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In Their Words - Volume 9 - "Courtesy of Chateau Speedway History Facebook Group Page"

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November 20, 2019

“In Their Words Volume 10” Ron and Rod Kester

In our latest installment of “In Their Words” we visit with one of the Top Drivers of the ‘60’s at Chateau Speedway. He was also the 1965 Track Champion Ron Kester. We were joined by one of Ron’s sons Rod who also raced for a time in the late 80’s and early 90’s himself. We stopped by their business in Bronwsdale “Kester’s Welding and Prop Service” for a visit. Lots of Fun stories not only about racing but about a few of the people they enjoyed time with along the way at the track and away from it. An enjoyable conversation where they spent a lot of time just going back and forth telling stories.   (See Photo Section for Photos that went with this story)

Webpage: Ron why don’t you start off telling us how you got interested in Racing.

Ron: I don’t know really, Gerhard (Wollenburg) and I, I guess went to a few races and I said to him one day at work, we both worked at Weyerhaeuser, why don’t we build us a stock car and run out there - he said aw heck no. Well a couple days later he drove by, he was driving a fork lift, he come by, said maybe we should do that. So anyway we bought a … what was that old Oldsmobile we bought. ‘53 or something.

Rod: Was gonna say early 50’s

Ron: Anyway we built that, started racing with it and we did pretty good with it.

Webpage: Not the car you’re more famous for though right, where did the coupe come from?

Ron: So anyway I was driving down, we had a mobile home down in Dorchester Iowa, on a trout stream. I was driving down there one day and I went by Spring Valley, there along the highway ,there was a bunch of trees there, and a creek that ran along there, and just on the other side of them trees there was a 35 Ford Coupe sitting there. I didn’t think too much of it. We got down to Dorchester and I said to my wife I’m gonna go back and see if they want to sell that. She said what do you want that for? I said well we might make a Stock Car out of it. And so anyway I mentioned it to Gerhard, he said let’s go down and look at it; see what they want for it. So we did. Ahhh what was the name of the guy that owned the junkyard here in town….he was the one that owned that yard down there too.

Rod: Jennings

Ron: Jennings ya, he had that salvage yard down there.

Rod: Wilbur

Ron: Ya Wilbur, So I went into the office and I said Wilbur you want to sell that Coupe, 35 Ford Coupe out there. Coupe – where’s that at he says. I said out there by them trees. He says I forgot it was even there. Well I looked at it, and he says ya I guess I’d sell it, I’m not gonna do nothing with it. So, I don’t remember what we paid for it now even… I just can’t remember the exact figure but it was about a hundred, or hundred and fifty bucks. So we bought it, brought it home and made that car that’s up there in the corner (points to photo)35 Ford Coupe.

Rod: We got one piece of it left, it’s in my garage. It’s a Four Deuce set up, it’s a Manafree, it’s got four Rochester two barrel carburetors on it. He got em out of California when he had a Speed Shop. He bought three of ‘em, one went to a Spanish Teacher in Hayfield for a Corvette, he had one on that car, and he sold the other one to Al Greenman on his race car. Steinbauer sold his Corvette, that one went with the Corvette, so the only two that are left are Greenman’s who has his and this one here. Al’s been trying to buy this one from me (laughs) think somebody’s been trying to buy his. You see the three deuces, but you don’t see the four. I did finally see one like it out in Arizona last winter at the car show. Other than that there pretty much in California

Ron: I don’t remember the guys name anymore, got some literature on it, he designed these things and had em built. I had talked to him about it, he said “we cast em, there aluminum castings”. He had a friend there that was in the casting business, they cast these aluminum four carburetor manifolds. Ya they were, they went like crazy on that small block Chevy engine I had in there. It was a 301, it was a 283 bored four inches, and ah it went like crazy.

Webpage: Remember much about your early wins starting in 1960?

Ron: No, not really

Rod: Must have been the Oldsmobile

Ron: Ya probably

Webpage: What year did you build the coupe?

