Fremont Speedway Champion Jim Roepke Passes Away
By Brian Liskai
GIBSONBURG, Ohio (May 6, 2003) - James E. "Smiley" Roepke, 73, of Sandusky
County Road 62, Gibsonburg, passed away early Monday afternoon, May 5,
2003, at his home. He had been ill for about five months.
Roepke, born in Elmore, Ohio, to Edward and Luella (Krantz) Roepke,
was an avid sprint car driver and owner for more than 35 years. He was
the 1956 Fremont Speedway track champion.
Roepke piloted the familiar # 7A. Many fans remember the 7A roadster
and the 7A couple. After retiring from driving, "The Rockin' Chair Special"
sprint car carried drivers like Al Liskai, Jerry Nemire, George Miller,
Joe Keegan, Jim Leaser and even gave his nephew Alvin Roepke his first
opportunity to drive.
Roepke was nicknamed "Smiley" by his competitors and friends because
of the constant grin on his face and his quiet, friendly demeanor. He was
the uncle of 2002 Attica Raceway Park Track Champion Alvin Roepke and the
brother-in-law of Fremont Speedway Promoters Jim and Joanne Ford.
"Smiley was one of my best friends...he was the best man in my wedding.
He gave me a chance to race when others wouldn't," said former driver Al
Liskai. "I remember when I got busted up and couldn't drive my own car...which
we kept in Smiley's garage. He came out of retirement and drove my car
at Fremont and made the dash and finished in the top 10 after running most
of the feature in the top three. I had some great, fantastic times with
Smiley...he'll always be a part of my life."
Liskai's son, Brian, the current announcer at Fremont Speedway agreed.
"I grew up at the Roepke's house. I was just one of the family. I'll
never forget after the races, everyone went out to their house and we'd
talk about the races and eat and laugh until the wee hours of the morning.
Then, Sunday morning coffee was even more fun. The Roepke's house was always
filled with people laughing and talking racing," said Brian. "Smiley was
like a grandfather to me...I'll miss him...I'll really miss his infectious
Roepke, who attended Harris-Elmore School, was a member of the Army
National Guard.. He worked as a millwright out of Local 1393, Toledo.
On Nov. 19,1 949, Roepke married Christina A. Zorn in the Zion Lutheran
Church in Gibsonburg and she survives. Also surviving are daughters, Susan
(Duane) Lohr and Patty (Donald) Netcher, both of Elmore, Cynthia Cousino
of Gibsonburg and Jayne Roepke of Falls Church, Va.; a son, Scott Roepke
of Gibsonburg; sisters, Lucille Faist of Gibsonburg, Betty Bennett and
Diane Fowler of Port Clinton, and Joanne Bruning of Pemberville; brothers,
Charles Roepke of Lincolnton, N.C. and David Roepke of Gibsonburg; and
six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death
by a grandchild.
Funeral services were planned for 10:30 a.m. Thursday, May 8, at the
Zion Lutheran Church, Gibsonburg. Visitation was Tuesday and Wednesday
in the Nopper-Veh Funeral Home, Gibsonburg. Burial will be in the North
Union Cemetery, Gibsonburg.
Memorial contributions may be made to the church, the Gibsonburg Athletic
Association or the Woodmore Academics.