Barberton Speedway gets back on track for 2023 racing in probate … – Akron Beacon Journal

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The future of Barberton Speedway, under a cloud since the death of owner Greg Prunty in June 2022, suddenly became much clearer Thursday.
Days after a new administrator was appointed by the probate court, the estate reached a deal with local businessman Dennis Knox to operate the racetrack this year. The track and other Prunty properties had been tied up in court, leaving the Norton speedway in limbo.
The case still has to wind its way through probate court, but Knox announced he has worked out a deal to hold events this year at the 27-acre speedway. Knox and Prunty had once hoped to buy the speedway together.
Knox said there’s a lot of prep work to be done before racing and fans are brought back together.
“Our first move is to clean up the facility and get it back into working order,” he said in a phone interview. “It needs some attention. Our intent is to put it back together and try to do some racing.”
Knox said he’s still scrambling to put together a schedule, with special events likely at the track.
“We are in the process of working through probate with the end goal of ownership,” Knox said in a Facebook post that was also attached to the Barberton Speedway website.
Perhaps no one — not fans or drivers or neighbors of the speedway — is cheering the news as much as its longest-serving employee, Steve Brookens. With 47 years under his belt, he has been watching events closely this year.
Brookens has long been a recognizable — and colorful — character in and about Norton and Barberton. In his younger days, he wrestled as “The Green Hornet.” He ran for Barberton mayor in 2019.
Days before Thursday’s announcement, Brookens was chagrined at what he thought would be a dry season at the track.
“I’m very sad: I never thought Barberton would not run this year,” he said. “I’ll pull off to the side of the street and look down. I sit there and reminisce about the memories there. My heart is really troubled because we don’t have a track this year.”
Brookens, who started working at the speedway in the 1970s, said in a recent interview that he took a role as co-announcer at Midvale Speedway Racing in New Philadelphia and a job with O’Reilly Auto Parts this year.
He landed his first job at the track on the safety crew at Barberton Speedway in 1975, and was the last person from that era still working at the track in 2022.
He was fresh out of Manchester High School, and started at $25 a week after talking to track manager Jack Franklin. Brookens’ job was to clear the track of debris to keep the conditions safe for drivers during races.
But he didn’t stay in that position for long.
“I became pit steward for the very, very longest time,” Brookens said. “I’ve been through (several) owners of the track. I was one of the youngest there.”
Brookens said the speedway was an exciting place to be at the time, keeping fans and employees like him revved up.
“Back then, we had a lot of cars,” he said. “Back then it was very competitive. They raced to win, but there was a lot of great sportsmanship.”
Photos: Barberton Speedway photo gallery
The track was then known for its late-model features and street stocks, Brookens said.
As his role changed and he gained experience, the track was changing, too. More and more money was poured into the race cars, and the pool of available vehicles became smaller.
“People put big motors in, the car count started going down and it really affected attendance,” he said.
In the early 2000s, Brookens had his own big change.
The former wrestler known as “The Green Hornet” was working at the track on a late summer day as the temperature climbed toward 100 degrees.
“I was getting dehydrated,” he said. “During the late-model feature I passed out and was rolling down the track. I got put in the ambulance and taken to Barberton Hospital. That’s when I found out I was Type 2 diabetic.”
His role changed again and he gravitated to announcing, a position he kept up through last year.
In the past few years, Brookens said, Legends feature races became extremely popular with Barberton Speedway fans. Legend Cars are scaled-down replicas of vehicles driven by famous racers in the 1930s and 1940s.
Brookens said COVID-19 and inflation were a one-two punch to the racetrack and racing in general.
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“Back in ’70s and ’80s, (you) could get two hot dogs for a dollar,” he said. “Now you’re paying big, big money at the tracks.”
Brookens said his personal highlight at the track was a night in the late 1990s when he made an appearance in his Green Hornet wrestling outfit.
“I came out of the pits in Don Harvey’s car,” he said. “I came out of there and jumped out, high-fiving the crowd. That was the greatest night of my time at Barberton Speedway.”
He said the biggest crowd he ever saw at the speedway was a night in 2016 or 2017 when monster trucks were featured.
The parking lot was so full, the racetrack had to direct cars to the lot of a nearby business. He said more than 5,000 race fans packed the racetrack that night.
“We ran out of beer and pop,” he said. “We were running to all the grocery stores buying beer. That was one fantastic night.”
In his long tenure at the racetrack, Brookens didn’t take vacations during the summer. Not even while he worked another job, driving more than 1,000 miles a week.
“Every Saturday night, seeing the racers, hearing the sound of the motors, that was my vacation,” he said.
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Even after Prunty’s death, Brookens held out hope that racing would return to Barberton Speedway in 2023. He said the Midvale track has welcomed him and he represented the track at this year’s Summit Racing Piston Power Show.
But he still hopes his home track will fully rebound. At 67, he said he’d like to get another three years at the track to get to 50 years at the speedway. And he’s hoping to get his spot on the track’s wall of fame.
“Whoever does buy the track is going to have to put a lot of money in it,” he said before the Knox announcement. “Do I think people will come? Yeah, they’ll come back.”
Knox said he’s been involved with the speedway for decades and the track has a rich history.
“I have been around here for 30 years and it takes ahold of you,” he said.
Leave a message for Alan Ashworth at 330-996-3859 or email him at aashworth@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconj.

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