In Their Words - Volume 8 - "Courtesy of Chateau Speedway History" Facebook Group Page

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August 14, 2019

“In Their Words“  -   Volume 8 


In our latest installment of “In Their Words” we catch up with one of the Inaugural Members of “The Chateau Speedway Hall of Fame”.  He is 3 time WISSOTA Modified Track Champion LeRoy Scharkey of Rochester.  LeRoy took titles in 1990, 1992, and 1993.  It was a period at Chateau Speedway that was jokingly, but fittingly referred to as “The Mike and LeRoy Show”.   He and Mike Guttormson seemed to be competing against each other every week.  Although Mike only had 2 Championships in that era when they raced Modifieds against each other.   In fact Mike Sorensen had 3 Championships in the late 80’s and into the 90’s, those two seemed to get plenty of attention.  We caught up with LeRoy while he was working on his project car which he will talk a little about.   Starting in 1959 and racing into 2017 he has put together a lot of wins and Championships in Southern Minnesota.


Webpage:  LeRoy how did you become interested in Racing?

LeRoy:  I don’t really know (laughs) I guess a neighbor was racing.  I grew up on a farm out by Genoa Minnesota or Douglas and some guy in Douglas had an old coupe.   So I got interested in it there, I went and watched, that was the summer of 59, year I graduated.   Well me and another guy bought an old car and started racing at Rochester Fairgrounds. I had never gone to the races until I started racing really.  I was living in a little apartment working at a gas station not too far from there.  So than I just kept on going and going and going ….


Webpage:  What was your first car?

LeRoy:  It was a 49 Pontiac, straight six.   First year I did all right …… I didn’t win anything.  The last race of the year I rolled it over.  You raced on the half mile the last race of the year, they had those horse rub rails on the inside, I went through one of them and up the post with a cross member, went end for end with that old Pontiac.  Than the next year I had a Ford, I had Fords than for 20 - 30 years


Webpage: Any other rollovers in your career?

 Ya one other time I rolled a Modified, the first night out with a Modified rolled over. 


Webpage: When did you start racing at Chateau?

LeRoy:  Guys from Rochester raced there; I tried to race two, three, four nights a week back then.  I guess Mert was racing their then.  Well they all came to Rochester, a lot of the older guys, Ole Brua, Don McAllister, so I just went there.

Webpage:  3 or 4 Nights, where else did you go?

LeRoy:  When I first started I raced here in Rochester and went to Austin, went to Red Wing, for a long time I raced Rochester, Lansing and Kasson, them three tracks.  Fountain city stated on Fridays and for a long time I raced Fountain City on Friday, Saturdays at Chateau, and Sunday at Rochester or Kasson whichever one was running.


Webpage:  You do much traveling outside the area over the years?

LeRoy:  I went to Iowa a little bit once and awhile.  When I was racing WISSOTA  I’d race in the fall …like Superior, Ashland, Marshfield Wisconsin, the Dakotas I raced Aberdeen,  yearend I’d go around …Davenport, Cresco, Independence Iowa, oh and went to Rice Lake Wisconsin,  most of the time around here,  Cedar Lake went up there.  Went to a few different places I guess. 


Webpage:  You have different set ups for different tracks?

LeRoy:  Had those nine inch rear ends, you had to change pumpkins all the time.


Webpage:  Any preference between different tracks?

LeRoy:  I didn’t mind any of em, I liked Fountain City probably the best when it was a tri oval - I liked that.  Chateau was all right too.


Webpage:  Ever run the WISSOTA 100?