Ron: Not sure

Rod: I was born in 58 and I must have been …

Ron: you must have been 3 four years old when that night I was putting bearings in it and you were out there handing ‘em to me

Rod: Older than that I think, six maybe. Wasn’t very old, stayed out there until one or so, just sat there and handed him the bearings. He hadn’t been racing for a while then. And they were having a Fourth of July out there with the Hansen’s and the Stern’s I think had it. They wanted him to come out and race it, he says I’m not ready, I got to put in bearings and this and that, they kept putting the pressure on him, so finally he put it together. (Laughs) He made a lot of people mad that night.

Webpage: How’s that?

Ron: Started in the back of the Heat and won it, started in the back of the Semi and won it, started in the back of the Feature and won it.

Webpage: Ran pretty good huh.

Ron: Joe Wurst was a little angry, he was just radically mad about it, and I guess I can’t blame em. Cause that’s what I told what’s his name…

Rod: Harry…

Ron: Ya Harry I said I don’t want to come out there, I haven’t raced out there this year and them other guys are gonna run for that good money you know, Fourth of July race, I said I don’t feel good about running….ah hell with it he said – its racing. So I finally decided to do it, felt good, I laid there under that car out in the shed back there and Rod’s handing me them bearings (laughing)

Webpage: You won the 1965 Track Championship

Ron: I should have had another that year after that or before, I had a front wheel axle, spindle broke I guess it was on the last race of the season, and I was ahead in the points. Can’t think who it was that was right behind me there, we were close together point wise, I broke, it cost me the Championship. Still finished second, But we had some awful good times,

Webpage: That Coupe was a Solid Car for you.

Ron: At the end of the season one year down in Iowa, Gerhard and I, can’t never remember the name of that town down there but they always had a Championship night, an open competition race. Gerhard saw it someplace advertised…..he said we should run down…I said we wouldn’t have a prayer down there. I said you got to run against all them guys that run … they got good cars and they ran good. I said we wouldn’t have a chance, well he kept on me about it and finally I give in and I said ok lets go. We load it up on the truck, went down there, we got in there and they were just going to start the third heat race. They were already racing….well guy comes running over there and says get it out, get it in there. I said I ain’t ready to run it without warming it up you know. He says well just follow ‘em around than. So I got in the back of the heat, run a few laps and it went pretty good so I took off and won the race. So they put me in the Feature. I think I was in about the middle of the Feature and I remember Darrel Dake, I can’t remember the other guy, but they were the top drivers and cars down there at that time. Anyway I passed everybody and was just about to pass the second place guy and ….wooooom … the clutch went out of it. I know I could of won the race because I had just caught the best two cars there and I was just gonna pass em when the clutch went out of it. Goll people come running over to the car afterwards….what have you got in that car? ….its just a little 301 Chevy engine, that’s what it was, had a Dempsey Wilson cam in it…

Rod: 7-11

Ron: 7-11 ya, that’s all otherwise there was nothing special.

Webpage: Nice Set up?

Ron: We had it geared right for that set up, it just flew, it was unreal how good it was, I could drive anyplace with it …. Down on the bottom, go right up on top and run. Ronny Thomas use to say G..D…. I know your coming (Laughing)

Rod: Than we had to walk home, the truck broke down on the way home

Ron Ya coming back that night from down there in Iowa we got just about two or three miles from my house and the hauler broke down. Walked the rest of the way, got back, then next morning my wife came down and helped pull it back to my place.

Webpage: Coupes like that were pretty popular for awhile.

