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ICEMAN: 1998 ACDelco/Murray's ICEMAN Series Season in Review

1 October 1998

By Charles Krall

TOLEDO, OH: The ACDelco/Murray's ICEMAN Series visited five speedways in three states during the 1998 season, and four drivers found their way to victory lane at least once in one of the most heated championship battles in series history.

The season got off to a slow start as two events scheduled at the Toledo (OH) Speedway were canceled because of rain. Both of the two cancellations were to have been the first day races in series history.

After the two washouts in April, the series hit the road to Shady Bowl Speedway in DeGraff, OH. This event marked the second time in series history the season opened at a track other than Toledo Speedway. In 1997, rain caused the scheduled opener at Toledo to be canceled and the season open at the Tri-City Speedway in Auburn, MI.

Qualifying at Shady Bowl brought the first of the season's many surprises. Rookie of the year competitor Claude Plante, Jr. Took the veterans and railbirds by surprise as he put his Lane Automotive Chevrolet on top of the qualifying ladder.

A field of twenty cars took the season's first green flag and raced clean for the first several laps. On lap 14, Plante, who had started fifth, was challenging Don St. Denis for the second position as they closed in on lapped traffic. Contact was made between Plante, St. Denis, and Jim Miller on the frontstretch causing a huge melee in turn one. Plante, Miller, St. Denis, and Gary Camelet were all eliminated in the accident, while several other drivers suffered damage in the incident.

The race ran relatively incident-free the remainder of the way. Scott Baker dominated the event until a failed rear-end gear sent him to the sidelines on lap 76. Baker's hard luck was Harold Fair, Jr.'s gain as he took over the top spot. He led the race handily until Kenny Phillips spun in turn three on lap 99 brought out the event=92s final caution flag.

On the restart, the clutch in Fair's machine failed and Dave Kuhlman took over the lead and the victory. Kuhlman led only the final lap en route the win. Rounding out the top 5 were defending ACDelco/Murray's ICEMAN Series champion Glenn Gault, Jerry Cook, Fred Campbell, and Len Couvillon.

Event number two brought the troops back to the historic high-banks of Toledo Speedway. For the second consecutive week, Claude Plante, Jr. set the quickest time in qualifications, and drew a six for the inversion.

The field ran clean and green for 71 laps until ACDelco Challenge Series regular Alec Pinsonneault spun out of turn four to bring out the evening's first caution. It was under this caution flag that leader Glenn Gault began to feel the handling of his American Title and Trust Chevrolet change. The left rear tire had expanded more than expected and resulted in a very loose racecar.

While Gault could open his advantage before the handling difficulties, he had to fend off series challenges by Harold Fair, Jr. afterward. Two more accidents slowed the lead battle, one involving rookie Mike Hennessy and Sean Sholtis, the other involving Plante and Brett Reaume.

The final 13 laps saw a torrid battle for the lead as Fair tried everything possible to make his way past for the lead. Gault was able to keep control of his extremely loose machine and hold of Fair for his first series victory of the year. Following the two leaders at the finish were Campbell, Cook, and Couvillon.

Week three again saw the combatants on the high-banks of Toledo Speedway. Claude Plante, Jr. set a series record by timing in fastest in qualifications for the third week in a row. Plante is the first rookie in series history to claim the top qualifying spot three times in a season, not to mention the first series rookie to claim three consecutive pole positions.

Jerry Cook out-dragged pole-sitter Don St. Denis into turn one and led the first 14 laps. On lap 14, Cook got loose coming out of turn two and tagged the outside wall. His machine rode the wall around to turn three, suffering severe damage to the right side. Two other drivers found the concrete late in the event. Ron Allen made hard contact in turn one after the rear-end locked in his machine, and on the restart from the Allen accident, Dennis Anscombe lost traction and made hard contact with the inside barriers on the front stretch.

For the second week in a row, Glenn Gault found himself in the winner's circle after a hard late race battle only this time the challenger was Fred Campbell. Campbell ran a very close second the last half of the event, several times nudging the rear of Gault car enough to cause a little wiggle.

