They called them "Hales' Whales," big ol' "two-ton taxis" tooling down the main straightaway and careening through the corners on the quarter-mile dirt surface of the dearly departed Hales Corners Speedway in suburban Milwaukee.
Although sharing the card as a "lower" class to the dirt late models and IMCA modifieds, no division was more popular at the track in its latter years (it closed in 2003). In the hearts and minds of a plurality of the fans, Saturday nights at Hales belonged to the "Whalers," if for no other reason than most of them had some relative-work-school-neighbor-friend connection to the "Whales warriors" doing battle on the track.
More commonly known as "street stocks," Whales-type cars also have been a staple of weekly series dirt track racing in Central Illinois since the gates first opened in 1946.
Macon native and Eureka resident Greg Osman believes that after 70 years of second-class status, it's time to raise the division's profile.
"For the most part, a lot of people look at it as a (bathroom) break between the other divisions," said Osman, who won the street stock track championship at Lincoln in 2013. "But it has more meaning to me than any other class and, you know what, we're routinely told 'you guys put on the best racing on a weekly basis.' We wanted to put something together where it could be showcased at least once a month."
"We" includes venture partner Tony Hubert. "Something" is now known as the Midwest Street Stock Championship Series (MSSCS). The inaugural "showcase" will be the "Railsplitter 40" at Lincoln Speedway on April 21.
It's somewhat the same concept that United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) hatched 30 years ago with the invention of the Summer Nationals Series for dirt late models.
The idea is to give "member" tracks a race that can be promoted as a "special event" with a point fund to be divvied up at the end of the year based on results of those specific races.
The Summer Nationals began in 1988 with a limited six-race schedule over the course of a week. Likewise, the MSSCS will have a modest beginning, with seven races slated over the course of the summer.
It's been nearly a year in the making.
"Tony and I started working on this stuff in May of last year before we finally announced it in the middle of December," Osman said.
The first order of business was starting a Facebook group where Osman and Hubert received feedback from street stock competitors. Having an idea of what the drivers wanted, they moved full speed ahead into selling memberships and securing dates at Central Illinois tracks.
Following the April 21 opener at Lincoln, the series will race at Macon Speedway on May 20, Fairbury's American Legion Speedway on June 24, Farmer City Raceway on Aug. 4 and Peoria Speedway on Sept. 2. Events also are slated for Spoon River Speedway in Canton on July 16 and Charleston Speedway on Oct. 7.
UMP Street Stock rules will be used and, says Osman, strictly enforced.
"Everybody in this class has said for a long time that they need to enforce the rules," Osman said, adding that the input from the drivers revealed a gap with tracks often differing on what was and wasn't allowed outside of the UMP rule book.
Adhering to the rules also is a way to keep costs down among a field of drivers who are primarily racing because they have a passion for the sport, as well as to have some fun with the aforementioned friends and neighbors.
"It's about getting new people involved and showing them they don't have to spend $20,000 on a (street stock) to be competitive," Osman said. "If you get more people involved and enjoying themselves, the class is going to prosper."
A key is to try to make as much back of what you've spent as you can, and the series' original goal was to shoot for paying the winner $1,000 at each event.
"The lowest winner payout right now is $800, which is quadrupled or at least doubled for a normal weekend," Osman said.
There's also a year-end points fund, a year-end fast qualifier award and a hard-charger award for the driver who passes the most cars for position over the course of the seven races. The level of those prizes is still in the works, as is the entire series to a certain degree.
"This being our first year, we're kind of using it as a fact-finding mission to collect as much information as we can," Osman said. "It's all about seeing how we can improve things as we go and get more people involved in the class."