By Doc Lehman
N.E. "Pete" Jacobs was a man who loved racing. And his passion for dirt track racing was so great, and so heartfelt, that his passion lives on today through his grandsons and great-grandsons. As well as a piece of real estate known as Wayne County Speedway.
Pete Jacobs was the man who first conceptualized a race track on some farmland he owned south of Orrville, OH. Within months of his decision to construct a race track, Wayne County Speedway was in operation.
And not only was Pete the founder of the race track, he became the patriarch to a family that has now spawned three generations of racers and a family that has made racing their passion, and, in some cases, their livelihoods.
Pete Jacobs was born in Akron, OH on April 2,1903, and married Viola "Babe" Harlan on July 4,1928. They soon moved to Orrville where Pete and Babe raised two sons, Harvey and Kenneth.
Over the years Pete developed a real thirst for racing and began attending races frequently. He became a big Dean Mast fan and began following the open wheel ace, one of the Buckeye state's best drivers. He eventually purchased a race car and hired Mast as his driver. When son Ken got out of the Army and began attending races he soon started pestering Pete to let him drive. Pete didn't want any part of his son racing, so he declined.
Eventually, in 1961, Ken decided he was going racing one way or another and began looking for a race car to buy. He found one owned by Myron Werntz. For Christmas that year, Ken's wife, Marriann, bought it for him.
Pete, ever the perfectionist, didn't think Ken's car was safe enough, and within time relented and put Ken in his car. The father-son team began running at tracks like Holmes Hilltop, Mansfield and others.
Back then purses were paid based on the front gate. Time and again the promoter at a certain track cheated the drivers until Pete couldn't take it anymore. One night Pete confronted the chintzy promoter and told him next year there would be a race track in Wayne County that took care of the drivers, played fair and was honest.
That was late summer 1964. In late fall 1964 Pete enlisted his sons, Harve and Ken, tohelp plan and put together a group of investors. Using 20 acres of his own land across the road from his home, Pete soon had his two sons onboard as investors as well as Wellman Lehman, Gary Bossler, Bob Auten, Myron Werntz, Clyde Shoup, Stanley Huffman and Glenn Davisson.
On a warm Saturday afternoon, May 1,1965, Orrville mayor Nelson Douglas led a contingent of dignitaries and enthusiastically leaned on a shovel and tossed high the first spade of earth, marking the beginning of construction of Wayne County Speedway,Inc.
Witnessing the ceremony were original board members Pete Jacobs,President;Harve Jacobs, Vice-President; Wellman Lehman, Treasurer; and Gary Bossler, Secretary.
Opening night was June 26,1965, and the nearly 3,000 seats were packed, which prompted Pete to announce that additional grandstands would be constructed as soon as possible.
Earning the distinction of winning the first race was Eph Davis, who won the first heat and established the first track record at 21.36 in his open wheel modified sprint. The first feature event went to Myron Harris over Ken Jacobs, Eph Davis, Joe Carny, Dick Plew, Pee Wee Venables and Tom Ute.
The track experienced tremendous growth right out of the chute, both in fan and car counts. Some of the region's biggest open wheel drivers descended on the track throughout its first season, including Dean Alexander, Royal Freed, Woody Holland, Dick Byerly, Pete Bonewit, Chuck Adams, Leroy Kendall, Jim Renner and Ed McClure. Jim Steurer claimed the first season championship.
In 1966 Pete began experimenting with running two nights a week. On Saturday nights they would run open wheel cars and on Sunday nights full bodied (Late Models) cars. The continued this practice for four years.
In the spring of 1970 Pete began experiencing declining health. On June 2 Pete passed away in Orrville. He was 67 years old. He was buried at Crown Hill Cemetary in Orrville with many, many members of the racing community in attendance.
Pete had nearly six years to nurture and establish his track the way he wanted a race track to operate. Although the bulk of the business and management was left up to Harve , Wellman Lehman and the board of directors, Pete had a vision and a concept that he lived to see realized.
