Two weeks ago, the Merrill Ice Draggers kicked off their 50th anniversary. Since then, Lake Alexander has been buzzing and roaring with fans, machines and draggers alike
This Saturday, the draggers will engage in another tradition which is nearing its quarter-century mark; that of the “Harv” Wenzlick Memorial drags.
“He ate, breathed and lived racing and dragging,” comments Wenzlick’s youngest sibling Debbie.
“His whole heart and soul was in it,” adds Dan Hixon, a close and long-time friend of Wenzlick’s “He would put somethin’ together and go out there thinking he was going to set the world on fire. That’s just the type of guy he was, he inspired a lot of people.”
“It was hard on him when the drags left for a few years,” Harv’s mother, Bee Wenzlick adds. “He was president of the club and fought hard to bring them back to Merrill.”
By a catastrophic twist of fate, Kevin “Harv” Wenzlick would not live to see the fruits of his devoted efforts.
On the evening of Nov. 27, 1990, Wenzlick was headed into the city southbound on Pier Street when the accelerator of his vehicle suddenly became stuck. Wenzlick’s vehicle accelerated out of control and struck the final car of a westbound train at the Pier Street rail crossing.
“I remember him telling us about a station wagon with a family inside which was stopped at the crossing,” Bee recollects. “He swerved to avoid the station wagon and struck the train.”
Wenzlick survived the initial collision, but passed away a short time later due to medical complications at the age of 30.
“Like Debbie said, Kev just loved racing, he always did,” Bee explains, as she holds a photo of Kevin and two trophies taken in 1984. “I guess it was a family thing. Seven of my eight kids were involved in the drags in some way. Kev was out there every winter from the time he was 19, until his death.”
Bee on other hand didn’t share the same interest and enthusiasm as her children, but supported them regardless.
“He always wanted me to go and I never would. I lived a little too far away and just didn’t have the interest. But eventually they talked me into going for a ride and Danny Hixon was the one to do it. He gave me my first ride, but he only had one seat in his car so I had to sit on a bucket!”
Bee adds with a chuckle.
“Harv and I were just messin’ around one night with my ‘65 Rambler,” Hixon explains with a chuckle of his own. “It was Harv’s idea! I only had one seat in the car so he grabbed a bucket for her to sit on. The whole ride scared the hell out of her and she ended up just chewin’ Harv a new one.”
“Oh man, I will never forget the look on her face after that!” Debbie adds with a laugh. “It was priceless!”
“Racing has always been in our blood,” Debbie explains further. “My dad was into stock car racing before he passed. I never personally raced, but I have always loved watching, and I owned a car that different people raced. Some of my best memories as a kid was riding with Kev to the drag strip in Kaukauna. He would get so fired up and it was so fun to be with him.
“He was involved with the drags in all sorts of ways; from 4-wheelers to nailies, Kev was mixed up in it,” Debbie adds with a smile.
Two months after his death, the first annual Harv Wenzlick Memorial was held in January of 1991 and has been held every year since.
“Kev may not have been there in person that first year. But I guarantee you he was there watching them. There is just no way he would have missed it,” Bee adds as her and Debbie Wenzlick both laugh quietly. “That’s true mom, so true.”
According to the elder and youngest Wenzlick, Kevin earned the nickname “Harv” from his constant efforts to assist other draggers.
“If he couldn’t find a part he or someone else needed, he would make it,” Bee explains. “The namesake comes from Harvey Graap. Harvey was the same way and that’s where Kevin learned to make stuff. If Kev needed a hand making parts or couldn’t figure something out, Harvey would show him.”
“Both of them had hearts of gold,” Debbie adds. “If you needed anything at all, those two guys would be the first to help ya, whether they liked you or not. I can’t count how many times I would go out to the drags and see Kevin under someone’s car. Sometimes he knew the person, sometimes he didn’t.”
During Wenzlick’s funeral, numerous club members attended and served as pallbearers, dressed in club apparel.
“There was just so many of them to list, so we named them all honorary pallbearers,” Bee recollects. “I remember the funeral director telling me on the day of the funeral he had never seen such a huge procession. They allowed the draggers to bring their cars in the procession, and that’s just how it went. We had draggers and their cars for what seemed like miles.
“A few of them even did burnouts,” Bee remembers, “but the officers didn’t say a word. They just looked the other way. We really appreciated their understanding. It was very special and meant so much to us.”
As Hixon explains, Wenzlick left his mark on the Ice Drags event and the memorial event is symbolic of such.
“The Ice Drags were never the same without him, he would try anything. Some failed and some would work. I often find myself wondering about the drags and what they would be today if he was still around. He is sadly missed, I hope this memorial race continues. Next year I’m going to try and put his car back together and give ‘er a run. I still have the parts here, it’s just a matter of putting it all together. But I would do it. I would do it for Harv.”
As for the Wenzlick family, their sincere appreciation and gratitude for the event is readily apparent.
“I think it’s just amazing they are still doing this for Kev,” Debbie states. “It means so much to our family.”
“It’s an honor,” Bee adds. “He just loved the drags so much and all the club members were like family to him. And now to have them do this for him every year is pretty special.”
The Harv Wenzlick Memorial will kick off following the “King of the Hill Barefoot Race” which starts at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday.