Special Report: The History of the Mudslinger at Auto City
By Ed Inloes
On August 28, 2021, the Auto City Speedway will be hosting an Outlaw Super Late Model race. It will be part of the Reveal the Hammer Outlaw Super Late Model’s inaugural season. Track owner, Joe DeWitte, has brushed off the dust, and after a six year hiatus, he has brought back the once famed Mudslinger. The Mudslinger? Wow. Just hearing that word brings all kinds of racing memories back to me. I’ve lived in the same county as Auto City Speedway all but six months of my life. I’ve went to more Mudslinger’s than I’ve missed. I will confidently say that the Mudslinger is the most popular and successful named annual race in our area over the past 50 years, with the Dixie Classic not far behind. With its return, I wanted everyone to realize just how long this race has been around. All of its history, I mean, it was first run 42 years ago! So I decided that I would write a story on the history of the Mudslinger. It can’t be that hard, right?
I initially thought I would look up the winners and share a few stories, but I found out that the information I was seeking was not readily available. So instead of just a fact-based piece on a historic race, I’m including some of the trials and tribulations I went through trying to get, and verify, all the facts and information about the Mudslinger. I’ve been humbled and even a bit embarrassed at times trying to gather factual information that I feel comfortable signing my name to. I’ve learned REAL journalism is hard. I’ve also learned I am not the most cyber savvy individual out here. I have no doubt that someone with more skills than I could have done this better, but this is what I came up with.
So, every story has a beginning, and this one starts on a mid-summer night in 1977. After a regular race night at Auto City Speedway, track announcer, Tom Kestenholtz, and track owner, Jack Doering Jr, were reviewing the evening’s events. The two often did this, and on this night, they were talking about the success that Earl Baltes was enjoying with his annual race called the World 100 that he had started at Eldora Speedway in 1971. The two started talking about how Auto City could do something like this and the idea was born. Doering famously scouted other tracks all the time throughout his Hall of Fame promoting career, and Eldora was no different. He seen how the World 100 was run, and patterned his race after it. Doering was actually at Eldora for the World 100 in 1979, one weekend before the premiere of his big race. The conversation continued, as they knew they needed a name, one that would stick, that would be remembered. With the race being run late in the season, damper weather created a stickier surface, leading to more mud. Hence the name, Mudslinger! This same line of thinking would cause this race many challenges in the years to come. On September 15 & 16, 1979, the first Mudslinger weekend was run. For the first time, a two day event was held, with qualifying, and progressive heat races with cars earning feature starting positions with their heat race finishes. And a big 10-lap, $1,000 to win, six car dash for the fastest six qualifiers, all run on Saturday night, with the big 150 lap feature race held Sunday afternoon. In 1979, two day shows were unheard of. Also unheard of; racing at Auto City in the middle of the afternoon. I remember sitting in the grandstands with my Dad, as a 16 year old, thinking how surreal the place looked and felt in the middle of the day. Feeling the heat pounding down on you, and everything lit up brightly from the sun. It seemed as if you were at a different race track. I wasn’t the only one that felt it was different.
Master car builder, Ed Howe, won this very first Mudslinger. He did it in a way that defined his whole racing career, with innovation, and ingenuity. When Ed got to the track on Sunday, and seen the cloudless sky, and the big yellow sun, he knew it would not be a typical race at Auto City. He knew that traction would be at a premium. So, with his out-of-the-box thinking, he strapped on asphalt tires to his racecar, to race a 150 lap dirt track race. He was so ahead of his time! He took the lead early and led 149 out of 150 laps. He lapped everyone in the field, except second place finisher, John Doering Jr (more on him later). Bob Kingen, Johnny Roberts Jr, and Jay Woolworth completed the top five of the inaugural race. Ed collected $3,000 for the win, all part of the $20,000 purse. The race itself was a huge success. Jack Doering, along with co-owner, Joe Grabenhorst, had pulled off something that had never been done before in the area. A successful two-day show with a pit area chocked full of talent, and the grandstands full of fans. The success of the Mudslinger opened the eyes of other local promoters to change how they ran their end of year programs. All of a sudden in the 80’s, tracks started running weekend events to end their season. The Dealer’s Choice was born, and so many other year end events at neighboring tracks in the state.
