RacerUSA


THE JACOBS FAMILY: A RACING DYNASTY

From 2003: N.E. “Pete” Jacobs was a man who loved racing. And his passion for dirt track racing was so great, and so heartfelt, that his passion lives on today through his grandsons and great-grandsons. As well as a piece of real estate known as Wayne County Speedway.

Pete Jacobs was the man who first conceptualized a race track on some farmland he owned south of Orrville, OH. Within months of his decision to construct a race track, Wayne County Speedway was in operation.

And not only was Pete the founder of the race track, he became the patriarch to a family that has now spawned three generations of racers and a family that has made racing their passion, and, in some cases, their livelihoods.

Pete Jacobs was born in Akron, OH on April 2,1903, and married Viola “Babe” Harlan on July 4,1928. They soon moved to Orrville where Pete and Babe raised two sons, Harvey and Kenneth.

Over the years Pete developed a real thirst for racing and began attending races frequently. He became a big Dean Mast fan and began following the open wheel ace, one of the Buckeye state’s best drivers. He eventually purchased a race car and hired Mast as his driver. When son Ken got out of the Army and began attending races he soon started pestering Pete to let him drive. Pete didn’t want any part of his son racing, so he declined.

Eventually, in 1961, Ken decided he was going racing one way or another and began looking for a race car to buy. He found one owned by Myron Werntz. For Christmas that year, Ken’s wife, Marriann, bought it for him.

Pete, ever the perfectionist, didn’t think Ken’s car was safe enough, and within time relented and put Ken in his car. The father-son team began running at tracks like Holmes Hilltop, Mansfield and others.

Back then purses were paid based on the front gate. Time and again the promoter at a certain track cheated the drivers until Pete couldn’t take it anymore. One night Pete confronted the chintzy promoter and told him next year there would be a race track in Wayne County that took care of the drivers, played fair and was honest.

That was late summer 1964. In late fall 1964 Pete enlisted his sons, Harve and Ken, tohelp plan and put together a group of investors. Using 20 acres of his own land across the road from his home, Pete soon had his two sons onboard as investors as well as Wellman Lehman, Gary Bossler, Bob Auten, Myron Werntz, Clyde Shoup, Stanley Huffman and Glenn Davisson.

On a warm Saturday afternoon, May 1,1965, Orrville mayor Nelson Douglas led a contingent of dignitaries and enthusiastically leaned on a shovel and tossed high the first spade of earth, marking the beginning of construction of Wayne County Speedway,Inc.

Witnessing the ceremony were original board members Pete Jacobs,President;Harve Jacobs, Vice-President; Wellman Lehman, Treasurer; and Gary Bossler, Secretary.

Opening night was June 26,1965, and the nearly 3,000 seats were packed, which prompted Pete to announce that additional grandstands would be constructed as soon as possible.

Earning the distinction of winning the first race was Eph Davis, who won the first heat and established the first track record at 21.36 in his open wheel modified sprint. The first feature event went to Myron Harris over Ken Jacobs, Eph Davis, Joe Carny, Dick Plew, Pee Wee Venables and Tom Ute.

The track experienced tremendous growth right out of the chute, both in fan and car counts. Some of the region’s biggest open wheel drivers descended on the track throughout its first season, including Dean Alexander, Royal Freed, Woody Holland, Dick Byerly, Pete Bonewit, Chuck Adams, Leroy Kendall, Jim Renner and Ed McClure. Jim Steurer claimed the first season championship.

In 1966 Pete began experimenting with running two nights a week. On Saturday nights they would run open wheel cars and on Sunday nights full bodied (Late Models) cars. The continued this practice for four years.

In the spring of 1970 Pete began experiencing declining health. On June 2 Pete passed away in Orrville. He was 67 years old. He was buried at Crown Hill Cemetary in Orrville with many, many members of the racing community in attendance.

Pete had nearly six years to nurture and establish his track the way he wanted a race track to operate. Although the bulk of the business and management was left up to Harve , Wellman Lehman and the board of directors, Pete had a vision and a concept that he lived to see realized.

Pete was a perfectionist and a detail oriented man. He was professional but had the proverbial heart of gold. One former track official told this writer that if Pete had his way, he would have let everyone in free.

Two years later, Pete’s wife, Viola “Babe” Jacobs, passed away.

The end of an era and the beginning of a new one came with Pete’s passing. The management reins were picked up by Harve and later the following year by Wellman Lehman. The board of directors added new members Rich Falk, Bill Condo, Clyde Shoup and John Malcuit.

A year after Pete’s passing the track hosted the PETE JACOBS MEMORIAL TWIN INVITATIONAL in honor of the track’s founder. This was the biggest race the track ever hosted up to that point and it offered the then unheard of (for 1971 standards) purse of $5,000 going to each of the co-headliners, Sprints & Late Models.

Harold McGilton won the 50-lap Sprint Car feature while Bob Cannon took the Late Model event. Most of the midwest’s top racers competed in the special event before a record crowd. It was a fitting tribute to the founder of the track by the fans, employees & drivers.

Pete Jacobs was a man respected….and missed!

Ken drove his father’s car, the #066, for several years, winning countless races in the open wheel machine. Ken also found himself driving other cars for owners such as Clyde Shoup, Harry Kane and Chuck Gossard.

In 1970 Ken went into Late Models and went on a tear. After winning his fourth feature in a row a bounty was placed on him at Wayne County. And if all his racing activities weren’t enough to keep him busy, Ken also worked full time as a truck driver and helped Marriann raise their seven children: Kathy, Kenny, Susan, Lola, Bud, Mary Beth and Dean. Ken continued racing until he retired in 1974.

“Racing was just something I always loved to do,” explained Ken, also known as “Jake”. “But the best I ran against regularly were Eph Davis, Jack Norris, Wimpy Yarman and Joe Carney. I preferred open wheel cars, but I won more races in the Late Models.”

In 1962, when Ken started racing, many tracks occasionally had Powder Puff races. Ken’s wife, Marriann, decided she wanted to give it a shot one night, so she approached Pete and asked about driving his car. No way!!! Pete’s attempts to discourage Ken didn’t work, but he definitely wouldn’t have any part of his daughter-in-law out on the track.

Marriann found a willing owner and she drove her first race. She eventually began winning at Holmes Hilltop and Mansfield. In 1966 Wayne County held their first Powder Puff race and Marriann finished second to Suzie Plew. Eventually Marriann would win more than she lost and often drove cars belonging to Jim Gentry, Tom Patton, Harry Kane and George Magyar.

What special memories does Marriann have of her own career? “Well, I remember competing in a demolition derby one time and two days later, I was real sore!” explained Marriann. “But the most special night was when Kenneth and I both won features the same night!”

On August 2, 1970, Ken won the Late Model feature at Wayne County and was also voted Mid-Season Sportsman of the Year by the drivers. When the Powder Puff rolled out, Marriann took command in Jim Gentry’s #14 Late Model and won handily. In 1973 she won the track’s season championship and points title. The following year she, like Ken, retired from driving.

All seven of their children literally grew up at race tracks. Throughout their youth all their children worked at Wayne County in one capacity or another, whether in the ticket booth or the concession stand or wherever else help was needed.

It wasn’t unusual to see grade school and junior high aged Kenny Jacobs in the water truck circling the track and giving it a good soaking. And it was a given that with four extremely attractive daughters (Kathy, Susan, Lola & Mary Beth), at least one would be a trophy queen. In fact, two (Susan & Mary Beth) did during the 1970s. Susan at Wayne County and Mary Beth at Lakeville Speedway. Today all the girls are married women with children.

The family’s racing talent didn’t end with Dad and Mom. In 1972, a then-17 year old Kenny Lee Jacobs, a wrestling star at Waynedale High School, pulled an old, homemade modified sprint chassis out of the weeds behind a barn on the family farm. A former car of his father’s, Kenny put the car together and began his racing career at Wayne County and Lakeville.

