By Brian Liskai
FREMONT, Ohio - Fremont Speedway is known throughout the United States for cultivating some of the best race drivers, crews and owners over its
59 year history. To pay tribute to those who helped put the "action" in "The Track that Action Built," the Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame was created in 2009. Ten individuals will make up the second class of inductees and they will be honored prior to the racing action on Saturday, June 5.
The new inductees in the Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame will be sprint drivers Johnny Beaber and Mark Keegan, super modified driver Jim Roepke, late model drivers De Genzman, Wally Heminger and Roy Sheets, race car owners Joe Sabo, Sonny Burmeister and Earl Lowe and former speedway announcer and promoter Gary Kern. They will join last year's inductees Gug Keegan, Darl Harrison, Jim McCune, Rollie Beale, John Auxter, George Fosco, Jim Linder, Paul Strasser, Art Ball, Herbie Robinson, Alvin Franks, Wendell Smith, Gene Notestine, Dorothy Shilling, Harold McGilton, Harold Billow and Jim Ford who were inducted last year.
"We're really excited to continue this tradition of honoring those who made Fremont Speedway one of the most recognized and honored dirt tracks in the country," said Brian Liskai, a member of the hall of fame committee and track announcer and public relations director. "Again, Randy Mapus was instrumental in creating the hall of fame and continues to work hard to make this a truly special recognition."
The hall of fame inductees will be immortalized on a special plaque that will be placed under the historic covered grandstands for fans to view.
Liskai said the hall of fame committee and Fremont Speedway Promoter Rich Farmer have been working hard to secure funding and plans to construct a building to permanently house the hall of fame and special displays.
"We are inching closer and closer to that dream...to have a facility for fans to tour and share their memories of the inductees and Fremont Speedway," said Liskai.
The induction ceremonies will begin at 3 p.m. on June 5, prior to the racing on Custom Chrome Plating Night. Family, friends and fans are invited to witness the occasion which will take place in front of the grandstands.
Following is a look at the racing careers of the 10 inductees into the Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame:
Mark Keegan, Fremont, Ohio, sprint car driver. Over his 34-year racing career, Keegan has become a legend in the State of Ohio, having over 180 feature wins. He has 59 career victories at Fremont Speedway, good for third on the track's all-time win list, behind only hall-of-famers Art Ball (70) and his uncle Gug Keegan (62). And, Mark's not done, as he continues to race every week in his familiar #X and is still considered "one of the guys to beat." Mark posted nine track championships at Fremont - the 1977 six-cylinder sportsman title and sprint car titles in 1981, 1982, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1997. Mark also helped establish a dirt track at the Attica Fairgrounds and leads all sprint drivers there with 55 feature wins and 12 track titles. Mark also helps many area race teams with his expert fabrication, welding and repairs.
Johnny Beaber, Gibsonburg, Ohio, sprint car driver. Johnny's career actually started when he was 15-years-old under an assumed name to skirt the track rules at the time. Johnny's career took him all over the United States where he posted wins with the World of Outlaws and All Star Circuit of Champions and was respected as one of the best in the country. With over 200 career feature wins, he became a legend on the Western Pennsylvania circuit, winning championships at Tri-City Speedway, Mercer Raceway and Lernerville Speedway. He returned to race at the historic Fremont Speedway and won the 1985 and 1987 championships. He has posted 24 career feature wins at Fremont to be 17th on the all-time victory list. John posted track championships at Limaland Speedway and Attica Raceway Park along the way. Today, John and his family own and operate Beaberbuilt, a race car building, repair and fabrication business in Gibsonburg. John returned to the cockpit of a sprint car in 2009 and raced his way to victory lane at another Ohio dirt track.
Jim Roepke, Gibsonburg, Ohio, super modified/sprint car driver. Jim "Smiley" Roepke began racing at Fremont Speedway shortly after it opened in 1951. Jim drove the Myers A Station #7A to the track's 1956 championship. He posted 3 career victories at Fremont. Always trying to do something different from all the other teams, Jim bought an Indy 500 roadster and shortened it to race at the local dirt tracks. He later purchased a Nance coupe to compete against the sprint cars. After stepping out of the seat of the familiar #7A, Jim hired drivers like Donnie Miller, Joe Keegan, Jerry Nemire, Al Liskai, Alvin Roepke and Jimmy Leaser to name a few. Jim was regarded by his competitors and fans alike as a true gentleman racer. Jim passed away on May 5, 2003, at the age of 73.
