ALL STAR SUPER SPRINTS


WELLMAN LEHMAN & WCS

WELLMAN LEHMAN & WAYNE COUNTY SPEEDWAY    

By Doc Lehman

Click on thumbnails to enlarge images!

THE EARLY YEARS:

Wellman Lehman was the seventh of eight children born to W. Bert & Mabel (Berg) Lehman in Dalton, OH. In 1915 Bert became the first Chevrolet dealer in Wayne County, OH and opened a dealership and garage in Mt. Eaton, OH. His first customer was an uncle, John Lehman. Bert began attending auto races circa 1912 and was a frequent visitor to board, dirt and pavement tracks throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Frank Reichenbach of Orrville came from a fairly wealthy family (the family was in the horse business in Orrville for a couple of generations) and had eventually aquired a Chevrolet dealership in Orrville. He constructed a new building at 249 West Market Street in Orrville and went about hiring the best mechanics and salesmen in the area. He went to Bert with zeal and made him a good deal. Bert would head up the service department and still keep his dealership in Mt. Eaton, which would be overseen by his brother in law, Earl Younker. Eventually Bert sold the Mt. Eaton business to Younker on September 30, 1924 and Bert remained at Reichenbach and added salesman to his list of duties.

Since the early teens Bert had a growing interest in auto racing and circa 1912 he started attending various auto racing events including the famous or ‘infamous’ wooden board race tracks that were anywhere from 1/2 mile to one mile plus in length. Bert often attended major events at tracks in Uniontown, PA, Altoona, PA, Akron, OH, Indianapolis, IN and many other venues. His favorite driver was Ralph DePalma, one of the first national superstar racers.

In 1920, ever the engineer, Bert decided to build his own car, a ‘speedster’.

The chassis was from a 1919 490 Chevrolet Touring Car which originally cost $490.00 new. Bert built and installed a 171 c.i. engine with rebored 3/4″ valves in place of the original 1 1/2 ones. It also featured a FB 3 port head with a larger intake and carburetor. He designed special brackets, which Ohio Drilling welded for him, and installed oversized headlights. He used solid corrugated steel disc wheels with 30″ x 3 1/2″ tires.  He also installed a set of racing gears (4:11) and moved the front axle ahead of the radiator for better handling. With the front wheels balanced it could attain speeds of around 85 MPH.

He ordered a special body from a company in Chicago that cost $150 and featured a hood and radiator shell with rumble seats.

W. Bert hotlapped the car once at the Wayne County Fairgrounds in Wooster, OH prior to a horse race and eventually sold it in 1926 to Frank Reichenbach. Reichenbach had Bert transform it into a race car and then hired Carl ‘Shorty’ Drexler to drive it at various race tracks. Drexler, a native of Massillon, was at the time living on West High Street in Orrville. Drexler, who began racing in the mid-1920’s went on to become a national star competing in over 6,000 races during his career that saw him winning in Speedsters, Midgets, Roadsters, Champ Cars (Sprint Cars) and nearly every other form of motorsports throughout his long and storied career.

Driver Carl 'Shorty' Drexler and the race car built and maintained by W. Bert Lehman. 1926

Drexler, with Bert as crew chief, competed in Bert’s race car from 1926 through 1928 and won at tracks in Lisbon, Akron, Springfield, Canton, Hartford, Carollton, Altoona, PA and various other speed venues and on asphalt, dirt and board surfaces.

On Labor Day 1926 the car, owned and sponsored by Reichenbach Chevrolet of Orrville, won the biggest dirt track race of the year at the speedway in Cadiz, OH. The track, a 1/2 mile dirt track, featured a 150-lap main event that W. Bert’s car, driven by Drexler, won. The Orrville, OH Courier-Crescent newspaper ran the story on the front page and credited Bert’s mechanical expertise with a successful race. It was the only race car in the field that did not run out of gas or overheat.

Racing at the Smithfield, Ohio dirt track.

