard driving Ernie Derr of Keokuk scored a car-length victory over “Wild” Bill Harrison of Topeka, Kan., on Sunday afternoon, August 16, 1953, to capture the 200-lap duel before an All-Iowa Fair crowd of 7,500.

Piloting a 1952 Oldsmobile, which he had used to lead the IMCA point race for most of the year, Derr took over the point on the 51st lap, and was never headed, winning in 1 hour, 55 minutes and 56 seconds.

Three cautions slowed the action and kept Derr from making the contest a runaway. The final caution, with 20 laps to go, allowed Harrison to close the gap, making for a blazing finish during the final 5 tours.

Harrison led the race for the first 47 laps, and did some excellent driving to keep the hot running Derr behind him. The two cars were side by side at times in the corners and on the front and backstretch before Derr finally made the pass.

The Keokuk speedster then pulled nearly a lap in front before the yellow flags began to wave. Chuck Magnison was less than 10 yards behind the second running Harrison in his bid to get to the front when he crashed through the fence on the west turn. A blown right front tire caused the accident, but a severely damaged radiator kept him from re turning to action.

Sunday’s test saw only eight of 15 cars finishing the grueling distance. The most serious of accident came on the 190th lap, when three coupes tangled while dueling through the first turn. Dick Johnson of St. Paul, Minn., flipped his ’48 Plymouth, and was badly shaken up.

The events were nearly an hour late in getting underway, probably because hundreds of race fans were still jammed on the roads approaching the fairground. It was said that some fans spent up to 40 minutes traveling the last six blocks to the grounds.

On August 15, 1954, Bill Harrison pulled off what most thought would be an improbable feat.

He drove 200 laps without a pit stop in winning the Corn Belt in convincing fashion. A crowd estimated at 8,000 watched the Topeka speedster turn the trick in 1 hour, 57 minutes and 24 seconds, leading home Gene Brown of Fort Worth, Tex., who also finished the race without having to stop.

The non-stop performances were unusual, since most of the field of 19 cars found the hot day and the hard track too much of a test for their equipment. Possibly more remarkable however, was the fact that not one lap was run under the yellow caution flag even though most of the cars were in the pits at least once with minor mishaps such as blowouts and an assortment of engine problems.

Most of the highly-rated Iowa chauffeurs were victims of the outbreak of minor defects. First Don White and then Ernie Derr were forced out of the race while leading. After both White and Derr bowed out, Harrison took over the lead and was never challenged.

Ernie Derr would capitalize on his brother-in-law’s misfortune to win the accident-free Corn Belt race on August 14, 1955. Derr, driving a 1954 Oldsmobile, copped the lead on the 123rd lap of the 200-lap endurance test when Don White was forced to the pits when his right rear wheel locked. White had powered his new ’55 Oldsmobile to a comfortable lead, having lapped the entire 25-car field except Derr.

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When White dropped out, Derr’s chief challenger would be Herschel Buchanan of Shreveport, La driving a 1954 Ford Thunderbird. But again Derr’s fortune was the result of another man’s bad luck when Buchanan fell out of the race at 155 laps with front wheel trouble. Derr, the 1953 IMCA national champion, was unchallenged after that.

Like Bill Harrison the year before, Derr did not require a pit stop in winning the long-endurance contest. His time for the 100-miler was 1 hour, 47 minutes, and 34 seconds. The fast condition of the track also enabled Derr and Buchanan to establish one-lap track record of 30.10 seconds in the time trials. A crowd of 7,500 watched the afternoon events.

In 1956 and 1957, there wasn’t a more dominant driver in the IMCA stock car ranks than Johnny Beauchamp of Harlan, Iowa. Beauchamp would score an amazing 38 feature wins in ’56 and follow up with 32 main event wins in ’57, winning IMCA national titles both years.

Naturally, the ’56 and ’57 Corn Belt races at the All-Iowa Fair would be a notch on Beauchamp’s championship belt.

Before one of the largest crowds ever to witness a race at Hawkeye Downs, Beauchamp steered his 1956 Chevrolet to a dominating performance on August 19, 1956. An estimated 11,000 fans saw Beauchamp outdistance second place finisher Darrell Dake of Cedar Rapids by seven laps.