De Genzman, Fremont, Ohio, late model driver. De began his driving career in 1955, at the age of 17, and became one of the most successful late model drivers in Ohio, winning over 100 features. He started in the strictly stock division and moved to the six-cylinder sportsman division in the late 1950s. And when Fremont Speedway started the hobby stock division in 1963, De drove the #53 car for Cliff Mesnard. He had his biggest year in 1969 winning the track titles at Fremont and Findlay. He won Fremont championships in 1971 and 1972, also winning track titles at McCutchenville Speedway and Bryan Motor Speedway. De posted 26 career feature wins at Fremont, to sit 14th on the track's all-time win list.
When De quit driving, his son, Andy picked up the helmet, while his daughter Lisa also competed in the street stocks and his wife, Marilyn won several powder puff races. Currently, De owns a sprint car driven by Phil Gressman, and a 305 sprint driven by Paul Weaver. The drivers who have piloted his sprint cars reads like a "who's who" in racing.
Roy Sheets, Fremont, Ohio, late model driver. Roy quickly became a top-notch late model driver and was one of "the guys to beat" at Fremont Speedway. He posted track championships in 1966, 1967, 1981 and 1982. He posted 22 career feature wins at Fremont, where he is tied for 20th on the all-time win list. Roy posted wins all over Ohio driving the familiar white and red #11.
Wally Heminger, Fremont, Ohio, late model driver. Wally was known as one of the most aggressive, yet smooth drivers ever to compete in the late models at Fremont Speedway. Piloting the familiar #44, Wally posted track championships in 1974 and 1979 and recorded 32 career feature wins, good for 10th on the track's all-time win list. He started racing in 1968, and after several top three point runs at Fremont, finally got his first title behind the wheel of the Keegan twins stock car. Wally posted wins all over Ohio.
Earl Lowe, Clyde, Ohio, race car owner. Earl has been a fixture at Fremont Speedway since its early days. An auto racing pioneer, car builder and owner, Earl continues to attend racing at "The Track That Action Built," having been a part owner of a 305 sprint car recently driven by his grandson. Over the years, "The Flying Orchid" #66 has been piloted by many great drivers including George Miller, Gene Berryman, Floyd Heft, George Fosco, Wayne Woodward, Bob Sears, Lamar Berryman, Brad Bowman and Earl’s grandson, Ryan Lowe. Earl first fielded a race car at Fremont in 1957.
Joe Sabo, Fremont, Ohio, race car owner. Joe began his racing career when Fremont Speedway opened in 1951. He was the first in Fremont to own a race car and later sold it to Harold Billow. Over the years he had many race cars and drivers including Bill Meggitt, Jim Fleming (late model champion in 1968), Harold McGilton, De Genzman, Don Cherry, Lin Potter, Lee Potter, Jack Gordon (1976 late model champion), Dale Hasselbach, Kenny Clark, Skip Holmer, Art Howey Sr., Gary Cook, Orwin Clark, Bill Brenninger, Chuck Dagg Sr., Rich Farmer, Richard Frampton, his sons, Tim (1978 sportsman champion) and Steve (3 time truck champ) and Steve's wife Linda, Woody Holland, Dave Reber, Don Meggitt, Artie Clark, Willy Carroll and Jerry Cusino. When Fremont Speedway started the hobby stock division, Joe had six cars running at the same time. He also provided wrecker service to the track for many years. Joe still fields trucks for Steve and Linda and you'll find him in the pits every week.
Sonny Burmeister, Fremont, Ohio, race car owner. Sonny built and fielded cars at Fremont Speedway from its early days and continues with a sprint car today. Some of the drivers that have sat behind the wheel of the #16 include: Bob Eakens, Delbert Hoy, Kenny Clark, Jim Ford, Art Howey Sr., Bill Northcutt, Pat Riehl, Leo Coble, Lee Jacobs, Bryan Sebetto, Jack Gordon, John Ivy, Lisa Genzman, L.J. Connors, Andy Genzman, Art Howey Jr., Chad Kemenah, Mike Dearth, Roger Campbell, Scott Miller, Ken Osborne, Jason Dukes, Tom Basinger, Eric Allen, Eric Slade, Clay Keim, Andy Shammo, Todd Kramer, John Wisbon and Brian Smith. For many of those drivers, Sonny gave them their first opportunity to race and they went on to distinguished driving careers. Today you will still find Sonny in the pit area of the #16 driven by Bryan Sebetto.
Gary Kern, Fremont, Ohio, track announcer and promoter. Gary started as the public address announcer at Fremont Speedway in 1960. He also helped at Sandusky Speedway and Toledo Raceway Park in 1964 and in 1965 and 1966 worked at West Virginia Speedway. Heck, Gary even tried driving a race car once at Toledo - he lasted 8 laps and decided he would rather announce than drive. In 1976, Gary purchased the promoting rights of Fremont Speedway from Dot Szakovits. Gary continued to promote racing at Fremont Speedway through 1995.