By Brian Liskai
FREMONT, Ohio - Fremont Speedway has seen some of the best drivers in the history of motorsports compete on its clay surface. "The Track That Action Built" has a historic part of the sport of automobile racing in the United States and is excitement continues in 2009 as racing is in its 58th season. To recognize those whose shoulders today's racers and fans stand, 17 members will be inducted into the newly created Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame during ceremonies prior to racing on June 6.
Special plaques will highlight the racing careers of the 17 inductees and will be housed in a beautiful case for fans to view under the historic covered grandstands.
The 17 to be inducted in the first hall of fame class are: Gug Keegan, Darl Harrison, Jim McCune, Rollie Beale, John Auxter, George Fosco, Jim Linder, Paul Strasser, Art Ball, Herbie Robison, Alvin Franks, Wendell Smith, Gene Notestine, Dorothy Shilling, Harold McGilton, Harold Billow and Jim Ford.
"When Rich Farmer and Andy James took over the promoting of Fremont Speedway, both were aware of the historic significance of the track. We began talking about ways to honor that great past and those who made the speedway what it is today. We decided it was time to form the hall of fame," said Brian Liskai, track announcer and public relations director.
"It took just one phone call to Randy Mapus... he knows the history of the speedway and those who helped create it and he has worked very hard to make this a reality. The hall of fame could not have happened if it weren't for Randy," added Liskai. "Our plan is to induct a handful of individuals during special ceremonies each racing season."
"When I started making phone calls to the inductees and their families...the response has been overwhelming. Everyone is excited and honored. There will be lots of my boyhood heroes at Fremont Speedway on June 6. That will be one heck of a good time...talking about all the old days of racing. The stories these people have to tell... it is literally the history of racing," said Mapus.
Following is a look at the racing careers of the 17 inductees into the Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame:
"Gentleman" Johnny Auxter. Auxter was one of the first drivers to compete at Fremont in 1951. Besides his nine career feature wins at Fremont Speedway, he was the 1972 track champion. He has competed at over 200 different race tracks during his career, including the sands of Daytona Beach. Auxter started racing in a 1937 Ford. But most race fans remember Auxter in the maroon and white #12 roaster in the mid-1960s. When Auxter bought a sprint car in the early 1970s, it carried the familiar colors and numbers. Auxter has literally raced all over the country on dirt and asphalt. He has also had hall of fame drivers behind the wheel of his cars including Darl Harrison. Auxter was recently inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame in Anderson, Ind.
Art Ball. Ball has the most feature wins in the history of Fremont Speedway. His 48-year driving career - he is still racing dirt trucks at Fremont, and recorded his 70th career victory earlier this season - has seen him record nearly 300 victories. Ball has raced sprint cars, late models and dirt trucks at Fremont Speedway. He was the track's 1973 and 1975 late model champion.
Rollie Beale. Beal is 11th on Fremont Speedway's all-time win list with 31 victories. He was the 1963 super modified track champion. Beal went on to win a United States Auto Club sprint car championship in 1973. He has raced all over the country and has taken wins in the Little 500 and many USAC events. After retiring from driving in 1977, Beale became an official with USAC. He was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1996.
Harold Billow. Billow had one of the first race cars in the Fremont area and one of the first to compete at the Sandusky County Fairgrounds. Billow's fist foray into automobile racing was in 1945, when he owned a 1933 Ford carrying the #B17. His first driver was Don Rathbun. Billow was one of the founders of Sandusky Speedway which was a sand surface the first year. Billow was also very instrumental in getting tracks started at Fremont and Attica. Billow continued to own cars through 1965. Other drivers were Vern Myers, Don Keckler, Harold McGilton, Lou Ringle, Dick Christy, John Auxter and Dick Christy.
George Fosco. Fosco recorded 14 career wins at Fremont Speedway and was the super modified track champion in 1957. He raced all over the area on both dirt and asphalt and is a former Sandusky Speedway champion. Today, Fosco competes in long-distance running events.
