For those who have dedicated their lives to the sport of sprint car racing, there is no greater honor than induction into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.
It is the ultimate validation of years of hard work.
But induction doesn’t signify the culmination of giving to the sport. Instead, a new mission is added: supporting the Hall of Fame itself.
The National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum sits outside turn two of Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway. Complete with a full floor of museum displays, the Hall of Fame, a movie theater and even a gift shop offering a full catalog of sprint car-related items, the building is home to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Foundation, a nonprofit tasked with helping to further the sport of sprint car racing by “promoting the future by preserving the past.”
Executive Director Bob Baker cites the inductees themselves as one of the foundation’s greatest assets.
Far and away, the most active inductee is Shane Carson. The former outlaw racer and second-generation promoter (his father, Bud Carson, is also a HoF inductee) spends much of his free time as an ambassador to sprint car racing and endlessly promoting the NSCHoF.
“There are so many inductees that do things for us,” Baker said with his usual infectious enthusiasm. “The photographers are always helping us with pictures for inductees or for a program we’re doing. Jim Chini helps us with photos, John Mahoney helps us. Mike Arthur is another photographer that helps us. Gene Marderness helps us anytime we need pictures.”
Many of the images featured on the inductee’s permanent plaques are provided from the archives of Hall of Fame photographers.
“Shirley Kear (Valentine) helps us with anything in Ohio,” Baker continued. “If we need anything in Ohio, Shirley’s usually the person we call. She helps us if we’re looking for a wing or a part or something for the raffle car. Because she’s in the parts business, she knows everybody and she’s done it for so long.
“Kenny Jacobs, just for an example, he builds things and right now he’s trying to get a bunch of car parts and engine parts together to build some kind of lamp to donate to us for our auction.
“In Washington, look at Steve Beitler. Steve invites us to his race track all the time and now he’s on our board of directors,” Baker added. “And those guys on the board have to fly to be at all these meetings on their own dime and their own hotels and everything. He’s always at our auctions.
“When I think of races, I think of Emmett (Hahn) and Lanny (Edwards) because of the Chili Bowl. I mean, they have welcomed us down there and been so gracious to us. They let us announce our poll awards and our new Hall of Fame inductees there every year.
“Bob Mays, who works over at Speedway Motors’ museum, he’s been instrumental in helping us swap cars back and forth between our museums and he knows so many people in the business — as far as the museum business goes — that if there’s something that we’re looking for that he doesn’t have he can usually find it for us.
“And, likewise with Lynn Paxton,” Baker continued. “Lynn Paxton is probably the closest ambassador for sprint car racing to Shane Carson that our sport has. He’s got the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing, he’s always promoting racing wherever he goes and he comes here to our induction banquet every year and spearheads our Friday night racing roundtable that we do with all the inductees. It’s kind of like a bench racing thing we do where they tell stories but the fans get to interact with them and talk with them.”
The Hall of Famers are great supporters of the sport as a whole.
“Whenever we’re at a trade show — it doesn’t matter if we’re at PRI or a race track — Danny Smith always stops by and buys raffle tickets and tells everybody with him to, then he tells people that he meets at the event to buy tickets,” Baker said. “He’s always very positive about the Hall of Fame and he’s always sending people to visit as they’re crossing the country. They come in and say, ‘Danny Smith told me to stop by,’ and ‘Danny Smith told me I should see you.’”
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