But age 17 wasn’t Kenny’s first time behind the wheel of a race car. One time when the track first opened, Ken let his son, Kenny, take some laps around WCS one night after the races ended. Kenny was nine years old.

As Kenny’s father explained, “I put him in and let him go. You couldn’t hardly see his head sticking up above the dashboard. He was doing pretty good, though, until my dad (Pete) happened to see who was driving. Boy! Did he ever chew me out!”

How did young Kenny’s first racing experience, at age 17, go for the future Sprint superstar? “I flipped in the first corner on the first lap of qualifying the first night I drove a racecar,” related Kenny. Things could only get better, and they did.

For the next six or so years Kenny drove for his father at area tracks. He practically owned Lakeville Speedway. In fact, one year he won 15 out of 17 races held there, winning against three of his best friends, Brad Doty, Ed Haudenschild and Jac Haudenschild. Brad and Jac started their careers a couple years after Kenny.

Kenny began branching out and running more tracks. In 1978, the first season of the World of Outlaws, he finished 18th in points. At the end of the decade the All Star Circuit of Champions was reformed and an opportunity arose for him to run the series when Ed Reno offered him a ride in his #4J. That was the birth of Kenny’s professional career.

Eventually Kenny had to decide whether to pursue racing on a fulltime basis or keep his job and race part time. With Reno’s backing, owner Butch Smith offered Kenny a full time ride in his #47. He has been a professional, full time racer ever since.

Over the years Kenny raced for many car owners, winning with all of them, including several years on the WoO tour. Some of Kenny’s more high profile rides included the Doug Howell #4, the Genessee Beer Wagon, the #29 Beefmobile for Bob Weikert, the Leon Wintermyer #1w, the Tom Wimmer #7TW, Dan Motter’s #71m, the Denny Ashworth #92, the Hughes Motorsports #94 and finally, behind the wheel of his own team, the Kenny Jacobs Motorsports #6.

Kenny’s accomplishments are numerous: all time leading All Star feature winner (86), Historical Big One winner, Williams Grove Open winner, and many, many more. He is also a former USAC Rookie of the Year for both Sprints and Champ Cars, a three time Eldora Speedway champ, and currently a multi-titled All Star points champion.

Today, Kenny, 48, is set to once again stir the Denny Ashworth owned #92. He is married to Kim and they have three children: Jennifer, Kendra and Lee. They reside in Holmesville, OH.

Gerald “Bud” Jacobs, the second son of Kenny & Marriann, started his racing career in 1980 after digging out an old race car that belonged to his grandfather. After putting the car in running condition, Bud and friend Mike Kerr used to take it across the road and run laps in it in the Wayne County Speedway parking lot. When the “racing fever” finally hit, Bud purchased a Late Model from Blaine Aber and started competing at WCS and Lakeville.

With his brother, Kenny, achieving success in Sprints, and with open wheel tradition in the family, Bud decided to give Sprints a try. During a race in early 1981, Bud received a lesson from his older brother. As Bud relates: “I was racing the old #066 Sidewinder that Kenny started in. In the heat race I must have been fiddling around, but Kenny was there watching and when I went into the pits he said, ‘when the green flag drops, stand on it!’ So, in the feature I took his advice. They dropped the green, I stood on it and hit the car in front of me who spun out. I hit him so hard I knocked the engine out of his car!”

During the next seven years Bud raced for his father as well as for car owners Ken Bodkins, Pete Smith, Tom Liedig, Ray Cordell, John Cotner, Karen Boston and Charlie Brown. Besides WCS, Bud also competed at Lakeville (where he won his first feature), Lernerville, Sharon, KC, Southern Ohio, Millstream, Muskingum County, Mercer and others.

During 1983 Bud won the points championship at Wayne County Speedway and also won the Most Improved Driver Award. That same year Bud finished second in points at Lakeville.

After discussing his career highlights, Bud remembers one stand-out night in particular. “The year Dean and I battled it out at Wayne County for first and second!” said Bud. “He just got lucky!”

Bud has lots of memories about his family’s activities in racing, especially his grandparents and parents. “I still picture Grandpa watching races and Calhoun (Glenn Davisson) watering the track. As kids Dean and I used to go over to the track the next morning and find money and whatever else we could drag home.”

“I still remember Dad winning a race and Grandpa handing him a trophy,” continued Bud. “Competitively, the thing I remember most was Dad in the #066 kicking butt. As far as my feelings go there wasn’t a better race car driver in the world than when my Dad raced.”

“Of course, Mom wasn’t so bad herself! She raced Jim Gentry’s #14 Late Model a lot. She won a bunch of races and I remember her winning quite a few in Gentry’s car, holding that checkered flag and that beautiful smile. She was probably the person who made the checker flag she was holding!”

Today, Bud, 41, has three sons: Gerald, Taylor and Ryan. He is employed as a truck driver. The return of Bud Jacobs in a Sprint Car is not out of the question.

Dean, 38, is the youngest of Ken and Marriann’s children and in recent years he has established himself as a contender, especially on the All Star Sprint circuit. His career began in 1981 after spending years watching his father and brothers race.

Early on Dean spent time on Jack Hewit’s pit crew. Dean began racing himself at Lakeville in Sprints in ’81. On the first night he raced at Lakeville he won the first race he was in, the B Main. His first career win came in 1983 when he won WCS’ Season Championship race.

He also began to travel more and began to race at tracks like Tri-City, Sharon, Lernerville and others. As he gained more experience he began to rack up wins…until bad luck intervened.

Dean was involved in an accident at Sharon Speedway and received severe burns to his leg, face and hands. After a length, and painful, recovery period, Dean resumed his career.

Over the next several years Dean got back up front and drive for a variety of car owners, including Ken Bodkins, Junior Holbrook, Pete Smith, De Genzman, John Toth, Jack Arnold, Dick Hostetler and his father.

Among just a few of Dean’s many accomplishments is the 1992 WCS Sprint points title and the 1988 USAC Rookie of the Year title. He has over 40 wins and a reputation as one of the smoothest, yet extremely aggressive racers who ride the rim.

After a couple year stint fielding his own team, the Frigidaire #1f, Dean hooked up with Denny Ashworth for most of 1998 before spending time with Junior Holbrook and other team owners. Today Dean is the driver of the Pullins Motorsports #29 team and is chasing the All Star Circuit of Champions title.

Dean and his wife, Tina, live south of Wooster, OH with their two sons, Trey and Cody. Dean doesn’t know if his sons will follow in his footsteps, but his oldest son, Cody, has become a popular fixture at race tracks all across the country for his flagging! He has a set of flags and tries to be seated behind the flagman.

Publicly, family members kid each other and give each other a hard time. But privately, they all express their respect for each other. When Ken and Marriann’s boys are asked who their heroes in racing are, they all name their father at the top of the list. When asked who they admire and respect on the track, they all name the other.

Today, Ken, 68, is a retired steel hauler and Marriann is a housewife and school bus driver for Orrville City Schools. They spend their free time with their 22 grandchildren and attend Sprint Car races all across the country. On February 21 Ken and Marriann will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

And the beat goes on……..

Another generation of Jacobs are all set to take the race tracks by storm. Garrett Jacobs, grandson of Harve Jacobs and great-grandson of Pete, started his Sprint Car career in 1999 driving the #75J owned by his grandfather, Harve. Garrett finished second in WCS Rookie of the Year points in ’99.

Kathy’s son, Pete Marthey, has expressed an interest in racing and Dean’s sons, Cody and Trey, have begun racing quarter midgets.

Kenny’s son, 20-year-old son Lee started his own Sprint Car career in 2000 by running the #2 Eagle Chassis owned by his father at Wayne County Speedway where Lee won the WCS Rookie of the Year title and won his career first feature racing with the BOSS 360 Sprint Cars. Lee currently drives for his father at regional tracks and with the All Star Circuit of Champions.

