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  .: 2019 Hall of Fame Inductees :.

2019 Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Fame Induction
The ninth class of the Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Fame inducted August 10, 2019.  Left to right; Sue Rudesill accepting for her mother Ione Harrington, Jim Viltz, Don Folz and Brian Ward accepting for his father Ron Ward.

Jim Viltz
An interest in dirt track racing and particularly racing at the Rice Lake Speedway came early to Jim Viltz. As a youngster, his folks took him to his first race at the Rice Lake Speedway and the next morning when his parents went outside, they found that young Jim had taken a hammer to the headlights in the family sedan, knocking them out. When asked about his action, young Jim simply exclaimed, “Stock Car!”

Following graduation from Prairie Farm High School, where Jim played as a speedy tailback for the Panthers, he went off to basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia South Carolina and followed that up with service in the National Guard.

At some point in the late seventies, Jim got the “bug” again for racing and started helping his cousin, Dave Erickson, work on his race cars. Erickson, who is also a member of the Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Fame, had been racing for a few years and had picked up a win or two before Jim joined the operation. Together, they did whatever it took to keep Erickson on the track and racing, even if it meant coming up with a new “money person” or “co-owner” every couple of years or so. Viltz teamed up with as many as ten other co-owners to the race team over the years, coming from every corner of Barron County to as far away as North Pole, Alaska. The #145 that Erickson raced under had a large fan following of folks from Barron county and became known as a group that had a lot of fun at the track, both racing and afterwards as they were always up for a party.

Perhaps the most memorable years for the #145 team were when Woody and Patty Kurtzhals were the primary owners of the racing team. They recorded some big wins during those years with a couple of the biggest being the 1984Modified invitational at Rice Lake and the 1989 Aquafest trophy face. Erickson recorded fifteen feature wins driving the #145 car along with eventual Hall of Fame status and after he stepped away from driving duties in 1995, Tom Brust came on board to drive the Viltz Modified for two years, recording a feature win among other accomplishments.

Things changed for Viltz in 1998 when he started preparing cars for immediate family members. At this time, he put his sixteen year old son Ryan behind the wheel of a Street Stock as a rookie driver. After a learning curve that took them a couple years, they had big success when they won the 2000 Street Stock point title at Rice Lake while winning three feature races over that time period.

It got even busier for Jim when younger son Tyler(better known to the racing world as Tito), decided that he wanted to try racing too. The Pure Stock class that was racing at that time at the St. Croix Speedway near Centuria caught Jim's eye, and with the help of Turtle Lake's Randy Davis, they combed through the existing rules, wrote a proposal and presented it to Indianhead Stock Car Racing Association President Rod Hensel and the Rice Lake Speedway Pure Stock class was born in 2000. Viltz and Tom Brust built the first three Rice Lake Speedway Pure Stocks with the first one off the line being sold to Barron's Gary Forehand for his son Jason to drive as he moved up from the Karts. Forehand would drive that car to nine feature wins at Rice Lake during that first season. Others that started their driving careers in Viltz built cars included Adam and Ryan Hensel, Bobby Kaufman, Johnny Erickson and Joel Hinrichs.

Jim and his boys fielded cars for the Pure Stock, Street Stock, Midwest Modified and Modified classes before both boys retired from racing. They ran a two car team from 2000 until 2015 and combined for six point titles and ten Labor Day weekend feature race wins. Between the two of them, they combined for fifty nine feature race wins at Rice Lake and won every major event at the track except for the Little Dream race.

By best estimates, Jim Viltz was responsible for fielding at least fifty four race cars over the years that won many events as well as receiving many Best Appearing Car awards and records would seem to indicate that cars that he built or personally maintained have won somewhere between 80 and 100 feature races over the years at the Rice Lake Speedway. Whether it was an Ice Racer or a 410 Sprint Car, there was always room in the Viltz garage to help out others in need.

Happily, the Viltz family racing tradition will continue. In 2020, when young grandson Brody hits the track driving Kart #8, it will mark the sixth consecutive decade that a Jim Viltz tuned and prepared racing machine will have turned laps on the property of the Rice Lake Speedway.

Jim is a commercial tire salesman for Pomp's Tire and has been in the tire business for over forty years. His wife of forty one years, Dawn, has been by his side and held down the fort while the Viltz boys have been working and racing cars all that time.

Jim and Dawn now spend their free time following their grand children's activities and live in Cameron.

