Roepke — from rural Gibsonburg garage to race parties

Brian Liskai

The Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame inducted 20 people in a special ceremony Saturday, June 5 prior to the night’s racing activities which celebrate Fremont Speedway’s 70th anniversary. 

The ceremony included the Class of 2020 which had to be postponed due to the pandemic, and the Class of 2021.

Christina Roepke was inducted as a Special Contributor from the Class of 2020. Christina and her husband Jim “Smiley” Roepke began coming to Fremont Speedway shortly after the track opened in 1951. 

Jim was the track’s 1956 super modified champion and is in the Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame. The Roepke’s little garage in rural Gibsonburg held race cars for many years — not only their own, but other drivers used their shop from time to time. 

Christina played host to many after-race parties and Sunday morning coffee sessions to discuss the previous night’s racing. Christina and Jim owned cars driven by many local drivers like Don Miller, Joe Keegan, Jimmy Leaser, Al Liskai, and Jerry Nemire just to name a few. 

When Christina’s brother-in-law Jim Ford reopened Fremont Speedway in 2000, Christina went to work running and organizing the track concession stands. Christina can still be found today working the “Country Kitchen” concession in the track’s pits. Other Special Contributors from the 2020 and 2021 classes included —

Jerry Gabel – Gabel helped get the word out about the racing at Fremont Speedway, writing a weekly column for the local newspaper called “Around the Oval.”  He and his wife kept all the statistics for Fremont Speedway for many years. Gabel even raced a car once.

Ted Foster – Foster’s support of Fremont Speedway began when he was just 13 years old, riding in the wrecker with his dad to the track. By the time Foster turned 16 he was running the family-owned wrecker weekly at the track. Foster and his father helped build Fremont Speedway, putting the poles in for the track guardrails. Foster helped out on the track’s ambulance crew, drove the track’s pace car and even helped work the pit area for a couple of years. The Foster wrecker from Foster’s Auto Body called Fremont Speedway home for nearly 30 years. 

Howard Halbeisen – Halbeisen was an avid racing enthusiast that loved being at the track. Halbeisen worked as a pit steward for around 27 years, starting when the Stelters were running the speedway in the mid-1950s. He was the runner, taking race line ups from the scoring tower back to the pits to place on the line-up board. As time progressed and things modernized Halbeisen eventually worked out of the pit tower setting up the race lineups after receiving word from the scoring tower.

Halbeisen also would help line up cars for each race and provide fuel to racers as needed. His love of Fremont Speedway was passed on to all seven of his children. His son, Terry, is very active in the Fremont Speedway Hall of Fame and North Coast Vintage Racers. The rest of the family to this day stays involved in racing by helping with 50/50 drawings or going to and supporting racing at Fremont Speedway.



Dave Hoover – Hoover started racing in 1964 in the hobby stock division at Fremont Speedway. He drove sprint cars from 1968-70, driving for Gary Willey and Dick “Soup” Sabo. Hoover drove a Buick powered race car and his first sprint win was Fremont Speedway’s mid-season championship night in 1969. Hoover scored four feature wins during his career at Fremont Speedway.

Al Hager – Hager drove sprint cars for 20 years from 1976-1996, traveling all over the United States. He posted two career wins at Fremont and drove his own cars most of the time but did sit behind the wheel for owners like Donny Clapper, Ray Smith (dirt champ car), the DePalma family, Bob Hampshire, Harold Kemenah and the Coats family. Hager got interested in racing through his friendships with hall of famers George Gillespie and Eric Phillips.

Frank Kerr – Kerr, a four time champion of the All Start Circuit of Champions, posted 10 career sprint car wins at Fremont Speedway, seven of them being All Star victories, placing him fourth on the all-time All Star win list at Fremont. In fact, Kerr’s last All Star win came at Fremont Speedway during Ohio Sprint Speedweek in 2000 as he would retire from driving the next day. Kerr posted two career World of Outlaw wins during his career, one of them coming at Fremont. Kerr has been a crew chief in NASCAR for 14 years.

Scott Miller – Miller posted nine career wins at Fremont Speedway, all coming in the 305 sprint division  though he competed in 410 sprints for many years. Miller jokes he would have had many 410 sprint wins at Fremont if it “weren’t for Mark Keegan.” Miller was the track’s 305 rookie of the year and raced from the 1990s through the early 2000s. Miller won the Fremont Speedway 305 Invitational in 2003.

Al Beale Sr. – Beale was a dominant figure on the local racing scene who won more than 200 races in his career, including four at Fremont. Soon after graduating from high school in 1953, Beale turned his first car, a 1952 Ford coupe, into a racing car. In 1960, he won the first race at Toledo Speedway, and also won the first track championship held here. In the 1950s, he and his brother, hall of fame driver Rollie won many championships. Beale also won races on tracks in Wauseon, Sandusky, Mansfield, Adrian, Mich. and Jackson, Mich. Al also served as a race official with ARCA. 

