History of Racing at
Written in 1996 by LARRY ALTER, Courier Sports Editor
Some of the names read like a “Who’s Who” in auto racing. Jeff Gordon, Gordon Johncock, Gary Bettenhausen, Pancho Carter, Jan Opperman, Sheldon Kinser, Steve Kinser, Tom Bigelow, Mel Kenyon, Rollie Beale, Rick Ferkel and Jack Hewitt.
Still others are not quite as well known ... Morris van Vlerah, Gordon Dukes, Ai Franks, Bobby Boughan, Kenny Nemire, “Doc” Dawson, Paul DeWald, Jack Kralek, Al Daugherty, Roger McClain, Larry Helms, Billy Corbin, Jr., Larry Scott, Dave Marko, Bob and Ed Christman, Ted Blunk, Dick Kramer, Bob Hilkert, Jim and Fred Linder, Rex Tong, Byron Green, Bob Miller, Bill Boop...
But they’ve had a profound impact on oval track racing by exciting fans with their daredevil manuevers, high-flying, hard-charging, bumper-to-bumper action over the past five decades at Millstream Speedway.
The thrills and spills, a trademark of grass roots dirt track racing, began in 1954 when a group of local businessmen developed Millstream Speedway.
Richard and Jerry August, Bud Russell, Charles Fields, Harold Livingston, Jay Risner, Bob and Jack Zigman, Glen Miller and Frank Litzenberg each invested $500 and Charles Litzenberg donated 63 acres of land west of Findlay.
Jerry August, who currently operates Jerry August’s Georgia Connection in Findlay and in June finished a term as president of Charlotte County Speedway in Punta Gorda, Fla., served an 11-year term as Millstream’s first president.
The cost of admission —$1.50.
HISTORY OF TRACK OWNERS
IN 1965, THE corporation sold out to Jay Risner, Bob Zigman and Glen Miller, and two years later Dot and Paul Szakovits and Paul’s parents, Jim and Josephine Szakovits of Fremont bought the facility. The Szakovits, who changed the name from Millstream to Findlay Speedway, also operated Fremont Speedway and held racing at Fremont on Saturday nights and at the local track on Sunday nights.
Then after the 1970 season, Szakovits sold out to a nine-member Findlay group of president Ed Rettig, Rex Tong, Will Leathers, Jr., Jim Smith, Dave Rice, Tom Chatelain, Doyt Woodward, Lou Hindall and George “Shorty” Lentz. They formed the Milistream Motor Speedway Inc. as the base for the 3/8-mile high-banked oval.
Five years later, in 1975, famous Eldora Speedway owner Earl Baltes purchased an interest in the track and a concrete wall was built around the facility. Dean Miracle is a former operator at Millstream and Ken Langhals of Delphos had ownership for two years before selling out to current owner Bill Paxton of Toledo after the 1995 season.
Paxton adopted the name of Flag City Motorsports Park and under his guidance the oval has undergone a detailed transformation to enhance the clay-based racing surface. During his ownership, many improvements were made to the facility including relocating the pit area to the vacant field on the back straight, stoning the parking lot, erecting a pit bleacher and painting the walls. In 1996, Paxton brought Jeff Gordon back to the track where he won his firt ever Sprintcar race at the age of 13.
During the 1999 season, the racetrack was rented from Mr. Paxton by Bill Mead. The track did not open for racing during the 2000 season. The name of the facility was returned to Millstream Speedway.
In November, 2000, the track was purchased by Speedway Properties, Inc., which is owned by Greg and Mary Beth Roe of Toledo, Ohio. Fortunately they purchased the track from Bill Paxton, as he was considering selling it for just the property for housing or farming. They continued to work to do repairs to the facility that had been unused and in poor condition for many years. In 2008, Promoter Dean Miracle made the commitment to bring racing back to the racetrack. After much work and additional repairs, he opened the track up to an amazing crowd of fans anxious to see racing here. In the following years, various races were held at the track under different promoters. A Go Kart and ATV TT Tracks were added to the infield by the Roe’s and several events were held.
In 2014, a 3 year agreement was made between track owners the Roe’s and Promoters, Lisa and Randy Hammer to run full season of racing at the facility. They have made many improvements to the facility and are anxious for a great season of racing.
RACING THROUGH THE YEARS
Over the past five decades, there has been a huge throng of experienced veterans battling rookies and local talent in a variety of racing machines.
Perhaps one of the most successful performers in the storied history of the facility was that of Morris Van Vierah. The Greenwich product won the first race at Millstream on a Monday afternoon — May 31, 1954. Then he won an unbelievable 30 consecutive races over the next year and half, according to Jerry August.
It was an era, too, which spurned appearances of Johncock, who raced out of Hastings, Mich. in the early years before going on to win the Indianapolis 500.
NO LOCAL DRIVER was more popular and successful in the 1950s and ‘60s than Gordon Dukes.
The super modified legend first drove the No. 62 car and then No. 76 for the late owner/builder Bud Davidson of Findlay. He later drove the No. 3 which was owned by Dick Way and wrenched by Findlay’s Ray Rothaar.
