Auxter guarantees vintage car racing will entertain

J. Patrick Eaken

Last Monday, 92-year-old Lindsey resident “Gentleman” Johnny Auxter was driving the tractor for his neighbor, who was bailing hay.

He is an expert at handling machinery, and there is no one better to have behind the wheel, even at his age.

However, if there is a message that Auxter wants to get out, it is come out to the Johnny Auxter Day Vintage Car Racing at Fremont Speedway on August 8. It is your best bet to watch race cars like the ones Auxter drove years ago.

“He is quite a legend. He was in the very first race ever held at Fremont Speedway in 1951,” said Fremont Hall of Fame curator Randy Mapus.

“He still comes to the races every week. The guy raced on Daytona, on the beach, and he is from Lindsey, Ohio. We honored him and his friend, (Ken) ‘Red’ Root — who is also from Lindsey. They’ve been at the race track every year since 1951 and have been friends since high school and have been friends for decades — most people don’t have that,” Mapus continued.

Besides his nine career feature wins at Fremont Speedway, Auxter was Fremont’s 1972 Super Sprint/Super Modified track champion. He has competed at over 200 different tracks during his career, including the sands of Daytona Beach. 

Auxter started racing in a 1937 Ford, winning a MARC sprint championship at Fremont in 1953.

That first car, legend has it, had a rock filled pipe that weighed around 500 pounds and rims from old wagon wheels that Auxter was able to find.

“We had ’37 Ford Coupes, which is what I had, and we weren’t going very fast and we thought we were moving fast, you know,” Auxter said. “The ’37, ’38 Fords we had handled beautiful for us. We had a good Ford engine in it, and it ran well. We ran it at Daytona Beach, too.”

But most race fans remember the Fremont Speedway hall of fame inductee in his maroon and white No. 12 roaster in the mid-1960s. When Auxter bought a sprint car in the early 1970s, it carried the familiar colors and numbers. 

Auxter has literally raced all over the country on dirt and asphalt. He has also had hall of fame drivers behind the wheel of his cars including Darl Harrison. In 2009, Auxter was also inducted into the Little 500 Hall of Fame in Anderson, Indiana. Auxter continued racing into the early 1990s.

“I ran against quite a few (NASCAR drivers) years ago. At Indianapolis, I ran against some of them that won (the Indianapolis 500), like (Gordon) Johncock won, and he ran with us at Sandusky and Toledo,” Auxter said, noting that Toledo also once hosted NASCAR races.

Like most athletes, Auxter’s interest in racing began as a youngster. 

“I watched the midget races in Toledo and Upper Sandusky when I was in high school in the 1940s, and that got me all wound up. Later, I raced against the same guys I was watching, but they were quite a bit older than me,” Auxter said.

Auxter says growing up around machinery on a farm also helped spur his interest in automobiles and racing.

“It was great. That is all I knew. It was more than farming,” Auxter said. 

Now that Auxter is mostly a spectator, he is amazed by how quickly the technology and racing tactics change.

“It changes fast. Right now, the right rear tire rim on one of those sprint cars is as much as we had on the whole dang car back in the ‘50s,” Auxter said. “I watch the drivers, the young kids that I know. The heck of it is nowadays that these kids start out full bore. In the old days, we started out slow and tried to move up. Now they are getting in the cars and going fast — real fast.”

Auxter and Root typically hang out in the pits, where they are celebrities. 

“All the kids know me — I call them kids, even though they are 22 or 23,” Auxter said.

Root, who is two years younger than Auxter, was a sophomore distance runner on the Fremont Ross track team when Auxter was a senior sprinter, and that is where they became friends.

Root was an auto racing pioneer and was one of four owners — along with Dick Willey, Floyd Slatter, and Auxter — of a race team with Auxter as the driver. The team began in 1950 and competed in that very first race at Fremont Speedway in 1951.

Root was also part of the team that competed on the beach in Daytona, Florida. Root helped build the chassis and engines in those race cars and was the “gear changer” at the track.  Root was a part of the Auxter team until 1957, but the two have never parted ways.

Slatter was also a pioneer in auto racing. He was one of the four owners and mechanics on the No. 100 car that competed at the very first race at Fremont Speedway. Slatter was happiest when he was elbows deep in oil and grease working on an engine and mechanical parts. He was a fixture at fellow hall of fame member Fritz Meyers’ Garage.

To these guys, the local short tracks are as entertaining as anywhere. If you are watching NASCAR races every week on national television, Mapus says you need to give the short tracks at Fremont, Attica, Toledo, Sandusky, Oakshade, and Flat Rock, Michigan a chance.

“Anytime you get a 35-lap race from the sprint cars, and I prefer non-wings, it is the most action and it is over and done with. That is my race,” Mapus said.










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