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Ben Smith

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Bullet Bobby Coe will be inducted into the Baer Field Speedway Hall of Fame today during ceremonies at the track.

At Baer Field, racing’s a family affair

The man goes back some with this, to start things off. Hey, don’t they all?

And so Bob Coe kneels next to that white No. 28 modified – look, there’s “Bullet Bobby Coe” painted in flowing script across the top of the driver-side window – and someone gets a photo of it, and then there are all these jokes, of course, about how now that Bob’s hunkered down like that he’ll never get up again, and ha-ha, ho-ho, oh, that’s a good one.

But then he does get up, of course. And everything car racing is and has been and will always be at Baer Field and dozens upon dozens of places like it.

Nobody, or hardly anybody, just sticks a toe in, at all of those places. Down here where you work your 40 hours and then build your own stuff to go racing under those smoky Saturday night lights, you go all in or you go home. And so your wife (or husband) comes out on those nights, and your kids, too, and it’s a family deal, a passion transmitted by flesh and blood.

“So how old were your kids when you started bringing them?” you ask Coe now, on this day when he’s to be feted as a new member of the Baer Field Speedway Hall of Fame.

“Oh, I would say it was probably, … well, they were walkin’, so I’d say about 2,” Coe replies. “They were really young.”

There were four boys – Mike and Roger and Ron and Scott – and when they got older they cleaned parts and swept up, and when they got a little older still, Coe built cars for them, too. Scott, the youngest, is still out there wheeling, 30 years after he began.

“Oh, it was fun,” says Roger, who’s 57 now. “Dad actually built us a little Volkswagen mini-stock. That was, like, 1972. And first time I got out there, I qualified for the pole of the slow heat. Took off and went 10 laps and nobody was around me.

“I thought, ‘This is real easy. I won the very first race I was in.’ Yeah, well, … after I got in with the fast cars, they were like, zoom, zoom, zoom. I’m like, ‘OK, now it makes a little more sense.’ ”

Not that it discouraged him any, of course. It never does. That’s a theme that runs all through this 2013 Hall of Fame class.

There is Coe, of course, who raced the Fort Wayne Speedway high banks and the three-eighths-mile oval over on South Anthony and was so in on the ground floor at Baer Field that he actually ran the high-banked dirt track that was the original circuit, back in 1963.

There is Joe Wormcastle, who has raced at Baer Field in all six decades of its existence. There’s Louise Stovall, the fourth member of Baer Field’s “first family” to be inducted into the Hall. And there’s Al Cook Jr., whose dad, Al Sr., went into the Hall in 2005 and who loves this so much he’s still out there battling for a track title this summer while undergoing chemotherapy for stage 4 stomach cancer.

That, friends and neighbors, is true love.

It has taken the Coes to Baer Field and Steuben County and Angola and Bryan, Ohio, to Winchester and New Paris. It has even taken them down to Florida on occasion.

Hey, doesn’t everybody?

“It was just natural,” Roger Coe says.

And his dad, who got into this because, yes, his own father raced some, too?

“I believe with me having the cars and kids being around, they grew up with it,” Coe says. “You know how kids are.”

And dads. And the dads of dads. And on and on and on.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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