Howe’s win in the first Mudslinger was just one small entry into a biography that is filled with accomplishments and innovations that are too numerous to mention here. He was
an easy selection into the Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1988. Safe to say, no other driver has advanced the sport locally more than him. He would bring a new car to the track on a given weekend with radical differences to what everyone else was running, yet still within the rulebook, and just spank ‘em. My Dad once said that if Ed Howe put a certain hood ornament on his racecar, that the next week, other drivers would have that same ornament on their racecars thinking it gave them some kind of advantage. Ed knew this too and would mess with his competition by doing something similar to the hood ornament idea, just to see what they would do. He always was thinking one step ahead of everyone. Not all of his ideas were winners: I heard him once say “I have more bad ideas than good ones”. His record at the Mudslinger kind of points this out. Howe has won the Mudslinger more than any other driver to date. Twice on dirt, three times as an asphalt race. No other driver has a victory on both surfaces. But here’s the rub, he has five wins, but only one other top five finish in Mudslinger history.
His innovations carried him to five Mudslinger wins, but he also had some innovations fail to keep him from completing a large percentage of these races. But in this race fan’s mind, he will always be the King of the Mudslinger with the most wins, and how he advanced the sport with his ideas. His forward thinking led him to build one of the most successful race car businesses’ that is still alive and well today. Howe Racing Enterprises, now run by Ed’s son, Chas, also a Mudslinger winner, offers a complete line of racing products that will help put you in the winner’s circle. That’s the claim on their website today, and their continued success is a mark of a well-built system.
With the success of the first Mudslinger, the race gained national attention. Interest from numerous sanctioning bodies was shown, but Doering had his heart set on NASCAR, and that’s what he got. The second and third Mudslinger’s were sanctioned by the NASCAR Grand American Stock Car Series. In 1980, they were still running at all kinds of small dirt, and asphalt tracks all over the country, a 200+ race schedule with multiple races on almost every weekend. This association with NASCAR brought even more talent to the race. Rodney Combs won in 1980, and Johnny Roberts Jr pulled out an exciting, long shot victory in 81. The pit area was filled with a who’s who of dirt track racing. This continued into 82 when the All Star Circuit of Champions sanctioned the event with Jim Dunn winning over John Doering Jr. This is where my first real disappointment came in trying to research this project. I could not verify all the different sanctioning bodies that have had the Mudslinger on their schedules throughout history. I know the NDRA Schlitz Pro National Series sanctioned one, maybe more, Mudslingers in the 80’s while it was still dirt. I feel confident about 1985, the last dirt one, but cannot state it as fact. I know the Main Event Series sanctioned it in 2005. I know the AC Delco Series ran the Mudslinger under its banner for numerous years, but can’t verify exactly which ones. Reveal the Hammer is this year’s sanctioning body. And I know there were others that I cannot find. I’ll admit, I did not put the time into this part of the story as I have the results. Once it became apparent to me that this endeavor was bigger than I ever had anticipated, I decided to focus on what I could verify. Let me explain…
I started my research with a call to my old friend, Skip Konkle. He’s what I consider an Auto City historian. He was a central part of the AC Delco sponsorship there, and has been the track photographer, and started his business, JSK Promotions through his Auto City family. I told him what I was thinking about and he sent me a copy of a piece of paper that listed every winner of the Mudslinger from 1980-1997, the top five, fastest qualifier, and last chance race winner. I recognized the piece of paper the moment I saw it. I remember sitting in the grandstands in 1998 gazing over this same piece of paper. I can’t remember if it was part of the lucky number program, or if they just handed them out as you came in the gate. I bet most of you remember it too. With this find, I felt that the rest would be a piece of cake. Boy was I was wrong. I first learned that the track itself does not have a recorded history of every Mudslinger winner, on their website, or on-site. I learned that this is true for most race tracks, especially older records, or with tracks that have been sold. Before enlisting professional help, I went into a deep dive into every possible internet site where I could find results, history, anything on Auto City, the Mudslinger, and local short track racing in Michigan. I Googled everything possible. I found places like thethirdturn.com that furnish some great historical information, albeit not complete, they did help me. I also found places I won’t mention with inaccurate information that caused me even more headaches to recertify facts. When I had exhausted all my ideas and skill with the internet, I still had big holes in my history. I had quite a few years with no statistics at all, and a lot of question marks on what I did have. The piece of paper that Skip gave me was the only thing I felt secure about. I was officially frustrated and crying on my wife, Linda’s shoulder, when she said, “Does the Flint Journal have archives?” I do love her so much!