Pete was a perfectionist and a detail oriented man. He was professional but had the proverbial heart of gold. One former track official told this writer that if Pete had his way, he would have let everyone in free.
Two years later, Pete's wife, Viola "Babe" Jacobs, passed away.
The end of an era and the beginning of a new one came with Pete's passing. The management reins were picked up by Harve and later the following year by Wellman Lehman. The board of directors added new members Rich Falk, Bill Condo, Clyde Shoup and John Malcuit.
A year after Pete's passing the track hosted the PETE JACOBS MEMORIAL TWIN INVITATIONAL in honor of the track's founder. This was the biggest race the track ever hosted up to that point and it offered the then unheard of (for 1971 standards) purse of $5,000 going to each of the co-headliners, Sprints & Late Models.
Harold McGilton won the 50-lap Sprint Car feature while Bob Cannon took the Late Model event. Most of the midwest's top racers competed in the special event before a record crowd. It was a fitting tribute to the founder of the track by the fans, employees & drivers.
Pete Jacobs was a man respected....and missed!
Ken drove his father's car, the #066, for several years, winning countless races in the open wheel machine. Ken also found himself driving other cars for owners such as Clyde Shoup, Harry Kane and Chuck Gossard.
In 1970 Ken went into Late Models and went on a tear. After winning his fourth feature in a row a bounty was placed on him at Wayne County. And if all his racing activities weren't enough to keep him busy, Ken also worked full time as a truck driver and helped Marriann raise their seven children: Kathy, Kenny, Susan, Lola, Bud, Mary Beth and Dean. Ken continued racing until he retired in 1974.
"Racing was just something I always loved to do," explained Ken, also known as "Jake". "But the best I ran against regularly were Eph Davis, Jack Norris, Wimpy Yarman and Joe Carney. I preferred open wheel cars, but I won more races in the Late Models."
In 1962, when Ken started racing, many tracks occasionally had Powder Puff races. Ken's wife, Marriann, decided she wanted to give it a shot one night, so she approached Pete and asked about driving his car. No way!!! Pete's attempts to discourage Ken didn't work, but he definitely wouldn't have any part of his daughter-in-law out on the track.
Marriann found a willing owner and she drove her first race. She eventually began winning at Holmes Hilltop and Mansfield. In 1966 Wayne County held their first Powder Puff race and Marriann finished second to Suzie Plew. Eventually Marriann would win more than she lost and often drove cars belonging to Jim Gentry, Tom Patton, Harry Kane and George Magyar.
What special memories does Marriann have of her own career? "Well, I remember competing in a demolition derby one time and two days later, I was real sore!" explained Marriann. "But the most special night was when Kenneth and I both won features the same night!"
On August 2, 1970, Ken won the Late Model feature at Wayne County and was also voted Mid-Season Sportsman of the Year by the drivers. When the Powder Puff rolled out, Marriann took command in Jim Gentry's #14 Late Model and won handily. In 1973 she won the track's season championship and points title. The following year she, like Ken, retired from driving.
All seven of their children literally grew up at race tracks. Throughout their youth all their children worked at Wayne County in one capacity or another, whether in the ticket booth or the concession stand or wherever else help was needed.
It wasn't unusual to see grade school and junior high aged Kenny Jacobs in the water truck circling the track and giving it a good soaking. And it was a given that with four extremely attractive daughters (Kathy, Susan, Lola & Mary Beth), at least one would be a trophy queen. In fact, two (Susan & Mary Beth) did during the 1970s. Susan at Wayne County and Mary Beth at Lakeville Speedway. Today all the girls are married women with children.
The family's racing talent didn't end with Dad and Mom. In 1972, a then-17 year old Kenny Lee Jacobs, a wrestling star at Waynedale High School, pulled an old, homemade modified sprint chassis out of the weeds behind a barn on the family farm. A former car of his father's, Kenny put the car together and began his racing career at Wayne County and Lakeville.
