ELMA — A near-capacity crowd crammed into the Elma Eagles’ banquet room on Saturday night to honor the past, present and future of auto racing in Elma and Grays Harbor.
Six new members of the Elma Auto Racing Hall of Fame were inducted on Saturday, with one previously inducted member reintroduced and two longtime contributors to auto racing in Elma were honored.
The Class of 2014 were — Tumwater’s Dirk Stephens, McCleary’s Ron “Frito” Larson, Aberdeen’s Don Spoon III, Shelton’s Dale Way, Shelton’s George Richert and Montesano’s Bob Carter. Hoquiam’s Herman Burns was honored with the Larry Spoon Distinguished Service Award and Elma’s Phil Martelli, the longtime voice of Grays Harbor Raceway, was honored with the Fred Brownfield Exemplary Contribution Award.
The new Grays Harbor Raceway promoter, Steve Beitler, also spoke to the crowd about his plans for the raceway this season and in the future.
A silent auction and raffle to benefit the hall of fame organization, now in its sixth year, was also held. Rick Leighty, the EARHoF President, said that more than 225 people attended the ceremony and more than $4,000 was raised for the organization through the silent auction and raffle.
The highest bid was $490 for an autographed Hank Williams Jr. guitar, which was donated by Stephens.
Hall of Fame
Stephens started in Elma as a hobby stock champion in the Elma Auto Racing Association, winning the division title in 1982. He quickly moved on to asphalt racing and drove up the ranks of the NASCAR ladder, finishing with rides in the NASCAR Busch and Truck series in 1994-95 and two starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series in his career. Stephens is currently a late model driver at South Sound Speedway in Tenino.
“I want to thank everyone for this honor,” Stephens said. “Being inducted into the Elma Auto Racing Hall of Fame is a nice honor to have in my racing career.”
Larson, who earned his nickname as a high school student whose car was an old Frito-Lay delivery van, ran stock cars in Elma in the 1970, becoming the EARA’s final super stock champion in 1979. The longtime truck driver was one of the key volunteers who helped construct the three-tenths of a mile oval that the current track now resides upon. He started racing as a drag racer in Bremerton and is still a drag racer in the nostalgia class throughout the Northwest.
“I’m very proud to be here and it is a great honor; (Martelli) is right, my heart has always been in the dirt,” Larson said. “It has always been more exciting that drag racing, but I’m still drag racing.”
Spoon III is the nephew of hall of fame member Larry Spoon and he bought his uncle’s B-modified car to start racing in the late 1970s. Spoon III ran in the modifieds, supermodifieds and sprint cars in Elma and throughout the Northwest. The Aberdeen native never won an association or track championship, but was a fixture at Elma and Skagit Speedway for the better part of three decades.
“It it wasn’t for a lot of people behind the scenes, I would not be here tonight,” said Spoon III, who thanked his many pit crew members over the years. “I knew from a very young age, I always wanted to be a driver. I watched a lot of drivers in the stands — Bill Skaggs, Earl Fritz, Ray Stephens, Rich Leighty and a bunch of other drivers. … I just wanted to be a driver. My uncle was one of the inspirational guy. He gave me my first car he built and he taught me a lot about building the motors, the cars. He’s the one who got me going.”
Spoon III also noted that George Wixson, an inaugural Hall of Fame member, was one of the best drivers he ever received advise from.
Way began working with drivers and cars in Elma in 1972 with Vic Wright and has been a fixture at Grays Harbor Raceway ever since. Currently a member of Kris Asche’s modified crew, Way worked with many drivers and car owners. He is known as a crew chief who could build a car and a motor to stand the rigors of the season — for several seasons after that, as well.
“This is a great honor for a kid from Matlock,” Way said.
Richert’s racing career came in the 1970s with a 1972 jalopy division championship with EARA in Elma and consistent top-10 finishes in the season points standings in Elma. The Shelton native also raced in Monroe before stepping away from racing.
“I would like to thank the (EARHoF) organization for this honor,” Richert said. “Up until three weeks ago, I didn’t even know it existed. I enjoyed racing in Elma. It was a great track to learn how to race on and you stayed out of trouble. Well, that is unless you were looking to get into trouble.”
Carter was one of the early pioneers of auto racing in Grays Harbor, racing at the Clemons Hill race track in Central Park before the Elma track was built. Carter was one of several Montesano racers who held up a rivalry with the Raymond racers, who included Jason Longwith, in the 1950s. The Monte native became a car owner and sponsor after the track came off hiatus in the late 1960s.
His induction to the Hall of Fame was done posthumously.
Wendy Peterson, a 2012 Hall of Fame member, was reintroduced after members of his family contacted the EARHoF committee after they saw his induction noted on the Internet. Peterson, a Centralia native, was one of the very first Evergreen Stock Car Racing Association drivers and champions in 1955 on the Clemons Hill track. Peterson retired to become a full member of the Washington State Patrol.
Shelley Sadie-Hill, Wendy Peterson’s daughter, accepted the induction award for her father.
Burns, a Hoquiam driver, drove in the EARA jalopy class when the Elma track reopened in 1965, but was better known as an car building innovator in the pits. His ingenuity and imagination with the welding torch kept his cars on the track and helped other drivers keep theirs rolling and winning. Burns and George Wixson combined efforts to win the 1968 EARA semi-modified division title. He would later become a championship car owner as well.
Burns traveled from Missouri to accept his Larry Spoon award and thanked Wixson, Larry Spoon and Rich Leighty for their help throughout the years.
The biggest surprise of the night came when Martelli gave up the microphone to Rick Leighty, who announced that the longtime public address announcer was the recipient of the Fred Brownfield award. Martelli started his announcing career in 1975 in Yakima and was talked into becoming the race announcer at Grays Harbor in 1984 by sprint car driver Rick Greene and EARA member Stormy Glick.
“He was involved a little bit at the old half-mile track, a lot at the three-tenths and has been around the three-eighths since it started,” Leighty said. “There are not a lot of guys who have been (associated) with all three tracks and he has. We also didn’t want to announce this ahead of time, because we wanted to get some work out of him beforehand.”
“I don’t really have much to say, but I thank you and I still love doing this,” said Martelli. “I am still here and I’m looking forward to the future of Grays Harbor Raceway.”