A seemingly endless freight train lumbers down the tracks that run alongside the small fairgrounds upon which sits Attica Raceway Park. A reprieve from the cooling temperatures has given way to a sunny, fall day and Rex LeJeune, the track’s Director of Operations, sits at a picnic table under the shade of a pole barn located in the parking lot of the facility. As LeJeune leafs through a well-worn photo album, he reels off stories of the history of ARP, which is promoted with the catchphrase “Ohio’s Finest Racing.”
The first race track was carved out of the earth of the Attica Independent Fairgrounds in 1946; a half-mile which offered modified events for the area’s race fans. The track operated on and off through 1960, at which time the last race engine fell silent. Aside from one event in 1976, there was no more auto racing at Attica. The half-mile oval was strictly relegated to use by horses.
Then, in the late ‘80s, John Martin and sprint car racing brothers Mark and Larry Keegan approached the fair board and proposed to lease the facility and create a third-mile oval inside the half-mile horse track.
“There wasn’t any track around our area that ran on Friday nights so, Mark being a racer, he wanted another place to race besides on Saturday nights,” LeJeune explains. “They, actually a year or two before that, went over to McCutchenville (Mid-America Speedway) and were interested in opening that place back up, but they just couldn’t work it out, and the facility wasn’t as big as it is here for parking and pit area, and so forth. And then they came and approached the Attica fair board and put together a deal to build one here.”
It was Martin (whose son Brandon currently races sprint cars at Attica) who laid out the track, Eric Phillips was hired as promoter, LeJeune would serve as the track’s flagman while his brother Rick was the announcer and Rick’s wife, Deborah, was the scorer.
The first race event on the new 1/3-mile, banked dirt oval took place on May 27, 1988 with Rocky Hodges winning the sprint car feature in Stan Shoff’s No. 23s. Ohio had a new weekly sprint car location for Friday nights.
That same year, fan favorite Brad Doty suffered his devastating accident during the Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway that not only ended his driving career, but left him in a wheelchair.
1988 also saw the majority of World of Outlaws stars leave to join the new United Sprint Association (USA) series – the first of two infamous splits in the premier sprint car sanctioning body.
It was an era in which legendary race promoter Earl Baltes held a firm grip on much of the racing in the state of Ohio. In addition to Eldora Speedway, Baltes promoted several other Ohio facilities over the years, and had a powerful influence on who could and couldn’t schedule a World of Outlaws race, or schedule a race with the All Star Circuit of Champions, of which he was part owner. So, on the heels of his opening season, as he looked to add some larger series to his 1989 schedule, promoter Eric Phillips faced some challenges.
As a new track in Ohio, not only was ARP not going to be able to book a World of Outlaws show, but they also weren’t able to secure any All Star dates either.
Rex’s brother Rick served not only as announcer, but also as promoter Eric Phillips’ right-hand man. “He knew Steve Kinser and Sammy (Swindell) and all them guys, and so he put a USA deal together,” Rex recalls. “And, actually, we had two shows. We had one scheduled on a Friday in May. Well, it rained. We got rained out. I mean, they were all here and got rained out.”
The second USA event was scheduled at Attica just prior to the Kings Royal nights at Eldora Speedway. But, there were rumblings that the show might be canceled. Sprint car racers in Ohio were in the midst of Ohio Speedweek, but Rick LeJeune was on a mission. He packed his car, left the busiest racing week in the Buckeye State and embarked on a road trip to Knoxville Raceway in Iowa. On that Wednesday night, they were holding a three-car match race at Knoxville between Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell and Doug Wolfgang. “My brother left Ohio Speedweek and drove to Knoxville and met with Steve, Sammy, Harrold Annett (owner of Swindell’s TMC-sponsored car), Karl (Kinser), and Larry Clark, who was running the thing back then for them guys,” Rex explains. “And he started to say, ‘Hey, we’re getting a lot of heat in Ohio; they want us to cancel this USA show.’