Creation of ILS Hall of Fame

Creation of ILS Hall of Fame

2022 marks this club’s 32nd year of racing lightning sprints (mini sprints) across Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. While the club has operated under different leadership and different names during this span (WIMSA, WIMS, and currently ILS), our existence today and the longevity of the club is due to select people throughout those eras. We felt there was no better time than now to recognize this and so under the leadership of ILS board member Larry Neau, we have created the IRA Lightning Sprints Hall of Fame. We have created 3 eras of recognition…the original or birth era of the club that dates back to 1991 thru 1999, the rebirth era where the club transitioned from low car counts to new leadership and increased car counts, and then the current era from 2011 to present.

The board appointed longtime member and racer Nick Sheridan as the club historian who has an abundance of knowledge of this class over the past 32 years to help put together some of the missing pieces from our club’s history over the years as well as to help identify key players that we felt were deserving of nomination for the inaugural class.

For 2022, we wanted to establish 4 inductees across all 3 eras. The 2022 inaugural class is as follows:

Jeff Schmidt – recognized for service during Era 1
Tom Brown – recognized for service during Era 2
Nick Petska – recognized for service during current Era 3
Ron Brannam – recognized for service during both Eras 2 and 3.

Going forward, the HoF members along with the club historian and the ILS board will all have votes on the nominees for future year inductees and nomination forms will be made available on our website. Below are a few write ups on this year’s class:

Jeff Schmidt:

Jeff started racing Yamaha lite go-carts at Dousman in 1988 when he was 27 years old. He spent three years racing go-carts, reaching second in points, and winning most improved driver.

After racing go-carts for three years, Jeff started racing lightning sprints (mini sprints) at Wilmot in 1991. In his first-year, he finished 5th in points and later improved to reach second in points. He continued racing lightning sprints for 10 years across many different tracks (Wilmot, Chilton, Beaver Dam, Plymouth, Hales Corners, Luxemburg, and Sturgeon Bay, etc.).

In 2001, Jeff moved on to MSA 360 sprint cars. He raced MSA 360s intermittently for three years until deciding to retire from racing and focus on raising his two daughters.

Then in 2012, Jeff got the bug again and returned to race lightning sprints and has done so ever since. Jeff is one of the few people who have raced across all 3 eras of this club.

Tom Brown:

Tom attended his first race at Wilmot in 1976 and then started racing there in 1984 running spectator stocks. Tom won his first feature race in 1986 and then moved to late models in 1987.

Tom designed and built his first lightning sprint in 1994. And in total has built 13 “Renegade” lightning sprint chassis including championship winning cars for himself, CJ Malueg, and Austin Archdale.

Tom was instrumental in the "rebirth" of the lightning sprint club in the early 2000's and went on to claim both the 2009 Wilmot and WIMS Championship before relocating to Nebraska where he was also crowned the 2015 and 2017 Midwest Lightning Sprints Champion. Tom still ventures back to this area to race with our club and is another driver who has raced in all 3 eras of our club.

Nick Petska:

Nick started racing in 2003 at Wilmot in the 4-cylinder class and won 1 feature that season. He then move on to a street stock in 2004 before taking a break in 2005. In 2006, Nick switched to mini-mods and won 1 feature at Lake Geneva and then went on to win 7 heats and 7 features in 7 starts at Grundy County Speedway in 2007

Nick moved into the lightning sprints in 2008 and captured his first win in the class in 2009 and finished 2nd in club points in what was his first full season. He would go on to finish 3rd in points the following season, but then be forced to sit out most 2011 with a torn up racecar. He would come back better than ever in 2012 winning the club championship 3 years in arrow from 2012 – 2014 and claiming the Wilmot track title in 2012 and 2013.

After taking a break from lightning sprints and moving to the Wisconsin Wingless Sprints Series, Nick would come back to drive for Larry Neau’s Dream Chaser Racing team in 2020 and 2021 where he would close out his full time racing career as the ILS club champ and Wilmot track champion again in 2021 making him the only 4 time club champion. Nick would rack up 30 lightning sprint feature wins, 28 of which came in the current era.

Nick was never one to turn down an opportunity to put his car on display to help advertise and promote the club or track and still can be seen lending his thoughts and ideas to current racers in the club.

Ron Brannam:

Ron first bought a go kart in 1980 and started racing with River Valley Kart Club at Giberts race track. He and his son Phil shared the kart for half a season racing Jr and Sr.

Ron raced at Giberts for 3 seasons then he started racing with Badger Kart Club in Dousman, WI for another 6 seasons, finishing in the top 5 in points several of those years and winning several races.

Ron then started to race Enduro races at 2+ mile road courses in multiple states such as Blackhawk Farms, Road America, Daytona and Summit Point, to name a few, winning races along the way.

After going to Wilmot and Santa Fe for years, there was an opportunity to try racing a lightning sprint with Randy Sipple's Rent-A-Ride program. After doing a few races in the rental cars, Ron bought his first lightning sprint in 2000 and has raced every season since while racking up several feature wins and claiming the 2004 Wilmot track championship as well as being the club co-champion in 2005.

Ron and his family are responsible for bringing several new members to the club throughout the years and that is a main reason the club is healthy today. Nicknamed “The Granddaddy of the Lightning Sprints” Ron has led a race team of 3 generations of Brannams that have all competed in the lightning sprints - on the track at the same time, starting with sons Phil and Tim and grandchildren Jessica and Max.

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