Ladies and gentlemen, Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Famer, Jim Viltz.
Ron Ward
Ron Ward's story is one of the shortest and saddest among the members in the Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Fame.

Ron, originally from Chetek, began his racing career at the Rice Lake Speed Pit in 1953 when he was nineteen years old. His first race car was a six cylinder Chevrolet that he and Bob Connors(another Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Fame member) built for the RL Stock class. His car number was #53, corresponding to the year that he started racing. This car was owned by Norm Miesner who owned the Standard Station in Chetek. Later he would race in the RL Stock class driving the #283 that was owned by Gilberts Motors and had previously been driven by Bob Anderson.

Although track records from this era are somewhat sketchy, Ward is credited with fourteen feature wins at the Rice Lake Speed Pit/Speedway and all were earned in the RL Stock class. Among the awards he earned were the 1961 Season Championship , the 1965 Aquafest Trophy race and the 1965 Firecracker special. He also swept the boards winning all events for his class nine straight weeks.

Ron graduated from Rice Lake High School in 1952 and was a TV repairman for several years including owning and operating Chetek Electronics. Late He went to work as the maintenance man for the Rice Lake's city TV cable system, where he worked for its owner Don Knutson, himself a race car driver and car owner.

On the track, he was known as Ronnie “Wildman” Ward for his fearless driving style and ability to weave his way through traffic and get to the front of the pack. A story on him in the July 6th, 1966 edition of the Rice Lake Chronotype describes him as “one of the most colorful drivers at the Rice Lake Speed Pit” and one who “ had the instinct to know when an opening was developing as he regularly picked his way through a pack of cars to another win.” It also described him as a driver “as well liked off the track as he was respected for his driving talent on the clay oval.”

Sadly, his racing career and life were cut far too short. In the early morning hours of July 4th, 1966, Ward was stopped at a stop sign at the corner of Main and Messenger Streets in Rice Lake when his car was rear ended by another driver traveling at high speed. Ward's car burst into flames alongside of the corner of the Scotty's Floor Covering building and that structure was severely scorched. Ward was ejected from his small sports car and landed in a pool of flaming gasoline. Ward passed away hours later in an Eau Claire hospital.

Ironically, the accident happened on the eve of the annual Aquafest Trophy race to be held at the Speed Pit the following night. Ward was the defending champion of that race, having won both a heat and the feature in the 1965 race.

A short memorial program was held at the speed pit the following night conducted by Rev. Donald Berry before the Aquafest trophy races would begin and the members of the Indianhead Stock Car Racing Association would gather at Mason's Funeral Home the following evening to pay tribute to Ward. Ward's car, the #283 that he was scheduled to drive in the Trophy races that night, would not participate. Ron Ward was only thirty two years old.

How many races he would have won and what kind of honors he would have gained we can only speculate on. Clearly he had the talent and desire to be successful for years to come and to what level he might have progressed we are left to just wonder. What we can say without question is that he was one of the very best of his time and fully deserving to be a member of the Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Fame.

Accepting the award for Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Famer Ron Ward is his son Brian Ward.
Ione Harrington
Ione Harrington's involvement with the Rice Lake Speedway dates way back to 1952 when the race track first opened and was known as the Rice Lake Speed Pit. Ione was only nineteen years old at the time. She had grown up in the Shell Lake area and had graduated from Shell Lake High School in 1950 and had been married to Dean Harrington.

For the next thirty five years, Ione would be involved with and would handle virtually every job at the race track at some point in time. Her job titles included being in charge of ticket sales, preparing and distributing the payoff to the drivers at the end of the night, handling all incoming receipts and bills and then on Sunday mornings, cleaning the restrooms.

Back in the 50's and 60's when Dr. R.A. Doctor was owner of the race track and leased the facility out to the Indianhead Stock Car Racing Association to operate the track, he also operated the concession stand known simply as Doc's Concession Stand. He would get Ione to make some popcorn early so that when spectators would first walk into the bleachers, the first thing they would smell would be the fresh make popcorn and sales would soar.

Of course, we know that Ione was the wife of perhaps the most iconic and legendary figure in the history of the Rice Lake Speedway, that being Dean Harrington. While Dean was Track President of the club that ran the track an unprecedented seven times and held numerous other Board of Director jobs at the track, He and Ione together were a tough team to top when it came to operating the track, getting things done and allowing the track to prosper and grow while other tracks around the area withered and died.

In 1970, Ione added another job title to her resume when she and Dean would become become parents of a race car driver when nineteen year old son Steve would take over the wheel of the #U2 Late Model when Dean had to vacate the driver's seat due to some back issues.