LeRoy:  This one year I’d sold my car to Wally Mellbinger and he won a heat with it, and I won a heat, and we were on the front row for the feature. , He won the feature with my car from the year before; I faded back tenth or something.   I’d race a year with a car, sell it, because I was doing pretty good with them some years, I sold em easy, than I’d build another one or two.  Nobody comes knocking on my door anymore to buy em. (Laughs)  But this one here now is a Skyrocket I bought and fixed up, it had to have frame work, but it never amounted to much, should of got rid of it.  I raced it a couple three years I guess.  Guys now they got ‘em for sale, less engine and transmission for 20 thousand dollars, well used, there not new.   The most important ingredient is money.  That’s the way it’s always been.  And then things change, they have different rules for A Mods….concepts, crates and opens and what all.   The reason the Modifieds came out was Late Models went off the deep end spending money, you know this was 30 years ago…and then the car count went way down 8-10 cars so they decided with Modifieds they had claim rules and all kinds of rules so they would not spend a lot of money but then they kept relaxing it until now it’s worse than when they had late models.  I mean when you just got regular guys that work regular jobs you can’t have a 50 thousand dollar race car.  There’s going to be some that can afford it, the majority are not going to be there.  You can’t win, get disgusted, and quit.   So than you end up with only half dozen cars or so.  Like late models didn’t have a tire rule way back and guys would buy more and more expensive and better tires.   The big dogs would have 20 - 30 tires on their rig coming in, for different rules and track conditions and every other thing.   Then they come out with a track tire rule but there still expensive and you have to do so much work to’ em.


Webpage:  You’ve seen a lot of changes over the years in the Chateau Track.

LeRoy:  They made it better, cars got a little faster, they needed a little more room.  You know when they first stated racing it was fine but you needed more room.   I don’t really remember pitting on the back straightaway; I remember the ditch on the north end for sure.  I didn’t mind where the old pits were. But you know it’s expanded now.   They had some really big crowds and they were pretty boisterous too.   It’s a lot more professional on everything.  The lighting way back than was pretty poor, well all the tracks were, they didn’t have that new lighting, improved things all over.  The Tri Oval was bad because it was a pretty big track and I think they skimped on trying to use the lights


Webpage:  You’ve been on the track when the lights went out.

 LeRoy:  Ya out at Lansing and they did at Deer Creek too.  That time I was following Karl Fenske there, he was leading the feature and I was running second, and he had a little red reflector or red light and all I could see was that and I just followed him and we slowed down gradually otherwise somebody would run you right over.  It’s pretty bad when the lights go out because you know your eyes don’t have a chance to adjust or nothing and if it’s a dark night…..I remember the time at Chateau, I think it happened two or three times there but it didn’t seem like it was so dark..  Than they’d shine the car lights sometimes on the track and try to keep going.  Somebody hit a pole at Chateau and knocked out the lights the one time. 


Webpage:  You raced for a few different Promoters.

LeRoy:  Floyd Lenoch I remember him, I didn’t really know who the Smiths were, but Floyd Lenoch he tried hard, put a lot of effort into it    I remember he had taken over and he called me during the winter and wanted to make sure I was going to race there   I didn’t race much with Darin Toot, but I did with Stan Gilbertson   I remember Wally Bustad.  The Wytaske’s are really working at it to now.  I hope they make it successful.  I was thinking it was going to be done for, but the Wytaske’s are working hard.  The Wytaske’s have been around that track there whole life.  I remember LD would water and I asked him how do you know how much water to put on.  He says you just go until the water truck gets stuck (laughs) it’d be so wet sometimes.  I was thinking there it wasn’t going to come back.   But it’s been around a long time.   It’s more expensive to get in.  In my heyday there were people that traveled all 3 nights every weekend, the fans did, I don’t think they do that much anymore... They go maybe one night and that’s it.  Back then they’d bring in their own refreshments, they like use to do that at Chateau, they’d sit on that hill side have their beer and have a good old time.  Kids would be running around all over.   If you’re a young parent and you have to hire a babysitter that gets expensive but when they can bring their kids for free that helps. 


Webpage:  Another change you’ve seen is drivers don’t pack anymore.

LeRoy:  When I use to go to Dornack’s races his crew would come around, or in the pit meeting he’d say I see any car that doesn’t have mud on in your going to be starting at the tail end of the races.  He wanted to see mud on ‘em.  And when you had these open wheel things they’d throw the mud up. Some guys had temporary fenders on otherwise they’d throw mud just all over the car.   Than you’d scrape it all off.   You’d have your car nice and clean and then it would be all mud.  Now they put a lot of work into the track.  They use to be rough too. 


Webpage:  Seems track preference has gone more too dry slick than tacky.