And all of this, three generations later, must make great-grandpa Pete a happy ‘ol soul!

©2003-2008 Doc Lehman/Dirt America



Dale Blaney: Late Model Fan

From 2003: “I feel like it’s going to be one of our best races of the year,” stated Dale Blaney, general manager of Sharon Speedway in Hartford, OH, who also happens to be one of Sprint Car racing’s most talented drivers when asked about his upcoming Xtreme Dirt Car Series race at the historic Hartford, OH racetrack. Originally scheduled for Wednesday July 9 as part of the OHIO LATE MODEL SPEEDWEEK, the race was postponed due to huge storms that swept through Ohio for several days also forcing the cancellation of the Wayne County Speedway OHIO LATE MODEL SPEEDWEEK race. While WCS has cancelled their event, Sharon Speedway management decided to reschedule theirs and it will be held on Tuesday September 2. The event will be presented by Park Ohio and Biscotti’s Restaurant“Those guys always put on a really good show wherever they go,” said Blaney. “It’s not too often they get in this area, up at Raceway 7 a little bit and over at Wayne County, but this gives people an opportunity for people to see Bloomquist and Eckert and Francis and all those guys. They have a lot of guys that always run pretty good.”

While Blaney is known for his Sprint Car skill, he currently drives the Fritz Andrews Motorsports Sprint Car and before becoming an All Star Circuit of Champions title champion repeatedly and a traveling World of Outlaw star before the family purchase of Sharon Speedway, Blaney was a member of the NBA’s Washington Wizards before knee injuries cut short his basketball career. But make no mistake, Blaney, like his brother, Winston Cup star Dave Blaney and his legendary Sprint and Modified superstar father, Lou Blaney, he is all racer no matter what type of racecar and enjoys the competition.

With Blaney’s renovations of Sharon Speedway and a new surface and configuration, he will offer the dirt Late Model drivers a level playing field of sorts as the old half mile is gone, replaced with a new, racy 3/8 mile clay oval. For all intents and purposes, it’s a “new” track for all the teams, which should increase the level of drama during the event.

“There are a lot of places those guys go to during the year that it’s the first time seeing a place so I’m sure they will find something when they come here and look at it,” commented Blaney. “It will remind them of someplace. I always do that when I go to a track for the first time, I always look at it and see what it reminds me of and race it like that. Being that it’s going to be the first time on it for all of them I’m sure it will be pretty neat. It will give everyone a pretty equal chance of running good, or running bad (laughs)!”

Another factor that Blaney has seen and is enjoying is the fan response to this event.

“It’s been good,” understated Blaney. “I know there was a lot of excitement in July for it. A lot of people I talked to as I traveled to races, especially during the Ohio Sprint Speedweek the week before, told me they were looking forward to coming over and watching it the next week. So hopefully they’ll all come back here in September and watch it. But there are a lot of Late Model fans around here. Raceway 7 runs them every week, and Lernerville, PPMS, Wayne County, so there are a lot of race car drivers and fans in this area that hopefully will be excited to have those guys come in.”

It is also likely that Sharon Speedway will also enjoy a ‘cross-over’ of fans as Sprint Car and Modified fans are known to venture out to an Xtreme Dirt Car Series race when they come close to an area where the other forms of racing are dominant. Call it the curiosity factor if you like, but race fans are interested in racing of most forms, especially when it’s a nationally known commodity like the Xtreme Dirt Car Series.

“Sure, I think so, I think we’ll get a cross-over,” confirmed Blaney. “It will help and maybe hurt being on a Tuesday night. There won’t be any other races going on so that will attract a lot of people but also, during the week it may not. But a racecar fan is a racecar fan and they will come out and watch. I enjoy watching the Late Model guys race. I don’t get to watch them in person too often, every now and then. I saw a Renegade race at KC (Raceway) earlier this year and that’s always fun. But I know a lot of those guys, like Eckert and Francis and Balzano and I talk to them when I see them and I know every now and then I’ll see them at a Sprint Car race when they’re close to us. But I really enjoy watching those cars race.”

So does the talented race have any desire to climb into a dirt Late Model someday and give it a try?

“Oh, I always wanted to jump into one of those things,” explained Blaney. “I’ve run my Dad’s Modified a few times this year and have in the past a couple times. But I have never really got to sit down in a Late Model and run one of them. Any racecar driver is always wanting to try something new, I would think. But I really never had a chance to run one of them but yeah, one of those things would be really neat to run. I’d hate to jump into one and run against the Xtreme guys the first night I ever run one (laughs)! I wouldn’t mind getting a little practice. But those are pretty cool cars and I’d love to sit down in one of them.”

Reserved seats for the Xtreme DirtCar event at Sharon Speedway are $27 for adults (ages 14 and older) and $14 for children (ages 3 to 13). General admission seats are $25 for adults 14 and older, $12 for kids 6 to 13, and free for children 5 and under. Fans can purchase advance reserved seats by calling the speedway office at (330) 772-5481. Reserved seats can be purchased in advance by calling the track office Monday – Friday from 10am – 4pm at 330-772-5481. MasterCard/Visa/Discover accepted. Advance tickets will be sold until 4pm on Friday, August 29th. Gates will open at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 2, with hot laps beginning at 6:30 p.m. and racing at 7 p.m. Fans can call (330) 772-5481 or visit http://www.sharonspeedway.com for more information and directions.

Sharon Speedway runs every Saturday night and their weekly program consists of Sunburst Environmental Sprints, Gibson-Governor Insurance Modifieds, Coy Brothers Trucking E-mods and City Disposal Services Pure Stocks.

©2003-2008 Doc Lehman/Dirt America



A Great Loss

NOTE: This was originally published in Dirt Late Model Magazine December 2007.

“Oh, my mama loves, she loves me
She get down on her knees and hug me
Like she loves me like a rock
She rocks me like the rock of ages
And loves me
She love me, love me, love me, love me”
Paul Simon ‘Loves Me Like A Rock’

This will undoubtedly be the most self-indulgent columns I have written for Dirt Late Model Magazine. A column is due, the deadline looms, but I have more than enough time to formulate something that might pass as a thought and expand on that in time to meet Editor Lee’s deadline. Or so I ‘thought’.

With just a couple days to get something put together my loving and dear mother passed away.

Racing went right out the window.

So here we are, the day (late night actually) after her funeral and I need something done by the next morning and I haven’t the faintest clue as to what to write when the wife suggests I write something about my Mom. After all, the wife expounds, she was a race fan, had plenty of relatives who raced and were involved in the sport, she took me to my first race and besides, it’s Mom.

It’s true, my very dirt race I attended was on June 26, 1965 and I sat beside my mother. Dad and Mom brought us to the grand opening of Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, OH where Dad’s brother, Wellman Lehman, was an investor/stockholder and a track officer. We visited WCS frequently and a couple years later Mom was working during the week and race nights with my aunt who ran the three concession buildings they had then.

But I remember many, many nights during the 1960’s sitting beside Mom at the races.

Mom’s interest in racing didn’t begin there though.

One of her brothers, Cecil Smith, was a successful long time dirt stock car and modified owner throughout the 1950’s based in central Ohio. Smith also spent some winning time behind the wheel. Smith’s racecars competed at tracks throughout central Ohio as well as western Pennsylvania. Smith’s racecars were adorned with the numbers #119 and #120. (Smith was also partnered at times with fellow car owner Harry Landaw.)

Among Smith’s hired guns behind the wheel were top-flight drivers Blackie Kern, George McCollough, Bernie Myers and Bernie ‘Meatball’ Keithline. Among the Ohio tracks most frequented by the Smith-owned cars were Ashland Fairgrounds Speedway, Midvale Speedway, Olivesburg Speedway, Moreland Speedway and Grabbitts Speedway.

And at many of these races cheering either my uncle or one of his drivers on were Mom and, in the early years, her first husband, Don Horst, Sr., a professional mechanic who often wrenched on his brother-in-law’s race cars.

