Fremont Speedway to embark on 50th season
By Brian Liskai
FREMONT, Oh. - Few probably envisioned the success the dirt track at the Sandusky County Fairgrounds would have back in 1951. But, 50 years later, racing is still thriving at Fremont Speedway, as the track kicks off the 2001 season Saturday, April 28 with the All Star Circuit of Champions sprint cars, the 305 sprint cars and the dirt trucks.
"I have so many great memories of Fremont Speedway," said Jim Ford, a former sprint car driver, owner and now track promoter. "Because of racing and Fremont Speedway, we have so many friends…it's hard to describe what this place has meant to my family."
Racing began at Fremont in the 1930s and 1940s with a few "Big Car" races. It wasn't until 1951 when Joe and Dot Stelter and Harry Maynor teamed up to bring weekly racing to the fairgrounds that things picked up. Leo "The Gobbler" Caldwell won that first race, and a tradition was born at "The Track That Action Built."
To celebrate its 50th season of racing, Fremont Speedway has undertaken a pretty impressive schedule. The All Stars will pay five visits to Fremont, including a weekend doubleheader on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 7 and 8. A special non-wing challenge race will be held Wednesday, June 20, paying $4,000 to win. The American Late Model Series presented by Sunoco will make two appearances during 2001 - Monday, May 28 and Saturday, Sept. 15. The track will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a special weekend on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 10 and 11 with a 50-lap sprint car race on Saturday for the Style Crest 50 paying $5,000 to win and $500 to start. The second annual Baumann Automotive Group 305 Sprint Invitational paying $2,100 to win will be held Sunday, Sept. 2.
"Thanks to our business partners and sponsors, we're going to be able to pay some incredible purses this year," said Ford. "Our regular shows….if you want to call them regular…will all pay at least $2,500 to win for the super sprints, $500 to win for the 305 sprints and $300 to win for the trucks. We've added money to our purse for 10th on back in the 410 sprints and the B feature and from sixth on back and the B feature for the 305 sprints. We want to reward those drivers and teams that support us each week."
When the All Stars come to Fremont Saturday, it will mark the 62nd appearance of the touring group. Jack Hewitt has the most All Star wins at Fremont, and is could be there Saturday. He picked up a regular feature win at Fremont in 2000. Another favorite will be eight-time Fremont track champion Mark Keegan of Fremont. Keegan is expected to add to his feature win total at Fremont this season in the Steinbreck Motorsports #92. He sits fifth in the all-time career feature win list with 51 checkers.
Many fans will also be routing for hometown driver Chad Kemmenah, piloting the Harble Motorsports #15. Kemmenah comes into Saturday's event leading the All Star point standings.
Phil Gressman of Clyde has had an impressive start to the 2001 season with his new Wise Motorsports #97 ride. He picked up one feature win in 2000 at Fremont. Also, John Ivy of Fremont, aboard the Lucius #32, has to be considered a favorite, having won four times at Fremont in 2000, including the season ending All Star feature.
Many fans will be pulling for Kenny "The Mouse" Jacobs of Holmesville, Oh., on Saturday. Jacobs, the defending All Star champion, has never won a feature at "The Track That Action Built."
As for the 2001 season, the championship battle in the 410 sprints could be highly competitive. Last year's track champion, Eric Rankine of New London, decided to hang up the helmet bag. So, Fremont's John Wisbon, aboard the Burmeister #16 hopes to improve on his second place showing in the standings. Elmore's Alvin Roepke, who finished third in the points, is hoping the addition of Mt. Dew as a sponsor will propel him to victory lane. Then there's Ivy and Keegan, along with Bettsville driver David Harrison (5th in the 2000 point standings), Todd Heller of Whitehouse, Bobby Teeple of Bradner, last year's rookie of the year Jody Keegan of Fremont, and last year's most improved driver Bruce Robenalt of Tiffin. Also, Sandusky, Ohio's Troy Vaccaro, who finished second in the 305 sprint point standings in 2000, has moved up to the 410 sprint ranks.
"I think you'll see several different winners this year. With our purses, I think you'll see a lot of new drivers at Fremont in 2001," commented Ford.
Castalia, Ohio's Bryan Scott will try to defend his track championship in the 305 sprints. Fremont's Bob Foster , who picked up several feature wins in 2000, is expected to compete at Fremont, along with track record holder Bill Kraylek of Fostoria; Castalia's Matt Karbler who finished 5th in the 2000 point standings; Fostoria's Scott Kraylek; Dustin Keegan, Mark Lang and 305 sprint co-rookies of the year in 2000, Shawn Chaney of Fremont and Brandon Martin of Attica.
"Our 305 sprint division is one of the most competitive divisions you'll see at any race track. They put on a heck of a show every week. There are some great drivers in this division," said Ford.
Fremont Speedway introduced a new division in 2000, the Dirt Truck class, comprised of Ford Rangers, Chevy S-10s and Dodge Dakotas. Elmore, Ohio's Danny Roepke captured the track championship, followed closely by Rich Farmer of Fremont and long-time racer L.J. Connors of Clyde.
"The division grew over the course of the year and I believe by the end we had somewhere around 18 trucks. I've heard a lot of guys built trucks over the winter and we could see in the neighborhood of 30 trucks or more this season," said Ford. "It's a great, low-cost way for someone to get involved in racing."
Jim Ford and crew have made many improvements to Fremont Speedway in the last two years. A new concrete wall and fencing was added last year, along with new state-of-the-art lights and sound systems. Over the winter, 3,500 tons of new clay was installed on the racing surface. Also, an expanded concession stand was built under the covered grandstands and additional seating is being added along turn four and in the pit area. Also, a new roof was installed on the covered grandstands.
"I have to thank the Sandusky County Fairboard. They have been very cooperative," said Ford.
Reflecting on Fremont Speedway's 50th anniversary, announcer Brian Liskai gives credit to the fans, drivers, pit crews and car owners, and track promoters
"I, like most of those sitting in the seats on Saturday nights, grew up at Fremont Speedway. I made many lifelong friendships because of Fremont Speedway. You can go to almost any dirt track in the country and people recognize Fremont Speedway," said Liskai. "Fremont Speedway has just a terrific fan base. I'd say it's the sprint car capital of Ohio. Then you go back over time and look at the drivers that have come out of the Fremont area…it's pretty impressive."
"When you look at the drivers who have competed at Fremont - Jan Opperman, Lynn Paxton, Kramer Williamson, Rollie Beale, Gug Keegan, Jim and Fred Linder, Harold McGilton, Jim McCune, Daryl Harrison, Herbie Robinson, Rick Ferkel, Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Doug Wolfgang, Bobby Allen, Jeff Gordon - the list goes on and on. Some of the best sprint car drivers in the history of the sport have competed here. Fremont has such a rich tradition of racing," Liskai continued.
Liskai also credited former promoter Dot Shilling , who passed away this past February at the age of 73, for much of Fremont's success. "She put most of her life into that track. Think about it….back in 1962 when her husband Joe (Stelter) died, what would have happened to Fremont Speedway if Dot had not decided to continue promoting racing? Think of the courage it took her…she was one, if not the only, female promoter of a major sport in the United States back then."
Gates open Saturday at Fremont Speedway, located just south of the Ohio Turnpike off St. Rt. 53, at 4:30 p.m. with racing scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Parking is located across from the race track on North Street and behind the covered grandstands just off Rawson Ave. Fans are reminded there is limited parking in the fairgrounds by using the entrance off Rawson Ave. For more information, call the track office at 419-862-2206 or the track phone at 419-333-0478, or visit the track's website at www.fremontohspeedway.com.