Engine's roar restored Nels "Junior" Brunick, donning his old racing helmet, sits behind the wheel of his1940 Ford coupe racing car. Family and friends worked feverishly in the last week to restore the car as a surprise to Brunick, who was presented the first annual Spirit of Vermillion Award. By Dave Lias Nels "Junior" Brunick didn't know quite to expect when he was asked to step out the rear door of the Silver Dollar Restaurant in Vermillion Tuesday for a surprise greeting from a crowd of family and friends.
A bigger surprise awaited him. A sound not heard for 40 years � the roar of the flathead V-8 engine of his trusty 1940 Ford coupe race car � echoed off nearby buildings as the newly restored auto, driven by his son Dave, made a lap around the parking lot.
Later, Jody Harnois, president of the Vermillion Jaycees, presented Brunick, 76, with the first annual Spirit of Vermillion Award.
Harnois noted that in the late 1950s, Brunick was offered a chance to race at Daytona Speedway.
�He turned that opportunity down because of his loyalty to his family, to his business and to his community,� an emotional Harnois said. �So, a few years later, we figured it was time to give him some payback for his commitment.�
Brunick was presented a glass trophy, engraved with a photo of him being congratulated by a young girl after winning a race during his glory days on area tracks.
The message etched on the trophy reads: �To Junior Brunick for a lifelong achievement and commitment to the Vermillion community.�
Brunick�s race car � known by fans as �familiar number 16� from numerous newspaper reports and photos of his victories on local tracks � has been idle since the mid-1960s.
For most of that time, it has sat silently in storage, in a shed on the family farm near Vermillion.
Last week, a group of 20 people determined to surprise Brunick managed to move the car from the shed to
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Todd Moe�s garage.
Dave Brunick, Bob Richardson, Allen Richardson and others worked under the hood and got the engine to run once more.
They gave new luster to the car�s exterior.
All the while, they also brought back dozens of tales of Brunick�s skills on area race courses during the 1950s.
Besides Huset and Soo speedways, he competed at River Sioux, and major racing events near Denison, IA, Mitchell and Huron.
�He raced weekly down at Norfolk, NE,� Dave Brunick said. �He was first place at most of the tracks he went to, and a lot of the newspapers would describe him as ?as the man to beat tomorrow.� He was really pretty good.�
Junior discovered, during his racing heydays, that he was being followed by more than just competitors on the racetrack.
�Crowds from Vermillion would travel as far away as Norfolk, NE, which is 100 miles from here, just to watch him race,� Dave Brunick said. �Dad said they had their own big section there that of Vermillion people that would come to watch him race every week.
�They were big fans of him,� he said. �He had quite a following.�
Tuesday night, that ?following� gathered once more at the Silver Dollar to honor the local racing legend.