Ione used to start her evening by sitting in the ticket booth which was located in the same general area as where the high arching track welcome sign is located today. She became the face of the Rice Lake Speed Pit as she was the first person that any spectator would meet as they arrived at the track as all ticket sales would be handled at that booth before spectators would park their cars and then head for the bleachers. Many veteran fans would arrive early to the track so they could spend a few minutes sitting in their cars talking to Ione as many lasting friendships would develop over the years from those interactions.

At a time when women weren't even allowed to be in the pit area of the race tracks and heaven forbid, even consider driving a race car except for perhaps the once a year “Powder Puff” race, Ione and other ladies like her were the backbone behind the sport, doing their jobs at the track and more and supporting the sport while receiving little or no credit for their large contributions.

Ione Harrington passed away in 2003.

Accepting the award for Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Famer Ione Harrington is her daughter, Sue Rudesill.
Don Folz
Don Folz grew up in a family with thirteen children, five boys and eight girls. Don was the youngest of the thirteen. With three of his older brothers racing cars at the Rice Lake Speedway, Don got an early introduction to the world of dirt track racing.

Dave drove number #86, Rick drove #46 and Jerry drove #52 and Don pitted for all three of them in the early years. Then he became a co-owner of a race car with brothers Dave and Rick and they had Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Famer Don “Doc” Cimfl as their driver.

Don also competed regularly in specialty events at the track that were frequently held such at the “Blindman's race”, “Backwards racing” and Bomber Enduro races where he did quite well. He won Enduro races at St. Croix Speedway, took a second and a fifth at Cedar Lake and finished in sixth place in a two hundred and fifty lap Enduro held here in Rice Lake on September 14, 1985 that was won by Mickey Nosser.

Don and his wife Terry, who met here at the speedway, were married in 1982 and she encouraged him to try racing himself. Thus was born a twenty plus year racing career that would culminate in his selection to the Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Fame.

Don started racing in 1983 as a twenty three year old embarking on what would become a twenty two year career driving a dark green 1964 Ford Galaxy four dour sedan in the Bomber class that belonged to his older brother Dave and carried the number #86. The Bomber class was the fore runner of today's Street Stock class and between 1984 and 1992, Don won seventeen feature races in that division. He won the 1983 Bomber Season Championship in his first year of racing. He also was the 1984 Aquafest Trophy winner and the 1985 Bomber points champion.

After eleven years of racing in the Bomber class, he moved up to the Super Stock class and in 1994, was the Rookie of the Year in that class. He won the 1994 Super Stock Aquafest trophy race and the 1999 Mid Season Championship race. He won two more feature races in the Super Stocks between 1994 and 1999, again all driving the #86 car. After racing the Super Stock for nine years, he retired from the sport in July, 2002 due to an illness in his family.

Helping him through the years as his pit man was Darren Koepp and his wife Heather. Don was also assisted by car builder Rick Kurshinsky and motor builders Tim Ludwigson and Dave Adams. His long time sponsors were Hall of Famer Jerry Curnow through his business, Rice Lake Glass and Steve Fisher at Beer Central.

Although he gave up racing, he still was involved with the Rice Lake Speedway as he served as both a Pit Steward and a wrecker driver. He also was a Board Member of the Indianhead Stock Car Racing Association twice, was a driver's representative and served on several rules committees through the years, particularly when the Bomber class was started.

When you're from Cameron, everybody has a nickname. And when you're the youngest in a family of thirteen, certainly you will inherit a nickname. From about the age of ten, Don has always been called “Pooh Bear” and he honestly doesn't know just who started that name for him. However, every race car he drove, starting with his first Bomber car, had a Pooh Bear painted on the car and in fact, a big teddy bear rode in the car with him during all his racing career. At one point, there was even a nice lady from Bloomer who would take the bear home every week, launder him up and return him on Saturday so he could be lashed back in the race car for another exciting night of riding along with Don.

Currently Don has two nephews racing at the Rice Lake Speedway in Jay and Kevin Folz.

Don graduated from Cameron High School in 1978 and is currently employed as a Vehicle Technician and Fleet Manager for Shared Medical Technologies in Rice Lake.

Don shares Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Fame status with two members of his family. His late Father-In-Law, George Cook, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016 and his wife of thirty seven years, Terry, was inducted in 2017.

Ladies and gentlemen, Rice Lake Speedway Hall of Famer, Don “The Pooh Bear” Folz.

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