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In Their Words - Volume 2 *courtesy of Chateau Speedway History Group Page

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March 9, 2019

“In Their Words” - Volume 2

In the 2nd of our series of visits with a member of the Chateau Speedway Family we visit with 3 time Track Champion Gerhard Wollenburg of Austin. Gerhard, who is 87 still lives in South East Austin, right where you would see his car sitting years ago whenever you drove down 218, across from the airport. Gerhard raced thru the 60’s and into the 70’s at Chateau, not as much at the end of his racing days as he will tell you he chased the ½ mile tracks a little more. He worked at and retired from Weyerhaeuser (Now International Paper), and was basically a self taught mechanic. Working on his 33’ Coupe in High School he found little interest in the School Auto Shop Class as he already had learned most of that in his own backyard. After Serving at a State Side Base during the Korean War in Regimental Maintenance he used his G.I. Bill to take more Auto Trade Classes that he put to use over the years working on his cars. In fact he says the Truck he’s driving now was a Repairable that he did the work on himself. Anyway now we go with Volume 2 of….

“In Their Words” …… Gerhard Wollenburg

Webpage: What was your first experience with racing ?

Gerhard: Actually it was a guy at work (Ron Kester) I started teasing him, told him we should build one. We built a car together and he drove for the first few years or so, than he got hurt in an accident on the highway so I drove the car. That was when we were driving the old flathead Fords. Than we Built an Oldsmobile and it had more power than the Fords and Straight 8 Buicks and pretty much anything. I think Dave Bjorge run an Olds too. Actually the first race I went to was over in Albert Lea, Dave was running over there and he had plenty of power but he got crossways in the track and somebody T-Boned him and he ended up in the hospital for a few days. Ya I think it was Ronnie and Myself and Dave and Jerry Brua had Olds’. I think it was in about 3 years all those Fords, Straight 6 Chevys, and Straight * Buicks just sort of went out and they all went to v-8’s after that.

Webpage: Did you feel there were fewer Coupes than ?

Gerhard: No, there were more full size than but we still had the Coupes but they were allowed to change their engines. Ron drove the Coupe.

Webpage: Did you drive both cars to compare them ?

Gerhard: No, I was out of racing for a good 2 years. My Father In Law was sick so I was out for awhile. I was starting on a ’57 Chevy at the time. When I came back we kind of went our separate ways.

Webpage: Is that what you were driving for your first Championship Year in 1967, you also had Championships in 1968 and 1971.

Gerhard: I ended up with the 67’ Chevelle there for awhile. Not sure if that was the first Championship car. I don’t think I won any Championships with that ’57, but it run good, I don’t remember if that was the first ones or not.

Webpage: Your first win out at Chateau was a Semi Feature on July 1 1963, and your first Feature win was on August 8 of 1964, any memories of those early wins or first races.

Gerhard: That first race I run was with the Oldsmobile and I got hauled up to the hospital with a concussion. I got cross ways and somebody hit me good in the side, snapped my head back and into the roll bar and knocked me out through the helmet. But the first year had some problems with the car, it was a Semi-Feature Car, couldn’t run with the Feature Cars. Finally found out the frame was flexing on me. Every time I went into the corner it would be different, not sure what I finished in points. I was actually running out here at Lansing and in Rochester.

Webpage: Any memories of that first Feature Win ?

Gerhard: Well I didn’t win many features but I was always at least 2nd or 3rd. It was about being more consistent and finishing in that top 3. I did win more with that Chevelle. Than after that I built a Camaro. In fact I was building that more for half-mile tracks. In fact I had that about half done and it was about the third week into the year down in Cresco Iowa I got the Chevelle totaled out. Brought it home and cut it up and saved a lot of good things off it. Like axles, running gears, engine, transmission, and stuff like that.

Webpage: How soon did you get back out ?

Gerhard: Took me almost the rest of the year to finish that Camaro up, didn’t get out until August, Fair Time with that. At that time I was already in my 40’s, and I knew my reaction time had slowed down and my eyes sight wasn’t as fast anymore and you had more time to react on the half miles. I could run with anybody on the half-mile. So when I got the Camaro done I think we went to Mason City Iowa the first time and brakes weren’t right. Got into the first corner and stepped on the brakes and the back wheels locked up and around and around I went into the infield. The next race would have been the Mower County Fair. I think I won my heat if I remember right, but than I still had some problems with the car and took it home to work on it some more.