Alvin Franks. Franks began racing in 1959 with a 1937 Ford. His first feature win was in his second year of racing at a track near Tiffin.He won a championship at the old Attica track. Franks is 9th on the all-time feature win list at Fremont Speedway with 34 victories. He was Fremont's super modified champion in 1966, 1968 and 1971. He won the Millstream (Findlay) track title in 1972. After retiring from driving, Franks opened a machine and welding shop and build many race cars in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Jimmie Ford. Ford began racing at Fremont in 1954 and raced through 1971. His biggest win came during the Fremont Speedway fair race in 1968. He had two career feature wins at Fremont. After retiring from driving, Ford owned sprint cars through 1986, and his drivers won over 60 features. His son, Randy drove the family's #10 to the Fremont Speedway track championship in 1986. Perhaps his greatest racing legacy began in 2000 when he convinced the Sandusky County Fair Board to allow him to promote Fremont Speedway which was in danger of closing for good. Ford brought "The Track That Action Built" back to life, and he retired from the promotion of the speedway in 2007.
Darl Harrison. Harrison has 19 career feature wins at Fremont Speedway and was the track's super modified champion in 1960, 1961 and 1962. He won the Little 500 three times and was the United States Auto Club rookie of the year in 1971. He was IMCA champion in 1969. He is also a member of the Little 500 Hall of Fame.
Gug Keegan. Keegan began his racing career in 1954 with a 1934 Ford. Keegan dominated the racing scene at Fremont and other area tracks in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He racked up 62 career wins at Fremont and is second on the all-time win list. He was the 1954 strickly stock champion at Fremont and the 1955 sportsman division champion. Keegan won the 1967, 1974 and 1975 track titles in the super modifieds/sprints. Perhaps what makes his accomplishments even more special is that Keegan built all of his own race cars.
Jim Linder. Linder is fourth on the all-time win list at Fremont Speedway with 58 victories. He was the super modified/sprint car track champion in 1965, 1969, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1983 and 1984. At one time in the mid-1970s, Linder had won so many features at Fremont Speedway, a "bounty" was put on his head for any driver that could beat him. Linder was as comfortable on asphalt as he was on dirt. Always an innovator, Linder was not afraid to build and try different things on his race cars.
"Irish" Jim McCune. McCune was the 1958 and 1959 super modified track champion at Fremont and sits sixth on the track's all-time win list with 45 victories. Known for his colorful demeanor and aggressive driving, McCune is probably best remembered for his record-shattering victory in an Australian Pursuit race where he passed every car on the track in less than half a lap.
Like many drives of his day, McCune could race and win on both dirt and asphalt.
Harold "Mac" McGilton. McGilton started racing in 1956 in a Ford six-cylinder. During his outstanding career, McGilton recorded 40 feature wins at Fremont and is eighth on the track's all-time win list. He won Fremont's super modified championship in 1964 and the sprint title in 1970. McGilton won races all over Ohio against some of the best competition in the United States.
Gene Notestine. Notestine started racing in 1953 in a 1937 Ford coupe. Later, he teamed up with his brother-in-law Johnny Cook and they ran one of the most famous team car combinations in the area with the 6-ball and 8-ball cars. Notestine won three feature events at Fremont Speedway and was the track's strickly stock champion in 1953. But perhaps what he is best known for was being the track's flagman, starting in 1964 and continuing through the 1970s. He built a reputation as being a tough but fair flagman and was known as one of the best in the country.
Herbie Robison. Robison was Fremont Speedway's six-cylinder sportsman champion in 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962 and 1963. He has 54 career feature wins at the track and is fifth on the all-time victory list.
Dorothy "Dot" Shilling. Known as "the first lady of racing," Shilling and her husband Joe Stelter, along with Harry Manor, founded Fremont Speedway in 1951. Maynor sold his interest in the track to Frank Jensen in 1952 and Wayne Wall purchased an interest in 1953. Wall sold out in 1954, and Joe and Dot, along with Jensen, operated the track until 1957 when Don Emick purchased Jensen's stock. The Stelters and Emick continued to operate the track 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 race promoters in the country. Dot later married Paul Szakovits and he helped operate the track. Dot promoted the speedway until 1976.
Wendell Smith. Smith recorded 16 career feature wins at Fremont Speedway and was the track's first six-cylinder champion in 1957.
Paul Strasser. Strasser collected 20 feature wins at Fremont in the six-cylinder sportsman division.