Her brother Chuck Lyon was a successful go kart racer and pit crewmember for his brother’s stock car team and she often cheered him on as well.

My younger brother, Stewart, and I began working at WCS in the very early 1970’s. I began as the public relations director and Stewart eventually became the office manager, both of us working under our uncle, Wellman, who by then had become the promoter and majority stockholder. Mom, even without Dad, often came to the races with friends and other relatives.

She was proud of all five of her children and when her middle child decided to try and pursue a career in racing she was encouraging and supportive. Always.

She made many friends who were and are involved in racing, chief among them the entire Jacobs family, Brad Doty, former Late Model racers Jim Gentry, Dave Ledford & Blaine Aber & their families, and others.

During my STARS years and my promoter years at WCS she had to have a new T-shirt any time we made new ones that she dutifully wore in Michigan when Dad was a pastor in Muskegon.

Mom & me (during my 'fat Elvis period' with a rare shot of no beard) circa 1989.

When my parents retired and settled back in Wayne County, Ohio, she was able to visit the track and see the races again on occasion and even assisted my brother at times in his store when he had Lehman Racing Collectibles a decade or so back.

So yeah, Mom liked racing and liked it even better when a relative was involved (or if she got to drink coffee with David Pearson, which she did on occasion).

Mom was born in Adena, OH and raised primarily in Wooster, OH. At age two her father passed away in a coal mining accident (she had an amazing stepfather though, he is one of my heroes) and my Mom, too, was widowed with two small children at age 26 when her first husband was killed during a tornado saving his boss’ life.

Dirt Late Model driver Blaine Aber’s father, Clyde Aber, who was also involved in racing, was one of the men who dug him out to no avail.

She later married my father, Rev. Randall Lehman, had three more children and spent well over 50 years married to him and was absolutely devoted to her husband, five children, their spouses, her 12 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

So now Mom is gone but the memories remain. In recent days the memories have come like a tidalwave and there have been a multitude of personal and racing memories with Mom I have nearly forgotten, until now. I have them and I will certainly cherish them and maybe pass a few along to my grandsons. They are warm and wonderful memories, for sure, because Mom was all about unconditional love. But the one memory I will never, ever forget will be the afternoon she passed on while I sat at her side and held her hand while she went off to God.

That was an honor and privilege.

It was, and is, an honor and privilege to be Helen Maxine Lehman’s son.

(c)2007-2008 Doc Lehman



Ohio Motorsports Council Forms

Something is happening across the country to short track racing and it’s not good, not good at all. In some quarters race tracks are under attack more and more from local politicians, local homeowners and the courts. It’s not rare anymore, but it is getting a bit more prevalent. And it’s scary as hell for many in the industry and if you are reading this, no matter where your interests are in dirt Late Model racing, you damn well better be either scared, or very, very concerned.

Sometimes precedence is everything.

The short track industry faces some challenging and perhaps some perilous times throughout the country. It’s happening in my home state of Ohio and it’s happening elsewhere and in some quarters short track racing is almost under siege. Back in April more than two-dozen Ohio speedway representatives gathered together in Bellville, OH to discuss the need for a statewide organization of motor sports promoters and operators.

Hosted and moderated by Eldora Speedway’s Larry Boos, the group cited the chief objective of such an organization to be “create an awareness of legislative and environmental issues that affect motor sports in the state of Ohio, and seek methods to resolve them”, with a secondary goal of “exchanging information and ideas to promote a positive presence of auto racing in the State and to strengthen the industry”.

That first objective was immediately addressed as Ernie Coffman (Wayne County Speedway), Kay Miller (Deerfield Raceway) and Tony Boetcher (35 Raceway Park) updated the assemblage about governmental decisions currently affecting their operations with updates and timetables for future action.

Each of them advised the gathering that the final decision would not affect only their particular speedway, but ultimately, every track in the State. A second meeting was called for May 22 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, OH and the featured keynote speaker was attorney Don Anspaugh from the Columbus, OH law firm Isaac, Brant, Ledman and Teetor.

So why an Ohio Motorsports Council and why form it now?

“I think there is no better time than now,” replied Boos, whom I consider one of the hardest working persons in racing. I have followed Boos’ career for decades and have seen in him action many times at many venues and he is someone whom I have the utmost respect for. No one knows the inner workings of this industry any better than Eldora’s dynamo.

Believe me, Larry Boos gets the job done.

“It’s needed to show the unity of the sport because of all of the impending issues whether it be legislative, environmental or whatever. It’s time the industry comes together and join forces together.”

Boos was asked if there was a crisis in the racing industry in Ohio what with reports of various lawsuits from homeowners, potential local and state imposed restrictions and all the other aggravating components that may follow.

“It’s becoming more and more prevalent,” responded Boos. “Is it a crisis? No, but it’s a wake up call and I don’t think speedway promoters can say that’s Joe Blow’s problem because once a precedent is set and is recorded in the law books, all it take is one attorney to go through the books and say here is this and that’s what was used to shut that track down so let’s apply it here. Crisis? No yet. Wake up call? Definitely.”

Has Boos found favorable support? “Yes it’s been very favorable,” confirmed Boos. “We got started kind of late. Our first meeting was when most promoters were just opening the beginning of April and then we had another meeting midweek in May and we had 11 tracks represented there. We had 14 tracks at the first one. But we had encouraging emails from those that could not attend and being aware that it’s not an organization who will tell you how to run your race track.”

“That’s the biggest fear of promoters that you will get in a room and they will tell you how to run your race or this is how you should write your rules. The biggest thing we emphasize when they come into the room is this is not about your track surface, this is not about size, it’s about Motorsports in the state of Ohio whether it’s blacktop or dirt or a 1/5th mile or Mid Ohio, it’s all about Motorsports.”

Boos was asked whether all of the state promoters would come together for the greater good. “I think you will have the typical sit back and wait and see what’s in it for me type, but the time is now,” said Boos. “The alarm clock went off and this is a wake up call. The problems are real. You have Wayne County, you have Deerfield, you have US 35 Raceway, they all have impending legal action against them and we just cannot afford to have precedence set at any of these facilities.”

(And, it appears as this is being written the new Moler Raceway Park here in Ohio has come under the gun by local residents with threats of possible legislation and lawsuits being tossed around.)

So what are the new organization’s goals for 2007 and beyond?

“Our goal in the future is to create not necessary a lobbying force but a contingency that can be aware of impending issues and then making our voice heard and to just create a show of unity of Motorsports throughout the state of Ohio. And I think we’ll implement the name that was voted on, to make it more encompassing to the Ohio Motorsports Council.”

“And then our long range plans are obviously strength in numbers. The business end will be handled by the track operators’ representatives and the plan is to create some associate programs where race fans can join as well and let the legislatures know we are for real.”

“Another goal and I think is an important one, is an economic impact study and a lot of tracks are already doing that and the numbers are staggering. You put that together with 30 or 40 motorsports operations throughout the state I think it will definitely going to wake up legislators.”

As stated previously, many problems facing race tracks aren’t exclusive to the Buckeye state and to that end Boos and the other members are quite willing to share information with other promoters across the country who may be interested in forming their own organization.

“Oh definitely because the problems aren’t only statewide but nationwide,” commented Boos. “Ronnie Drager is the representative of the Michigan Speedway Promoters Association and they have already forwarded to us copies of their guidelines and of their last meeting and things they have done and what their goals are.”

“I think the overall goals are to create first, from state organization, to a regional and a national council as well. The days of going out to the field of dreams into the cornfield or backyard and building a racetrack and expecting people to come on Saturday, it is no longer going to happen. NFL didn’t get strong without organization. The NBA, golf, anything successful is organized. And again, no one is going to try and tell anyone how to run their business, that is the last thing we want to do.”

Might want to look over your shoulder, you never know who may be coming after your local track next.