The next day I started my REAL research. I found the archives of the Flint Journal and learned historical information like this is not free. I swiped my card and went to school. Once I got into the archives, I had to learn how to effectively search for information that dated back to 1898. You are limited to how many articles you can actually “click” on, depending on the amount of money you paid for the length of the pass. It was complicated, but if not done correctly, you’re wasting your time and money. I got pretty good at it and was able to verify almost every year the Mudslinger ran, but not all of them. Even the Flint Journal didn’t have conclusive results for every Mudslinger race at Auto City. Now what? I had noticed that quite a few articles I found were written by Greg Tunnicliff. I have worked with Greg a few times over the years being interviewed for different local racing pieces. He worked as a sportswriter for the Flint Journal from 1994-2012, and has been at the local Herald ever since. As luck would have it, Greg had contacted me recently on a story he was doing, and so I decided to call him and ask him if he had any advice for a rookie writer/reporter. I told him my story, and where I was lacking information, and he said, “Gimme a minute”.
It wasn’t long before Greg was sending me the articles from the years I was missing. One of the first things Greg sent me was the same piece of paper that Skip sent me, great minds think alike. I thought this may be the end of my search, but not quite. Even Greg had a couple years we couldn’t verify. Greg then sends me a link to Dennis Redersdorf’s Facebook page that contains a video of the 1999 Mudslinger. Are you kidding me? I checked this out, and also learn, he has the 1998 Mudslinger there too. Man, I love watching old races like that. To see and hear ole Tom Kestenholtz at Auto City brought a tear to my eye. I am now down to one year that I haven’t been able to verify. As a matter of fact, I have places that show me three different people won it in the year 2000. It was brought to my attention or memory, by another good friend I sought advice from, Dave DeHem, that fellow announcer, and also good friend of mine, Gary Lindahl, has a complete set and history of the Marc Times Racing News. So I call him. He tells me that his collection is not as organized as he would like it to be, and finding that issue, may be an issue. But he told me to hold on; he needed to make a call. In 15 minutes, he sends me a link that has the whole 2000 Mudslinger detailed. ‘Did ya know’ that Gary is a racing historian also? I have finally collected information on every Mudslinger. I owe a huge thank you to all that helped me compile this research. Because of all of you mentioned above, I was able to complete this task. I was amazed at the amount of misinformation that I found out there. Because of it, I get a little nervous thinking that what I feel is fact, may not be. So if anyone reading this feels I got something wrong, please feel free to PROVE me wrong. I went to great lengths to do this research, and the most important thing to me is getting it right! Okay, now back to the story.
So the first seven years of the Mudslinger, it was a dirt track. Everyone who won a dirt Mudslinger is in some kind of racing Hall of Fame. As a matter of fact, every Mudslinger winner is in a Hall of Fame, except five, who are all still racing today. Howe won his second one in ‘83, and Combs came back to claim his second one in ‘84. The final dirt race was won by no other than Jeff Purvis in 1985. This race was the only other top 5 finish for Howe, other than his five wins. This was a National Dirt Racing Association (NDRA) sanctioned race and the pit area had never seen so many drivers from so many other states. Looking back on it, you wonder why Auto City ever thought about changing surfaces, with the kind of talent this race was touting year in, year out. But at that time, asphalt tracks were thriving, while the dirt tracks were struggling with weekly participation. That last sentence sounds pretty weird in 2021, doesn’t it?