Leroy:  Well back in my heyday I liked it tacky because there would always be a cushion.  I’d like to ride the cushion.  You don’t see that hardly ever anymore where there’s much of a cushion in the turns.  But I like it probably hard slick too.  If it gets tacky sometimes it’s pretty much one lane you know because the fastest way around is right up against the cushion and if somebody’s there you can’t do much.  But there are pros and cons.  You can’t get enough traction in the hard slick, it wears the tires out.  If you’re gonna be a top runner in the A Mod you got to have a new right rear tire every night.  If you run the feature you might as well just throw that tire away because there isn’t much life left in it.  Most just put another new one on. 


Webpage:  This was the time of year you’d do a lot of Fair Racing.

LeRoy:  Use to be, this time of the year.  We use to have races in Faribault, and Cannon Falls, Zumbrota, St Charles; all them tracks had fair races.  Austin had it on the half mile, Owatonna, went to all them. The first race I ever won was at Zumbrota, a fair race.


 Webpage:  Again a big variety of set ups.

Leroy:  When I was racing what they called Late Model I had a quick change anyway and that was nice and then when you went to Mods they didn’t.  It ended up I must have had 10 pumpkins you know, all the different gears.  You ended up changing that pumpkin like you would quick change gears, but it was a lot more work.


Webpage: You scale your own car?

LeRoy:  Yes.  Well I built cars too for a long time too.  We built our own, I’d sell one every year, my one I was driving for sure and then maybe make a couple.  Never got into big production.  We got our motors from Baiers for awhile than we started switching around.  Todd went to Sputs mainly and he had good luck with em.  I had to switch awhile; I was having trouble with engines.  But Jim always treated me good.  Back in the day they had the claim you know I lost quite a few engines to that claiming business, Baiers would do the machining for me.


Webpage:  How many nights would you put on an engine?

LeRoy:  About 20 nights or so.  The newer pistons, they put those real skinny little rings in…less friction and all that, but they wear out quicker. 


Webpage: What lead to your decision to switch to Modifieds from the Full Bodies you ran?

LeRoy:  It got expensive, I was going to quit racing, I don’t know, 1980 or something, because everybody was having fabricated cars.  Those old Fords I drove they were factory frames, but they called ‘em Late Models.  The Fairlane I had they called Late Model.  Then they went to fabricated everything and they had 5-10 thousand in the engines and I had 3 - 4 kids to take care of, working all the time.  So I just decided I can’t afford this.  So that one year I didn’t race.  Well they started the Mods and it was middle of the year I decided I’d race one of them.  I bought one from Fegers Chassis.  First night out I rolled it over, but it didn’t hurt it too bad.  I think we rolled it back up and I raced the feature anyway. 


Webpage:  Now there are actually two classes of Modifieds.

LeRoy:  I don’t think there’s probably a whole lot of difference.  Half of them I would think they would just race the A Mod and be done with it.   But it’s hard to win now in A Mods though.   Car count has not been very good in the A Mods, but the B Mods are ok, I guess they may end up dropping the A Mods before too long and just have B Mods. 


Webpage:  You’re thinking like Late Models are no longer a weekly class most places?

LeRoy:  I’m sure they are going to, I mean there’s some guys could race NASCAR if they wanted to, they got enough money.  Race Trucks anyway.  It’s pretty hard for some kid 20 years old and a couple kids to try to race with them, it’s impossible.


Webpage:  Hard to keep some interested with fewer drivers sharing the wins.

LeRoy:  That’s pretty near it, ya, need that, you got to spread it around too.  You know the worst thing that can happen with a track and a promoter is one guys wins all the races.  And everybody gets disgusted and discouraged, but it usually ends up that way.  You can’t change that, guys keep trying, maybe they can win too.  It doesn’t matter who you are you eventually you don’t win anymore.


Webpage:  We’ve gone from one class all the way up to as many as ten or more to choose from.

LeRoy:  I don’t like that, I liked it with 3 classes but you can see where a promoter likes more cars in the pits and everything and it helps. 


Webpage: You had some good sponsors.

LeRoy:  They were pretty loyal; they didn’t give me a lot of money though.  (Laughs)  Hardee’s owner’s boy was kind of around racing and my boy knew him, well we just kind of knew the owner, Reed was his name, he owned three Hardees’s here in Rochester.  He’s the one that sponsored me about a thousand a year, nothing terrific, but it was pretty good back than for local racing.  Then he sold out. I had Country Kitchen for awhile, they were pretty good, Baiers, you know with the engines.   Todd had CJ Auto they helped him a lot every year they stuck with him.