Ron: A lot of early Coupes, there was quite a few Hudson Coupes, that run back than too. I remember the first time we run it, we took it out to Lansing we had a trial date before the season starts you know, and I was running around there, geez I just about went flying into the corner and just about went off the end of the track. I came in and Gerhard was laughing you know, and he said it goes pretty good huh (Laughing) I said does it ever. We took it back to the shop and Gerhard said I’m going to change something on the front end. He was good on suspension and he said I’m gonna move that front axle over , I can’t remember if it was an inch and a half or two inches he moved that axle to the right. I could go into the corners just as hard as I wanted, it was unreal. And I could drive anyplace on the Track, I could go down on the inside, go up to the top and run, it was unbelievable. Ya Gerhard use to just laugh when I come in. But that night I won all three of them races there was an old gentleman that come up from Iowa, Chester Iowa, and he was a retired farmer, he come up to our races and that night I won those three races, he come running over to that truck as fast as he could go and he said “My God I ain’t never seen nothing like it – you won everything” (Laughing)

Webpage: How long before Gerhard built his own car than?

Ron: It was probably within the next year he started building that, what was it a ‘56 or ‘57 Chevy

Rod : ‘57

Webpage: Lots of Good Drivers ran with you.

Ron: There was some good ones, I just can’t remember all those names, Verlin Eaker was one of em, but him and I never got along to good because I felt he’d run you over just to get by you. But after we both got done racing, we were good friends than. He use to stop at the house when he came back. You know he lived in Iowa down there and he’d come back here to see his folks and he’d stop at my place and we’d visit you know. When they had that deal over at Rochester for us old drivers last year he was there, and we got sat down and talked awhile, golly a good time. But I see he passed away. I couldn’t believe it.

Rod: Wasn’t he out to Lansing for that thing this summer, ya the Hall of Fame thing

Webpage: Rod you kind of grew up out at Lansing like a lot of us.

Rod: Pretty much. We use to pull that Coupe on the flat bed truck one ton. I’d sit in the race car on the way, there and back (both laugh)

Webpage: You did eventually race Rod.

Rod: Ya

Ron: Trouble was when he got in it we didn’t have enough money to really give him a good car. He was good with what he had. I told my wife if we had the money to put him in a good car he’s gonna win.

Rod: I started out in demos, and then when they came out with the Enduro’s I tried a few of them. Thought what the heck, got in to the Street Stocks, all stock motors, just out having fun, once and awhile got lucky and would win a heat. There were quite a few times I was leading the feature or up towards the front, tire would blow or axle would break. But I had fun so …. That was basically what it was about. Eventually I got into a Hobby Stock, what we called it back then.

Ron: Than you had to have a little more money to put a good motor in ‘em

Rod: Ya well I had a little help now and then, Dave Moffitt gave me a couple motors to use and what not so…but I still didn’t have the money invested to run with them guys … I was still having fun. I raced over in Fairmont, I raced in Kasson, I raced once in Rochester, raced at the Tri Oval in Fountain City, that was interesting , run down in Cresco, that was really fun, so about the only places around here I never ran was Owatonna . Fairmont was fun, a fast half mile; you could really go over there.

Webpage: How much traveling did you do Ron?

Ron: Not much, I just went to Owatonna, I didn’t go around much. After I quit, one night I was sitting there watching television the phone rang, the guy on the other end said “I want you to drive the car” I said what do you mean drive the car, who is this. “Its Mert Williams…I want you to drive my car he said, I got...", what was it…

Rod: Broke his arm

Ron: Broke his arm ya,

Rod: Somebody was driving for him and they had something going on and they suggested you, so Mert called him up…

Ron: I told Mert shit I haven’t run for years, Mert, he said it’s just like riding a bicycle, he said you ain’t gonna forget it. Anyway so Fountain City, I run on that Tri Oval and that night I think I had to start in the back, I don’t remember why, because I wasn’t there at that time or something, anyway I got up to third place. Dave Noble and Pauly Fitzpatrick were in front of me first and second and I caught both of ‘em right there at the end of the race. Didn’t really have a chance to go and get by either one of ‘em. But that car of Mert’s, it was just unbelievable, it almost drove itself. The next night I think it was we went to Rochester for the Fair Race. We was running the heat race and they had a wreck or something, I sat there and Jack

Rod: Justin

Ron: Ya Justin came running over to the car and I said geez I can’t hardly drive this thing into the corners, I’m afraid I’m gonna drive off the end. He said Mert said don’t worry about it just drive it as hard as you want it ain’t gonna go off the end. Boy he was right, after he said that I drove right in there and the car almost drove itself I thought. Anyway I won the Feature that night with it. Oh that’s what it was he come running out to the car and I said geez there’s something wrong with this thing, I can’t push the clutch in and it keeps right on going. I said I can’t stop; I can’t stop without shutting it off you know. So anyway I won the Feature and Mert called me up a night or two later he said Ron you ain’t gonna believe this he said , there ain’t enough left of that clutch in that car, its was gone completely , the only reason you finished is because it had doubled up in one spot on there, kept it going.

