Gallery: When Mopar Dominated The Action at Soldier Field in 1967

In 1967, N. Perry Luster, a successful Chicago Insurance millionaire decided to promote auto races at Soldier Field. The original plan was to have 15 stock car races under the auspices of the United States Auto Club (USAC). In the end eight USAC races were ran and two races sanctioned by the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA). The USAC races counted toward USAC national points and the IMCA races toward IMCA national points.

The USAC races were ran in typical short track-style programs with heat races, a trophy dash and a feature. The USAC features were all 30 lap features with the IMCA features being for 75 and 100 laps. All the races were run on a tight three-eighth mile paved oval.

Mopar cars dominated the event with Don White of Keokuk, Iowa driving for Griffith, Indiana based Ray Nichels Engineering winning four of the eight USAC features in a Dodge Charger.

Racine, Wisconsin’s Norm Nelson won three of the remaining races driving his 1967 Plymouth and was crowned as the 1967 Soldier Field Champion besting White, Sal Tovella, Bay Darnell, Dave Hirschfeld, Jack Bowsher and Stott. Ramo Stott of Keokuk, Iowa driving a 1967 Plymouth won both of the IMCA races.

Action opened on June 3, 1967, with 13,857 stock car fans on hand at Soldier Field. Don White dominated the action, first setting fast time with a lap of 20.24 seconds then claiming the win in two heat races.

Sal Tovella of Addison, Illinois won the trophy dash over Springfield, Ohio’s Jack Bowsher and Racine, Wisconsin’s Norm Nelson. Bay Darnell of Deerfield, Illinois driving Jack Watts #66 Plymouth won the semi-feature over Terry Parker and George Roundelli.

Don White Soldier Field 1967 (ralph hibbard collection)

In the scheduled 30-lap feature, White was running third throughout the first 20 laps before Sal Tovella sent Jack Bowsher into the south wall allowing White to pass both of them. Bowsher’s car was spilling oil and the race was slowed and then stopped on lap 29. Following White to the finish were Sal Tovella, Norm Nelson, Bill Shoulders and Bay Darnell. The total purse was $6,644.

The next scheduled race was on June 10, but after qualifying with Jack Bowsher setting fast time, the rest of the program was rained out. Action resumed on June 17, 1967, with 10,089 fans on hand for race #2. Don White continued his winning ways taking home the win and a check for $705. Terry Parker led the race until spinning out in turn three of lap two which allowed White to take the lead and drive away with the win.

Don White Solider Field (stan kalwasinski collection)

Sal Tovella started fifth and worked his way through the field to claim second place and a check for $525. The anticipated battle between Tovella and fast qualifier Bowsher never developed as Bowsher could not get close enough down the stretch and settled for third. Norm Nelson, winner of a heat race came home in fourth position with Bay Darnell rounding out the top five.

On June 22, the USAC Stock Cars returned to Soldier Field with Jack Bowsher winning the feature. It was the only one of ten races that was not won by Mopar. Bowsher was running third behind Bay Darnell and Norm Nelson when he made his move a little past the halfway mark of the feature. Bowsher passed Darnell and Nelson on the inside in turn four as the leaders ran into traffic. Darnell and Nelson finished second and third respectively. Terry Parker and Ramo Stott rounded out the top five.

Don White with Pat Vidan with trophy. (Ed Coffey photo SK collection)

Top runners Don White and Sal Tovella had bad luck as both were involved in accidents that saw them finish well back in the field. Don White won the trophy dash and Norm Nelson set fast time with a lap of 20.16 which was a new track record.

On June 24, the International Motor Contest Association made its first of two appearances at Soldier Field with Keokuk, Iowa’s Ramo Stott winning the 75-lap feature in 27 minutes 14.28 seconds. Sal Tovella was second, Ernie Derr third, Terry Parker and Les Snow fifth.

Norm Nelson #1 SF 1967 (Ed Coffey photo SK collection)

The USAC Stock Cars returned to Solider Field on July 8 with Don White setting fast time with a lap of 20.39 seconds. Heat race wins went to Bay Darnell, Ed Kozbiel, Dave Whitcomb and Bill Behling. Bay Darnell won the trophy dash and Dave Whitcomb the semi-feature.