So basically, Wellman Lehman was ‘born’ into racing with a winning car builder & crew chief father.

Over the ensuring years Wellman would attend auto racing events with his father and with his brothers in Ohio and California. A favorite of Wellman’s was the Midget races in San Diego prior to World War II and annual visits to tracks like Manzanita and Ascot after the war.

WAYNE COUNTY SPEEDWAY:

In late fall 1964 (Pete & Harve) Jacobs, Wellman Lehman, Myron Werntz and Gary Bossler came together as track officers to form a corporation for the proposed Wayne County Speedway. Using 23 acres of his own land across the road from his home, Jacobs soon had his two sons onboard, Harve and Ken as investors (stockholders) in addition to Bob Auten, Clyde Shoup, Stanley Huffman, Glenn Davisson, Dale Tope, John Malcuit, Bob Condo, Rich Falk and a number of others.

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 of director 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 as fans enthusiastically watched the ‘supermodifieds’ that would eventually evolve into Sprint Cars. The huge crowd 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 and the board 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. They continued this practice for four years.

Wellman Lehman, Steve Smith & Susan Jacobs - 1977

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.
Although the bulk of the business and management was left up to Harve Jacobs, Wellman Lehman and the board of directors until the following year when Wellman Lehman purchased majority stock and in 1972 became president and promoter of WCS. The board of directors added new members during the 1970’s including Rich Falk, Bill Condo, Clyde Shoup, Dale Tope and John Malcuit and others.
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.

Once the 1970’s arrived WCS took a more active role in booking bigger shows, including the original All Star Circuit of Champions, USAC and Lehman’s All Star Super Sprints. As the weekly shows grew Late Models quickly became the dominant class by the mid-70’s and in addition to large weekly fields a handful of higher paying ‘invitationals’ were staged each year including the crowd-packing Buckeye Classic which started in 1969 with Pat Patrick winning the inaugural race. The Buckeye Classic ran through 1983 when it was renamed the Buckeye Nationals.

During the early 1970’s Late Models took front and center stage once and for all and dominating drivers included Bob Cowen, Lloyd Wirt, John ‘Doc’ Simmons, Tom Jarrett, Bob Cannon, Ken Jacobs, Dave Haven, Danny Dean, Harold Snell, Jack Ashbrook, Jim Gentry, Blaine Aber, Woody Holland, Eph Davis, Dave Yobe, Jim Fleming, Don Goff, Roger Reuer, Wimpy Yarmen, Dave Benner and Dean Alexander who moved to Late Models exclusively after a couple seasons racing both Late Models and Sprints. Once the mid and late 70’s arrived new careers were in full swing with drivers like a young John Mason scoring the 1975 championship followed by drivers like Brad Malcuit, Ron Davis, and other competitors made WCS home, including frequent visits and wins from Pennyslvania’s Dave Hoffman, Bob Burris, Tom Durig, Tom Pattin, Ron Hartong and others.

Even though WCS held many high-dollar Sprint Car events during the 1960’s & 1970’s, eventually, during the very early 70’s, the track began bringing in various sanctioning groups like USAC and Bud Miller’s original All Star Circuit of Champions. These events always brought in the country’s best open wheelers like Jan Opperman, Kenny Weld, Dub May, Lou Blaney, Steve Smith and many others. When the original ASCoC disbanded Wellman Lehman started up the All Star Super Sprint sanction in cooperation with a number of promoters. The series ran full-force from 1975-1977 as a touring series and ran each season at WCS. Rick Ferkel, Harold McGilton, Jim Darley, Don Hewitt and a host of other star Sprint Car drivers participated at WCS in these events which also saw appearances by very young drivers like Tim Richmond, Charlie Swartz, Sammy Swindell, Kenny Jacobs, Ed Haudenschild, Jac Haudenschild and others.

When the World of Outlaws formed in the late 1970s Wellman Lehman immediately began booking WoO shows at WCS. After his retirement, wih Clyde Shoup, Glen Davisson and Bob Auten, often leased WCS and hosted their own WoO events.