Webpage: What year did you quit than?

Ron: Hmmm…

Ron: Well you were racing for Brunner’s – Bob Brunner a couple years down in Iowa

Ron: I don’t remember what year; I can’t keep track of that

Rod: I was probably 15 so ‘74 or ‘75

Ron: I don’t remember how I ended up running for Bob Brunner

Rod: Bjorge was running for him, I don’t know if he was going back to his own car or what the deal was – he was another one who suggested you, Bjorge,

Webpage: Lots of Stories over the years.

Ron: Who was it, Willie Richardson, remember that night. There was one of those Fair races down in Cresco when he nailed me. I guess we come around a couple laps later and I got right up against him and I pushed him sideways right down front of the Grandstand. He come over and gives me hell for that. I said what’s fair is fair (laugh)

Rod: I don’t think he was as well liked

Rod: Mike Guttormson I use to run around with him, use to do a lot of work welding on his car. Use to weld a lot of his transmissions, the ears on ‘em One year we went down to Florida during the Daytona 500, Mark Noble was running down there, got to go to all them races. Go down afterwards and talk to Mark. It’s just kind of fun running into those guys.

Ron: A lot of these boys like Dave Noble are in pretty rough shape…

Rod: Mark is racing Semis now.

Ron: I went up to Elko when they raced up there that night, he did good too, won one race and finished second or third or whatever, he started in the back of the next race and he got up there.

Webpage: Lots of good Friendships made.

Ron: That’s for sure, I remember Dave Noble was racing down in Waterloo and he had that old Oldsmobile cut off made into a wrecker, took it all the way down there and was coming back one day and I don’t remember if it was the engine but something went out it. He unloaded the Stock Car and hooked it onto the font and pulled the tow truck, we was still in Iowa and he pulled it all the way to Blooming, (Laughing) all the back roads.

Rod: Wintertime once I was coming down 56, just before getting into Bronwsdale and it was pretty nasty out and all of a sudden I look over to my right here’s Dave Noble passing me on the shoulder with this flat bed pick up with a car in the back. (Laughing) he’s waving and just a giggling … (still laughing) I just shook my head. That’s Dave … the stories.

Ron: I remember Mert when he was still married, back than he was racing at the State Fair, he went to Detroit and bought a brand new Pontiac brought it home and made a Stock Car out of it. Everybody was saying you got to be kidding me , what do you mean he made a Stock Car out of it, that’s what he did . His wife was driving a ‘50 Ford,

Rod: He went to the store and he bought a fan and an air conditioner, put the fan in the house and put the air conditioner in the garage (Both Laughing)

Ron: I guess his wife finally got rid of him (Laughing) she was, I use to go over there once and awhile, she was really a nice lady, but she just couldn’t put up with that anymore I guess . (Laughing) What did they have 2 or 3 daughters,

Rod: Ya running around with Mike Guttormson was a lot of fun, he was a character, yes he was had a lot of fun with him at the track

Rod: Another good one – he (Ron) was running down in Cresco at the time, I don’t remember who else, but Dick Trickle was running there that night he told him and whoever else it was you guys ought to get up, you guys would do really good Trickle told him – he was quite a character too

Ron: Ya he was good

Rod: We watched Kenny Schrader run down in Cresco one time

Rod: I don’t remember which car it was they had an old timer’s race out there one time, retired guys could race. I had a car that we was gonna run that night but I don’t know something went wrong – clutch went bad or something so we never ran in it – didn’t get to run. Few other older drivers that run that night. Than they had Powder Puffs back in the day, my wife was going to drive my car, well we had practiced with it, and she had actually done pretty good with it , but during the race something happened, maybe she couldn’t make it, I think Val Crews ended up driving my car . Than the one other time she could drive it something else happened to the car.