NOTE: For additional information on the Ohio Motorsports Council contact Boos at: (mail@eldoraspeedway.com)



Dean Alexander: 41 Years Of Winning!

From 2003: There are dirt Late Model racers out there who, at age 41, wonder how many years they have left in their racing careers. That hasn’t been too much of a worry for 60-year-old grandfather Dean Alexander.

          He’s raced for 42 years before calling it a day although he is still involved as a parts & chassis distributor and owner of Alexander’s Racing Bodies. And you never know when Alexander could slip the helmet on and strap in.

          This story was written in 2003 during Alexander’s last active year as a racer.

          It all started when a then 18-year-old Alexander climbed into an open-wheel ‘Modified’, a forerunner of today’s Sprint Cars, at Holmes Hilltop Speedway near Millersburg, OH. He had spent his younger years chasing racing with his father at the now long-closed Ashland Fairgrounds Raceway and Olivesburg Speedway.

          “Back in ’62 we had one division and there were always 50-70 cars,” recalled Alexander, who resides near Orrville, OH with his wife of 42 years, Barb. “I was thrilled when I made the feature, but I sure was scared!”

        

          Alexander continued racing at Hilltop, as well as Lakeview (now Lakeville), Mansfield and other venues. When Wayne County Speedway opened on June 26, 1965, Alexander was there. And he’s been there ever since.

          Alexander raced open wheelers through most of the 1960’s. During the latter stages of the decade he began to race Late Models, as their popularity began to soar. Beginning in 1967, when Wayne County went two two nights a week, one night with open wheelers and the next with Late Models, Alexander raced in both classes each weekend. At the end of the decade when the track went back to one night per week operation, many times Alexander could be found competing in both divisions on the same night. And winning.

          During this time Alexander began racking up the wins in both divisions. One night he set fast time, won the dash, heat, pursuit and feature. Before 1970 hit Alexander had established himself as one of central Ohio’s toughest dirt track competitors in any type of racecar.

          During that era Alexander drove for owners like Newt Fergeson, Harry Kane, Clyde Shoup and occasionally Pete Jacobs, founder of Wayne County Speedway and father of famed Ohio 60’s racer Ken ‘Jake’ Jacobs and grandfather of currently well-known Sprint Car stars Kenny, Bud and Dean Jacobs. “Whenever Pete would get mad at Jake (Ken), he would put me in the car,” related Alexander with a knowing smile.

          Soon after the start of the 1970’s Alexander began to race Late Models full time, although he competed in numerous Sprint Car events around Ohio, including many sanctioned events, until around 1975. The wins continued.

          Over the years Alexander has raced with, and won against, the likes of David Pearson, Tiny Lund, Tim Richmond, Bobby Allison and Ralph Quarterson on the dirt in both Sprints and Late Models. He has raced in five different decades (and in two different centuries and two different millenniums!). And over the years he has also competed and won against dirt stars like Butch Hartman, Bob Wearing, Sr., Danny Dean, Bob Cannon, Charlie Swartz, John Mason, Brad Malcuit, Jim Dunn, Delmas Conley, Jim Gentry, Tom Jarrett, Glenn Gault, Blaine Aber and scores of others. During much of the 70’s and 80’s Alexander got around quite a bit visiting several of the states surrounding Ohio and was a regular fixture at Pennsboro during most of the 80’s.

          During his career Alexander has accumulated nearly 200 wins and an incredible 16 point titles, mid-season and season championships honors. You want career consistency? Alexander has been in the top five in points 30 times at Mansfield, Lakeville, Wayne County and Coshocton.

          So do any special wins really stand out when Alexander looks back on his long career?

          “Every win is special,” he says. “One night over 30 years ago Joe Carney and I tied for the win in the feature and we both carried the checkered flag. But my greatest night is when my son Chet won his first feature nine years ago. I had to choke back tears.

          Dean & Barb have two grown sons, Chet and Denny. Chet has had an extremely successful dirt Late Model career for nearly a decade now driving the entire time for long-time family friend, Mark Nussbaum. Chet’s oldest son, Chase, 16, serves as Grandpa’s crew chief, and is likely a third-generation racer sometime soon.

          Dean Alexander and his famous #16 has raced at a wide variety of tracks over the years, including Eldora, Volusia, Pennsboro, Attica, Elkins, PPMS, Mt. Vernon, St. Clairsville, Atomic (KC), Coshocton and dozens more. He has competed in events sanctioned by NDRA, STARS, All Stars, UMP, PROS, USAC, Sunoco ALMS and MACS. He has seen the evolution of Late Models from the home-built, junkyard supplied racers through the wedge era to today’s version of dirt Late Models. And he has won in every incarnation.

          And he is not without his opinions.

          “I think the local tracks have to put an engine limit in their rules, like a 358,” stated Alexander. “A tire rule is good if you would limit the compounds to two choices. “What I dislike the most about racing is that the promoters will not get together and set rules to cut costs.”

          In Ohio Dean Alexander means winning and history. He has legions of fans, always has, and one of his biggest fans is longtime historian, former Wayne County and Lakeville announcer, and current Race Director for the Renegade Dirt Car Series, Bret Emrick, who, like this reporter, grew up watching Alexander in action.

“Dean Alexander, man, around here in north central Ohio that name has been heard for years,” offers Emrick, with his trademark smile. “My first recollection of watching Dean race was at Lakeville Speedway when I was a kid. Dean, Jim Gentry, Lloyd Wirt, Danny Dean…. those guys were tough! I must admit I was a Gentry fan as a kid so I was always disappointed when the #16 (Alexander) finished ahead of the #14 (Gentry) (laughs)!”

“Back in the 60’s at Lakeville the crowd was either Dean Alexander fans or Jim Gentry fans. Sure, there were Danny Dean and Lloyd Wirt fans but Dean and Jim were the two favorites. And, those two had some classic battles!”

“I really never knew Dean until I started to do the announcing at Lakeville and then later on at Buckeye Speedway, now Wayne County Speedway. And, you know what. After meeting Dean and getting to know him the mental image I had of Dean as a kid was quickly erased. Being a Gentry fan as a kid I always thought Dean was the one with the ‘black hat’. You know, the bad guy. But, I can honestly say Dean is a great human being!”

“Sure, he wasn’t afraid to mix it up every now and then on the track. But, you had to give him his due. The man was one of the best racers this area has ever produced. And, he would do anything he could to help out his fellow racers and the younger kids who were just starting. And, even though he doesn’t race much any more he still does the same thing. I don’t know how many stories I’ve heard from the area racers of how Dean Alexander really helped them when they needed it. Parts, advice or just plain encouragement. He has helped so many of today’s racers from this area.”

Emrick is one of hundreds who can testify to seeing, hearing and experiencing what perhaps could be Alexander’s greatest skill: joke teller. Perhaps it comes with the turf of being a tavern owner but Alexander could have easily fit in with the Rat Pack in Vegas around the time he started racing. His encyclopedic memory of jokes is truly amazing. And legion. He could have been a success in Hollywood.

“Dean sometimes will stop by the office to chat and you know that the conversation is going to start with a joke,” chuckles Emrick. “Dean just absolutely loves to tell jokes. Since this is a family publication I can’t repeat most of them (laughs)!  And, I’ve seen some of the practical jokes he’s pulled on people. Wow!”

“I really have the utmost respect for Dean Alexander. Great racer, great family man and just a plain, salt of the earth good person. I guess if you wanted to come up with a phrase to describe Dean Alexander the best would be: just a regular guy who was one hell of a racer!”

          Alexander spent years confounding the “big boys”, like Moran, Boggs and Swartz, and the regulars at his current stomping grounds, Wayne County and Lakeville. And he has considerable respect for several racers. “Bob Wearing, Sr., is almost a hero of mine,” revealed Alexander. “He’s a friend, a nice guy and a winner. He’s got over 500 wins, after all.”

          “Keith Berner is the smartest racer in the area, and a good friend.”

