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Need for speed kept Bill Lindner on the racetrack

Need for speed kept Bill Lindner on the racetrack Need for speed kept Bill Lindner on the racetrack

Some people like to sit in a boat and fish. Some like to read. Bill Lindner, well, he likes to drive. And the faster the better.

It’s always been that way for Lindner, who more than once as a younger man outran the local police officers down the side roads near Greenwood and Loyal. Oh, he got caught a few times, but most often didn’t, and probably fortunately for both him and the local officers, he found a legal place to satisfy his need for speed. That was on a race track, and for the past 50 years, he’s been a fixture at many of them.

On a late August night at the Marshfield Speedway, Lindner was the honored man of the night, leading the opening lap by carrying the American flag out his side window. It was the evening of the annual legends races, and Lindner was there once again in the #72 Chevy that local race fans have seen take more than a few checkered flags along the way. Linder’s wife, Pat, and their four sons were all there, too, for what could have been Bill’s last time around the track. Or not. Maybe he’s got one more year in him, he says.

At age 77 now, Lindner has been racing longer than most of the young bucks who line up on the area tracks for Saturday night heats and features have been alive. His youngest son, Jared, still races, too, as did his older brothers Todd, Chris and Ryan “Rugg” before him, and that legacy of Lindners is one of the things that has kept the sport so enjoyable for Bill. All those hours spent under the hood of a stock car, rebuilding an engine, or tweaking this or that, were as important as the sprints down the back stretch or the sliding turns on the old dirt tracks of days gone by.

Those days gone by date back to 1969, when Bill and some friends bought a 1957 Chevy for $80 and fixed it up so it could race. That first car came with the number 400 on the side but Bill said, “We rubbed a zero off and called it 40.” Good enough, it was, to make it around the tracks that were quite numerous in area small towns then.

Bill moved up to a different car the next year, and switched off as a driver with another guy. That was not a good year, as the car didn’t perform.

“I wish I never would have seen it,” Bill said. “I suffered through that year with it.”

After that, Bill found a 1969 Chevelle that would better serve his purpose. It had a “real potent 327” under the hood, he recalls, and had the all-important solid frame and suspension that separates a good car from a dud.

“That thing handled like a dream,” Bill said.

Bill was around 30 years old in those first days as he and Pat were starting a family. He was a trucker by trade, but managed to get home in time to race two nights a week at tracks in Colby, Neillsville (fairgrounds), Marshfield, Shawano, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Ashland and others.

“I’d run like hell and get home and race on Wednesday nights,” he said.

Bill teamed up with such local gearheads as Steve Djubenski, Jim Rust and Jim Dearth in the early years to find cars and fix ‘em up to the point where they could compete in Saturday night dirt track features. All the work was done in his shed, whenever there was time.

“Back in the early days me and Ski (Djubenski) built those engines right at home in the shed,” Bill says. “One guy said one time, ‘Geez, Bill, you gotta’ at least build ‘em on a cement floor.”

Fancy was not in the Lindner Racing lexicon then, nor ever. Bill and his team became known for staying competitive with less resources.

“If we were running a thousand-dollar car, everybody else was running a fivethousand dollar car,” he said. “It was fun back then and a heckuva lot cheaper. We’d pretty much break even. A lot of the guys never did because they spent too much. We ran hand-me-down tires from the top dogs. We never overspent. We ran with throw-together motors.”

Lindner’s first partner in racing was Dearth, from whom he bought a car. He’d heard it was for sale, at a good price.

“This guy’s got this car for sale,” he said. “This poor guy, he’s got four kids and no money. So we put that motor and transmission in and we went racing.”

Racing was big in the area in the 1970s and 1980s, with many small towns having a dirt oval that attracted big crowds. Bill raced mostly on dirt in the first years, in places like a long-gone track known as Rangeline.

“It was out in a cow pasture,” Bill said. “The guy’d just take the cows out for the day.”

He also raced at bigger venues, like Ashland and Menomonie.

As Bill found more success and won some races, he improved his ride. In 1977, he bought a Camaro that was “one of the top running cars in Illinois,” he said, and that pushed his career along.

“We won quite a few races with that car,” he said.

In 1983, he started driving another Chevy, which became the familiar white #72 car he’s run for more than a quarter-century. It still doesn’t have power steering, and Bill said after his legends race in August that’s its getting tiring to handle it for 10 or 15 laps. He’s also found he needs a neck restraint device to keep his head from straining in the turns.

