Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame Founder and Curator, Bill Holder, stands amongst the treasure
Over the decades, Dirt Late Model racing has grown into one of the most recognized and fan favorite types of racing in the country. It's no secret that today's oval track stock car racing can be traced back to the dirt tracks all across America. It can be said that dirt racing is a way of life and a big chunk of dirt racing is the ever popular dirt late-model.
Dirt late-model racing has seen many great drivers cut their teeth and hone their skills behind the wheel of a wide-bodied, big-wheeled racecar. But who would have thought that we'd see a Columbian-born ex-Formula 1 driver climb behind the wheel of a Rocket chassis, even if it was just for a special event. Dirt Late Model racing sure has come a long way.
Today's modern dirt late-model driver is not only keeping the dirt dream alive, but the good ones are also reaping some very handsome rewards. Unfortunately for their counterparts from the past, they had to be satisfied with knowing that they built the foundation for the sport, even though they got little recognition of the sacrifices made, until now.
John Mason's 1970's era car sported the first-ever independent rear suspension.
A number of years ago, C.J. Rayburn's daughter, Eva, suggested an idea that spawned a vision in the mind of well-known racing writer and journalist, Bill Holder. The idea was to create a Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame, and in 1999 it finally happened. Bill and his wife, Ruthann, got to work, early on enlisting the help of Mike Kartzer. Even the greatest ideas require a very supportive cast to bring to fruitition, and the Hall was no different. As the Hall of Fame progressed, several key dirt personalities willingly offered help and suggestions. Holder first found that help from Jim Klette, Todd Lefever, and Bob Markos. But undoubtedly, the biggest help came from the King family of Jerry and Mona, and their son Josh. The King's own and operate the Florence Speedway in northern Kentucky.
The concrete foundation for the Hall of Fame was laid on donated property just outside of Turn Four at the Florence Speedway. Not only did the Kings donate the land but they helped with getting the building permits, provided free electric, and helped with the interior work of the building. An induction platform was also constructed in the infield straight across from the main grandstand for the Hall of Fame use. The induction ceremony takes place once a year during Florence Speedway's famed North-South 100 Dirt Late Model race. The first ceremony was held in 2001 and included, among others, accomplished dirt late-model drivers Jeff Purvis, Larry Moore, Mike Duvall, and Rodney Combs. There is no cost to view the Hall but a jar for donations is always at the counter as the Hall is open every race weekend.
From trophies to suits to pictures to door panels, the Hall has it all.
"Getting sponsor support these days is a hard thing to do," said Holder. "In the beginning, I had a big title sponsor lined up, but they backed out. That just meant we had to work twice as hard. Gerald Newton from Arizona Sport Shirts has come on board and makes shirts every year for the induction ceremony and also sells them at the North-South 100. The shirts that do not sell are donated to the Hall for future race weekend sales, this is a big help. Hoosier Tires also provides the jackets, and Arizona Sport Shirts provides plaques for our awards induction ceremony each year."
The induction ceremony is one of the biggest events of the year for the hall. "We have three of the best Dirt Late Model personalities in the business to help with the ceremony each year," said Holder. "James Essex, Brett Emrick, and Rick Eshelman do the announcing for the induction ceremony. It takes the whole crew working together to make this thing go, but it mostly takes fan support, and we are glad to have it."