The Happening at State Park Speedway was aptly named. Father Dale Grubba celebrated his golden jubilee in the priesthood by inviting about 150 people to join him at the Wimmer family’s race track Thursday night. For those who don’t know about the track’s owners, Ron, Joan and former racing son Scott Wimmer handle the duties at the historic oval, and Joan’s brother was the legendary Larry Detjens. They pulled out all the stops for Thursday’s gathering, not only hosting the huge assembly, but also running a big race program.


It was one large race reunion before the races began, joined by dignitaries like Bobby Allison, Ken Schrader, Dick Berggren, Tom Roberts, Dave Marcis, Bay Darnell and Miles “The Mouse” Melius. Racers from the past joined the current drivers, track owners, officials and personnel as media folks from all over tried to keep up with the night’s gathering. Retired racers Rich Bickle Jr., Mike Miller, Nathan Haseleu, Jason Schuler, Al and Joel Laufer, Bobby Weiss, and others joined current racers Al Schill, Conrad Morgan, Jerry Eckhardt, Dale Prunty, Mike Egan and Bill Prietzel in the audience. Tales from the past decades filled the evening as our racing padre moved from one location to another. Father Grubba shared his joy with the packed arena, telling the audience how special his life had been with the friendship of so many people. The Wimmer family surprised him with a special plaque thanking him for his service in the ministry as well as being a special friend to them.


The race program kept on pace during this gathering. Several race teams joined the weekly regulars in hopes of earning the special trophies. One visitor did just that in the late model field as Adam Peschek took the winner’s hardware home, the young racer also fielding a dirt modified elsewhere. The night’s finale was a pair of fifty-lap contests for the super late models. Brothers Johnny, Tim and Jim Sauter Jr. joined this field along with stalwarts Jeremy Lepak, Jason and Chris Weinkauf, MG Gajewski, and many more. Natalie Decker led the first fifty to the checkered flag in a strong run, and the field was partially inverted for the second segment. At the end it was Johnny Sauter beating his brother Tim, whose challenges were thwarted to the final flag.


Johnny Sauter told the crowd he really wanted to win this one, having a long friendship with Father Grubba, claiming, “Coming from a staunch Catholic family, Father Grubba has been special to us. I know Tim (Sauter) had a better car than I did, and I don’t know if I would have been as patient as him.”


It was just ten o’clock when the checkered flag closed the racing program, but there was much more to follow. This track has a full service bar that shows the night’s events on a big screen. Many gathered here to share memories and enjoy the live music as we left. Our thanks to Father Grubba and the Wimmer family for a wonderful time. It was well worth the round trip of nearly six hours.


-By Fay Hendricks, Motorsports Columnist

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Dignitaries Converge on State Park for ‘The Happening’