Webpage: So you got around to quite a few tracks than ?

Gerhard: We run Fairmont all the time. Run Fairmont with the Chevelle too. I was leading points at Fairmont when I got the Chevelle totaled out down in Iowa. At the time after we run the Fair Grounds here we pulled over to Fairmont that night and my son, who was about 16 at the time, we were late getting over there, and somebody asked him, I suppose you think you’re going to win everything over here, and my son says ya were going to take everything, and ha, ya we did. They didn’t penalize me for being gone so I had good starting positions. There was a guy from Willmar was taking everything until I got over there with my Camaro. I could always hear him, he’d catch me but he couldn’t get around me.

Webpage: How did that line up work for your starting position that you started in front of him ?

Gerhard: At the time your money you made was your points, against the times you were at the track, decided your starting spot. Well some of the guys would hold back in the heat race hoping to start further up in the feature. I never did, I always did the best I could every time. Actually if I started further up in the feature I had more problems than if I started further in the back and worked my way thru. Because I had pole positions in the feature, I think one was down in Mason City and I just over drove and I ended up in the corn field down there. I was going to fast and I came into the corner and I knew I couldn’t make it so I just took it straight off the track and ended up in the corn field. I got teased about that.

Webpage: Did you have much of a pit crew ?

Gerhard: I pretty much did everything myself, checked everything. I always wanted to check everything myself because too many people…….I saw it out on the track a couple times…..they weren’t thorough on checking their cars and they had trouble on the track. If you’re consistent you’re usually better, the car was ready to go when you pulled out on the track.

Webpage: How was it with other drivers, any rivalries or guys you like to run with ?

Gerhard: Most of the guys were real good. Some I maybe didn’t care for their style of driving but a lot of em probably didn’t care for mine either. Well actually the guys you run with normally were an extended family. Because if you had a part and they needed it or had to have it you loaned it to them. There was this time at Rapid City, it was a 3 day affair out there. We went out there and I had second row inside in the heat race and I’m thinking they didn’t drive as hard as we did and I was thinking no problem. I was in 2nd place on the start of the second lap and I thought I had more power than the others and thought I’d just drop to the inside and pass em. Well start of that second lap my left front wheel decided to leave me. Well when you don’t have a wheel they pass you right up. I pulled into the infield and somebody came by rolling my wheel to me. Well Bobby Shryock and about 15 guys I run with at Fairmont were there and wanting to know if I was going to be able to run yet that weekend. I got it fixed and Sunday Night they said I could run in the last Chance Semi Feature with the first and second place cars getting to go to the back of the feature. Well I was a half a car length behind the guy that won it so I was last car in the feature, 30 or 34 cars I don’t remember; it was a big half mile out there. Well started the feature and started in the back, I don’t know how many laps it was, I was doing good, Shyrock was leading and I was up to second place. As he was going into the corner and I was just coming into the straightaway. I was sure I could catch him but then suddenly I didn’t have no power anymore. I ended up 7th and when I got in and looked at the car the exhaust manifold on the left side had dropped off except one bolt on the front. Manifold dropped down and covered the exhaust ports and knocked out 3 cylinders.

Webpage: Any thoughts on final years racing at Lansing ?

Gerhard: I didn’t compete to much out here with the Camaro. I just mostly ran half-miles. I tried it a few times and I wouldn’t back off early enough with the shorter straight-aways, I was use to the longer straight-aways. So I kind of gave up on the short tracks..

Webpage: How was your family involved with the racing ?

Gerhard: Actually when I raced that was our life, except for work. One thing racing did for me was relax me, if you had problems at work or something you could forget about them. So in some ways it helped me. Summers were racing and Winters were tear it down and rebuild it. It was pretty much year round.

Webpage: How did your career wrap up ?

Gerhard: Actually I got to busy at work, putting in long hours. Couldn’t put enough time in on the car. When I was doing good I’d come home from work and I’d spend 4 hours on that car every night. And that’s when we were racing 2 nights a week. If you didn’t spend that time working on the car there was no reason to run.

Webpage: After you hung up your steering wheel did you get out and watch much racing ?

Gerhard: Well I enjoyed racing, very much so, and I always considered it like drinking if you don’t know when to stop. I stayed away from it because it would be to easy to get back in it. So I just stayed away