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The “Flyin Frenchman” displayed somewhat of an ironman performance, not stopping once during the 100-mile grind. His counterparts, meanwhile, made several pauses for equipment checks and fuel.

That Sunday afternoon turned out to be record-breaking day for drivers. Beauchamp’s time of 1 hour, 47 minutes, and 40 seconds was about two minutes slower than the IMCA world record but the one-lap record for qualifying was broken.

It was George Miller of Cedar Rapids who accounted for the world half-mile mark. He toured the distance in 28.18 seconds bettering Sonny Morgan’s mark of 23.30 seconds. The Beaumont, Tex.., veteran had set that record only minutes before Miller’s trial run.

Beauchamp trailed Miller in the feature race until the 26th lap, when he overtook him on the far straight-away. Beauchamp quickly took a five car-length lead and was never in trouble the rest of the way.

Miller stayed within a half lap distance until he was forced to the pits with a pierced fuel tank. It only took Miller’s crew 30 seconds to get him rolling again and he brought his ’56 Ford home in fifth place.

As dominant as Beauchamp was in the ’56 race, nothing could compare to what he would do on August 18, 1957. Before an estimated 7,500 fans, Beauchamp would establish two IMCA world records and as the Cedar Rapids Gazette would report, “blow the doors off of 16 other competitors” in winning the 200-lapper.

“The Harlan Flash” won all three races he entered, with a blazing 1 hour, 33 minutes, and 53 second performance in the 100-mile tour topping his list of accomplishments. He trimmed almost 5 minutes off the record he had set at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul in September of 1956. Earlier in the afternoon, Beauchamp set a new 8-lap, 4-mile mark of 3 minutes and 45 seconds in the trophy dash.

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A hometown driver would give Beauchamp all he could handle in the main event. Darrell Dake pushed Beauchamp to the 100-mile record, using everything his 1956 Ford had to give. Dake ran less than 5 seconds behind the leader for the last 11 circuits but didn’t have enough to take the vaunted No. 55.

Beauchamp and Dake would lap the rest of the field in the 100-mile feature that saw only eight of the 16 cars that started able to finish after the blistering pace that saw the record established despite seven caution laps. That caution occurred when the rear axle on George Miller’s 1957 Pontiac broke on the 86th lap, shearing a wheel and sending the car skidding into the infield. Luckily it didn’t overturn and he was shaken but not injured.

Dake, who was quickly becoming one of IMCA’s great young stars, had himself a field day. In addition to running under the world’s record on the evening program, he was third the afternoon feature and won the eight-lap first heat by a nose, edging out another up and comer, Bob Burdick, in the day’s closest finish.

Ernie Derr, for the most part, had been somewhat absent for IMCA competition during Beauchamp’s reign in ’56 and ’57, competing with other racing sanctions. In 1958, Derr decided to come back and make another title run and when the stock cars arrived in Cedar Rapids on August 17, 1958 for the Corn Belt race, Derr and Bob Burdick were locked in a tight battle.

Derr would score an important victory on this day before 7,500 fans, winning the 200-lap feature and putting himself safely into the point’s lead as well. As expected, the duel on the half-mile was between Derr and Burdick, but motor trouble canceled Burdick’s bid for continuing his title run.

The young Omaha driver was leading the race when he was forced into the pits after 116 laps. Derr, who had been a lap back moved into the lead for keeps. Burdick returned to the track, but a lap later he was forced out of the race.

Derr’s winning time was 1 hour, 35 minutes and 54 seconds, less than 2 minutes shy of the IMCA world 200-lap record. Derr might have set a new mark, except for two caution flags that slowed the field down a total of 4 laps.

Derr, who drove a 1957 Pontiac and Burdick piloting a 1958 Ford, were the only two drivers who held the lead after the 33rd lap. Darrell Dake, who set fast time on the half-mile with a 27.65 second run, led for the first 32 circuits in his ’57 Chevrolet. He would end up in seventh place. Jule “Chub” Liebe of Oelwein, Iowa, would finish second behind Derr.

Despite Darrell Dake being a consistent winner on the IMCA circuit elsewhere, the Cedar Rapids speedster had been somewhat jinxed on his hometown track, not having been able to score a feature victory.