Webpage:  Can you compare your success in Late Models vs Modifieds.

LeRoy:  (Points to trophies) see them 3 tall ones there, with that old green Ford, I won ‘67 ‘68 and ’69.  I won St Charles, Kasson and Rochester for MSI.  All three tracks for three years.  They called ‘em Late Models but they really weren’t but they were the top class.  I raced for Clayton Dornack for a long time. 


Webpage:  You had the3 championships at Lansing in the Modifieds ‘90 ‘92 and ’93.

LeRoy: Ya I guess so, I didn’t really remember, you must have found the records, that would be the Baiers or Hardees cars.


Webpage:  You got to compete with a lot of good drivers.

LeRoy:  Mike Guttormson he was my buddy, (laughs) we had a good time.  Noble’s, Mert Williams, Wendell Kuehn.  We’d leave Chateau when 90 was done and we’d stop at the rest stop and have some beer, party a little, than head home.


Webpage:  Still keep in contact with many?

 LeRoy:  Dick Sorensen I raced with him, we were buddies, still are.  I see Dick most, if I went to the races more I’d see more.  Mert I don’t see much of any more except at Old Timers or the Hall of Fame thing.   Eaker, I hadn’t seen him since he left Austin.  One time I was down to Cedar Rapids, racing or something, that was like 30 - 40 years ago,   I was going to be an IMCA racer with that one car.  The Nationals was with Ernie Derr, Verlin and them guys I raced a few time with them.  Didn’t do much.   Talked to a lot of ‘em at the Hall of Fame.  I thought Verlin was in great shape, looked good.   It was good to get together again…like Gerhard Wollenburg I hadn’t seen him since we had a good time racing.  Who else was it ? Don and LD Wytaske had good times with them guys.  Don I raced with.  LD we’d have a few beer afterwards, and Jimmy Davis.


Webpage:  Chateau was IMCA for a couple years

LeRoy:  I think somebody else was racing WISSOTA than, I always raced WISSOTA. 


Webpage: How much racing do you get out to?

LeRoy:  I don’t go much, I try to watch the NASCAR but fall asleep half the time (laughing)   I’d go to more races but they have so many yellows.  I really only want to watch the A Mods, I don’t care about the other ones.  By the time they get through to them … I don’t know takes too long. 


Webpage:  Your cars under the tarp out there in the garage, going to get it back out?

LeRoy:  (Laughs) ---- No I should sell it.  Can’t get nothing for them anyway so, I told my boy, Todd he could race it.  But he don’t want to race anymore.  Over 55 years of racing, started when I was 17, quit when I was 75. 


Webpage:  Are you saying you’re retired than?

LeRoy:  Well I didn’t race last year and the year before I only raced 9 times.  Haven’t raced this year….


Webpage:  Not everyone is convinced you’re done.

LeRoy: (laughing) Well you never know about this, if I thought I could win I definitely would be back.  I think more guys are quitting.  The A Mod guys anyway.  I think the B Mods keep on getting more, coming and going.


Webpage: How did that racing relationship with your son go?

LeRoy: When he was a kid he always went, you know he helped me work on the cars; we built quite a few cars in the winter.  Finally I think he was almost 30 years old he decided he was going to go racing.  Before, well it was always up to him.  But then he decided he was going to do it and he did good.  Really good.


Webpage:  Surprised he went right into a Modified?

LeRoy:  Well he’d raced my car in a mechanics race … I think he won a couple of them, and I think he figured he could handle it (laughs) and he could.   If I wasn’t racing I would go with him, he worked on the car here. 


Webpage:  Were you at Lansing the night Todd rolled?

LeRoy:  No don’t think so.  I started going to Fountain City on Friday nights when they switched nights and he went to Chateau.  Just figured no sense trying competing against each other.   


Webpage:  Compare notes each week I suppose.

LeRoy:  Tried figuring out what each other did, what we should do to go better, go faster.  He did his thing pretty much and I did mine.  He liked it at Chateau, he ran good there. 


Webpage: How busy were you with two cars?

