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."
This display gives fans a close up look at some of the technology that goes into a dirt la
To get into the Hall means one must first be nominated. Then, a hand-picked panel of 40 Board Members vote on the nominees. The Board Members for the Hall are made up of car builders, engine builders, series directors, and other personalities of the sport. Race fans can also get into the process by going to the Hall's web site at www.dirtlatemodelhalloffame.com and make a nomination for the future.
Hall of Fame member, and current racer, Chub Frank believes the Hall is a very good thing for the sport. "It is a great honor to be a member of the Hall of Fame," stated Frank. "I really think it probably means more to the guys from the old days who have retired. It was a great honor for me to be inducted; it is a great thing, although I am far from being ready to retire. Every year I am here for the induction process and it just seems to get better and better. Back in the day, you built your own car and if it was a good one, you were the only one that had it, that's where the old guys came from. These days, everyone has a good car, simply because of the availability, and that makes it a lot tougher to win."
For Holder, pride is a big part of the success. "I am proud of the efforts put forth by everyone involved. I am pleased with the progress, although I know that at some point and time a bigger building will become necessary. Just the simple fact that it has all been donated, including volunteer work by several individuals, means a lot and says something about Dirt Late Model Racing. We have done so much with so little."
The efforts of Holder's team came to a head in 2002 when the Hall held one of their most successful fund raisers. They gave away a complete car. Holder gained the participation of several Dirt Late Model parts companies to donate product while Warren Shingleton assembled the car. In the end, more than $50,000 was raised by selling raffle tickets.
Jeff Purvis' 1986 World 100 winning car.
Being a full-time motorsports writer for Stock Car Racing and Circle Track magazines certainly takes a lot of Holder's time. But the fact that he lives in Riverside, Ohio more than 70 miles from the Hall of Fame is the true testament to his dedication to the Hall as he takes care of its maintenance.
The Hall's location, adjacent to Florence Speedway is significant for four big reasons. First and foremost it is pretty much in the center of the Dirt Late Model world, a mere 10 miles off of Interstate 71/75, Florence has one of the best Dirt Late Model weekly divisions in the country and is home to one of the biggest Dirt Late Model Races in the country the Annual North-South 100, run every August. This helps give much needed exposure to the Hall.
Adding to that exposure this year was a visit from a very famous family. The Late Ralph Earnhardt was a member of the 2007 Induction class. There to accept the award for his induction into the Hall, all the way from North Carolina, was Ralph's widow, Martha, and his daughter, Cathy. Earnhardt is, of course, father to Dale Earnhardt Sr. and grandfather to Earnhardt Jr. During the induction Junior called from Watkins Glen International in New York to say a thank you on behalf of his Grandfather as well as to congratulate the other members and their families for being a part of such a very important moment in time.
Dale Earnhardt's Father, Ralph Earnhardt, was a member of the 2007 inductee class. Here, R
One of the most popular Dirt drivers of all time, Scott Bloomquist also thinks the Hall has a place in all of racing. "It was good to see the Hall recognize the achievements of some of the drivers and participants of the sport," stated Bloomquist. "This is a sport that is going to continue to grow, especially with the involvement of some of the people who are beginning to get involved. I think the sport is really just right on the verge of taking off with its biggest growth ever. What they are doing with the Prelude to the Dream charity race and some of these other bigger events it's just really become the sky is the limit. So, it is nice to see this Hall get started so the people will always be able to come here to see some of the accomplishments of the racers who helped get us there."
When first entering the Hall, racer donated door panels jump out at you as they decorate the walls from top to bottom and side to side on all four walls. Overhead from the rafters, hang some racecar bodies for a bird's eye view of the top of a Dirt Late Model, one of which is an old Delmas Conley car. Back in the far corner sits the yellow car of John Mason from the 1970's era. This car featured the first-ever independent rear suspension in Dirt Late Model competition. Look to your right and you'll see the 1986 World 100 winning car of dirt racing legend Jeff Purvis. To the left sits a cut-away car that allows fans an up-close look at how a Dirt Late Model is put together as well as some of the technology involved in the sport.
The Hall includes many old uniforms, helmets, and various awards donated from the inductees and other sources. The one award that stands out on its own is the World 100 winners trophy won by Charlie Hughs. That in itself makes a statement of how important the Hall is to these racers. Hughs gave up, arguably, the biggest and most sought after racing trophies in the Dirt Late Model world. The Hall is also in possession of the 1982 World Dirt Track Championship winning car driven by Charlie Schwartz. The car was reconditioned and restored by Charlie and his son Auddie Schwartz specifically for the Hall.
Some of the biggest names in racing, Bloomquist, Frank and more, have donated items to the
Perhaps the most intriguing and attention getting item at the Hall isn't a single item at all. It is a collection of items, photographs to be specific, a lot of photographs. Photos from some of the best photographers and fans in the country adorn the Hall from one end all the way around to the other. As you walk along examining the photography, it is like a walk in time, and you get a real appreciation for the sport, where it came from, and the sacrifices made by so many to get it to the point it is now. "I always encourage and welcome any kind of Dirt Late model pictures, old or new, from the fans or any photographers that would like to donate," said Holder.
As a future member of the Hall, driver Shannon Babb can only see good things to come out of the Hall. "It's a real good deal," said Babb. "It recognizes those guys who worked their tails off for many years and invested their life in Dirt Late Model racing. To be in it, and be part of it, would be awesome. It's just amazing in the last two years alone how far this sport has come. The technology of the cars is unbelievable. There are so many good teams, cars, and drivers anymore it just makes for better racing. So to get into the Hall with the men who helped to advance this great sport would mean a lot to me personally and to my family."
As history tells of the trials and tribulations of the Dirt Late Model world and its drivers, the Hall produces the proof and the facts in many forms. For any race fan or racing enthusiast, the Hall is a sense of pride and sacrifice from the time you take the first step inside 'till you take that last step out the door. A true tribute to the racing world and the folks involved, once you make a visit, it will stick with you for a very long time. For Holder, it is a sense of self preservation and accomplishment among friends. For the racers, it has become a place of gratification and reflection not to mention pride in a series of very brave souls. In the Dirt Late Model world of guts and glory, the Hall of Fame truly is rewarding for all. And they are well deserving of it, to say the least.