On Sunday, August 23, 1959, Dake changed all that by heading home a 16-car field in the 200-lap IMCA championship race before some 6,000 fans – going the route in a respectable 1 hour, 38 minutes, and 45 seconds on a track that was dangerously slick at the start. He finished more than a lap ahead of runner-up Lennie Funk of Otis, Kan.

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Dake was in third in the early going but moved up to second on lap 89. Shortly after the halfway point, Dake was a half lap behind the leader Bob Kosiski of Omaha. The two front-runners were a full three laps ahead of the rest of the field.

When Kosiski pitted his ’59 Thunderbird on lap 114, Dake powered his 1957 Chevrolet to the front and was never challenged after that, although Funk did threaten for the lead when Dake pitted on lap 130.

Kosiski was the hard-luck driver on the afternoon; he entered the pits at 114 laps, he returned to the track and immediately was making ground on Dake only to spin out of contention on the back stretch.

Ramo Stott would chauffeur his 1960 Ford convertible to one world record and nearly set another on August 21, 1960, as the late model stock cars brought the 25th anniversary of the All-Iowa Fair to a close.

The young Keokuk, Iowa driver won the 5-lap dash event in the afternoon in a record time of 2 minutes and 18.65 seconds, bettering the old time of 2 minutes and 19 seconds set by another Keokuk driver, Ernie Derr, in 1959 at Oskaloosa, Iowa.

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Stott came back in the evening before a sellout crowd of about 7,000 to cop the grueling 200-lap event in 1 hour, 33 minutes, and 4 seconds, just 2.5 seconds off the IMCA world’s record for a half-mile dirt track. He probably could have set the mark if the race hadn’t been slowed for 5 laps due to a spinout.

The fans saw quite a battle all the way for the top spot. Stott, Joe Dolphy of New Brighton, Minn., in a 1960 Plymouth and Lennie Funk of Otis, Kan., in a ‘59 Plymouth were bumper to bumper throughout the entire grind. All three drivers were trying to outlast the other as their gasoline supply dwindled.

Finally on the 147th lap, Dolphy gave up his runner-up position to refuel. Within the next 10 laps, the top four drivers had all made a pit stop for fuel. From then on the top three spots were pretty well settled, with Stott, Dolphy and Funk finishing in that order.

The final Corn Belt race, held on August 20, 1961, would see an unexpected entry surprise a packed house in an interrupted 200-lap event.

While racing in Mason City, Iowa, the night before, Jerry McCreadie blew the engine in his 1960 Pontiac and wasn’t expected to make the Cedar Rapids affair. But after working all night and into the morning on his engine, McCreadie showed up right at feature time to everyone’s surprise.

After being announced as a late entry, the Keokuk, Iowa, driver quickly became the crowd favorite. Starting in the 20th position, due to arriving after qualifications had already taken place, McCreadie methodically made his way to the front of the field, much to the delight of those in attendance. He held down the third spot after 116 laps.

McCredie grabbed the lead on the 134th lap after both of the pre-race favorites, Chub Liebe of Oelwein and Buzz McCann of St. Paul, Minn., were forced to the sidelines with car trouble.

Liebe was probably the tough luck racer of the day. The Oelwein pilot led the 20-car field for 116 laps and looked like a sure winner, as he had lapped every competitor by the time he turned the 115th lap. But on the next circuit, engine trouble on his ’61 Ford forced him out of the race. McCann faced the same difficulty in later laps, the time trial leader picked up where Liebe left off and led the pack until the 134th lap. A broken axle eliminated him and his ’61 Ford.

After securing the top spot, McCreadie was never headed after that cruising to an easy victory in front of a very pro-McCreadie crowd. The top three finishers in the race, in fact, were unexpected. Art Brady of Peoria, Ill., driving a 1960 Thunderbird, was a surprise second place finisher and Johnny Babb of Ottumwa, Iowa, driving a 1957 Ford, took third.

The IMCA stock car series would continue to stage 200-lap, 100-mile races at Hawkeye Downs for many years to come, but the 1961 Corn Belt race would be the last time the popular division would have a long-distant contest during the All-Iowa Fair.

The Corn Belt Race

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