Category Archives: SuperStories

Brought to you by Everybody has a story to tell and I want to hear yours! No matter how wild, crazy, raucous or raunchy it is, I want you to share a story about a memory that was created because of the supermodified division.

SuperStories: In the Moment with Jessica Zemken

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Tearoffs by Lew Boyd-2/10/14

She’s smart, pretty, and quick as the wind tunneling down that racing-rich Mohawk Valley of upstate New York. Her partner is megastar Dirt Modified driver Stewart Friesen.

This season she’ll be leaving her Sprint Car and tearoffs at home on Saturdays. Following a spectacular maiden appearance at the Oswego Classic last fall, she will be full-time aboard the Corr-Pak/Ray Graham big block Supermodified on the pavement of the “Steel Palace.”

I have followed Jessica Zemken for years, having known her family from back when I was racing at Fonda. Clearly JZ has reached a tipping point in her career and her life.

Here’s what she has to say:

I remember it so clearly. It was 2008. We were at Ohsweken up in Ontario for a World of Outlaws Sprint Car race. It must have looked like a struggle and it was. There were just the two of us, Mom and me, the car, no spares, same set of tires all night long. We had qualified through the B main and were getting ready for the A. Mom was under the car changing the gears, and this guy walked up to me and announced he wanted to help. No one had ever said that before, so I asked him what in the world he meant. He said he wanted to sponsor me! I couldn’t believe it. It was John Brush of Corr-Pak Merchandising. And let me put it this way: I have talked with John and his wife, Wendy, every day since.

It’s hard to explain how tough the road has been.

My mom is an optometrist in Ft. Plain (NY). My dad had a repair shop and always raced stock cars. Mom went to Boston for her training so she could improve our lives, so during the week I was with Dad a lot – and, of course, I went to watch him race on the weekends.

I just loved the cars – and Dad’s guys became like my brothers. I never wore pink or a dress. My hands were greasy. Guess I was supposed to be a boy.

One grandmother really thought so. How she preached that girls don’t get dirty and garages are for rednecks.

Then, when I was six, Dad got me a fun field kart, and a couple of years later I saw a couple of girls racing real Karts. I had never thought that was possible, and I was on it and started racing competitively. By 14, I had a Sportsman car at Fonda, a half-mile dirt track. That was pretty intimidating. It sure was more complex than the Kart or the way it looked from the stands. I found it especially difficult that people wouldn’t take me seriously, or they’d say the only reason I got the opportunity was because I was a girl. But even my grandmother began to turn around in 2004 when I won the Utica-Rome track championship and seven or eight features. Meanwhile, my dad’s mother has been my biggest fan since day one.

I just had to keep going. Going into Sprinters was a challenge, but not as much as from the Kart to the Sportsman. Sure, the speeds were pretty noticeable at places like Knoxville, Eldora, and Williams Grove, but it’s all I’ve ever known. It like an adrenalin rush that over time becomes more comfortable.

I found I tend to run better when the track is slick and you have to be smooth and keep your tires under you. I like it when the track gets wide so it’s not just about horsepower and equipment. It’s more about the driver and the setup.

Read the rest of this edition of “Tearoffs” by Lew Boyd and find out why Jessica Zemken is excited to spend her summer racing a supermodified at Oswego Speedway-CLICK HERE to READ and LEARN


SuperStories: Joy in Racing

Note: This is a promoted post by a Wing Side Up Sponsor. Nominal compensation has been received for the following content.

Tearoffs by Lew Boyd-10/7/13

It’s not that there’s not good racing anymore. Quite the contrary.

After 60 years of taking in the action, the most gripping competition I have ever seen came just this year when the Swindells, Sr. and Jr., toured the Chili Bowl at warp speed, lap after lap, that peach fuzz demi-god Kyle Larson dancing off their front and rear bumpers.

And anyone who watched will tell you what an over-the-top fabulous spectacle preceded Tony Kaanan’s gleeful gulp of milk at the 2013 Indy 500.

So why would it be that the most passion and gaiety of any other show this year came last weekend at the annual reunion of the Pines Speedway in Groveland, Mass.? Why would it be that a retro day for gray hairs at a backyard track shuttered since 1973 would outdraw anything else in the area?

Sure, there are the canned responses: the sad state of our economy for all but the gated few; the ridiculous costs of running competitively virtually anywhere; the unfortunate pall cast over the sport by recent shenanigans in NASCAR; the intolerance of yuppie neo-neighbors that threatens the continuation of so many
short tracks.

What the Pines popularity may be speaking to is a lost sense of community. Even contentious situations among racers were often laced with humor and quick wit. Just maybe in these serious and unsettled times it’s an underlying, special joy about being a racer that has been ground down.