A classic dirt track driver, Bill had to get used to blacktop tracks as more of them switched over through the years. He likes dirt better and fans do too, he said, as there is more chance for drivers to pass.

“I used to like dirt better because you can control a car easier,” he said.

In dirt track racing, when the cars slide through the turns, drivers who make a tighter bend can sneak by. On blacktop tracks, the cars that start out front often stay there.

Lindner was known for his go-for-broke style. Some drivers get in the track groove

Bill Lindner -- in his familiar #72 Chevy -- flies down the front stretch at the Marshfield Speedway during a recent “Legends” race featuring some of the older drivers in the area. Bill has been behind the wheel at area speedways for 50 years, and his four sons and two grandsons followed him onto the track.

Bill Lindner was honored in late August at the Marshfield Motor Speedway for his 50-year career on the local race tracks. With him were his wife, Pat, and their four sons (from left) Chris, Todd, Ryan “Rugg” and Jared.

Bill Lindner talks race strategy as son Jared tops off the tank for the “Legends” feature race at Marshfield Motor Speedway in late August. and just try to stay there — “bottom feeders“ Bill calls them — while he would go high, low or anywhere in between to move up in the pack.

“Wherever I gotta go to miss a car or pass ‘em,” Bill said. “It’s a hoot. I was a lot more aggressive. That’s how you get to the front.”

When Bill was forced to take his dirt track car onto the blacktop track, he stood out. Why? Because his car was dinged up from years of close calls with competitors on those loose dirt ovals. When he went onto the blacktop tracks, the guys who were afraid of dented fenders on their sleek cars stayed clear.

“They gave me plenty of room. It was easy to win,” Bill said. “One guy said to me, ‘You gotta change the body on that (car). Guys are scared of you.’” Bill’s style proved effective, and he was a regular in the winner’s circle.

“We’ve got a lotta trophies. We won a lot of heats and features,” Bill said.

Despite taking chances on the track, Bill was mostly able to avoid serious wrecks. Only once, at the Neillsville fairgrounds, did he get hurt, as he broke all three bones in his wrist.

“Tom Loos jumped in the car and finished the race,” Bill says.

As Bill spent most of his spare time in summers working on cars or at the track, four sets of eyes were on him all the while. Those were the eyes of his four sons, all of whom would race one day themselves. So, too, would two of his grandsons.

Todd was first to get behind the wheel, and Bill said he “was a helluva driver” who won the Wissota National Points title. Chris drove for a few years and Ryan was in the superstock class. Jared — or BJ as he’s known — has won a handful of championships and still drives. Then came Todd’s sons, Justin and Jordan, who had their share of successes, too.

Bill said each boy took a liking to the sport of racing.

“They just found a car and put it together,” Bill said.

At one time, Lindner Racing had seven cars on the tracks.

“It looked like a caravan leaving the yard,” he said.

As the boys became more active, Bill slowed down. For the past several years, he has run only the Marshfi eld vintage race. In 16 starts, he’s won it 11 times, he said. He can’t win it anymore because the car he drives weighs in too light.

“We’re over there just for the fun,” he said.

“Fun” is what it’s always been about for Bill, whose first thrills in a car were not of the competitive type. He remembers days when he was young and driving some fast car, when the local police knew well of him. His boys know of his local legend, as son Chris has on his cell phone a copy of the newspaper clipping showing that Bill received a $5.50 speeding ticket as a high school junior.

That was nothing, Bill says. More than a few times, he outwitted and outdrove the area cops.

“The state patrol never had a chance,” he says with a sly grin.

Even with his young wife along once, in a ride on Highway 29, he got in a little trouble in a ’65 Chevelle at something like 120 mph.

“That’s why we go to church,” he says.

The race track proved to be the outlet Bill needed. Racing both fulfilled his yearn to burn, and made use of his natural mechanical abilities.

“It’s just something in you,” he said of racing. “I don’t have no patience to go sit and fish.”

He thought at first of something like tractor or truck pulling, but that didn’t do it either.

“If I get in there (in a vehicle), I want to stay in it for a while,” he said.

He did stay in it for a while, like 50 years, although that August legends race may have been his last.

“We’ll see,” he said, thinking that maybe BJ can sit in for him next summer.

“Oh,” chimes in the wife who’s watched Bill drive for half a century, “I’m sure he’ll be out there next year.”

“It’s just something in you. I don’t have no patience to go sit and fish.” -- Bill Lindner