Jerry Pingel – Mechanic

By Chad Meyer

Jerry Pingel was always interested in motorsports, growing up listening to the Indy 500 on the radio. His first involvement in the sport occurred here locally. “I worked at the Texaco station in Algona, which was owned by Gene Mueller. He had a push truck and I’d take it to the track in Algona.”

Soon, though, he was getting his hands dirty. “My twin brother Jim and I started helping on Don Hurn and Wayne Arndorfer on the number 00 car that Les Wildin drove. We were probably more in the way than we were of help, but we enjoyed it,” Pingel said.

“Later on, we built a hobby stock that Ray Dorweiler drove. In 1965, I got married and decided to sell the car. (Don) Shiney Hilbert bought it and I think that was his first race car,” he said.

Pingel was away from racing for a while, but his service on the Algona Fire Department led him back to the sport. “I knew assistant Fire Chief Jim Utt then. In 1970 he bought Wayne Funk’s sprint car and they started racing sprints with Dick Forbrook.”

“In 1971, that’s when Utt bought that new spring-front car from Bob Trostle and they built it at his shop where Reding’s had their Quonsets. I started helping out then.”

Though Pingel was unable to travel to Tampa, Florida for the Winter Nationals in ’71, the sandy, dirty track there caused Pingel to help in earnest after that.

“If you look at photos of sprint cars back then, they never covered the injectors with anything. All that sand and dirt went straight into the engine. I was always going through that engine, and it seemed we had to bore it out another ten-thousandths each time,” said Pingel. “We built a box around the injectors first and then I think I was one of the first to come up with an oil-soaked filter system in sprint cars. I was pretty proud of that.”

Pingel built and maintained the engines in addition to helping with the car. He remembers fondly the many drivers who drove for Utt from ’71 to ’76. “Jon Backlund started in the car in ’71 when they went to Florida. Dick Forbrook and a few others drove it the rest of the season.”

“In 1972, Larry Kirkpatrick was the driver, driving for the first time since he had his hand reattached after his accident in 1970 at the Iowa State Fair. He also drove much of 1973,” Pingel said.

Ralph Blackett drove for the Utt’s in 1974. “That’s when we really raced a lot. We’d race Stuart on Friday, Knoxville on Sunday and North Star near the Twin Cities. And then we’d travel to all of the state fairs and county fairs on the IMCA circuit, too.”

Blackett, Forbrook and Kirkpatrick all drove the car during the 1975 season. Other notable drivers that were in the Utt #30 seat included short stints with Doug Wolfgang, Ralph Parkinson, Jr., and Jan Opperman for one show in Florida. Mike Thomas from Des Moines also drove the car some.

“In 1976, Utt bought the new 4-bar Trostle car and Gary Johnson drove it in August at the Iowa State Fair. We then raced the 4-bar throughout ’76 and 1977,” recalled Pingel.

Pingel’s involvement during the ’77 campaign slowed after a snowmobile accident, however. “I flipped my snowmobile and really hurt my shoulder. I was in a body cast for a long time. I was really limited with what I could do on the car. It was then that Dave Hanselman started to help on the car.

Ralph Blackett paid Pingel a high-compliment. “He said I was the most meticulous and methodical mechanic he had ever seen. I never forgot that and it still means a lot to me that he said that.”

That level of dedication took hard work. “Utt would go through the bone pile at Universal Manufacturing [in Algona] and decide what we wanted. Then we’d take it to Arnold Motors and Jerry Davis would machine everything and I’d put it all together. We’d work ‘till midnight on the cars and then race all weekend. I can remember leaving Algona late in the week and drive to Shreveport, Louisiana for an IMCA race. Then we’d drive back and be to work on Monday morning,” Pingel said.

The winter of 1978 is when Utt sold his race cars and equipment. “I was getting a bit burned out then too. The demands of racing were getting hard on us,” Pingel said.

It wasn’t the end of racing for him though. He raced go-carts with his son at Forest City from 1989 through 1991. “At 40 years old, I placed sixth in the Master’s Heavy class,” he said.

Pingel also helped a co-worker at Principal Insurance on his SCCA Sports 2000 car, which was based in Des Moines. Today, he races on his computer, competing in iRacing series events.

Asked what he is most proud of, Pingel offers this. “Just being able to compete and win against the national names that we did, that was something. Just being able to say that we raced at Knoxville for seven years. We raced against some great drivers.”

“We had a big one get away from us, too,” Pingel remembers. “In 1975, Forbrook wrecked the car and we worked all week to get it ready for the Iowa State Fair. Forbrook led that race until the last lap, when he got a flat tire.”

Highlights of the Utt Electric sprint car era that Pingel was involved include finishing third in IMCA National Points in 1974 with Blackett as the driver. In ’73 and ’75, the team finished sixth and eighth, respectively with Larry Kirkpatrick.

In 1973, they won the Illinois State Fair with Kirkpatrick. Forbrook won with the car during the Clay County Fair in Spencer and won the IMCA sprint car fair race in Hutchinson, Minnesota. While racing for the Utt’s, Forbrook was crowned the 1975 sprint car points champion at Algona Raceway. Another highlight was Blackett winning the annual Race Days show at Algona in 1974.

Today, Pingel lives in West Des Moines and works for an engineering insurance company.