The Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame Grand Opening
by Steve Zautke
Sunny Skies and near perfect weather greeted visitors to the outstanding Wisconsin Automotive Museum in Hartford, WI located about 30 minutes northwest of Milwaukee. On Saturday September 22, 2007 proved to be a special day for the legends and the families of the first twenty members that were inducted to the Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame and display which is located on the second floor of the building. The site of the museum was the former Libby Canning factory which is a short distance from where the former Kissel Automobile plant was located.
The Hall of Fame was the founded with the help of longtime racing supporters, John Surges, Bob Ralston, Miles Melius, Bob Ensweiler and Reed Sederburg. Surges is the founder of the Milwaukee Vintage Modified Stock Car Club (VMSC) which is a very popular club preserving 1950’s and 1960’s Southeastern Wisconsin short track racing history which many consider the pinnacle of Wisconsin short track racing. During this time, the popular modifieds ran six days a week at tracks such as Hales Corners, Cedarburg, Oakfield, Slinger and on the dirt at the short track at Wisconsin State Fair Park (The Milwaukee Mile).
Over 500 people came through the turnstiles at the museum providing one of the highest attendance figures ever for the facility. Over 35 modified and sportsman stock cars on display along with a vintage ex-Mark Donohue Eagle-Offy provided a recipe for a wonderful afternoon of bench racing and an opportunity to see the interesting and diverse collection at the Wisconsin Automotive Museum. The museum is Wisconsin's largest auto museum, featuring many cars such as the “The Kissel,” which was manufactured in Hartford from 1906 to 1931. Additionally, they have an exhibition dedicated to the Nash, which was first built in Kenosha in 1916. An all-new display area for the Hudson Essex Terraplane and over 90 other rare treats, such as REOs, Pierce-Arrows, Pontiacs, Studebakers, Chevrolets and Fords, set off in a striking Art Deco interior. They even feature a restored locomotive and a large Lionel Train display.
A who’s who of Wisconsin racing drivers who ‘ran the cushion’ were present such as, Red Adams, Dick Colburn, Dennis Donovan, Ron Enderle, Billy Engelhart, Fuzzy Fassbender, George Giesen, Willie Goeden, Dan Kopshe, Larry Horkan, Miles “The Mouse” Melius, Ken Markwardt, Roger “The Bear” Regeth, Carl Schulz, Dick Stalter, Gino Wagner and Gib Wiser. We apologize if we missed anyone.
For the first class of the Wisconsin Short Track Racing Hall of Fame, 20 members were inducted. Surges mentioned in a column written by racingnation.com columnist Paul Gohde, “The Hall of Fame board spent the last nine months trying to make a wonderful display of memorabilia and other artifacts that will bring back memories for racing fans, especially those who got to see these greats race. The board also had the daunting assignment of narrowing down the list of candidates to twenty this year and twenty more in 2008 before inducting a smaller group in proceeding years.” Surges also commented on how vintage racing is booming across the country, and felt compelled to make this area a part of it. “I’m glad people are interested in what I’m excited about. Most of cars (being restored) come from southeastern Wisconsin, especially from the Mayville, Lomira and Slinger areas. Sportsman (stock) cars are the toughest to find since they were often junked after the season.” The Wisc. Short Track Racing HoF ensures that an important piece of Wisconsin auto racing history is remembered.
Special thanks go to the board members for all of their hard work as well as Brian Jaeger, owner of the historic Modified cars of Miles “The Mouse” Melius and Etchie “The Flying Grandpa” Biertzer on display.
Located at 147 Rural St. (just west of Hwy. 83, and north of Hwy. 60 in Hartford, WI), the Wisconsin Automotive Museum and the Wisconsin Short Track Racing Hall of Fame is highly recommended. More information on the museum can be located on the web at http://www.wisconsinautomuseum.com or phone: 262-673-7999. For more information on VMSC, they’re located on the web at: http://www.vmsconline.com or contact John Surges at 414-315-5320.
The twenty inducted in the first class of the Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame Museum are:
Bill Johnson, Sr.
Bill Johnson, Jr.
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