But age 17 wasn't Kenny's first time behind the wheel of a race car. One time when the track first opened, Ken let his son, Kenny, take some laps around WCS one night after the races ended. Kenny was nine years old.
As Kenny's father explained, "I put him in and let him go. You couldn't hardly see his head sticking up above the dashboard. He was doing pretty good, though, until my dad (Pete) happened to see who was driving. Boy! Did he ever chew me out!"
How did young Kenny's first racing experience, at age 17, go for the future Sprint superstar? "I flipped in the first corner on the first lap of qualifying the first night I drove a racecar," related Kenny. Things could only get better, and they did.
For the next six or so years Kenny drove for his father at area tracks. He practically owned Lakeville Speedway. In fact, one year he won 15 out of 17 races held there, winning against three of his best friends, Brad Doty, Ed Haudenschild and Jac Haudenschild. Brad and Jac started their careers a couple years after Kenny.
Kenny began branching out and running more tracks. In 1978, the first season of the World of Outlaws, he finished 18th in points. At the end of the decade the All Star Circuit of Champions was reformed and an opportunity arose for him to run the series when Ed Reno offered him a ride in his #4J. That was the birth of Kenny's professional career.
Eventually Kenny had to decide whether to pursue racing on a fulltime basis or keep his job and race part time. With Reno's backing, owner Butch Smith offered Kenny a full time ride in his #47. He has been a professional, full time racer ever since.
Over the years Kenny raced for many car owners, winning with all of them, including several years on the WoO tour. Some of Kenny's more high profile rides included the Doug Howell #4, the Genessee Beer Wagon, the #29 Beefmobile for Bob Weikert, the Leon Wintermyer #1w, the Tom Wimmer #7TW, Dan Motter's #71m, the Denny Ashworth #92, the Hughes Motorsports #94 and finally, behind the wheel of his own team, the Kenny Jacobs Motorsports #6.
Kenny's accomplishments are numerous: all time leading All Star feature winner (86), Historical Big One winner, Williams Grove Open winner, and many, many more. He is also a former USAC Rookie of the Year for both Sprints and Champ Cars, a three time Eldora Speedway champ, and currently a multi-titled All Star points champion.
Today, Kenny, 48, is set to once again stir the Denny Ashworth owned #92. He is married to Kim and they have three children: Jennifer, Kendra and Lee. They reside in Holmesville, OH.
Gerald "Bud" Jacobs, the second son of Kenny & Marriann, started his racing career in 1980 after digging out an old race car that belonged to his grandfather. After putting the car in running condition, Bud and friend Mike Kerr used to take it across the road and run laps in it in the Wayne County Speedway parking lot. When the "racing fever" finally hit, Bud purchased a Late Model from Blaine Aber and started competing at WCS and Lakeville.
With his brother, Kenny, achieving success in Sprints, and with open wheel tradition in the family, Bud decided to give Sprints a try. During a race in early 1981, Bud received a lesson from his older brother. As Bud relates: "I was racing the old #066 Sidewinder that Kenny started in. In the heat race I must have been fiddling around, but Kenny was there watching and when I went into the pits he said, 'when the green flag drops, stand on it!' So, in the feature I took his advice. They dropped the green, I stood on it and hit the car in front of me who spun out. I hit him so hard I knocked the engine out of his car!"
During the next seven years Bud raced for his father as well as for car owners Ken Bodkins, Pete Smith, Tom Liedig, Ray Cordell, John Cotner, Karen Boston and Charlie Brown. Besides WCS, Bud also competed at Lakeville (where he won his first feature), Lernerville, Sharon, KC, Southern Ohio, Millstream, Muskingum County, Mercer and others.
During 1983 Bud won the points championship at Wayne County Speedway and also won the Most Improved Driver Award. That same year Bud finished second in points at Lakeville.
After discussing his career highlights, Bud remembers one stand-out night in particular. "The year Dean and I battled it out at Wayne County for first and second!" said Bud. "He just got lucky!"
