During the early 1950s, the runway at Akron Fulton Airport in Akron, OH became the first National Hot Rod Association sanctioned drag race track east of the Mississippi. It was here that drag racing legends Art and Walt Arfons, Otis “Otie” Smith, and “Akron” Arlen Vanke began their incredible careers.
The four drag racing pioneers will be the subjects of an Ohio Historical Marker plaque dedication on Father’s Day, June 19th, at the Akron Fulton Airport to honor their contributions and innovations in the drag racing industry. The plaque will rest at the spot where the four renowned drag racers first began their careers in the early 1950s. It will be the first Historical Marker dedicated to racing of any kind in Ohio, and comes thanks to the efforts of the group Akron Race Legends, headed by Randy Lipscomb, with further assistance from Paul Suloff, Bob Jones, John Stevenson, and Ken Andrus.
Art and Walt Arfons, who are half-brothers, were early pioneers of fast vehicles. In 1964, a car designed by Walt Arfons, and driven by Tom Green, called the Wingfoot Express set the world land speed record of 413 miles-per-hour. Three days later, Art’s jet-propelled Green Monster took the title with a speed of 434 miles per-hour. Then, in 1965, Art Arfons went on to set the world land-speed record of 576.553 miles-per-hour. Art Arfons has been inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the Ohio State Tractor Pullers Hall of Fame, the National Tractor Puller Hall of Fame, and the Summit County Sports Hall of Fame.
Otis “Otie” Smith was another hot rodding hero to come from Akron, OH. An early supporter of the National Hot Rod Association, Smith was running the regional NHRA races in his hometown before the nationals were even established, and he raced all over the Midwest, as well as Florida, Maine, and California. By his own estimation, he went on to compete in about 100 NHRA events in his 13-year career, which included being named the 1959 Middle Eliminator winner at the NHRA Nationals in Detroit, MI. In addition, he was the first president of the Akron Cam Jammers car club, and was the proprietor of Otie’s Automotive in Kenmore, OH.
Along with the Arfons brothers and Smith, “Akron” Arlen Vanke was another local hot rodding legend. He won innumerable races in the Stock, Super Stock, and Pro Stock classes over the course of his career, and was hired by Chrysler while still racing to help test their performance technology. In 1971, he became a member of the United States Racing Team, an organization consisting of the top names in Pro Stock, which exhibited across the country until 1972.
“This is the spot where these local heroes became drag racing innovators back in the 50’s and 60’s,” Lipscomb said. “And we believe that honoring these racing pioneers is long overdue.”
In addition to the ceremony, the group will also be hosting a car show, which begins at 4 pm. There will be food, entertainment, and dozens of classic cars from all around Ohio. The dedication itself will begin at 5 pm, and features Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor as the keynote speaker. In addition, several relatives of the former hot-rodders will be in attendance: Tim Arfons (son of Art Arfons), Terry Arfons (son of Walt Arfons), Billy Smith (son of Otis Smith), and Craig Vanke (son of Arlen Vanke).