During the latter part of the 1970’s when the M.O.S.S. Sprint & Late Model series was formed Lehman booked several shows. When that organization dissolved two original M.O.S.S. owners, Bert Emick and Jerry Clum, reformed with original All Star Circuit of Champions owner Bud Miller using the ASCoC name in 1980 and bringing on investors and board members Wellman Lehman, Earl Baltes and Jean Lynch, Lehman booked both ASCoC Late Model and Sprint races.

During the inaugural season for the ASCoC Late Models in 1980 the very first race for the new organization was held at Wayne County Speedway on May 25 with Rodney Combs taking the series’ inaugural win. Four additional ASCoC Late Model races were held at WCS throughout the ’80 season with Delmas Conley and Danny Dean each winning one while Charlie Swartz won twice. WCS booked ASCoC shows for many years afterwards.

Wellman Lehman & Steve Kinser - WCS

In 1984 when Carl Short, Frank Plessinger and Satch Worley formed STARS Lehman immediately booked two shows with the first STARS WCS race going to Ray Godsey on August 10, 1984 and Skip Furlow nipping Jim Gentry by inches at the checkers for the second STARS appearance during the inaugural year on October 6, 1984. Throughout the 1980’s and well into the 1990’s WCS hosted a multitude of STARS races. So many that for many years it was known as ‘The Home of the STARS’ until Hagerstown took that distinction.

During the early and mid-80’s besides a strong field of weekly cars, Donnie Moran, Mike Balzano, John Mason, Jack Hewitt and many other ‘touring’ drivers made regular stops at WCS as sanctioned events weren’t as prevalent in those days. In 1988 Moran was on a four-race win streak and a $500 bounty was put up and it took two weeks before John Mason could claim it.

In 1983 Sprint Cars returned to the weekly show at WCS and winning the championship that year Bud Jacobs. The Sprint Cars remained a weekly component at WCS through the 2003 season. During the time the Sprint Cars returned in the 1980’s drivers like Mike Latsch, Rusty McClure, Ed Hausenschild, George Prosser, Neven Root, Rick Preston, Gary Griffith and a host of others raced weekly at WCS.

In 1985 Don Gross & family assumed the management reins after Wellman Lehman retired and the Gross’ purchased a large block of stock.

During his years at WCS he introduced several long-running special events including the BUCKEYE CLASSIC that ran twice a year featuring a program each for Sprint Cars and Late Models. The BUCKEYE CLASSIC ran for nearly 20 years. Lehman was also among the first promoters to host high dollar special event headlining both Sprint Cars and Late Models.

Wellman Lehman was also well known for many innovative promotions that he implemented during the 1970s that are still being utilized by promoters today. Among some of his more popular promotions enjoyed by WCS fans was bringing in NASCAR drivers to compete with WCS’ weekly competitors. On many occasions the likes of David Pearson, Tiny Lund or some other NASCAR star would make an appearance and run the entire night’s racing program, sometimes winning. And many drivers would often be surprised in victory lane when they found thelmselves being photographed with celebrities. A frequent, and popular visitor to WCS was Miss Ohio, regardless of who was wearing the crown.

Wellman Lehman was born July 23, 1926 in Dalton, OH and passed away on March 12, 2000. He attended Orrville High School and served in the US Army during World War II. He married Lois E. harmon on September 29, 1954. She passed away in 2000.

He also owned and operated a trucking firm, Lehman Leasing, from 1950 to 1993. He and his wife also owned and operated Lehman’s House of Tourquise in Orrville, OH, a jewelry business, from 1971 – 1980. He was a member of Cedar Lodge #430 F.&A.M. and was a lifetime member of the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA).

Wellman Lehman was inducted into the Inaugural Class of the Wayne County Speedway Hall of Fame on June 26, 2005.

(c)2011 Doc Lehman


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