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Lifelong race fan, driver achieves goal of competing at Kokomo Speedway

Josh Spencer reminisces on times spent at track

  • 3 min to read
kokomo speedway

START YOUR ENGINES — Drivers get ready for the start of an American Automobile Association (AAA) midget sprint car race at Kokomo Speedway in 1948. Lifelong racing fan Josh Spencer inherited the track's memorabilia after the passing of former promoter Bill Lipkey's son, Jim Lipkey, in 2018. Spencer raced at the track from 2003 to 2017.

A native to the City of Firsts and a lifelong racing fan, Josh Spencer attained his childhood dream of racing at the Kokomo Speedway.

Spencer’s grandfather, Chuck Spencer, owned sprint cars in the 1980s and 1990s. His driver at the local track was John Mapes. Spencer began attending events at the speedway when he was only a few weeks old, and he has remained an active fan since. When he was 8 years old, he started racing quarter midget cars.

“I started racing quarter midgets at the age of 8, and when I was 17 years old I reached my goal of racing a sprint car at the Kokomo Speedway. This had always been my goal since I could remember,” Spencer said.

Although his next goal was to win a feature event, this never happened for Spencer. He was a top-five finisher many times and a second-place finisher a few times but was never able to pull off a feature win at his hometown track. However, he did get his first sprint car win in Danville, Ill., when he was 20. Additionally, he received numerous top-five placings in Gas City.

With the recent passing of his grandfather, Spencer was reminded of the numerous racing memories and how he may not have ever been involved in racing if it wasn’t for him. After Mapes stopped driving for Chuck, drivers Tony Elliot and Tray House stepped in. Elliot was Spencer’s favorite driver growing up, he said.

“Growing up, my favorite driver was Tony Elliott, and I can remember vividly every Sunday night that the winner was either going to be Tony Elliott, Dave Darland, and/or Kevin Thomas. Tony and his then-wife, Elaine, took me under their wings, and I was like the son they never had … After the races at the Kokomo Speedway, we would go to Tony’s house and go swimming and mingle with everyone,” Spencer said.

Additionally, Spencer traveled with Elliot to the Sprint Car Racing Association (SCRA) tour, visiting Hales Corner, Wis., Knoxville, Iowa, and Lincoln, Neb., as well as Manzanita Speedway in Arizona many times.

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Meanwhile, driver J.J. Yeley joined the Kokomo Speedway in 1997, and along with Elliot, he became Spencer’s favorite driver. Yeley came from the west coast with a different style of driving that Spencer admired. Yeley and Spencer became close too, and Spencer often traveled with Yeley’s family as well.

Although Spencer has many fond memories of the Kokomo Speedway, he said his favorite experience was his family’s tradition of attending races every Sunday.

“We would get a big brown paper bag from Kroger, and my mom would fill it up with popcorn. I would have to take a nap, which on Sunday I never could take a nap because I was so excited to get to the Kokomo Speedway,” Spencer said. “Now that I have my own family I get to share that experience with my beautiful wife, Shannon, and my great son, LeLand, the sights and sounds at the track, the dirt, fumes, and the smell of popcorn and hot dogs.”

Spencer said the track had great announcers such has Pat Sullivan and Brad Dickison and still currently do in Rob Goodman and Brett Bowman. Additionally, he always loved watching the Fourth of July firework shows, close to his birthday. His parents told him the show was for him, he said.

Since his retirement from racing in 2017, Spencer and his wife have remained at the Kokomo Speedway, helping out in the PR/marketing department to the grounds work. Additionally, since former promoter Bill Lipkey’s son, Jim Lipkey, passed away in 2018, Spencer inherited all of Kokomo Speedway’s auto-racing memorabilia the Lipkey family accumulated through the years. Lipkey promoted the track from 1952 to 1994.

The track opened in 1947 with the intent of being exclusively a midget track by partners Albert Miller and John Rose, along with former Indianapolis track builder and promoter Ted Everroade. The first race was held July 6, 1947.

After Lipkey, local businessman Kent Evans took over the track (1994-2000), making drastic changes. Evans was followed by former radio personality Dick Bronson, and Mark Owsley partnered the purchase in 2000. Auto salvage dealer and former racer Dave Duncan took over from 2001 to 2002. The current owners, the O’Connor family who Spencer works with, purchased the track most recently and has worked to make action and cosmetic changes to the speedway.

“I am blessed to have been born and raised in the great city of Kokomo, Ind., and am thankful for all of the promoters who have made this track one of the best tracks in the world. My family is honored to still be able to help the great O'Connor family with the Kokomo Speedway,” Spencer said.