          When asked who has been the toughest competition year in and year out over the course of his long career, Alexander never hesitating in responding with, “Eph Davis years ago and then Jim Gentry. Gentry is a real hard charger.”

          Drivers from all across the region rely on Alexander’s advice. Besides being a tavern owner he is a Rocket Chassis distributor and proprietor of Alexander’s Budget Bodies, who adorn dirt Late Models all over central Ohio.

          “You’re always learning,” reflected the friendly, and popular, driver. “I still learn from different people. I listen, but you have to think for yourself. Wearing, Bob Cannon and Bob Dickerson are a couple who I learned from.”

          Despite having a 37-year streak of a minimum of two wins per season broken a couple seasons back, the wins still come for Alexander who has admittedly slowed down some off the track. These days it’s just like it was 40 years ago, all for the fun of it. Some nights he and Chase might haul down to Lakeville, or maybe wait and go to Wayne County on Saturday night. If perchance, at the anointed time to head out for the track arrives, and Alexander suddenly gets a hankering to eat a big steak with Barb at a nice air-conditioned restaurant instead, the racecar sits. But when Alexander gets his #1a Rocket Chassis on the track and the green waves, it’s thermo-nuclear throttle-stomping in one of the smoothest styles being practiced today.

          He may be self-admittedly “old”, but the old guy is still hungry once the helmet comes on.

          Alexander is pensive about retirement.

          “As for how long, who knows?” states Alexander. “I really like spending time with my grandchildren and racing isn’t the priority it once was.”

          For years a reporter would ask Alexander each season how long he would race, and usually the cagey Alexander would always imply that it was it his last year as a racer, year after year, and always with his trademark wink. The reporter finally came to the blunt and brutal conclusion that Alexander would quit racing entirely when they pulled his cold, dead fingers off the steering wheel. He isn’t really kidding anyone. Even if he doesn’t race week in and week out, people all across central Ohio could never get used to not seeing Dean Alexander at some track at some point in the season. It just wouldn’t feel “right”. Besides, Alexander has tons of fans at area tracks and sells tickets.

          Alexander is pretty casual, modest and nonchalant about his long and impressive career that has seen dirt Late Model racing evolve from one extreme to another. But stop and think. He has battled the likes of Allison, Richmond, Lund, Pearson, Quarterson, Jan Opperman, Rick Ferkel, Kenny Weld, Lynn Paxton, Butch Hartman, Bob Cowen, Jim Dunn, Jim Gentry, Jeff Purvis, Larry Moore, Bob Wearing, Sr., Jack Boggs and Donnie Moran, among the hundreds of other local and regional racers over the years. And how many have raced against Charlie Swartz in both a Sprint Car and a Late Model?

          There have been racers who have won more than Alexander but not many will be able to match him in cherished memories.

©2003-2008 Doc Lehman/Dirt America



Jim Gentry: The Return Of A Great One

From 2001: Jim Gentry started racing in mid-summer 1965 and has never really looked back. Each and very week Gentry would haul off to tracks and race and, more often than not, win. Once the 1980’s rolled around Gentry continued to win features and track championships and then took to the road with the STARS series. Spending almost five or six years on the road with STARS brought him the STARS Rookie of the Year title and a STARS win among other honors. But once 1998 came around, Jim Gentry made a decision.

In 1998 Gentry shocked the racing community in Ohio when he announced he was stepping away from the driver’s seat for awhile. After 33 years of championship, winning seasons, Gentry was stepping away from the driver’s seat full time to devote all his time, energy and resources to launching the career of his then-18 year old son, J.R. Gentry. It was the kid’s time, reasoned Gentry. Still at the top of his game, people were shocked and dismayed when Gentry decided to call it a day.

 
Since then Gentry’s son, J.R., has took off and is well on his way to becoming a star. During J.R.’s first season as a Late Model racer in 1999 he won the Rookie of the Year titles at both Wayne County Speedway and Lakeville Speedway and scored his career first feature win at a big, season ending special at Lakeville. During 2000, J.R. came back and won two more features and finished the year out fifth in Wayne County points and second in the Lakeville championship hunt.

 
With his son well on his way, Jim Gentry began thinking the thoughts!

 
Could he? Should he? Would he?

 
You bet ‘cha!

By the 2001 season Jim Gentry was back in a dirt Late Model, although not full time, but as part of a two-car team running in tandem with his son. And that’s the way it’s been since, driving on occasion (and winning!) but first and foremost making sure his son was equipped with everything he needed. In fact, in 2004 the elder Gentry only raced once, subbing for car builder Mike Geiss one night. But it kept his streak alive of racing every year since 1965.

But that’s all about to change.

With son J.R. Gentry joining Drown Racing and running their second team car, the seat of Gentry Racing Team’s #14 was left vacant for 2005. But now that car has a full time driver as Jim Gentry makes his return to full time racing.

 
It was a decision not made in haste. Despite some recent changes in Gentry’s life, the competitive juices still flow and with the support from so many, and the desire to compete, Gentry nonetheless contemplated the situation, the circumstances and the future. He decided to go for it.

Gentry, of Wooster, OH was and still is, one of Ohio’s greatest dirt Late Model racers. Starting his career in 1965, Gentry over the years rose to the top of Ohio’s ranks as a dirt racer. As the seasons passed he accumulated 21 Season and Mid-Season Championship and Season Points Championship titles at three different tracks, won nearly 200 features, and spent many years, particularly in the 1980’s, on the STARS circuit touring the country and finishing in the STARS top ten points chase several times. In 1987 he won the STARS Rookie of the Year title, the same season he won his career first STARS feature. He came back in 1988 and won the STARS Hard Charger Award. Throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s Gentry traveled and seen it all, from Ohio to Maryland to Alabama to Illinois to Michigan and most points between. Gentry also became one of Ohio’s masters of chassis setup, thanks, in part, to his long time association with Charlie Swartz and his own desire to experiment and innovate.

Gentry will run a GDI Race Car out of the Mike Giess shop.

“We’ll run the Big Four Series at Lakeville and then run at Wayne County Speedway, maybe venture to Muskingum,” explained Gentry. “Everyone is pushing me. This is one of J.R.’s deals. The only way he would go to Drown’s is if I would put a car together and drive it. He says this is supposed to help the money situation but I don’t see where it is. I want to get out there, don’t get me wrong. I’m probably in the best shape I have ever been in.”

“I only ran once last year. I jumped in it once last year, didn’t get to hot lap the car or anything, just got in and ran a heat race. Mike (Giess) got sick and I jumped in it. It was one of those deals where he changed the car all around and it didn’t get back on the scales. Mike did a lot of experimenting last year and he is a car builder and if you don’t try different things you’ll never find anything to work.”

For years and years Gentry had a loyal and dedicated crew and most of them have enthusiastically committed to coming back to support Gentry. Experienced pros like Steve Jacquet, Donnie Beckler, Larry Harper, Larry Beckler and Mark Harper.

“If it wasn’t for the pit crew, every one of them has been pushing this and (Gentry’s girlfriend) Jenni (Babb) is too. I still want to do it but I don’t think I’ll run for points, but you never know. It depends on the money. But Donnie Beckler, Steve Jacquet, Denny Ackers of course, they’ll all be helping. Probably Larry Beckler and more of the Beckler family and of course Mike Giess and Jenni.”

As for sponsors Gentry Automotive, GDI Enterprises and Reedy Racing Engines are already signed and the search for more continues. “No major sponsors but we’re looking though,” added Gentry.

There is little doubt Gentry will be an extremely valuable resource of technical expertise to GDI Race Cars. Having known Gentry for close to 40 years, I mentioned that he had probably forgotten more than a lot of drivers he will be competing against will learn.

 
“Well, Charlie Swartz told me about 20 years ago, he said, Jim, forget everything you’ve learned up to this point about race cars and setting them up,” explained Gentry. “This an all new ballgame. Start here and go forward with these new race cars. That’s what Charlie said back then and he was right. And it’s the same now. You’ve got to forget a lot of that stuff. You can’t keep going back to the same old set-ups because it doesn’t work. The cars change so much and the technology.”