Bud has lots of memories about his family's activities in racing, especially his grandparents and parents. "I still picture Grandpa watching races and Calhoun (Glenn Davisson) watering the track. As kids Dean and I used to go over to the track the next morning and find money and whatever else we could drag home."
"I still remember Dad winning a race and Grandpa handing him a trophy," continued Bud. "Competitively, the thing I remember most was Dad in the #066 kicking butt. As far as my feelings go there wasn't a better race car driver in the world than when my Dad raced."
"Of course, Mom wasn’t so bad herself! She raced Jim Gentry's #14 Late Model a lot. She won a bunch of races and I remember her winning quite a few in Gentry's car, holding that checkered flag and that beautiful smile. She was probably the person who made the checker flag she was holding!"
Today, Bud, 41, has three sons: Gerald, Taylor and Ryan. He is employed as a truck driver. The return of Bud Jacobs in a Sprint Car is not out of the question.
Dean, 38, is the youngest of Ken and Marriann's children and in recent years he has established himself as a contender, especially on the All Star Sprint circuit. His career began in 1981 after spending years watching his father and brothers race.
Early on Dean spent time on Jack Hewit's pit crew. Dean began racing himself at Lakeville in Sprints in '81. On the first night he raced at Lakeville he won the first race he was in, the B Main. His first career win came in 1983 when he won WCS' Season Championship race.
He also began to travel more and began to race at tracks like Tri-City, Sharon, Lernerville and others. As he gained more experience he began to rack up wins...until bad luck intervened.
Dean was involved in an accident at Sharon Speedway and received severe burns to his leg, face and hands. After a length, and painful, recovery period, Dean resumed his career.
Over the next several years Dean got back up front and drive for a variety of car owners, including Ken Bodkins, Junior Holbrook, Pete Smith, De Genzman, John Toth, Jack Arnold, Dick Hostetler and his father.
Among just a few of Dean's many accomplishments is the 1992 WCS Sprint points title and the 1988 USAC Rookie of the Year title. He has over 40 wins and a reputation as one of the smoothest, yet extremely aggressive racers who ride the rim.
After a couple year stint fielding his own team, the Frigidaire #1f, Dean hooked up with Denny Ashworth for most of 1998 before spending time with Junior Holbrook and other team owners. Today Dean is the driver of the Pullins Motorsports #29 team and is chasing the All Star Circuit of Champions title.
Dean and his wife, Tina, live south of Wooster, OH with their two sons, Trey and Cody. Dean doesn't know if his sons will follow in his footsteps, but his oldest son, Cody, has become a popular fixture at race tracks all across the country for his flagging! He has a set of flags and tries to be seated behind the flagman.
Publicly, family members kid each other and give each other a hard time. But privately, they all express their respect for each other. When Ken and Marriann's boys are asked who their heroes in racing are, they all name their father at the top of the list. When asked who they admire and respect on the track, they all name the other.
Today, Ken, 68, is a retired steel hauler and Marriann is a housewife and school bus driver for Orrville City Schools. They spend their free time with their 22 grandchildren and attend Sprint Car races all across the country. On February 21 Ken and Marriann will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
And the beat goes on........
Another generation of Jacobs are all set to take the race tracks by storm. Garrett Jacobs, grandson of Harve Jacobs and great-grandson of Pete, started his Sprint Car career in 1999 driving the #75J owned by his grandfather, Harve. Garrett finished second in WCS Rookie of the Year points in '99.
Kathy's son, Pete Marthey, has expressed an interest in racing and Dean's sons, Cody and Trey, have begun racing quarter midgets.
Kenny's son, 20-year-old son Lee started his own Sprint Car career in 2000 by running the #2 Eagle Chassis owned by his father at Wayne County Speedway where Lee won the WCS Rookie of the Year title and won his career first feature racing with the BOSS 360 Sprint Cars. Lee currently drives for his father at regional tracks and with the All Star Circuit of Champions.
And all of this, three generations later, must make great-grandpa Pete a happy 'ol soul!
©2003 Doc Lehman/Dirt America
Used by permission