by Nick Gima
Ashland, WI, July 19 — As part of the celebration of its 50th season of operation, the Ashland-Bayfield County Racing Association paid tribute to several very special men, women and organizations by introducing them as the first-ever inductees into the newly-formed ABC Raceway Hall of Fame during an emotional ceremony during a break in Saturday night’s racing action at the northern Wisconsin dirt track.
The Hall of Fame, which has been in the works for over two years, was created to honor and recognize those who built, maintained and raced at what has become one of the most popular and successful short-track stock car racing facilities in the Upper Midwest.
The inaugural Hall of Fame class – including four retired drivers, three couples and two individuals selected for their volunteer efforts and contributions, and three specific honorary selections – were chosen based on their involvement since the very beginning of the Association’s existence. Each made significant contributions to the success of the ABC Raceway and to area stock car racing in general, and all exemplified unselfish involvement and contributions and defined the true spirit of volunteerism that has been the basis of the Ashland-Bayfield County Racing Association’s success for the past 50 years.
In what is widely considered their rightful place, the late Frank and Verna Brevak were introduced as the very first of the inductees to be presented before a very supportive and enthusiastic crowd at the ABC Raceway. The first of three Honorary Inductees unanimously chosen by Hall of Fame Selection Committee, Frank & Verna were the original owners of property that the Raceway occupies today; Frank constructed it as the Chequamegon Raceway in 1957 and maintained the grounds and buildings for many years, while Verna helped with everything from food concessions to ticket sales.
Even after the Brevak family sold the property to the newly-formed Ashland-Bayfield County Racing Association on October 31, 1965, both Frank and Verna remained actively involved with the Raceway and the club right up until their deaths. When Frank passed away in November 2001, friends, relatives and Raceway officials arranged for his funeral procession to take a final “victory lap” around his beloved race track. Longtime Brevak family friend and Raceway official Weaver Wherritt best described the impact of the Brevaks by stating, “Without Frank and Verna, we would not (have this race track) today. How many of us would have taken money saved to build a house for our family and use it to build a race track for the area’s young people to race on and to keep them off the streets?”
Frank and Verna’s son Bob Brevak accepted their induction plaque on their behalf.
The Northern State Bank of Ashland has provided financial support for the Racing Association since 1965, and it is for this reason that it was introduced as an Honorary Inductee. Besides offering a long-time trusted source of banking, NSB offered the Association the backing of the loan to purchase the track from the Brevak family in 1965. The late Frank Phillips, during his tenure as president of the Bank, arranged other loans to the club for the purchase and installation of lights in the early 1970s and again in 2008 for the purchase of a new tractor. Phillips even guaranteed the purse for the track when it held its first-ever Red Clay Classic in 1976.
Northern State Bank continues to provide financial services to Association and has become a long-time season sponsor of the races at the ABC Raceway. Current Bank officer Tom Malyuk accepted the honor on the Bank’s behalf.
Always generous in their support and active membership since the Raceway’s earliest days, the Vernon family and their business, Northern Clearing Inc, were also named as Honorary Inductees. Brothers Wayne and George Vernon competed as racers for many of the track’s earliest years of existence, and George’s wife Louise has always been generous in assisting in the concession stands. Later George’s sons Todd, Richard and Craig raced here and took active roles in support of the track, including sponsorships of several race cars and as a season-long sponsor of the track iteslf. Cousins Tyler Vernon and Colten Vernon currently race as the third generation to support the Raceway.
Northern Clearning has generously donated time, equipment and personnel on many occasions to help with track projects over the past 50 years, and at least three times its crews have assisted with track reconditioning work. The Vernon family has always been first in line to donate when the Raceway staff has needed heavy equipment for larger projects.
George Vernon’s wife received the Hall of Fame commemorative plaque on behalf of the family and the business.
Bob Brevak was one of four men to be honored as part of the Class of 2014 in the Retired Driver category. The driver of the popular number 18 was a two-time track champion – in 1968, when the Raceway ran a single division, and again in 1970 in the Late Model division. Bob also served as the Association’s president in 1968-’69.
After 16 career feature wins on the red-clay oval, Brevak went on to compete successfully in several national stock car series, such as ARCA and the NASCAR Truck Series; he raced to the ARCA national championship in 1990.
The late Dwaine Erickson was also inducted under the Retired Driver category. “Oulu,” as he was affectionately known, traveled weekly from Superior to win five track championships – in 1973-‘75 in the Super Stock division; and in 1977 & ‘80 in Late Models. His 44 total feature wins at Ashland still ranks among the top-ten all-time here.
A successful and respected racer throughout the region, he also won Late Model points titles in the former Northwest Racing Circuit in 1977 & again in ‘80. He was inducted into the Superior (now AmsOil) Speedway Hall of Fame in 2003. The driver of the number 62 passed away this past June 5 after a long battle with cancer; his wife Mary Erickson was present to accept his Hall of Fame induction.
Ron Hmielewski was a long-time racer who competed at the ABC Raceway since its first season. A winner of four career features, “Hemi” was a contributor both as a popular driver as well as a long-time volunteer, Association member, and member of the club’s Board of Directors. He represented the Raceway well while competing at other area tracks and was always considered a front-runner.