With the changing of the racing surface, many drivers drove their last Mudslinger in ‘85, while others drove their first in ‘86. But during this age, there were still a lot of drivers who drove both. The race was still very well attended after the change, and the Mudslinger name hung in there, although they added the “Ash kicker” portion to it in time. Pete Weiss is the answer to the trivia question of, “Who won the first Mudslinger on asphalt”, as he won it in ‘86. And it was probably a good thing he did win it then, because for the next six years, the Howe Family, and Tommy Maier would dominate the competition to own the Mudslinger trophy. The famous 6o1ng, and 60ne (going & gone) that Tommy and Ed piloted for a few years both found victory lane at Auto City. Ed won his third and fourth Mudslinger in ‘87 & ‘88, and his fifth and final one in ‘91.
Maier grabbed his first in ‘89, and his second in ‘92. Sandwiched in the middle is Chas Howe’s first victory in 1990. Their domination during this time is another feather in the cap of the great Ed Howe. Something that also happened during this time was the passing of the torch from Ed, to his son Chas. Chas got faster and faster, as he was also learning all the innovative tricks and thinking that his Dad had exhibited throughout his racing career. From 1989-94, Chas set fast time at the Mudslinger, six years in a row! He became a threat to win at any race track. While it was Steve Sauve who stopped their win streak in 1993 with his first win, Chas came back in ‘94 to set fast time and win his second Mudslinger. Chas, his Dad, and Purvis are the only drivers through 1997 that set fast time and won the race.
In 1995, Tim Felver put his name on the racing map with his first Mudslinger win over Brad Weaver and Maier. 1996, it got weird, and it got wet. Four different dates were cancelled due to inclement weather. This was the first of two rainout years on the Mudslinger historical map. I learned through my research that over the years, this race has been rescheduled from its original date at the beginning of the season, over 15 times, that I can prove. I’m sure there are more. Remember how they came up with the name in 1979? Well, that wet premise led to a lot of rescheduling nightmares over the years. In 96, it could not be overcome. In 97, Dennis Berry got his one and only Mudslinger title. This was the cherry on top of his sundae as he had won three consecutive Iceman Championships previously. This was the final year that I had such complete stats on the races. I still found solid information, but some years were tougher to complete. I actually watched the ‘98 & ‘99 Mudslinger on video, thanks to Dennis Redersdorf. Tim Felver won from the pole in 1998 in the #91 car for his second Mudslinger trophy, and Dave Kuhlman snagged the last Mudslinger of the century in ‘99, pulling away from Felver at the end. Joe Bush made the trip across the state and took the checkered in the year 2000 over a young, Johnny Belott, Todd Rosebrugh, Harold Fair Jr, and Phil Massuch. In 2001, it was Freddy Campbell winning his one and only title. But in the year 2002, something happened that everyone thought would have happened 20 years ago. John Doering Jr. won his first Mudslinger!! This guy, man oh man, has come so close, without a win, so many times. Go back to the beginning, he was the only one to stay on the lead lap with Howe in Mudslinger #1, and finished second. On the dirt, in seven races, he had four top fives. On asphalt, that I can prove, he had seven top fives, before he found victory lane in 2002. That’s 10 top fives in 22 races, before winning it. The Perseverance award goes to you, John Doering Jr. Oh by the way, following John over the line in 2002 was Brad Keselowski. I believe that John may be the only driver that could also lay claim to the King of the Mudslinger title with his double-digit top five totals, and the only driver besides Ed Howe to snatch at least three trophies.