 
“Even now, the front suspension, ‘A’ arms, degrees, spindles, shocks, springs, that’s where it’s all at now. It’s not so much chassis. We’ve done a lot of experimenting with shocks and springs. Some of the guys laughed at us for what we were running. One of the guys who’s number one and sells racecar parts told us if it works, do it! So we did it and it works. Everybody drives different and their styles are different.”

Gentry has gathered many admirers over the seasons.

“I may be a bit prejudiced with this but as a kid, Jim was my favorite driver,” explained well-known announcer and p.r. guru Bret Emrick. “Growing up at Lakeville Speedway in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Jim was the man. That brown #14 Chevrolet was the one to beat. He and Dean (Alexander), Blaine (Aber) and Lloyd Wirt had some classic battles. Jim was definitely one of the best shoes this area has ever produced. Jim was a smooth driver and a smart driver. He’d pressure a guy into a mistake and then take advantage of it.”

“And, that race car was always fast. Jim could hold his own against the invaders when the big shows came to town. Especially at Orrville. Every track has a ‘local’ that can handle the ‘big boys’. At Orrville Jim was that guy. I always thought Jim could be a ‘traveler’ and do well. And, when he started driving for Jack Meredith and family they got him on the road and Jim did well. Real well. It’s just too bad that in the 1970’s Jim never got that chance.”

“I don’t know Jim all that well but do consider him a friend. Jim is a down to earth person. And, I know that family is important to him. His dad was always his biggest supporter and those two were inseparable at the tracks. Jim did the same for J.R. and the kid is going pretty good right now. I know Jim likes to have fun. I’ve seen Jim and Dean try and out do each other with jokes and stories. You know as well as I do those two are some of the best ‘bench racers’ in our area (laughs)!”

But for the time being competitors better be ready, Even as he approaches age 58 dirt Late Model racers throughout Ohio know that Jim Gentry is one of the great ones who has probably forgotten more than many drivers have learned. With a huge fan base to still to this day promoters are happy to see Gentry return full bore for the season.

“Personally speaking, Jim was my hero growing up as well as my two sisters,” commented Tina Heil, General Manager of Wayne County Speedway. “We couldn’t wait for kids night so we could ride on his car.  He’s still a role model to young people that have the desire to be a race car driver one day!”

“It’s an honor that Jim would rather race here at Wayne County Speedway than any other track.  He calls it his home and we’re proud of that.  We just hope he’ll continue to race with us for many years to come.”

“I guess I’m really fired up but I guess I’m not cause the money isn’t really there yet,” commented Gentry. “I didn’t want to go out half assed, I want to go out with everything I should have so I can have a better showing. I don’t care what anyone says it takes money. I’d say the money is 60% (laughs)! And your driver and your luck, you make you own luck.”

One thing is for certain and that is the fans have gotten a huge dose of luck. Lucky that Gentry is back full time!

(c)2001-2008 Doc Lehman




DAVE LEDFORD: Still Winning After All These Years

  From 2001: Dave Ledford proved two Friday nights ago that sometimes, talent will get you wins. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter that you don’t have a huge, high-dollar enclosed rig, or the newest, innovative chassis, or the highest-tech, top of the line five-figure, state of the art engine. Sometimes just good old-fashioned skill, talent and desire will bring home a checkered flag.

      Last Friday night Dave Ledford proved that.

      Starting on the pole, Ledford dropped the hammer when the green flag waved and never looked back as he blistered the surface at Lakeville Speedway, leading all the laps to take his career first Late Model win over defending track champion Charlie Duncan, Randy Scott, Rick Bond, Mike Mizer and Dave Wirt. Despite several cautions, Ledford only needed a lap or two to stretch his lead to a comfortable level as he set sail for the finish line over a stout field of drivers and equipment. It was a popular, and satisfying win for the veteran racer who, when one looks hard, is probably lucky to be racing.

      A couple years ago Ledford didn’t know if he was even going to be around.

      A couple years ago a work accident evolved into a serious, life-threatening illness for the 44 year old husband and father who subsequently underwent numerous surgeries and procedures. To say that Ledford’s lot in life had turned grim would understate the matter. Ledford was seriously ill and his long racing career was put on hold. In fact, during the period of his illness, Ledford’s racing career was thought be over.

      But through the hard work of his surgeon, doctors, his devoted wife, Barb, and the grace of God, Ledford recovered and was finally able to put his life back in order. But by that time most of his equipment was sold and, for all intents and purposed, Ledford was out of the racing business.

      As his health returned Ledford, who previous to becoming sick assisted local businessman and former racer Tom Sines with his racing team, who had Kenny Alexander as the driver, returned to the tracks and the pits. With his strength returning, and the desire, Sines decided he was more or less done fielding race teams. Being longtime friends, Sines, who owns Sines Enterprises where Ledford worked at the time, called Ledford one day and told him to come pick up all his equipment. Sell it or race it, it didn’t matter to him.

      With three Late Models sitting in his garage, Ledford put a Mastersbilt together last year and ran a handful of events at Wayne County Speedway. At the start of the 2001 season, Ledford decided to call Lakeville Speedway home and began running there weekly. And doing quite well. As the weeks have rolled by it’s pretty obvious that the Dave Ledford of old was back, running up front and having fun.

      “I knew I had to get away fast and stay away from them,” stated Ledford when asked about his victory. “I never thought it was going to end. It seemed like 50 laps! It’s hard to believe this car can still do it. It was cruising. Just got it to the ground. It was hooked!”

      After returning to his pit from victory lane, Ledford was swamped with well-wishing drivers, crew members and friends.

      What was so hard for Ledford, and others, to believe about the car was the fact that Ledford’s #1s Mastersbilt is a ten year old car!

      When Ledford decided to go racing, he took the Mastersbilt to the shop of fellow racer Bob Eicholtz and they switched the car over to a bar car.

      Being one of the last of the “old school”, Ledford has seen and done it all just about, and with his new attitude towards racing, which is more relaxed and non chalant, Ledford knows the cars capabilities and limits. Besides, Ledford is one of those racers who does his work during the week in the garage.

      Prior to racing, and even hotlaps, I approached Ledford in the pits at Lakeville as found him and his crewmen, Brian Brammer and Jim Marr, taking a break in the back of their truck while the other teams pitted around them swarmed about their cars changing tires, shocks, springs and whatever else needed attention. Ledford casually sat back and sipped a Pepsi in the shade.

      When it was time for Late Model hotlaps, the cars all pulled into the staging area while Ledford sat comfortably in his truck watching. When a fellow racer asked Ledford if he was coming out for hotlaps, Ledford shrugged and said why bother? I know what it will do. I have it where it needs to be. Why waste fuel? Later he took third in the first heat race and parked the car until feature time. Sending crew member Brian to the pit office to pull his pill for his starting spot, Ledford was slated to start pole. The rest is history.

      “I don’t see the need to keep changing things all the time,” explained Ledford. “I like to get the car comfortable with one setup and just drive the car and get used to it. Sometimes you can outthink yourself. When we get here we got the car already ready and you see all the guys thrashing on their cars. But you know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get so much and that’s it. I don’t even work on the car at the track unless something happens.”

      One other amazing fact about Ledford’s win was his motor.

      Surrounded by high-dollar Malcuit’s, Draime’s and other high profile brands, Ledford took his win using an eight year old steel block McClelland Racing Engine that he was able to stick to the ground.

      “It’s old,” understated Ledford when asked about his motor. “It’s a McClelland motor. All steel, GM bowtie stuff. It’s eight years old and Bob (McClelland) is tickled. He has built me some good motors. He can still build good motors. That’s the motor Bob originally built for Fred Bonecutter. Bob’s a good guy. I got two of his motors that ran good. McClelland always made me good power. I was never lacking for power. Even this little motor here, I think it helps with the tire rule. I don’t overpower the tires.”