Case in point. Our first book here at Coastal 181 was THEY CALLED ME THE SHOE, the autobiography of one of the East’s greatest modified dirt slingers. Ken Shoemaker, the consummate tough guy, was dying, and he described his racing in a gritty way, but threads of humor and joy ran throughout. Consider this incident, just after he came into the pits at Lebanon Valley one night from warming up Tony Trombley’s car. “We were experimenting with tunnel ram induction, and the linkage was sticking, which could create a dangerous situation. While we were talking, a guy who insisted I’d passed his car a little rough, kept putting his nose in my face. I kept telling him, ‘Just let me finish with my car owner, and I’ll give you all the time you want.’ He wouldn’t quit bothering me. So I excused myself from Tony, moved Tony aside, and gave this guy a good smack. He flew right over the top of one of those dual-height roller took boxes. I figured the situation was over, but sometimes life ain’t that easy. It turns out that the guy was my son Keith’s automotive teacher over in Hudson. Oh well.”

Read the rest of this edition of “Tearoffs” by Lew Boyd and find out why supermodified racers Bentley Warren and Doug Heveron were laughing after crashing at Oswego Speedway and find out how you can pre-order the hot new book “WICKED FAST – Racing Through Life
with BENTLEY WARREN” as told to Bones Bourcier with foreword by Davey Hamilton


SuperStories: Johnny Ardis-Alabama’s Renowned Open Wheel Owner

We are pleased to bring the first of what will become a regular feature articles by our good friend Tony Martin. Tony brings a wealth of Ohio and southern supermodified knowledge to the division.  He has published a book about his adventures as a supermodified fan and historian entitled “Echoes of Thunder in the Hills.” It is a treasure trove of photos documenting the birth of the supermodified division as well as many other historically significant race cars.  We’d love to hear your thoughts on this and future articles by Tony. Leave us a comment below and share the story with friends using the buttons below the post. Enjoy!

By Tony Martin

In the prime of southern supermodified racing, the 1960s, both Allison brothers, Donnie and Bobby as well as fellow Alabama Gang member, Red

Farmer, drove for long-time owner/builder, Johnny Ardis of Mobile. Generally recognized as premier stock car stars, this threesome is among a group of over fifty drivers to sit behind the wheel of Ardis’ racing machines.

Bobby_Allison_in Johnny_Ardis_Special
Bobby Allison after a supermodified victory at Pensacola in the Ardis Special, a CAE sprinter owned by Johnny Ardis. Both Allisons drove the car on the Speedway Inc. circuit in the ‘60s along with fellow Alabama G ang member, Red Farmer. Flagman Eddie Niedermayer
presents the bounty to Allison. (Tony Martin Collection)

In 1966, Donnie Allison was leading the Speedway Inc. association points until an accident temporarily put him out of action. The group raced four or five nights a week in the south and more than one declined NASCAR rides to stay closer to home and make more money on the supermodified circuit. The tradition of having Birmingham’s best behind the wheel, was continued just last year when Dave Mader III wheeled the Ardis Special in Gulf Coast TBARA competition.

During the supermodified days, Ardis fielded a CAE sprinter while his current sprint car is a J&J. CAE was a mainstay of supermodified equipment on the Speedway Inc. circuit. Johnny is in the process of restoring the famed car for its display at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. In eight attempts at the Little 500, Johnny’s son Michael had the best finish in comparison to the more experienced chauffeurs his dad had behind the wheel. Michael had some late-model experience in the only fender car that his dad campaigned. This was in 1991.

Ardis Racing began in 1947 when Johnny’s dad fielded his first race car. Johnny and brother Jimmy bought a coupe that was formerly owned by their dad a couple of years later and Johnny has been in the open wheel racing business until the present time. The man goes against the grain in stock car country. His list of over fifty drivers is composed of champion drivers from a diverse genre of racing, including those who have become nationally famous on two wheels.

James McElreath and Jerry Mann battle in supermodified competition at Five Flags Speedway.
James McElreath and Jerry Mann, (Ardis #30), battle in supermodified competition at Five Flags Speedway. (Tony Martin Collection)

The supermodified fields in the south at the time were incredibly strong with many drivers achieving national recognition with their on-track skills Standing room only crowds were the norm and attracted such rising stars as James McElreath.  McElreath was the talented son of Indianapolis 500 veteran Jim McElreath from Texas and was well on his way to fame in USAC. McElreath looked at the Pensacola event as a stroll in the park, but the stout competition proved to make it anything but. Unfortunately McElreath would lose his life in a sprint car race at Winchester Speedway in 1977 just as he was preparing to attempt to join his father at Indianapolis.

Another southern standout, Peachstater, Jimmy Kite, who has raced at Indy and beyond, recently voiced his thanks to Ardis, who he credits with jump-starting his career. Jimmy sought out Ardis at the March Must See sprint car races in Pensacola and Mobile for advice on setting up his car.

For over sixty years, Johnny Ardis has been a stalwart in Gulf Coast racing and he continues to this day. He operates with a much tighter budget than the majority of his competition and his ability in building the cars (including engines) and setting them up for different tracks makes him a much sought out owner in deep south competition. He plans to return to the Little 500 among other things. He’s seen the sport evolve over the years and we have a lot to look forward to.