Mike Luberda Jr struck Mudslinger gold in ‘03, and Doering claimed his second win in ‘04. 2005 saw Joe Bush return to the winners circle, and Mother Nature took her second triumph in 2006 with the final cancelation coming in late October. John Grega put a Mudslinger title on his resume in 2007, and Doering added his third and final title in 2008. The longest length of time between wins title goes to Steve Sauve. With his win in 2009, it marked a 16 year span between his two Mudslinger wins. In 2010, Mike Root became another west side of the state driver to come over and win a Mudslinger, and in 2011, Luberda added his name to the list of drivers to win the Mudslinger multiple times. In 2012, for the first time in the history of the Mudslinger, it was not on the Auto City schedule. The last five years had seen car counts dwindle, and fan participation followed. It was becoming an endeavor that really hurt the track financially, as the Super Late Model class fought for its identity, and its path for survival. The financial part was also a burden on the drivers, who couldn’t keep up with the rising cost of fielding a race car, and team. The good ole days of yesteryear were gone, and so were the car and crowd counts that the word “Mudslinger” once drew. Joe Dewitte didn’t totally give up on it though, he never really has. He tried to revive it in 2013, even added the title of “Jack Doering Memorial” to it after Jack’s passing in late 2012. That Mudslinger drew 22 cars, and was won by Indiana’s Brian Ross. Not sure why it wasn’t attempted in 2014, but in 2015 Joe ran another Jack Doering Memorial, under the Mudslinger banner, but this one only drew 11 cars, with Todd Rosebrugh grabbing a win in the race his Dad, Tom, always wanted to win. This was the last Mudslinger ever run.
The Outlaw Super Late Model class was in a downward spiral, with hardly any tracks being able to field them on a weekly or even semi-weekly basis. Some tracks did labor through, but it became a crapshoot as to what you may get with any special shows for this class, all over the state. Now the division wasn’t completely dead, but it seemed to be on life support for a lot of folks. Remember how I mentioned in the 80’s how dirt tracks were struggling, and asphalt tracks thriving? Well in the 2000’s, it became the exact opposite. The cost of tires skyrocketing and the need to change them regularly to stay competitive hurt the asphalt lovers. While the dirt competitors can run the same tires week after week in some cases lowering the cost to compete. This was just one of the numerous things driving this change.
From 2016 to 2020, the Mudslinger did not exist. Please don’t blame Joe DeWitte for this; he tried to keep it alive, as did Jack Doering and Bob Ducharme, the owners before him. Joe was just trying to keep the doors open during this time, as were a lot of asphalt promoters, some still are just trying to do that today. COVID-19 in 2020 hasn’t helped much either. It isn’t as easy as it was in 1979 to start a new event and be as successful as Auto City was with the Mudslinger. 42 years is a long time. I tip my hat to Mr. DeWitte for his forethought in bringing the great named race back into the fold in 2021 and hope that he can find a way to keep the name, and history of the race, alive and well for 42 more years to come.
There have been 35 actual races, with 2 rainouts. So 33 actual Mudslingers have been run, and there have been 20 different winners. 10 drivers have only won it once, while 10 other drivers have at least 2 victories. Who will be the next entry into this awesome list of winners? Below you’ll find the breakdown, if anyone makes a t-shirt, please think of me and make me one too!!
1979 – Ed Howe
1980 – Rodney Combs
1981 – Johnny Roberts Jr.
1982 – Jim Dunn
1983 – Ed Howe (2)
1984 – Rodney Combs (2)
1985 – Jeff Purvis
1986 – Pete Weiss
1987 – Ed Howe (3)
1988 – Ed Howe (4)
1989 – Tom Maier
1990 – Chas Howe
1991 – Ed Howe (5)
1992 – Tom Maier (2)
1993 – Steve Sauve
1994 – Chas Howe (2)
1995 – Tim Felver
1996 – Rainout
1997 – Dennis Berry
1998 – Tim Felver (2)
1999 – Dave Kuhlman
2000 – Joe Bush
2001 – Fred Campbell
2002 – John Doering Jr.
2003 – Mike Luberda Jr.
2004 – John Doering Jr. (2)
2005 – Joe Bush (2)
2006 – Rainout
2007 – John Grega
2008 – John Doering Jr. (3)
2009 – Steve Sauve (2)
2010 – Mike Root
2011 – Mike Luberda Jr. (2)
2013 – Brian Ross
2015 – Todd Rosebrugh
2021 - ????
Photos - Unknown