By Brian Liskai
The Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame will induct its fifth class on Saturday, June 8. The list of inductees was picked for the first time by the membership of the Fremont Speedway Historical Club and includes five groups of drivers, two racing mechanics, two race car owners, and a special service recipient.
The list of drivers includes the Liskai brothers of Al, Dick and Steve, Paul Dewald, Bill Hahn, Gordon Holbrook and Randy Ford. The mechanics are Sonny Conger and Mervin Keegan and the car owners are Larry Keegan and Don Eckhardt. The special service inductee is the late Phil Huss, otherwise known as Smokey the Clown.
Here’s a look at the drivers:
The Liskai Brothers. Al, the oldest, raced from the late 1960s through 1990. He scored his only career win at Fremont Speedway in 1978 in a non-wing sprint car. That night he also set a new qualifying track record that stood for several years. Al, who resides in Fremont, recorded track championships at Millstream Speedway in Findlay and two at KC Raceway near Chillicothe. He also made the A-main for the 1973 Knoxville Nationals. Dick, who passed away in 2002, raced from the late 1960s through the 1990s. He posted 3 wins at Fremont and scored wins at Millstream as well. At one time Dick even got into the promoting of racing at the former McCutchenville Speedway. Steve, the youngest of the Liskai brothers, raced in the 1970s and early 1980s. Steve, who lives near Gibsonburg, also posted 3 career wins at Fremont and scored his biggest win at Chrystal, Michigan in a 50-lapper. During the mid-1970s all three were a weekly fixture at Fremont Speedway.
Randy Ford of Elmore grew up in a racing family. His dad, Jim, a Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame member, raced and owned cars for many years. Randy drove the family #10 to the Fremont Speedway track championship in 1986 and has 7 career feature wins at the track. Randy also posted track championships at KC Raceway and Eldora Speedway and won a World of Outlaws event at “The Big E” and won features all over Ohio. When his dad took over the promotion of Fremont Speedway in 2000, Randy became an important part of the track operations.
Paul Dewald of Tiffin began racing in the mid-1960s. He posted four career feature wins at Fremont having driven in the sportsman and modified divisions before moving into the sprints in the mid-1970s. Bill passed away on June 1, 1974 while competing at Fremont at the age of 37. He was well liked both fans and fellow drivers.
Bill Hahn of Gibsonburg was the 1987 Fremont Speedway Six-Cylinder Sportsman Champion and also competed up until a year ago in the late model division at area tracks. “Gentleman Bill” posted 11 career wins at Fremont Speedway and during his career posted track championships at Oakshade Raceway and Millstream Speedway and won races all over Ohio. Bill passed away unexpectedly in January 2012.
Gordon Holbrook of Oak Harbor, started racing in 1977 in the Six Cylinder Sportsman Division at Fremont Speedway driving the #48. He recorded a career total of 33 wins with 19 of those coming at Fremont and sits 28th on the track’s all-time win list. In 1981 Gordon won the Six Cylinder Sportsman Championship at Fremont Speedway driving for Ross Jones in the 41 car. He finished his career in 1988 driving the #1h.
Sonny Conger of Fremont was a mechanic/car builder/owner of cars that claimed 9 Fremont Speedway championships with drivers Dale Hasselbach, Al Franks and John Ivy. Sonny’s cars have won nearly 80 features at Fremont Speedway. Sonny is still active today at the speedway, helping several teams that continue to rack up feature wins and championships.
Mervin Keegan’s racing career started in the early 1950s and has continued to this day. His cars won three Fremont Speedway track championships, the first coming in 1954 with a 1934 Ford. The second championship came the following year with his brother, hall-of-famer Gug Keegan once again handling the driving duties. In the late 1960s Mervin started building cars for his three sons, Danny, Donnie and Ronnie. In 1974 he won his third track championship with his sons Donnie and Ronnie with hall-of-famer Wally Heminger driving a 1967 Mustang. Mervin’s four sons – Danny, David, Donnie and Ronnie – have all been involved in racing since the 1960s. Mervin can still be found in the pits watching his son’s cars being raced by his grandsons, Dustin, Jeremy, Jody, Todd and Tim Keegan and Jacob and Justin Stout plus granddaughter Buffy Bordner.
Don Eckhardt, Fremont, was the primary force and sponsor behind many winning cars. In the mid 1960s Don sponsored (Don’s Oil Service) the #81 car driven by hall-of-famer Al Franks and Gug Keegan’s 3 ¼ car. In the early 1970s Don got into the race car ownership business, supplying the famous #4 driven by Franks and the 4J car driven by hall-of-famer Harold McGilton. In 1975 Jim Linder drove Don’s #3 machine with McGilton in the #4j along with the #75 car driven by Mark Craun. Don would later build a race team to follow the new World of Outlaws tour with Jim Linder behind the wheel of the #4E. Don’s cars won numerous Fremont Speedway championships and features along the way along with wins and championships at Millstream Speedway and Eldora Speedway. From 1993-96 Jim Eckhardt drove the 4E car with Don helping with motors from hall-of-famer Ed Smith and Paul Kistler. Don had several great mechanics working on his cars over the years include Sonny Conger, Donny Linton and Tom Leaser with Bobby Frey, Lester Franks, Pat and John Forgatsch, Tom Drusback, John and Jim Eckhardt, Steve Zilles and David Eckhardt also turning wrenches.
Larry Keegan, Fremont, began his racing career in 1967 with his Uncle Gug Keegan’s car which won the Fremont Speedway track championship that year. Larry was with Gug from 1967-75 and won three track titles during that time. In 1976 Larry originated the famous “X” car with his great friend Jim Linder behind the wheel. The duo won the sprint car track championship at Fremont in 1976 and 1977 and won World of Outlaw races at Eldora Speedway. In 1981 Larry’s brother Mark, a hall of fame driver, began driving the X car and won a total of eight track championships at Fremont and several more at Attica Raceway Park. As a car owner and crew chief, Larry’s cars have had the most feature wins and track championships known at Fremont Speedway. These cars are presently second, third and fourth on the Fremont all-time feature win list. Larry also played an important key role in establishing Attica Raceway Park. As owner of B&K Auto Service and K&K in Clyde, Larry sponsored many drivers over the years.
Phil Huss – Smokey the Clown. As Smokey the Clown, Huss helped promote racing at Fremont Speedway in the mid 1950s. This part of his career actually started when he joined the Ringling Brothers on the flying trapeze and later met some of the famous clowns like Felix Adler – the King of the Clowns – and Emmett Kelly. Later Phil joined the Fremont Police Department where he served nearly 30 years. Over the decades as Smokey the Clown, Phil entertained and thrilled children of all ages and is not only an important part of the history of Fremont Speedway, but the Sandusky County Fair as well.