Dukes, known as the “Findlay Flyer,” won the Oswego, N.Y. Speedway championship, was a three-time champion at Sandusky International and own the Findlay Classic at Millstream along with several other titles during a storied racing career.
He raced in an era of Beale, Darl Harrison, Don Hewitt, Al Franks, Gug Keegan, Jim McCune, Harold McGilton, Paul DeWald, Dick Mortemore, Johnny “Pickle Farmer” Auxter, Jim Linder and De Genzman.
Following in the footsteps of his grandfather and his father, Chris, Jason Dukes is a third generation driver in the super division today. Through the ‘60s there was also Gug Keegan, who won track titles at Millstream in 1966, 1967 and 1974 when steel-blocked Buick, Olds and Chevy engines were the norm.
Art Bail was also a regular back in the ‘60s and still makes his presence felt in the street stock division. Shorty Lentz, who had lived directly east of the track since its inception, first raced modifieds and stockers before spending a great deal of time grading and watering the facility. For years he dabbled a bit in the caretaking of the track.
WHEN THE UNITED States Auto Club (USAC) invaded the local oval in the late 1970s, Betenhausen, Opperman, Carter and Bigelow were regulars. Then the Kinsers — Sheldon and Steve — competed with the outlaw sprint series.
It was also an era of the Linders, Helms and Ferkel, known as one of the premier ambassadors for sprint car racing.
Over the decades, Al Daugherty, Bob and Ed Christman, Jack Kraylek, Bob Miller, Jim and Fred Linder, Gug Keegan, Dan Harrison, Rollie and Al Beale and Larry Helms have given way to the “now” generation of young chargers — Rick and Darryl Daugherty, Mark Christman, Bill Kraylek, Heath Miller, Mike Linder, Joe and Mark Keegan, David Harrison, Al Beale, Jr. and Shane Helms.
Jack Hewitt has followed the legacy of his father, Don. Other familiar names from the local scene over the past two decades would include Al and Dick Liskai, Dwain Leiber, Larry Yantis, Dave Marko, Larry Scott, Mike Zeiter, Bob Clark, Tim Sabo, Tim Kern, Randy Ford, Jim Cushing, Bill Hahn and Jerry Inbody.
The All-Star Circuit of Champions and the World of Outlaws have always been a fan favorite at Millstream since the mid-1980s. Those winners include notables Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Doug Wolfgang, Dave Blaney, Brad Doty, Jeff Swindell and Bobby Davis. The Ohio Sprint Speedweek had its beginning in the mid ‘80s and Bobby Allen, Joe Gaerte, Rocky Hodges, Jeff Swindell, Jack Hewitt, Frankie Kerr, Kevin Huntley, Lee Brewer, Rick Ungar, Ricky Hood, Kevin Huntley, Keith Kauffman, Joey Saldana and Danny Smith have all taken the checkered flag.
The current track record-holders are Dave Blaney in the sprint car division and Hewitt in the late models. Blaney recorded a 14.340 in an Aug. 28, 1989 qualifying run and Hewitt’s 17.047 was set on May 22, 1988.
SINCE 1983, THERE have been nearly 200 different winners of race events at the oval with just under 600 drivers placing among the five finishers in nine different classes of cars.
Hewitt, one of the most versatile drivers with his many years of open-wheel experience, has been the most dominant performer in the past 14 seasons.
The Troy product leads sprint drivers with 25 feature victories and 50 top five finishes. By comparison, Larry Helms has 11 sprint wins and 34 top 5 finishes. Dwain Leiber has placed among the top 5 in 33 events.
Hewitt also has six late model victories in seven top 5 finishes. Yantis, with 11, and Kris Patterson, with 10, rank 1-2 in late model triumphs. Yantis has the most top 5 finishes with 30.
In the other division, Tim Allison (11) and Bob Clark (10) lead 360 sprint winners; Roger McClain (5) the econo sprint victors; Roger Unverferth (9) in the modifieds; Wayne Maffett, Sr. (27) in the street stocks; and Kevin Gossard (15) in the stock cars. By far the most top 5 finishes in all the divisions is the 74 registered by Wayne Maffett, Sr. in the street stocks.
Some of those veterans will likely be displaced in the near future by a fleet of young chargers... Todd Heller, Byron Reed, Bus Wasson, Greg Wilson, Shawn Bayliff, John Hawk, Butch Schroeder and Shane O’Connor.
Still the biggest success story of all the drivers who have performed at Millstream/Flag City is Jeff Gordon. The young NASCAR phenomenon took his first sprint car checkered flag in a heat race at Millstream in 1985 at the tender age of 13. Although he was barred from racing for a period of time because of his age, Gordon returned after his 16th birthday to record six victories at Millstream.
He also logged one runner-up finish, one third, three fourths and a fifth in limited appearances over three seasons.
But he certainly became a part of the local racing legacy that has spanned over 42 years.
(MORE HISTORY UPDATES TO COME. - Send us any information or photos you have regarding the history of the track at E-mail: email@example.com Thanks.)