"I drove hard tonight," Gault said is the winner's circle. "I need to give credit to that guy behind me. He was fast, but to his credit he drove me good and clean. Just a great race tonight!"

Following Gault and Campbell at the line were Dave Kuhlman, Kenny Phillips, and Scott Baker.

The annual Indiana 100 at the Baer Field Speedway on Ft. Wayne, IN turned out to be one of the most rough-and-tumble races in recent memory. Hot and humid weather contributed to slippery track conditions that helped cause eleven yellow flags.

Hometown favorite Larry Zent broke Claude Plante's pole position streak at three. An inversion of 10 saw the Big Rigs Chevrolet start deep in the pack, and on lap 6, Zent was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Jerry Cook experienced a broken hub on his machine. Both cars were eliminated in the accident.

Others involved in the numerous incidents were Mike Hennessy, Len Couvillon, John Gearhart, Dennis Anscombe, Jim Baker, Ron Ridenour, and Mike Hunter. Glenn Gault suffered through a long evening with problems under the hood of his mount. Gault was able to salvage an eleventh place finish due to high attrition, but was 39 laps in arrears at the checkered.

The only driver not perplexed by track conditions was Dave Kuhlman. Kuhlman put his Right Tools Chevrolet in victory lane for the second time in 1998 on a night that saw many of his competitors mystified by the heat and humidity.

"We didn't have a problem with the track tonight," Kuhlman said afterwards. "We worked hard to get the car in shape tonight. Some guys may have said a little about track conditions tonight, but it was perfect for us!"

Kuhlman continued his winning ways the next week back at Toledo Speedway as he held off Harold Fair, Jr. for his third checkered flag of the season. A hard crash on the green flag sent Ron Ridenour into the wall. Len Couvillon also found the outside wall on lap 16 in a head on collision after contact was made from behind.

Chasing Kuhlman and Fair to the stripe were Fred Campbell, Ken Phillips, and Dennis Strickland.

The series was to have raced at Lorain County Speedway on June 17, but track officials notified series promoter Sonny Adams during the week the event was canceled. "We were disappointed for our teams, fans, and sponsors that event was removed from the schedule," Mr. Adams said after the cancellation was finalized. "It was a business decision made by Lorain County Speedway. We would like to run in Northeast Ohio to give our teams and sponsors exposure to more people, and we felt this was a good opportunity. It just didn=92t fit into their plans at this time."

With that event taken off the schedule, the week off gave the teams an unexpected week off to recuperate from what was a tough race the week before at Toledo. When the teams loaded up and returned to Toledo Speedway for race six, they could not stop the blue Right Tools Chevrolet of Dave Kuhlman. Kuhlman claimed his fourth checkered flag of the year, and third in a row on July 26.

Dennis Anscombe took the lead on the start to lead his first ever laps on the ACDelco/Murray's ICEMAN Series. Kuhlman passed Anscombe on lap 14 and led the final 86 laps to take the victory. Fred Campbell made a spectacular charge from the tenth starting position, making several passes in the outside groove on his way to challenge for the second position, eventually finishing third.

Following Kuhlman at the finish were Harold Fair, Jr., Campbell, Jerry Cook, and Tom Hernly, Jr.

Round seven of the 1998 season took place at the famed half-mile of Sandusky Speedway. In an effort to level the playing field, series officials decided during the week to eliminate the inversion and start the field straight up based on qualifying times. This put Scott Baker on the pole as he re-established the track record in qualifications. Baker led for the first 54 laps until the ignition in his Sypolt Chevrolet Chevy failed, sending him to the pits.

Baker's hard luck gave the lead to Fred Campbell, who was challenged hard by Dave Kuhlman. Kuhlman poked the nose of his mount under Campbell's Port City Racing Chevrolet several times, but each time Campbell was able to slam to door shut and keep Kuhlman behind him.

At the checkers, Campbell claimed his first series win since 1996. Kuhlman was second, followed by Glenn Gault, Jeremy Rielley, and Greg Taylor.