LeRoy:  Well he worked on his alone.  The biggest thing was when I moved here there was no garage and I built that first stall closest to the house so I had a garage.  Before I was outside. Before that I lived in a trailer court and had worked out in the street….wherever.   Than we got a house but I didn’t have a garage so I built that, than my wife kept complaining she didn’t have a garage in the winter so I put one more stall on and I worked there.   Than Todd started racing so I didn’t have a stall than, so I added on two more.  And I still don’t have enough room.  (Laughs)


Webpage:  You have a Project car taking up one of the stalls.

LeRoy:  That’s a 1950 Ford, when I was a kid my first car was a ‘49 Ford, there the same thing.  I had always been kind of looking for one and I decided well I guess I’ll buy that and work on it.  But it’s pretty rusted.  The floor board is the worst part if I get that done I’ll be able to do the rest.  I got all the fenders and doors, there all pretty decent; it’s just the floor pan.  I got all the parts it’s just trying to get ‘em fitted in there.  I work at the Mack dealership part time and I don’t really have a lot of time it don’t seem.  The engine is over to Baiers, old flat head, takes a special tooling to work on it.  Cause the valves are in the block, you can’t do a valve job like the newer engines where they just take the head off.  So it’s over there.  I told him no big rush.   But, he gets it done within a month or two, this winter ill put it together probably. Get it in there and get it running.


Webpage:  Paint it like your first one?

LeRoy: It was kinda greenish just like that one.  So that’s what I’m going to paint it.


Webpage:  Your first car was a Ford is that how you started racing them?

LeRoy:  I don’t know, I just liked Ford cars, just like some like Chevys.   I’m not that obsessed, I’ve had Ford or Chevy.  The Fords started giving me a lot of engine problems so than I switched to Chevy.  Probably drove a Chevy longer than I did a Ford.  My first street car was a Ford.  So for awhile I’d have like a ‘54 ford I was racing and I drove one on the street.  I had a 67 Fairlane and I had a 68 Fairlane I drove on t he street, Mustang, I had a lot more cars than that even.  Can’t even remember em all. 


Webpage:  A little cheaper back than to run?

LeRoy: Ya you’d go to the junk yard every week.  Now the last 20 years, hardly never went to the junk yard for any race parts.  Steering gears you just went to the junk yard than, now you got to buy a special one, even a rebuilder for 800 dollars or so.  I don’t know it’s a tough business .  The shocks, a shock absorber can cost 3 - 4 hundred dollars.


Webpage:  What’s Todd doing these days?

LeRoy:  He works seven days a week paying off his bills.  He drives semi 5 days a week and then he hauls milk on the weekend for Caledonia Haulers, so seven days a week.


Webpage: So no project car for him like you and Mert and everyone else it seems like.

LeRoy:  Mert’s had one ever since he quit racing, I don’t know if he’ll ever get it done (laughs).  When he built a race car it took him forever too, (laughs) but it was always you know, done right, that’s for sure.  This car of his an old model A I think, he’s been working on it for 30 years. 


Webpage: Any wins stick out?

LeRoy:  Not really….lost a lot I know that.  Had to run power glide transmissions.  I’d be leading a feature and the transmission would go out.  I was underweight a few times.  DQ’d then, I remember them. (Laughs)  It was like 5 - 10 pounds but that was it.  I was good at winning Championships.  All them back there (pointing to trophies again) are some kind of championships.  Now my Wife don’t like them because they collect a lot of dust. (Laughs)   I’ve given away a lot of ‘em too.  Stan Gilbertson , he had a big race one time I won, that paid like 2300    I remember I was following Mark Noble and smoke was curling off his right rear and I was right on him and we kept going, it was a pretty long race , and that tire went flat, than I had the lead and won.  I don’t know if I would of beat him or not, Mark was pretty good you know. 


Webpage:  Any Idea how many feature wins you have?

LeRoy:  I never kept track, probably 2 - 3 hundred.


Webpage: What do you think when you look back on your racing career?

LeRoy:  (laughs) well I guess I could of done a lot better, but also it could have been a lot worse.  I had a lot of fun…it was a lot of work and money all the time.  Now it’s even worse you know trying to keep the car up, work on the tires all the time – there wore out all the time.


Webpage:  Final thoughts.

LeRoy:  I just kind of faded away I guess (laughing) no big Hoopla thing, I don’t know