Ron was known for his competitive spirit, but also for his willingness to help his fellow racers and to respresent the ABC Raceway in a positive light. Since retiring from racing he has assisted in other aspects of the track’s operation, but in recent years the livery of his familiar black number 55 has since been displayed on his son Ron’s race cars.
Bob Root became one of the most successful and influential drivers of the Chequamegon Bay region. The driver of the popular orange-&-black number 37 was a five-time track champion; he was the ABC Raceway’s first-ever champ in 1966 (single division), and then he scored titles in 1973, ‘76, ‘79 & ‘83 in the Late Model class. His 45 feature wins still ranks among the top-eight all-time at the track.
When racing away from ABC, Root won the Northwest Racing Circuit’s Late Model points titles in 1973 & ‘76, and he also won track championships at Superior, Proctor, MN, and Ironwood, MI, as well as the Modified feature at the 1995 Silver 1000 in Proctor. Root was inducted into the Superior Speedway Hall of Fame after he retired from racing in 2004. He was a local hero to many young race fans, and his positive influence prompted several racers to start their racing careers during his four-plus decades of racing.
Those selected for induction through the Volunteer and Contributor category were recognized for significant positive contributions to the existence and success of the Association and the Raceway. As Hall of Fame Committee spokesman Eric Erickson pointed out, “This category was the most difficult to decide (who to select), as there have been literally dozens of hard-working people who have given so much of their time and efforts, and there’s only so much space we could come up with for this year’s class.
“Our intention is to recognize everyone eventually, but it will take some time.”
Dennis Asbach got involved with the Racing Association through his marriage to his wife Jane, whose family had been part of the club since the beginning. Jane is the person credited with coming up with the name “Red Clay Classic” for the track’s big season-ending event.
Dennis became club treasurer in 1972 and served in that capacity for 11 years, then assisted for another four years. He also served or assisted as treasurer for the Red Clay Classic for 22 years, and he served many terms on the Association’s Board of Directors. In all, Dennis has served the Association for over 40 years as a trusted, responsible volunteer of high integrity.
For Ron and Jeanne Hmielewski, the ABC Raceway has been a family affair, as both have been involved with the Association since its beginnings, and over the years each of their children – Karen, Sue, Ron and Donna – have contributed significantly in one form or another as well. Ron and Jeanne have each served terms on the Board of Directors, with Ron acting as one of original members of the Board in 1965. He has assisted in nearly every aspect of running the club and maintaining the racing facility ever since.
Jeanne has worked at the track for 46 years, serving as the club’s secretary and its first publicist early on, and in more recent years as the Raceway’s chief scorer and points director. She has also received the Raceway’s Chuck Anderson Award for outstanding volunteer service and its Outstanding Service Award for her committment to the organization, and was recognized by the National Race Promoters Hall of Fame in the early 1990s.
Bob and Sandy Root have also been involved in the Association since its beginning. Bob was directly involved in the purchase of the property now known as the ABC Raceway and was elected as the club’s first president in 1965, serving in that capacity at three different times for a total of five years. He also served as its vice-president in 1977 and was voted to the Board of Directors for at least nine years.
Sandy, who passed away a few years back, acted as the club’s secretary for ten years and as Red Clay Classic treasurer for another eight years. She was a detail-oriented person who was instrumental in helping to keep the Association’s books in order for many years. Additionally, Bob and Sandy’s trucking business donated equipment to the club and assisted with its transportation needs for many years, and both were enthusiastic ambassadors of the ABC Raceway wherever they went.
A member of the Association since 1969, Bob “Weaver” Wherritt has served as club president twice for a total of eight years, and was vice-president three times for a total of 15 years, including for the past 11 years. He has served as a Board member for a total of 40 years – a period of time unmatched by any other active Association member.
Even to this day, Weaver is eagerly involved in the day-to-day operations of the track. He has chaired or worked on a number of important committees for the organization, and he has received a great deal of recognition for his efforts, including the Outstanding Service Award, ABC Raceway President’s Award, and Chuck Anderson Award, and he was recognized by the National Race Promoters Hall of Fame. He is a highly-respected leader and representative of the ABC Raceway.
Earl and Chris Zar have been members of the Association since the very beginning. Earl joined the club in 1965 and was later elected to the Board of Directors before serving as Association vice-president for two years and president for five years in the late 1980s. Earl has worked at the track in nearly every capacity, from managing the adult-beverage consession to working as part of the infield safety and technical inspection crew.
Chris has run the adult-beverage concession for over 40 years and continues to do so to this day. Their children have also been involved with the track, with son Eric learning track preparation directly from Frank Brevak for several years, and daughter Lisa helping in every was from selling 50/50 tickets to running the grandstand concession and eventually helping her mom in the “beer stand.”
A banquet attended by the inductees and their families was held at Zar’s south of Ashland on Saturday afternoon. The ABC Raceway will soon construct a display for the names of its Hall of Fame inductees at the track.
by Nick Gima