Norm Nelson by D. Lynn Justis

In the exciting 30-lap feature Norm Nelson took the lead on the opening lap and led all 30 laps while running bumper-to-bumper with Don White most of the race to take the checkers three-quarters of a car length ahead of White. Jack Bowsher finished third, Sal Tovella fourth and Bay Darnell fifth.

On July 13, 1967, Norm Nelson repeated as the winner of the feature winning once again by a car length over Don White who finished second. Dave Hirschfield finished third and Sal Tovella fourth and Bay Darnell fifth.  Don White set fast time at 20.14 seconds.

White set a new track record in time trials with a lap of 20.14 seconds with heat race wins going to White, Rick Kliech, Eddie Meyers and Johnny Roberts with Meyers winning the semi-feature.

On July 15, Don White came back with a vengeance as he charged back from an accident that took him out of the trophy dash to win the 30-lap feature before 11,392 fans.

Finished second a half a lap back was Norm Nelson with Sal Tovella third, Bay Darnell fourth and Johnny Roberts fifth. Norm Nelson won the trophy dash. Heats went to Darnell, Kliech and White.

Ramo Stott 1967 (by Ed Coffey SK collection)

IMCA Stock cars made their second and final appearance of the season at Soldier Field on July 29 with Ramo Stott lapping the entire field in the 100-lap feature. Included in the lap cars was seven-time IMCA Stock Car Champion Ernie Derr of Keokuk, who finished second. It was the first time in five years that Derr had been lapped.

Ramo Stott Soldier Field (stan kalwasinski collection)

Racing before 9,237 fans Stott completed the hundred laps in 31 minutes 3.27 seconds. Ike Knapp of Detroit, Michigan was third, Dave Hirshfeld of Midlothian, Illinois fourth and Frank Freda of Chicago fifth.

Ernie Derr set fast time at 20.67 seconds, heat race wins went to Bill Shoulder of Chicago and Paul Feldner of Colgate, Wisconsin with Shoulders winning the trophy dash with heats going to Darnell, K

On August 5, Don White picked up his fourth win at Soldier Field in winning the 50-lap feature. This gave White the USAC National points lead with 1,546 points at mid-season.

Norm Nelson finished second, Bay Darnell third, Dave Hirschfield fourth and Sal Tovella fifth. Bay Darnell won the trophy dash with heats going to Darnell, Nelson and Hirschfield.

The final USAC race of 1967 at Soldier Field happened on August 12 with Norm Nelson winning his third feature at Soldier Field after taking the lead from Bay Darnell on lap 14. Nelson had to hold off the challenges of Don White to take the win.

White finished second after blowing a rear axle in qualifying action, but his mechanics did a great job in getting things fixed and White back into action. Sal Tovella finished third, Dave Hirshfield fourth and Ted Hane fifth.

N. Perry Luster (far left) and crew at Soldier Field

In 1968 Promoter N. Perry Luster gave up the national concept at Soldier Field and ran local races at Soldier Field. As for the 1967 USAC Stock Car Championship Don White and his Dodge won the championship with 2,686 points with Parnelli Jones second with 2,410, Jack Bowsher third at 2,220 and defending series champion Norm Nelson third at 2,067.

Despite not winning at Soldier Field, Ernie Derr driving his Dodge continued to rule the IMCA Stock Car Series as he posted 26 wins in 38 starts to win his eighth series championship with 4,990 points with Ramo Stott and his Plymouth finishing second with nine wins and 4,103 points.

As for whether the races were a success is questionable, but one thing is for sure Mopar totally dominated the racing action and continued their incredible run in the 1960’s.

Special thanks go to Richie Murray of USAC and racing historians Stan Kalwasinski and Bob Mays for their help with this story.

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Lee Ackerman

Lee has been Mopar Connection Magazine's resident "Mopar historian" bringing us some of the best, most insightful glimpses back in the world of competitive history. Whether it's dirt track, oval track or the high banks of NASCAR, if MCM has published it, Lee likely brought it to us.

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