of Fremont Speedway
history of Fremont Speedway was published in Checker Flag Magazine several
years ago, published and edited by Jim Baker.
known to most people today, there was racing in Fremont prior to Fremont
Speedway's opening in 1951.
In 1936, the
International Speedway Association leased the half-mile Sandusky County
Fairgrounds track for a Big Car race on Sunday afternoon, June 7. Big Cars,
as they were known then, were the forerunners to today's sprint cars and
were exciting as well as very dangerous. On race day over 5,000 people
jammed the grandstand and crowded the rails all the way around the track
to see Fremont's introduction to auto racing. Nearly 2,000 more perched
on buildings and cars outside the fairground's fences to view the races.
a flashy young driver from Columbus captured the 20-lap feature, easily
outdistancing the nine-car field in his red "Hisso Special." Twenty-two
drivers were in competition that day but only nine qualified for the main
event. Trailing Corbitt were Johnny Crown of Dayton, Wild Bill Chittum
of Columbus, Ted Wright of Detroit, Norman Pedley of Detroit, Irvin "Steamer"
Heyman of Bellevue, Gordon Chard of Dallas, Texas, Bert Phillips of Cleveland
and Herb Manges of Fremont, driving Karl Behlmer's car of Fremont.
Chittum, a veteran
driver, failed to give Corbitt the opposition expected as he had prevailed
in several closely contested races earlier that year. For his efforts,
Corbitt won $135 in prize money, receiving $10 for winning his elimination
heat and $125 for the feature.
on to a great career but would die 11 years later in 1947 after a crash
in the first race ever held at the famous Salem, Indiana Speedway.
success of the inaugural race, it would be 12 years before the Sandusky
County Fairgrounds would hear the roar of automobile engines again.
In 1948, however,
the Tri-State Racing Association leased the fairgrounds for a racing program,
promising the fair board to spray and treat the track to prevent damage
to its surface. The race, billed as the Tri-State Racing Association's
Championship, was run on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 19. An exciting battle
was promised between the 1947 champion, Carl Scarborough of Kego Harbor,
Mich. And the 1947 runner-up Red Bales of Columbus.
Over 4,000 fans
flocked to the fairgrounds to watch the 1948 race but the Scarborough-Bales
battle never materialized. The defending champ, Scarborough had a piston
burn out in his engine during a heat race and had to retire for the day.
Bales, meanwhile, led the 22-car field all the way and coasted to victory
in the 20-lap feature, becoming the 1948 Tri-State Racing Association Champion.
Also entered in the race that day was a car driven by Chuck Rice of Lansing,
Mich., which was built by Fremont's Karl Behlmer.
financial successes of the 1936 and 1948 races in Fremont, the Sandusky
County Fairgrounds would be without racing until the fall of 1951 when
Joe and Dorothy Stelter and Harry Maynor of Toledo founded Fremont Speedway.
Their original track was almost flat and was just over 1/10 of a mile.
The thunder of powerful racing engines became a regular feature for the
first time on the fall Sunday afternoon of Sept. 30, 1951. A crowd of 1,500
attended the first race and watched Leo "The Gobbler" Caldwell of Perrysburg
win the 20-lap feature. Caldwell pocketed $60 for winning the feature with
a total purse of $525 being distributed. Thirty-eight drivers were on hand
for the first race including locals Vern Meyers of Fremont in Harold Billow's
car, and Johnny Auxter of Lindsey, Oh.
his interest in the speedway to Frank Jensen of Toledo in 1952 and Wayne
Wall of Toledo purchased an interest in 1953. Wall sold out in 1954 and
Joe, Dot and Jensen operated the track until 1957 when a local Fremont
businessman, Don Emick, purchased Jensen's stock. This operation continued
until 1960 when Emick sold out, leaving Joe and Dot as the sole owners.
After Joe's sudden death in 1962, Dot decided to continue and became one
of the few women promoters in the country. Dot later married Paul Szakovits
and he helped to operate the track. Dot promoted the speedway until 1976
when longtime announcer Gary Kern purchased the facility. In 1994 Joseph
Darr became a partner with Kern. Ken Langhals of Delphos, Ohio operated
the speedway in 1995. Kelly Applegate purchased the speedway in 1996 followed
by Ken Meggitt in 1997. The track then sat idle for two years before former
driver and sprint car owner Jim Ford of Elmore, Ohio, obtained a lease
and reopened the track in 2000 with many improvements.
The track has
been slightly changed over the years, and today is semi-banked and is 1/3
mile in length. Fremont Speedway has also seen several changes in the cars
competing at the oval. The Jalopy coupes were cut-down and lightened for
more speed in the mid 1950s which was the start of the Super Modifieds.
Car builders continued to chop and cut and by the early 1960s had created
the even lighter and much faster sprints.
Over the years
a number of drivers who cut their teeth on the rail at Fremont Speedway
have gone on to national recognition. The two most notable would be 1963
track champion Rollie Beal of Toledo who won the 1966 Little 500 and who
reached the high point of his career in 1973 by winning the USAC Sprint
of Bettsville, the 1960-61 and 1962 track champion, won the 1969 IMCA Sprint
Car Championship, was a three-time winner of the Little 500 (1967, 170
and 1975) and was the 1971 USAC Rookie of the Year."
"The Track That Action Built" has hosted the World of Outlaws and such
drivers as Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Brad Doty, Doug Wolfgang and current
NASCAR stars Jeff Gordon and Dave Blaney. "The Ohio Traveler" Rick Ferkel
began his storied career by winning his first ever feature at Fremont Speedway.
Over the years, Fremont Speedway has also become known as the "Home of
the All Stars" running over 60 All Star Circuit of Champions events.
In 2001, many
special events and races are planned to celebrate Fremont Speedway's 50th
anniversary of racing.