Ron: She ain’t afraid of nothing – she gets in his, what is that thing….

Rod: ‘64, 5 speed, 454.

Ron: Drives that thing all over.

Webpage: Kind of a Project Car you put together?

Rod: Ya, the first car I ever had I paid 200 bucks for, it’s not the same car, but back in high school I had a 64 Impala where this is a Bel Aire. My In Laws live over in Arcadia and we always went through Winona, there was this guy that had old cars over there I just happened to see that, a couple more times and it was still sitting there . Finally I called the guy, found out what he wanted for it. And I said nah I ain’t paying that much , I called him back awhile later and made an offer, he said nah I can’t sell it for that . So next year its still sitting there, called him and offered something again. He says ya it might as well sit in your garage rather than out in my lot. I ended up buying it, painted it the same color. Somebody else had put the 5 speed 454 in it. I had bought a rebuilt 327 and I wanted to put that motor in there with that Manafree in there and put an automatic in it but my wife doesn’t want me to get rid of the 5 speed. We’ll see who wins the battle there …. (Pauses) The small block and the Manafree are going in there (Laughs)

Webpage: Get out to The Track much anymore?

Ron: I didn’t get to one this year …

Rod: Even after I quit I use to go out there all the time but it just seems like once you start having kids and grandkids, there’s always something going on. Thought about getting into that go cart racing, can’t quite justify the money. Had a couple guys, friends of mine said they come out and run there a little bit but I never even make it out there. A lot of good memories, I remember when he run that for Mert, I was just a kid, go down there afterwards I’d stand there and he’d say want a pop. To this day, a couple times I’ve been over to Rochester and ran into Mert, hey how’s it going? He use to stop here at least once a year

Ron: No haven’t seen him for awhile

Rod: Last time I seen him was when I went over to that deal over in Rochester.

Ron: Out there in the boondocks

Rod: Out at Yaggy’s

Ron: That was really good

Rod: Went to the World of Outlaws race in Manzanita, I went to the inaugural Sprint Car race in Vegas. That one out in Manzanita, out in the desert reminded me exactly of Chateau Speedway as far as the set up and what not.

Ron: Than I started going to NASCAR races. What did I have, 5 seats out in Michigan

Rod: 6 seats- 4 up and 2 down below

Ron: June and August, but we don’t do that anymore. When I started going, when I first got them tickets, must have had them for what 15 year. , When we first got em they were like 15 or 25 bucks. Took my wife down to Charlotte (1998) she did a ride along, took you up to 170 mph. Once I did the Petty driving thing, we went up to, I don’t remember, 160. We had left there and we were at a motel on our way back and I said ill go outside and call my wife on that payphone outside there. So I went outside, it was getting dark and I was standing there talking on the phone and there was a paper laying on the floor and I was rolling it around with my foot and I thought gee it looks like there’s numbers on that thing . I reached down and it was a 100 dollar bill.

Rod: I did the Vegas one and did like 140 there – the more you pay the faster you get to go. They got a green light and a red light and if you get to close they put the red light on. And if you don’t follow instructions the motor goes dead. The day before he did his somebody died from a heart attack, hit the wall.

Ron: I remember when I come in after I made that run I had seen them black marks coming out of the second turn, big black marks along the wall there, anyway I said what happened there, well that’s when he said a guy was running yesterday and he had a heart attack and hit the wall.

Webpage: 10 - 15 years between you two racing– what made you decide so late?

