By John Wells
On August 17th we will hold the first annual Bob Schmelzer Memorial Season Championships at MIS.
Bob Schmelzer was one of the first people the drivers saw when they came to Madison to race as he manned his security post at the pit gate for nearly every race held at Madison International Speedway.
A couple of years ago Bob was honored for fifty years in racing which probably drew more attention to Bob than he really wanted. But he deserved it! MIS created the Bob Schmelzer 50 and at last year’s event there was Bob in the flag stand waving the flag and in victory lane following the race congratulating Zack Riddle on his victory.
Shortly after that memorable evening, Bob’s health took a turn for the worse. On August 17th we lost a good man and a good friend when Bob passed away. At Bob’s funeral on August 21st at Lake Edge United Church of Christ where he had been a member for nearly fifty years, many people shared their memories of Bob.
Everyone who met Bob over the years more than likely has a story to tell about him. He wasn’t shy about giving you his opinion on matters and that’s what I liked most about him. Bob was genuine…what you saw and heard was exactly who he was. He was truly one of a kind and a very special man.
There are so many stories and great memories for all of us who knew Bob. I didn’t know him for many years and certainly not nearly as long as some of you did. But there was something special about Bob that will always stick with me long after my days at MIS. I’m pretty sure just about all of you who met Bob would say the same thing.
It was a great honor when my family received the Bob Schmelzer Memorial / Dedication Award plaque at the MIS banquet earlier this year. It came as a total surprise to us. The plaque is proudly displayed in our house today and every time we look at it we think of Bob and his family.
So this Friday night let’s remember Bob and his family at the Bob Schmelzer Memorial Season Championships at MIS.
A couple of years ago when we recognized Bob for fifty years in racing I had asked his son, Gary, to put together some background information about his accomplishments. I have included the story with some minor revisions below. Please note that for most of his work in racing his family was right there with him.
Looking Back at Bob’s Fifty Plus Years in Auto Racing
By Gary Schmelzer
Bob and his wife Darlene were married in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, on December 5, 1949 and farmed in the Dodgeville and Lake Mills areas in the 1950’s.
In Bob’s younger days he would go to the Verona Racetrack (Corner of Speedway Road and Paoli Road), Darlington, and Lancaster.
When Bob moved from southwest Wisconsin to Lake Mills, he got a job at the Jefferson Speedway as a corner worker. His job was to hold the yellow flag out when there was a caution. One day the job turned sour.
Bill Engelhart was leading the race when an accident happened. Bob looked over to the front straightaway to see what the head starter was going to do. He could see him moving his arm in and out with the yellow flag trying to make up his mind if he should throw the yellow or not. At the last second Bob threw his flag and a car went past the leading Engelhart’s car. Unfortunately, the race stayed green and the other car won the race. This did not sit well with Engelhart’s pit crew and they came running into the infield while yelling at Bob about his flagging.
Soon after that Bob moved into the scoring tower to score the races instead of flagging. He also scored at Jefferson Speedway, Columbus 151 Speedway, and Beaver Dam Raceway. Darlene also took an active role as a lap scorer at Jefferson, Capital, Columbus, and the Dells.
In 1963 Capital Speedway (Now Madison International Speedway) opened. When Bob showed up at the speedway for work the first day at the pit shack he found that things were not completed yet. Bob said, “We’re not going to race here today are we? The fence isn’t even up yet.” But they did race that day.
In 1964 Bob became the first assistant director and gate steward at Jefferson Speedway after the death of track owners Mr. and Mrs. Robert Stroebel.
In 1969 Bob helped with the building of the new half- mile at Capital Speedway.
On April 26, 1970 Bob took over as promoter of Columbus 151 Speedway. After four good years of racing at the track, a gasoline crisis and a slumping economy forced him to close the track halfway through the 1974 season.
Between the years of 1970-1974 slavery was reinstated. As all of Bob’s children, some neighbors and relatives got jobs at Columbus 151. Darlene also took an active role by running the concession stands at Columbus as well as at Capital Speedway.
In 1974 Tri-R Promotions hired Bob to help with their Wisconsin series swing that lasted one season.
In 1975 Bob jumped from track to track working for Columbus 151 speedway, the Dells Motor Speedway, Jefferson Speedway and Capital Super Speedway.
From 1976 through 1982 Bob worked for Larry Wehrs, owner of Dells Motor Speedway, and at specials held at La Crosse Interstate Speedway and also at Capital Super Speedway on a weekly basis.
On May 30, 1977 Bob worked his first ARTGO Series race event at Capital Super Speedway for Art Frego and John & Sue McKarns.
Between 1980 and 1982, new owners Ted and Fred Nielson took over at Capital and Bob continued to work for them at the Oregon,Wis. track.
In 1982 Bob started working for the Midwest Auctions with the Deery and McKarns families.
In 1983 Bob and Tony Zidar became the new owner of Capital Super Speedway and Bob worked for them from 1983-1986.
When Promotion Associates took over at Capital in 1986, Bob worked for Craig Hemmen at the renamed Impact Speedway through 1989.
After Impact Speedway closed Bob mainly worked for Midwest Promotions, ARTGO Challenge Series, Midwest Enduro Series, Rockford National Short Track and La Crosse Oktoberfest. Darlene also worked closely with Bob in these ventures by working in catering and food service at special events.
In 1992, Capital Super Speedway reopened as Madison International Speedway under new owner Wayne Erickson. Bob took a job as gate security for the pit area where you could find him right up until his health wouldn’t cooperate any longer.
Bob and Darlene were married for over sixty years and have been blessed with five children, ten grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Bob was also employed at Harlan-Sprague for over forty years.