Editor's Note: The writer is executive director of the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame.
Owens puts the winning move on Brady Smith.
Despite an estimated 8,000 Dirt Late Models across the country and the sport's unique style of wheel-to-wheel, three-wide competition, the DLM segment of motorsports didn't have a tool to showcase its glorious past until recently.
In 2001, a group of Dirt Late Model enthusiasts organized the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame (NDLMHOF). The facility is in place at Florence (Kentucky) Speedway, overlooking the fourth turn on the outside of the track.
The building is filled with Dirt Late Model memorabilia, including hundreds of photos, driver uniforms, and several important race cars. Among the collection of cars is the one Jeff Purvis drove to victory in the 1986 World 100 and the late-'70s Camaro of John Mason, which sports the first independent rear suspension.
Multiple grooves are the norm at Florence Speedway.
The car that Charlie Swartz used to win the World Dirt Track Championship in the early '80s has also been located and is currently under restoration by Audie Swartz, who was involved in the initial construction of the famous wedge car.
The second weekend in August marked the seventh induction of new members into the DLM Hall of Fame. The event is held annually on the same weekend as the classic $50,000-to-win North-South 100, won this year by Jimmy Owens, a first-time winner of the race. (See page 38 for profile of Owens.)
Not surprisingly, there were a number of Hall of Famers who were trying to get that big money, with five of them-Chub Frank, Scott Bloomquist, Billy Moyer, Freddy Smith, and Steve Francis-finishing third, sixth, seventh, ninth, and 10th, respectively.
There was a champagne shower for everyone in Victory Lane.
This year's class of inductees was one of the finest of all the groups inducted thus far. The ceremony took place in front of a large crowd at the starting line of the track. The class was unique in that it had the second of two racing brothers inducted, along with the first induction of a father-and-son combination.
The six drivers featured in the class were Verlin Eaker, Herb Scott, David Speer, H.E. Vineyard, Gene Petro, and Ralph Earnhardt. The Contribution Award went to Mickey and Mike Swims, and the Sportsman Award, sponsored by Stock Car Racing magazine, was awarded to Mike Jewell. It was interesting to note the family and fans who turned out to see their drivers inducted.
For many, it was like old times seeing drivers they had run against decades earlier. It was a time when racing machines were crafted from street cars and safety considerations gave way to the pursuit of speed.
Every section of seats was packed, and fans were treated to some tight heat race action.
The following are some of the career details of the inductees.
Iowa driver Verlin Eaker was at his best during the '60s and '70s. There was a number of big wins among his hundreds of checkered flags.
"You know, I didn't know much about the Hall of Fame, and I was really surprised when I got the call," said Eaker. "I am good friends with Ed Sanger [another Iowa driver], who is also in the Hall of Fame. There [is] a number of other Iowa dirt drivers, including Ken Walton, Ramo Stott, and others, that I would sure like to see in the Hall."
Indiana driver Gene Petro was the second Petro to make the Hall of Fame, with brother Russ being inducted in the '03 class. This late driver was a terror on Midwest tracks, with hundreds of wins and numerous track titles, including the likes of Eldora and Brownstown speedways. He qualified for the classic World 100 race many times, with a best finish of third in 1973.
The Sportsman Award, sponsored by Stock Car Racing magazine, was given to Mike Jewell.
Gene's widow, Barbara, said that Gene had started racing at age 15. A number of his younger relatives have also fallen to the dirt racing passion. She explained, "The family wouldn't hear of Gene racing, but he told them, 'Just watch me,' and that's exactly what he did. I am sure that he would have loved this ceremony."
Herb Scott's glorious career lasted for 31 years, from 1948 to 1979. "Heck, there were times that I ran five nights a week," he said. "I was holding down a full-time job at the time, and you better believe that I didn't get much sleep. Some of my best competition came from [Hall of Fame member] Bob Wearing and Dick Linder."
He thinks his biggest accomplishment might have been the winning of 10 of a dozen races in a Pennsylvania series that featured five tracks. The other two finishes were seconds.
"I built most of my car myself and used modified production engines," Scott said. "I am truly amazed at the cost of modern-day cars and engines."
Scott's career reached the height of excellence with an amazing 520 wins.
H.E. Vineyard is a living legend in his home state of Tennessee. Starting in the '70s, his career has lasted into the 21st century. His success can be easily measured by his 500-plus victories. He was a competitor in the initial traveling series, the NDRA, with a win at Bulls Gap. There were also wins with the PROS Florida Gold Cup Series and the taking of the Kentucky State and Tennessee Dirt Track championships.
The trophy will be on permanent display in the Hall of Fame, while each year's recipient w
The late David Speer had been a regular competitor at Florence Speedway, the location of the Hall of Fame, and he was also from the Bluegrass State. His major accomplishments took place in the '70s and '80s, with some of his big accomplishments being the winning of the 1976 six-race Kentucky Dirt Track Championship, the Atomic 100 in Tennessee, the Wilson-Petty Classic at Pennsboro, West Virginia, and others.
Speer's most impressive efforts, though, came at the most competitive dirt track in the nation-Eldora Speedway. He made the feature seven consecutive times in the classic World 100, with his best finish being a third in 1980.
The famous Earnhardt name has been associated in recent decades with family accomplishments on paved NASCAR tracks. But for the patriarch of the family, Ralph Earnhardt (father of Dale Sr. and grandfather of Dale Jr.), it was largely done on dirt.
In the Carolinas, he was known as "Mr. Dirt." Just ask Hall of Fame members Red Farmer and Freddy Smith, as they both ran against him. He ran some NASCAR when it was all dirt and took a pair of titles. In a career that was shortened when he had many races left, Ralph still showed over 300 wins, most of them on Carolina dirt ovals.
Hall of Fame inductees and their representatives include (front) Gene Petro, represented b
Mickey and Mike Swims are two of the premier organizers and promoters of the Dirt Late Model sport. They have also been instrumental in the establishment of some national traveling series. Mention some of the movers and shakers of the dirt stock sport, and this dad and son certainly have to be mentioned.
The Sportsman Award is annually awarded to an active driver who works to improve the sport in numerous ways. This year's winner, Mike Jewell, certainly demonstrates all the required attributes and was a popular selection with the crowd.
Selecting Hall of Famers from the huge number of those qualified is a tough task. And over the years, there have been some objections as to why certain people didn't make the cut. It's hard to please everybody, but it is felt that the 40-person voting board covering all aspects of the sport is the best.
But 2008 is another year, and another class will be inducted. The stars of Dirt Late Model racing through the years are endless, and it is the purpose of the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame to honor as many of them as possible.