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09/09 2017

Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in Kentucky is fitting tribute to past

dirt late model

LOCATED ON THE GROUNDS OF FLORENCE SPEEDWAY, THE FACILITY HELPS BRING THE PAST TO LIFE

BY:  MATT WEAVER

Nestled a long way down a winding country road in northern Kentucky and sitting upon the grounds of a blue-collar short track, the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame certainly lacks the glamour of its NASCAR counterpart.

But that’s kind of the point.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame sits on 150,000 square feet of history, with all the bells and whistles, in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. The Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame is literally a 2,500-square-foot aluminum shack located just outside of turn 4 at the popular but humble Florence Speedway in Union, Kentucky.

Its grit reflects those enshrined inside, even if founder and director Bill Holder admits he wouldn’t mind a few upgrades. He collaborated with veteran car builder CJ Rayburn shortly after the Y2K bug was denounced.

“Basically, this whole thing started with a bunch of people asking how it could be that sprint and Midget cars had a hall of fame but Late Models didn’t, even though there are 10 times more of these cars out here,” Holder said. “So I got to talking with CJ about it,
and he looked at me and said, ‘You should do this, and we’ll pitch in.’

“I thought it was a good idea, but boy, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”

Dirt Late Model Hall of FamePHOTO BY JONATHAN WILLIS

Like those he wanted to celebrate, Holder ran into the most emblematic problem in all of motorsports: He needed cash to make his dream a reality. The shrine was established as a nonprofit, and a group of dedicated volunteers runs it.

To raise money for the project, Holder and Rayburn built a brand-new turnkey Super Late Model car using parts donated from dozens of manufacturers from within the industry. Once the machine was completed, Holder transported it across the Midwest and Southeast, conducting a nationwide raffle that brought in more than $50,000 toward the establishment of the Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame, a dream that came to fruition in 2003.

By that point, two classes of inductees had already been selected, a list that included all-time greats Scott Bloomquist, Red Farmer, Billy Moyer and Jeff Purvis. Once there were actually Hall of Famers, Holder set out to design an attraction for racing enthusiasts of all types.

He used office panels to display photographs, articles and memorabilia from each inductee—framing each item himself. The four walls are adorned from top to bottom with sheetmetal doors supplied by the individual inductees each season.

Holder even lucked into full-bodied cars once driven by Farmer, Purvis, Bob Pierce and several others. But with such limited space, these machines can be found on the floor of the building and even hanging from the ceiling.

Worse yet, six others sit outside unprotected after a severe thunderstorm blew over a protective tent back in March. Since then, the cars have sat exposed to the elements and have already started to show the earliest signs of decay.

The Hall of Fame continues to grow with every new inductee, but the building remains the same. That’s the biggest problem Holder faces, especially given that the industry as a whole appears unwilling to support the foundation he’s built over the past decade.

“I hate to say it, but I feel like we’re at risk of losing some really important parts of Late Model history if some things don’t change,” Holder said. “There comes a time where you’re just not able to spend your own money anymore. People tell us all the time how wonderful this is, and yet we can’t get people to come down and help or support it.

“I don’t mean to come across as cynical, but I’ve poured my heart and soul into this and I think it’s something worth preserving.”

Holder says he has written countless letters to at least 50 businesses looking for a sponsor but hasn’t received a single response. The only money generated for upkeep and maintenance is provided from a handful of drivers who donate memorabilia that the Hall auctions off for what amounts to chump change.

One of those drivers helping out is NASCAR’s Austin Dillon, who competed at Florence Speedway as a teenager before making the transition to asphalt. Already a historian of the sport, Dillon said the Hall of Fame has been a welcome addition to the industry.

Dirt ate Model Hall of Fame

PHOTO BY JONATHAN WILLIS

“The Hall of Fame is a really cool area,” Dillon said. “I believe they’ve got a door in there from us. The best of the best are represented in that building, and I think it’s good that dirt Late Model racing has a Hall of Fame.”

Holder says Bloomquist has donated more to the annual auction than anyone else in the industry and has been the Hall’s most ardent supporter.

For his part, the five-time national champion recognizes the challenges Holder faces and wants to do everything he can to contribute.

“I’m honored to be an inductee in the Hall of Fame and I contribute as I can with contributions and donations for the Hall of Fame auctions,” Bloomquist said. “They have a great thing started, but there is still a lot to do, and everyone in the industry needs to support it.”

So while there is a certain charm to the dusty little building, Holder needs help to house his ever-growing inventory of racing history. But even if he gets it, don’t expect the Hall of Fame to lose its spirit and resemble anything like the NASCAR Hall.

“One of my favorite stories came from the 2007 ceremony when we inducted (the late) Ralph Earnhardt (Dale Sr.’s dad),” Holder recalled. “We had (his wife) Martha in attendance. She’s a fabulous lady, and she said we had done a good job with the Hall of Fame. I joked that it’s nothing like what NASCAR built in Charlotte, and she said, ‘This is the way it should be. This is the way it was for these guys,’ and that was important to me.”

Photo: Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame Photo 29

Dirt Late Model Hall of FamePHOTO BY JONATHAN WILLIS

If You Go

What: National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame

Completed: 2003

Where: Florence Speedway in Union, Kentucky

Hours of operation: The Hall is open on all Florence Speedway event days

Cost of admission: Free