I’ve been trying to contact Midwestern stock car racing great Tom Reffner to interview for The Complete Book of AMC Cars, and I had a feeling something was wrong. Tom passed away on October 22 at the age of 82. Tom and his childhood friend Dick Trickle shared a shop in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, during the 1970s, and Trickle, the greatest short track stock car racer of them all, won an astounding 67 races in 1972. Back then these racers could compete on the asphalt ovals of the Midwest four or five times a week, but Trickle’s performance that year was thought by many to never be duplicated again. Then in 1975 Tom Reffner won the same number of races, 67, while earning pole position in 81 of 116 races. But Tom (the “Blue Knight”) was racing an AMC Javelin on a Howe second-design chassis powered by a 380 AMC V8! The first time the Javelin turned a wheel he knew he was on to something, telling Stock Car Racing magazine: “ Yea, I came in from hot laps with a big smile on my face. I knew it would be a good season when I first stepped on the gas after warming up the engine.”
Reffner raced the Javelin again in 1976, then had Bill Bembinster’s Bemco Engineering built an AMC Hornet Hatchback for 1977. I took these photos of the Hornet at The Milwaukee Mile and Capital Speedway in 1979, still highly competitive though never approaching 67 victories in a season. Keep in mind the racing in this area was so competitive future NASCAR stars Dave Marcis, Dick Trickle, and Arkansas transplant Mark Martin, and NASCAR champions Alan Kulwicki and Matt Kenseth, would hone their talents there. Tom Reffner last won a stock car race in 1999 at the age of 58! But the cover story in Stock Car Racing magazine in 1978 said it all: “The Blue Knight Rides a Rambler.” RIP Tom!