By Brian Liskai
FREMONT, Ohio – For many area residents, going to Fremont Speedway on a Saturday night was THE fun thing to do. That tradition has been handed down from generation to generation. And on June 7, 2014, many generations will come together at “The Track That Action Built” as the Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame will induct its sixth class. And to add to the special nature of the event, for the first time ever, some hall of famers will take place in an actual racing event.
Also on Vision Quest Night, the first 1,600 fans who purchase admission tickets to the hall of fame induction ceremony/races will get a free t-shirt courtesy of Vision Quest of Elmore.
Besides 11 individuals and a business being inducted into the Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame – the second class to be picked by the membership of the Fremont Speedway Historical Club – there are 23 drivers who will compete in a complete night of racing in 305 sprints. The Legends Race has drivers who represent thousands of feature wins and many, many track and series championships. And if you think it’s an exhibition race you are very wrong. The legends drivers will compete in heats and a feature that pays $1,000 to win.
“The Hall of Fame induction is always very, very special and very emotional. So many people have given so much over the last 63 years to make Fremont Speedway what it is today and we are so proud to be able to honor them every year with induction into the hall of fame. And for today’s fans, they will get to see true giants of the sport of dirt track racing competing again,” said Rich Farmer, Fremont Speedway Promoter and a trustee of the Fremont Speedway Historical Club.
In order to be eligible for the Legends Race, the drivers had to be at least 50 years of age or older and have not competed in a sprint car in last two years.
Here are the drivers who will participate in the Legends Race: Kenny Clark Jr.; Mark Keegan (Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame inductee); Eric Rankin (Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame inductee); Rodney Duncan; Jim Linder (Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame inductee); Clay Keim (Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame inductee); Bobby Distel; Kenny Jacobs (National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee); Larry Helms; George Dussel; Kelly Kinser; Jerry Nemire; Brian Neeb; Charlie Fisher; Rick Ferkel (National Sprint Car Hall of Fame inductee); Al Liskai (Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame inductee); Gary Griffith (Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame inductee); Joe Keegan; Ed Haudenschild; Charlie Swartz; Rick Daugherty; Lee Potter and Jimmy Leaser.
The Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame Class of 2014 includes five drivers, two racing mechanics, a family of car owners/mechanics; and two special service recipients.
The list of drivers includes L.J. Connors, Clay Keim, Eric Rankine, Todd Vance and Jim Ward. The racing mechanics/builders include engine builder/driver Gary Griffith and the Van Ness family (Dad Norm Sr. and sons Jim and Norm Jr.). Going in under the car owners category will be the duo of Bob Leaser and Joe Wright and Harold Kemenah. The special service inductees include Ken Kiser and the Baumann Auto Group.
Here’s a look at the drivers:
Eric Rankine. Now living in Indiana, Eric is an official with the United States Auto Club. He claimed the 1991 (in his own car) and 2000 (in Dick “Soup” Sabo’s car) sprint car championships at Fremont Speedway. Eric has four career feature wins at Fremont Speedway. Besides being an official for USAC, Eric also concentrates on his son’s racing career.
Todd Vance. Todd raced throughout the 1980s and early 1990s at Fremont Speedway, scoring the 1988 sprint track championship. Todd, piloting the family owned familiar #32, recorded 6 career feature wins at Fremont Speedway. He was the 1985 All Star Circuit of Champions Rookie of the Year.
L.J. Connors. L.J. Connors grew up around Fremont Speedway and spent many days of his youth in local racers garages. Later he also hand-lettered many race cars. L.J. jumped from being a crew member to getting behind the wheel in 1978, winning a feature his first season. L.J. claimed Fremont ’s Street Stock track championship in 1979 and 1981. In 1980 there were no points kept, but L.J. won 9 features driving for Bob and Bobby Sears. L.J. also won the track champion at McCutchenville Speedway in 1981. In 1987 he won the Trick or Treat 200 Enduro at Fremont by 14 laps. He ran several more endures around Ohio and Michigan , winning several. L.J. raced in Fremont ’s truck division in 1999. All total, L.J. scored 13 feature wins at Fremont Speedway.
Jim Ward. Jim is another who grew up at Fremont Speedway and followed hall of famer Paul Strasser’s career as a child. When he raced later in life, Jim recorded championships in the Sports Stock Class at Fremont in 1978 and 1979 also adding championships on the asphalt at Sandusky Speedway. Jim recorded 17 career feature wins at Fremont and around 25 at Sandusky . Jim credits his father-in-law Mike Beechler for much of his racing success. Jim has remained active in racing, owning a dirt truck his son, Cory drives and the duo won the Fremont championship in 2007.
Clay Keim. Clay was a dominant force in 305 sprint racing at Fremont . Though no championship points were kept for a few years, had they been tallied he would have won a track title or two. Clay won a combined 14 features at Fremont in the 305 and 360 sprints. He was the 1992 305 sprint track champion at Attica Raceway Park and had 12 feature wins there.