Rod: Like I say, I did a few demos, they were kind of fun, than I tried that Enduro, that was even more fun, I do remember this though, Ackerman out here had a ‘65 Chevelle and I talked Maynard into selling it, I brought it home and put it in the driveway (laughs) I heard - “get that thing out of here” so I ended up having to give it back to Maynard, and so than, well I was still living at home then. Then I ended up moving to Bronwsdale here. Ended up getting divorced, well than I decided what the heck gonna try it. So I started looking around and Maynard still had it, I went and bought it and the fun began. When I got rid of that I bought Kim Crawford’s old ‘70 Monte Carlo and that was really fast, than just to show you how serious I was I bought a big old Impala that Kim Crawford was building for his brother in law, a 70 Impala, Napa was sponsoring me, had one of them big plastic Napa hats and I had that mounted on top of the car (Laughing) I won a few races with that thing. Then I ended up getting the Hobby Stock. I started to build an IMCA Stock Car to run down in Iowa, at Cresco, I don’t remember what made me change that. We ended up getting rid of it anyway.

Webpage: Any other memories of working with Dad?

Rod: That one was the main one with the bearings. Other than that I was always around watching. I do remember one time he was welding on a bumper I was just a little shaver and he said don’t touch that, it’s hot, He went to get something, well I touched it – ya it was hot (Laughing) it was hot. Otherwise you know between the bearing deal, the bumper and riding in the car on the way there and back.

Webpage: What have you got there Ron?

Ron: This is a receipt for them Dempsey Wilson racing cams, (Shows paper – see photo) look how cheap that stuff was back then. It’s just hard to believe that cam kit was that price.

Rod: You had what a total of 1500 dollars in it

Ron: Ya whole car, the blue Coupe

Rod: That was a winning car.

Ron: Now they can dump 1500 dollars, don’t hardly buy much, it’s crazy, you know when I won the Features I usually made a hundred bucks. Worked at the plastic pipe plant than and one of the owners had told me take some records, I was in the maintenance, I pulled something out to give him stuff I had taken down and the money fell out on the floor, I picked it up and I said ya I just kind of do this for a hobby, I make my money racing…..he didn’t think it was too funny (laughing) that was a mistake.

Webpage: It can be expensive.

Ron: I don’t know how anybody can do it anymore, unless like a lot of these guys got such good sponsors you know , people are sponsoring them just to get rid of some money,

Rod: The other problem is you got some of these guys, not mentioning any names, they go out and get these sponsors and tell them were gonna race and they never go out but once or twice – I went in and talked to a few people back in the day and they said no we sponsor so and so and he either never got his car out there or was only out there a couple times. We’re not going to sponsor any more of these –doesn't pay. Winning helps but they just want you to be there. We sponsored a few cars, like Mike, seems to me we were on Gabrielson’s, a few others, we didn’t really give money but did work for them.

Webpage: Tell us how the prop service came about

Rod: Well we use to be busy with welding, than everything changed. You know farmers were fixing their own stuff and buying new stuff….use to put a lot of trailer hitches on. Well these new cars you can’t weld hitches on you got to buy the bolt on ones, things just changed, there was some guys that brought props in and wanted us to weld em up, hammer em out - make em look good – weld em up – grind em down. Well we thought they got to have equipment to do this properly. Well at that time I was working for Viking Glass I was selling out on the road. Happened to be in Winona one day, drove by this boat place and pulled in and said you don’t happen to have any information on equipment for repairing boats do you. They said ya we do. So he give me the information, gave it to him and we checked it out, went down to St Louis, came back and talked about it, bought the equipment

Ron: Spent ten thousand dollars and got into it

Rod: But now that’s changing too, back in the day we did 50 to a 100 of them things a week. Now you’re lucky to get 10 or 15 of ‘em. Don’t have the pleasure boaters out there like you use to. The fishermen are still out. And we had 3 times the amount of dealers, half of them are not in business anymore a vicious cycle.

Ron: It’s like now some companies going broke because of the internet. People buying things off the internet

Webpage: You’re still working at it too Ron, no retirement for you?

Ron: I’m only 88…well will be December 7th. (Laughs)

Webpage: Final Thoughts Guys?

Ron: It was fun back than in the old days.

Rod: Ya racing was fun.