      Lakeville Speedway uses a Goodyear tire for their track tire rule and Ledford was one of those against it when it was first introduced. But since making Lakeville his weekly track, he has changed his way of thinking.

      “I didn’t like the tire rule,” offered Ledford. “I swore I’d never buy them. Until this year. And riding home with the guys you look back on that trailer and you have maybe eight or ten tires with you. And two or three years ago we’d have a three row tire rack and the truck full of tires and you’d still not have enough once you got there. Maybe the tire rule is a better deal than what I thought. I won’t lie, I was against it. I didn’t like it and I didn’t care for it. But now, like I said, looking at the trailer you’re not hauling 36 tires with you.”

      Ledford’s #1s (he ran the #11 for most of two decades) Mastersbilt is sponsored by Sines Enterprises, Gary’s Drive-Thru, Global Plastics, B&T Holdings, K-RaCe Racing Photos, Smitley Towing and Justice Brothers. Brian Brammer is his crewman.

      Ledford has a long and successful career. Starting out back in the 1970’s in what was called the Charger division, which was a Limited Late Model class, Ledford’s first full season was in 1975 in which he claimed the Wayne County Speedway track championship. Over the next several years Ledford dominated the division, winning three track championships, setting numerous track records and often pulling hat tricks on many nights, sweeping every event each night.

      Ledford’s desire to race was so great, that he fudged a little his first night out after being a fan for many years.

      When Wayne County first opened in 1965, he spent weekends watching the races and grew up itching for the time when he would get a chance to run wide open with some of the best area racers.

      In 1973 his stepfather, Blaine Wilson, bought a 1957 Ford to run at WCS’s Limited Late Model class. Helping to build the car and then serving as a crewman gave Ledford his first real taste of fumes and competition. He was hooked.

      It also gave him a chance to pester his stepfather to let him get behind the wheel and in which he eventually succeeded, the vocal protests of his mother notwithstanding.

      It was one night in 1974. With a firesuit hidden behind the seat of Wilson’s truck, the pair headed for Lakeville Speedway and Ledford’s debut as a driver.

      What no one other than his stepfather knew, he was underage and did not have a written release from his mother, as if he could have gotten one.

      Luck looked like it was riding on Ledford’s shoulder. Ledford started in his first race in the pole position.

      “Everyone in the pits told me I should start tail, but hey, I was starting first,” Ledford remembered. “When the green flag dropped the guy behind me caught my bumper, spun me around, and I was hit on all sides of the car by the oncoming traffic. Luckily, the car was still able to run, so they put me on the tail for the restart and I finished fifth.”

      The car, however, was a wreck. The next year, with a new Chevelle, a new motor, and an 18th birthday under his belt making him legal, Ledford began his first full year racing at Wayne County and Lakeville.

      And it was that first year that the wins, championships and track records first started coming his way.

      “We won a lot of (Limited Late Model) races, especially in ’78 and ’79,” recalled Ledford. “We were on top. That’s when I was with my stepfather, Blaine Wilson. I wouldn’t know what I know about racing if it wasn’t for Blaine. We were together for 20 years. For 20 years he stuck by me.”

      In fact, for a few seasons in the Limited Late Model class at various tracks throughout Central Ohio, the dominant drivers were Ledford, Keith Berner, Bert Bailey and Jim Cushing. And the wins rolled in during the 70’s and early 80’s. Wayne County, Lakeville, Mansfield, Coshocton. Ledford, on most nights, especially at Wayne County, was the man to beat.

      By the mid-80’s Ledford was racing full blown Late Models off and on, usually fielding cars as he partnered with his stepfather. He also spent a couple years racing Late Models for Bob Croskey.

      While no wins in Late Models came his way, Ledford spent the 80’s and early 90’s running consistently with many top three and top five finishes. His spent many years in the final top ten in points at WCS and Lakeville. During a period that lasted a couple years, Ledford drove for Tom Peters, running his Limited Late Model at WCS but taking it to Lakeville each week to compete against the full blown Late Models. One year Ledford finished third in Lakeville’s Late Model points running a Limited Late model.

      Ledford also spent several years doing more traveling, racing all around Ohio as well as West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Pennsboro Speedway was a regular stop for Ledford for several years and during the latter part of the 80’s and early 90’s, Ledford was also a frequent visitor at STARS events, making many of the sanctioned events over the years. He also traveled to Florida for several years competing in various SPEEDWEEK events.

      After being laid up from work and racing during his serious, long illness, Ledford slowly came back into racing by assisting drivers like Don Gross and Kenny Alexander, who was sponsored by Sines and which led to Ledford’s current situation.

      “This car, Tom wrecked it, then went and bought the Balzano car that’s in the garage. I was going to put it back together but never did. I started helping Kenny when I was working for Tom and somehow I ended up in the driver’s seat.”

      “None of this would be possible without Tom Sines. Even with my bad health and everything, Tom helped me a lot. Tom’s been, from day one, good to me. Never pushed me hard. When I was building those two cars for him and helping Kenny, Tom paid all the bills and paid me my wages. When I got hurt at work, from day one he helped me. Helped my wife and kids while I was sick. It was two years and a month when I had my last surgery. Even when I quit working for him he let me keep the cars and run them.”

      During our conversation we reflected on how time shave changed for the now veteran racer. Ledford now drives against many of the sons of fellow racers and we both get a chuckle when we see their fresh and invigorating energy and excitement. Ledford spent his fair share of years eating, breathing and living racing. He has had his share of bad years, good years and championship years. He spent time and resources throughout the years improving his program and making strides as well as keeping up with the new technology.

      But times have changed somewhat. While the fire still burns redhot and deep, Ledford’s racing has been scaled back to more manageable means. And that’s the way he wants it. He just wants to have some fun racing without as many pressures and demands. And it’s working out. Even with his older equipment, Ledford makes the shows and has had some pretty impressive runs. Just two weeks prior to his win he scored a second.

      “We’re just having fun one night a week and spending time with my family,” said Ledford, who has been married to Barb for 21 years and with whom he has a daughter, Missy, 17, and a son, Davey, 6.

“Being sick changed all that. I’d rather spend time with my family. Racing is still important and I love racing. But I realize now I don’t have the financial backing to get out there and go. I’d love to do that. But I realize now I’ve got the best of both worlds. I can spend a lot of time with my family and still race, too.”

      “It’s a lot less pressure, too. I used to get all involved in the points battle and everything. Had to finish in the top ten in points every year. Just had to do that! In any division I was in I had to do that. But anymore I don’t get caught up in that. I take it as it comes. I realize there is a lot of young stars out there and they’re headhunting. They’ve got the energy and they’re going for it. I was that way. When I was younger that was it. That was life. Nothing else mattered. You worked cause that was what kept you going, but the racing was a lot more important (laughs)!”

      But through nearly entire span of his career, there has been one constant in Dave Ledford’s driving career. His wife, Barb. Barb Ledford, a devoted wife and mother as there is, has been her husband’s biggest supporter and staunchest fan. Barb Ledford is one of those special women who loyalty and devotion to her husband’s racing is the envy of others.

      “My wife, man, I wouldn’t know how to say it all right,” an emotional Ledford commented. “She’s just the most wonderful, most supportive person I know. I’m a lucky man. I could have never done what I was lucky enough to do in racing without her. She has been there every step of the way in more ways than one. And not even with racing. She’s a hell of a woman and a good wife and mother. I’m lucky. Real lucky.”

      So after a fairly dark period, things are looking good for Dave Ledford. His family is well, his kids are supportive and adore him, and he’s racing with no pressure, no fuss, no muss. Simple. Uncomplicated. Fun.

      And even a win thrown in.

      Dave Ledford is, indeed, a lucky man.

      And a deserving man.

 

©2001-2008 DOC LEHMAN/Dirt America!




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