By Audrey Stratton | Local Happenings
For the past two years, 4500 people have been attending The Dean Knittel Memorial Race. It is a Sprintcar race that is run on a dirt track. The cars have 410 cubic inch motors, over 900 horsepower, and they weigh around 1375 pounds with the driver inside.
The 2020 Dean Knittel Memorial race is in its 3rd year. It is set to run Friday, July 10th at Portsmouth Raceway Stadium.
The race is part of a 10 day stretch throughout Ohio. The week is known as the Ohio Sprintcar Speedweek. They race at a different track each night.
From Canada, Texas, and Pennsylvania, the drivers come from all over. The speedweek always has a large car count that follows the 10 day stretch. From Australia, California, and throughout the U.S., some of the best sprintcar drivers in the country follow along.
Dean Knittel was a local businessman. He founded and owned Dean Knittel & Sons Auto Repair right here on Franklin Avenue in Portsmouth. He graduated school and started his racing career in 1954.
He went on to race at the old Portsmouth Speedway and Atomic Speedway in Waverly. Traveling to different tracks through West Virginia, and Kentucky, he held the track record at Lawrenceburg Indiana.
By 1962 he was married to his wife, Eloise. Together they had two sons JD and Jeff, and one daughter, Jo-Dee. Their youngest child Jeff, born 1972, is now the promoter of the Dean Knittel Memorial. Dean and Eloise have one granddaughter, miss Elizabeth Dee-Ann Chapman.
Back in the day to race at the Indy 500, you had to be drafted. Dean was drafted twice and never made the move for having an established business and a family at home. Over his career, he accomplished over 120 feature wins and 12 track championships from 1954-1971. His racing career ended in 1971 due to a life-threatening racing crash.
In 1976, he became the owner of his own sprintcar team for which Charlie Swartz drove the famous #54 where he and Dean collected an Owner’s Championship together!
Dean was bought out in 1978 by C.K. Spurlock who was Loretta Lynn’s promoter and owns Gambler Chassis Company. However this was not the end for his love for racing. Dean continued to travel with his wife and family to races all over the country.
He ran his auto repair shop until he retired in the early 1990’s. Sadly, he passed away March 12, 2018. To honor his legacy, the guys who grew up watching him race promised that they would see a memorial race named after him.
To Dean’s family, this race means a great deal. It is a chance for them to reconnect with friends from back when Dean himself raced. They love being able to get their mom, Eloise, to one race every year. Watching her enjoy seeing all the people means a lot to the family.
One of their favorite parts of the race is when the original #55 that Dean himself drove for Howard Weethy, and the remake of the #54 that Dean originally owned and drove come out to lead the field for the main event race.
The family hopes that everyone can come out to take part in this year’s race! So if on Friday, July 10th, you do not have anything going on, come on out to Portsmouth Raceway to help them honor Dean’s legacy.
Check out the event details on Facebook!