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Larry Schuler won Carter Classic 40 years Ago

By Stan Kalwasinski

Morris, Ill.—40 years ago, Larry Schuler won the Wayne Carter Classic 100 at the Grundy County Speedway in Morris, Ill. It was 1981 and Schuler, a native of Lockport, Ill., was 28 years old at the time and scored one of the biggest wins of his career at the third-of-a-mile paved oval during the ARTGO Racing late model series event.

The story has been often told how Art Frigo and John McKarns had formed the ARTGO series in the summer of 1975, hosting the first Wayne Carter Classic at Grundy in September of ‘75 with Tom Reffner of Rudolph, Wis., coming home the winner of the inaugural race. Schuler competed in that first Carter Classic and finished 12th.

It was now six years later with Schuler, a telephone lineman when not racing, driving his dad Lee’s, Bill George Sales/Protector Corporation-sponsored, George Appleton Chassis, blue-colored, Camaro. Larry Schuler and Appleton had teamed up in 1973 with Schuler winning his first late model main event that year. 1976 saw Schuler win three track championships and a nation-high 43 feature wins on paved tracks with most of those victories coming behind the wheel of his Appleton-engineered, Al’s Garage-sponsored, “Junkyard Dog Camaro” No. 30.

Schuler, now wheeling his dad’s No. 61, was having a pretty successful season so far in 1981, winning a 100 lapper and 75-lap event at Blue Island’s Raceway Park, an ARTGO 50 lapper at Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna, Wis. on May 31, and three Friday night headliners at the Grundy oval.

McKarns, who headed up the ARTGO late model tour, was promoting that the ARTGO “stars and cars” would be at Grundy on Tuesday evening, August 18, for the seventh annual Wayne Carter Classic. Special entry, NASCAR star Darrell Waltrip, would be making his first-ever appearance at the Morris fairgrounds speed plant.

A sunny day with temperatures in the 70s saw a stellar field of late model racers show up at Grundy, including three-time ARTGO champion Dick Trickle, Mark Martin, Jim Sauter, Joe Shear, Rusty Wallace and Jim Weber, along with local headliners Schuler, Tom Jones, Frank Gawlinski, Ed Hoffman, Ray Young, Dave Weltmeyer, Bob Strait and Bill Venturini.

Martin got the day’s program underway by setting fast time, whistling around the Grundy oval in 14.683 seconds in his Dillon Enterprises/Prototype Engineering Camaro No. 2, posting an all-time qualifying track record that would stand until opening night of this year. On May 1, Joe Vinachi turned in a lap of 14.477 to establish the current Grundy mark.

Preliminary races saw Wisconsin’s Jim Back win the 12-lap trophy dash with Jones capturing the 12-lap “Australian Pursuit” contest. Young and Venturini posted qualifying heat race wins with Strait winning the 20-lap semi feature.

A field of 22 took starter Bill Gronley’s green flag for the 100-lap main event with Wallace and his Camaro jumping into the lead at the start. At the 25-lap mark, it was Wallace out front, with Schuler, Shear, Martin, Gawlinski and Back in the top six with Trickle and Sauter, who would go on to win the ‘81 ARTGO championship, cutting through the pack on their way to the front.

Thirty-three laps were in the record books when Back stalled on the track, bringing out the yellow flag. When racing resumed, Schuler took to the high side of Wallace, grabbing the lead on lap 37. Trickle was on the move and began pressing Schuler for the top spot, eventually taking over the lead on lap 69, using the outside groove for his advance.

Trickle set the pace in his Superamerica Camaro as the race wound down. With 15 laps or so to go, Trickle’s No. 99 began smoking as he continued to lead with Schuler second and Sauter now third. Two laps from the end, the caution light flashed again in order to check if Trickle’s car was leaking oil. Before the green flag reappeared, Trickle was in the pits with a burnt piston and Schuler was the new leader.

Schuler led the final two circuits with Sauter finishing second. Martin and Jones ended up third and fourth respectively and were the only other drivers to complete 100 laps. Venturni, Gawlinski, Waltrip, Shear and Weber came home fifth through ninth with Trickle’s 98-lap run giving him 10th at the end.

The rest of the finishers included Weltmeyer, Young, Dave Price, Wallace, Tony Hertko, James Bond, Johnny McPartlin, Strait, Ted Musgrave, Back, Hoffman and Dotter.

Now 40 years later and despite battling cancer for two years, Schuler is still competing. Returning to action after missing the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Schuler is wheeling a retro-look, Rod Baker Ford-sponsored, No. 30 in the weekly late model action at Grundy. Schuler is second on the all-time Grundy feature winners list with 78 victories to his credit, only bettered by six-time track champion Eddie Hoffman, who has 146 wins.

Schuler is among the entries for this Saturday’s ARCA Midwest Tour Wayne Carter Classic 100 presented by Rod Baker Ford and Illinois Truck and Equipment. Paul Shafer Jr. of Portage, Ind., last year’s Grundy late model track champion, is the defending winner of the Carter Classic. Racing begins at 7:00 pm.

Larry Schuler and his Rod Baker Ford No. 30 at Grundy this year.