Dennis Filliater – Filliater was Fremont Speedway’s 1995 street stock champion and posted five career wins at Fremont Speedway. Filliater raced from 1986 through 2001 and was also Attica Raceway Park’s 1995 street stock champion. When the street stock division transitioned to the limited late models. Filliater also ran in that division for several years.



Bob Dorr – Dorr worked on race cars from 1963-73, with cars he worked on winning many features and championships at Fremont Speedway. Having worked at Century Die with hall of famer Al Franks, Dorr developed the racing bug early on. When Neil Keckler decided to build a car for Franks to drive, Dorr became a racing mechanic. Dorr worked alongside hall of fame mechanic Tom Schemmer on race cars driven by Franks and hall of famers Daryl Harrison and Harold McGilton. Dorr’s car won the 1969 IMCA championship with Harrison at the wheel. Harrison also drove a Bob Dorr prepared car to one of his three Little 500 victories.

Floyd Heft – Heft built cars along side hall of famer Earl Lowe. One of Heft’s creations was driven by hall of famer Harry Kresser. Heft started building race cars in 1954 and he even drove some of his creations, mainly on asphalt. Heft’s favorite creation was a super modified he built in 1965.

George Gillespie – Innovator is the best word to describe Gillespie. A drag racer, hall of famer Rick Ferkel got Gillespie to attend a sprint car race and he was hooked. Gillespie helped innovate better sprint car engines. Gillespie also was one of the people responsible for bringing the “drag tire” to Ohio.

Gillespie soon turned his attention to the suspension of sprint cars. He teamed up Laverne Nance and started designing sprint car chassis. Gillespie became very active in the racing shock absorber business, designing shocks and shock dynos. He established ProShocks, which is still around though he sold the business.

Tom Kistler – Kistler’s love for racing began when he was just 12 years old, working at Fremont Speedway. His work on race cars began in the 1970s when he helped on Jim Keegan’s cars. Over the years Kistler worked on cars for hall of famers Earl Lowe, Tim Sabo and for 15 years for driver Roy Sheets. 

Kistler and his brother Paul owned late models driven by Jack Hewitt and later Tom worked on sprint cars driven by Butch Schroeder and hall of famer Mark Keegan.  Kistler said he worked on late models for 20 years and sprint cars for 10 years. During his career cars Kistler worked on won numerous track championships and recorded many feature wins.

Joe West – Joe West owned and worked on race cars/trucks that competed at Fremont Speedway for 50 years. He worked on cars driven by hall of famers Wally Hemminger, Jim Fleming, Dale Hasselbach, and Lynn Potter. Later, when the dirt truck division was created West owned and worked on trucks driven by Dustin Keegan and Dana Fry. Race cars West worked on won many features over the years.



Chub Minier – One of the only…if not the only…car owners to bring three race cars to Fremont Speedway every week. Minier owned cars in the 1960s through the 1970s – those being the No. R3. No. R3sr. and No. R3jr. with drivers George Pridemore, Mike Bogart and Jack Minier. The “R” in the numbers came from Red’s Place, a trucking business in Clyde. Minier’s cars were all equipped with Ford power under the hoods.

Chuck Miller – In high school Miller’s interest in automotive mechanics began and it turned into a lifelong passion. From his little shop in Tiffin. Miller built and owned sprint cars for nearly 20 years. Miller devoted his work earnings and all his personal time to his race cars. Miller’s No. 22 sprint cars carried drivers such as Fred Steinhouser and for 16 years (1979-95) Larry Helms.

Sam and Joyce Reed – The husband and wife team owned sprint cars driven by their son Byron beginning in 1989. The No. 5 sprint cars still compete at Fremont Speedway with Byron behind the wheel. The Reeds have recorded 36 feature wins at Fremont and seven sprint car championships – 2003, 2007, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017. The Reed family team also scored three Fremont Attica Sprint Title (FAST) championships in 2010, 2014 and 2015.

Dwight Reidling – Reidling began his career in sprint cars in 1965 after being introduced to the sport by his brother. He was a mechanic for a friend and later purchased his own car. After more than 10 years as an owner and chief mechanic he put his tools away to help raise his family. In 1991 with his children grown, Reidling returned owning and campaigning a car with his brother, Raymond and friends, Ronald Antoszewski, Howard Stone and Frank Cherry until 2002. 

Reidling helped the driving careers of Phil Gressman, Tim Shaffer and a host of other drivers. Reidling designed and built a machine for making gutters and began working out of his home, later created and owned Metal Pro Manufacturing in the early 1980s, running his successful business for nearly 30 years.

Sam Stites – Stites’s beautiful sprint cars began racing in the 1970s with hall of famer Harold McGilton behind the wheel. The iconic yellow and purple No. 81 visited victory lane on many occasions and won several track championships. Sam’s Stites Tank and Bridge sprint car won the 1975 Little 500 with hall of famer Daryl Harrison behind the wheel. Stites also sponsored a late model driven by hall of famer Roy Sheets.











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