Here’s a look at the car owners being inducted:
Harold Kemenah. Affectionately known as “Flakey Jake” by many, Harold’s racing ventures came in 1966 by painting cars for hall of famers Jim Roepke, Jim Ford, Harold Van Ness, Don Eckhardt and Len Malloy. He also worked on the USAC car owned by Loren Weyant and driven by Jimmy Smith and Rocky Fisher. In 1976 he purchased his own sprint car driven by hall of famer Al Liskai. In 1977 Harold hired hall of famer Johnny Beaber to drive his familiar #3x. Beaber would drive Harold’s sprint car to track championships at Limaland Speedway in 1977 and 1978. After that Kenny Jacobs and Ed Haudenschild drove his cars before hall of famer Jack Hewitt took over in 1979 and 1980, travelling all over the country with the World of Outlaws. Harold’s son, Brian became very involved with the team during the Hewitt years. In 1980, hall of famer Fred Linder took over Harold’s #3x and would win the All Star Circuit of Champions titles in 1984 and 1986. Harold’s last season of owning a car was in 1987 with Al Hager behind the wheel.
Joe Wright and Bob Leaser. The duo fielded cars driven by hall of famers Herb Robinson, Harold McGilton, Al Franks and Fred Linder. It all began around 1948 when Bob Leaser, Tom Leaser, Mason Simmons and Joe Wright purchased an old sectioned Crosley Body from John Auxter and hired Robinson to drive and he won the Six-Cylinder Sportsman championship at Fremont . In 1963 Wright and Leaser bought a CAE sprint car kit and with McGilton behind the wheel the team – one of the first to use a “wing” - won the Fremont championship in 1964. Mason would split from the team in 1965, taking McGilton with him. Wright and Leaser would then hire Franks to wheel their #55 car. That combination won features and track championships all over the region. When Franks left the team, Ralph Quarterson then drove the car and won double features at Findlay the first night out followed by a win at Mercer Raceway the next night and a fourth with the All Stars at Sharon Speedway. Linder would join the Wright/Leaser team in 1971 and the team won several features. The Wright/Leaser team would retire from racing in 1972. Hall of famer Gug Keegan also drove the Wright/Leaser machine to a Fremont feature win.
Here’s a look at the mechanics/builders hall of fame inductees:
The Van Ness family (Dad, Harold Sr. and sons Jim and Harold Jr.). The Van Ness family of Gibsonburg , Ohio owned, built and maintained race cars from 1956 through 1975. Just some of the drivers who piloted the famous #35 included hall of famer “Irish” Jim McCune, hall of famer Jim “Smiley” Roepke, hall of famers Al, Dick and Steve Liskai, Bill Cicanese, Jerry Nemire, Dick Holcomb and hall of famer Daryl Harrison to name a few. The Van Ness race cars won features all over the region. Most of the Van Ness family race cars were built by the dad and sons before a car built in Cleveland was purchased from hall of famer Jim Ford in 1967.
Gary Griffith. Gary began working on engines with his father, hall of fame member Earl Griffith when he was a teenager. He continued to work on engines with his dad until 1978 when Earl retired. Gary also worked at Century Die Company. Gary took over Griff’s Engines in 1978, and the company continues to do just that today. Gary has worked with some of the best owners and drivers in the country over the years including hall of famers Rick Ferkel, Johnny Beaber, Jack Hewitt, Tim Sabo, George Fosco, Wayne Maffett Sr., Roy Sheets and Harry Kresser and others like Dick Sabo, Frank Pavia, Paul and Tom Kistler, Russ Adkins, Rusty McClure, Scott Kraylek, Ken Meggitt, Joe Conroy, Ronnie Beal and many others. Not only did Gary build championship engines, but he accomplished great things behind the wheel of race cars, winning a sprint car championship at Buckeye Speedway and the MSA Super Modified championship.
Here’s a look at the special service hall of fame inductees:
Ken Kiser. Ken has been associated with Fremont Speedway in some way or another nearly since the track’s inception in 1951. Kiser Sound and Communications has provided the sound system and it’s maintenance for the speedway but for the Sandusky County Fairgrounds for over six decades. The tradition continues to this day with Ken’s son, Chris not only providing the sound system but he can be found providing constant maintenance around the track and fairgrounds. For many race fans, the lively tunes played before and after the races at Fremont are as much a part of the fun as the action on the track… “You Heard if From Kisers.”
Baumann Auto Group. Starting out as Al Baumann Chevrolet, the Baumann family of dealerships have been big supports of Fremont Speedway for several decades. The Baumann name continues that tradition today in several forms, most notably on the side of the beautiful pace vehicles that lead the field of race cars every week. The Baumann name also appeared on the sides of race cars for many, many years.