Campbell followed his win at Sandusky with another triumph the following week at Toledo. Again, he took the lead from Scott baker midway through the event and led the remainder of the event to the checkered. Several drivers established season-best finishes during week eight, including = Baker in second and Claude Plante, Jr. in third. Jerry Cook and Kuhlman rounded out the top 5.

The series then traveled to Auto City Speedway in Flint, MI. Qualifications were held August 8, but rain postponed the event until August 22. When the event finally did take the green, the fans in attendance saw some of the best racing action of the 1998 season. Contact on the start sent Jerry Cook sliding up the banking and put Glenn Gault out front. Tom Hernly, Jr. caught Gault and passed for the lead on lap seven. On lap 37, Hernly and Kuhlman came together coming out of turn four and both drivers spun. That gave the lead back to Gault, who fought hard with Fred Campbell to keep the to spot. Campbell finally took over the lead on lap 50 only to face a heavy late-race challenge from local hero Stan Boyd in the waning laps. Campbell held off Boyd after a lap-98 restart to claim his third consecutive win, which put him in a tie with Dennis Berry for the most career AMIS victories with 16.

Jerry Cook thrilled the hometown fans as he broke a six-year winless streak with his victory at Toledo Speedway on August 30. Cook's Marco=92s Pizza/Urbine Machine Ford was unable to join the ecstatic crew in victory lane as a punctured tire sent Cook hard into the turn one wall immediately after taking the checkered flag.

"I would almost trade the win to get my car back," Cook said in a bittersweet victory lane. "We had been close all year and we finally broke the ice and won, but we wrecked the car in the process. At least our luck held out long enough to win. The past few years, that kind of stuff usually would happen to us on lap 99!"

Following Cook at the finish were Campbell, Scott Baker, Harold Fair, Jr., and Dennis Anscombe.

The traditional Toledo 200 closed the 1998 ACDelco/Murray=92s ICEMAN Series season with three drivers still alive in the race for the series championship. Campbell took a commanding championship lead into the final event, but Glenn Gault and Dave Kuhlman were within striking distance if the series points leader had a bad break.

Ironically, events in the final event of the season closely resemble that of the season open at Shady Bowl. Harold Fair, Jr. put on a dominant display as he led from lap six through the late stages of the event. At lap 150, Fair had opened a five-second advantage over a three-way battle for the runner-up position. However, a punctured tire on lap 197 sent Fair's Lefthander Chassis Chevrolet hard into the turn three wall, ending his season four laps shy of two series victories. He came up one lap short in the season opener.

Again, the beneficiary of Fair's rotten luck was Dave Kuhlman, who collected his fifth checkered flag of the season. "One of these times his (Fair's) luck will hold out and he will win one of these things" Kuhlman said. "We struggled through some rotten luck before we ever saw our first victory. But, until then, as long as lady luck sees to put us in victory lane instead, we'll take it."

While Kuhlman won the battle, Fred Campbell won the proverbial war. The 1992 series champion will take home his second ACDelco/Murray's ICEMAN Series trophy at the Awards Banquet November 21. "Harley Boeve didn't decide to run for this championship until about three weeks before the season started" Campbell said later. "I sure am glad he did! We had a terrific season. The drivers in this series are the best out there. We raced hard with all of them and we beat two of the best in Glenn Gault and Dave Kuhlman. Harley and the crew put a good car underneath me and I am grateful for all the hard work they put in to get us to where we are right now."

Campbell finished the season on quite a hot streak, not only claiming the AMIS championship, but he also won the Navistar International Gold Cup 100 at Baer Field, as well as defeating 60 of the Midwest's best competitors in the Main Event XI at Columbus Motor Speedway.

The ACDelco/Murray's ICEMAN Series annual Awards Banquet will be held Saturday night, November 21 at the Toledo Speedway Lounge. Nationally known television personality Larry Nuber, as well as The Voice of Toledo Speedway Jack Pfiefer will host the evening. For ticket information, contact the Toledo Speedway office at (419) 729-1634.