Pennsy’s Dianne Tobias to be Honored at HoF Ceremonies
By Buffy Swanson
Fabricator, mechanic, technical inspector, race car driver—Pennsylvania native Dianne Tobias has worn all these hats and more during the past 35 years. And because of her notable accomplishments in the “man’s man” world of dirt track racing, she will be recognized as a recipient of the annual Gater Racing News Outstanding Woman in Racing award during the 2012 DIRTcar Northeast Modified Hall of Fame ceremonies, Sunday, May 27, on the Cayuga County (NY) Fairgrounds.
The daughter-in-law of bigger-than-life legend Dick “Toby” Tobias and wife of the late, great Ronnie Tobias, Dianne admits she had no prior knowledge of oval track racing when she met her future husband in 1973.
“My friends and I used to go to the drags at Maple Grove back then. We called the guys who ran stock cars at Reading ‘dizzies,’” she recalled. “Then I started going to Reading with Ron and his dad. Toby had a big pit crew so I didn’t really help in the beginning. I got into it after Ronnie and I were married (in September 1977). Ronnie was a big help; he explained how everything worked. And it just came easy to me. I loved what I was doing.”
Dianne’s newfound love for the sport was sorely put to the test less than nine months later when Dick Tobias was killed in a USAC race at Flemington. It was Toby’s sudden death that thrust daughter-in-law Dianne into the back room and the fabricating end of the Tobias Speed Shop family business.
“With Toby gone, we felt we had to group together and get the whole family involved in the business,” she explained. “They really needed help in the machine shop, so that’s where I wound up. Ronnie started me out making bumper plugs, little brackets, nothing precision. Then I eventually worked my way up to doing everything: working the lathe, cutting pieces, anything that had to be done. Ron and I worked side by side in the shop for two years, until I was seven months’ pregnant with Michelle.”
More than a few customers were rendered speechless when they stopped in at Tobias Speed Shop to find not Ronnie or his brothers, but Dianne building their race cars.
During those early years, Dianne also served as crew for Ronnie’s racing efforts, doing everything from routine maintenance to engine work. “The thrill for me was always in maintaining the car, then going to the track, working on it some more and seeing it race,” she remembered. “What kept me hooked was knowing we had a competitive car… knowing we could win.”
And Ronnie racked up plenty of wins on the short tracks of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware, including championships at Bridgeport, Penn National, Port Royal, Grandview and SeaCoast speedways.
As if she didn’t have enough on her plate, what with working at the shop, helping to crew Ronnie’s car, manning the shop’s parts and tire truck at Bridgeport, Williams Grove and other tracks, working on and off at Penn National Speedway, as well as raising two kids (Michelle and Ron Jr.), in 1989 Dianne started driving her own race car—a 270cc Micro Sprint that Ronnie built for her. Over the next nine years, she won events at Path Valley, Hill Valley and Trail-Way speedways in Pennsylvania, Hagerstown (MD), Winchester (VA) and SeaCoast ((DE). She was a division champion twice at Path Valley and once at Hill Valley.
On the Micro Sprint circuit, she and Ron befriended a family from Australia and, in 1997, Dianne was invited to race a 600cc Micro in that country’s Formula 500.
And then her life fell apart. On September 6, 1998, at age 43, Ronnie suffered a fatal heart attack while racing at Susquehanna Speedway.
For two years after that, Dianne “did nothing,” she admitted. She quit racing. She left Tobias Speed Shop. She mourned.
Until that low point, racing had become her life. And eventually, she came to the realization that if she wanted to get back to living, she had to get back to racing.
Relying on her skills and her knowledge, Dianne reached out to some old friends and put her name back in the hat. Alan Kreitzer immediately hired her as a technical inspector for the Sprints at Williams Grove. She assisted in the pits at Grandview Speedway. Then she settled into a five-year stint as a tech inspector at New Jersey’s New Egypt Speedway, remaining until the Grosso family sold the place in 2007.
And in 2008, for the first time since Ronnie died 10 years earlier, she got back behind the wheel of a race car, returning to Australia to compete in a Micro for her “second family” from Down Under. “Believe me, I didn’t set the world on fire,” she laughed. “But I had a lot of fun and that’s what it’s all about.”
A resident of Coopersburg, PA, Dianne works at RTS Chassis in Reading, handling parts shipment and billing for the Micro Sprint and Quarter Midget set. She has been helping her brother-in-law Rich with his “Big Kahuna” promotions for SpeedSTRS and Slingshots, last year at New Egypt and this year at Path Valley, doing everything from scoring, handicapping, selling pit passes and distributing payout.
And it has come full circle: Her son, Ron Jr., will be competing in a 358 Modified on a limited basis this season at Big Diamond Speedway, his rookie attempt in the “big” cars his dad used to run. He and his wife Jill are expecting their first child in July.
On being named an honoree at this year’s Hall of Fame ceremonies, Dianne was quick to place the credit where she feels it belongs. “None of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for Ronnie,” she stated. “He taught me everything I know. Growing up, I knew what they did at the Reading Fairgrounds but I couldn’t have cared less until Ron brought me into it.
“I just wish Ron could be around to know what a difference he made in my life,” she regretted. “Whether he believed it or not, he was a really smart guy. This is all due to him.”
The traditional DIRTcar All-Star Weekend returns Sunday, May 27, with the annual DIRT Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Weedsport kicking off the activities. Then the action moves down the road to Rolling Wheels where the first of two Super DIRTcar Series events for Big-Block Modifieds highlights the evening. DIRTcar Sportsman Modifieds and DIRTcar Stock Cars, along with the popular Midstate Vintage Stock Car Club, make a great Memorial Day Weekend event.
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Click DIRT Hall of Fame and Classic Car Museum for more information on the Hall of Fame.
DIRTcar All-Star Weekend Schedule of Events
Noon – Will Call Opens at Rolling Wheels Raceway
2:00 pm – Hall of Fame Ceremony – Weedsport, NY (Only necessary staff present)
3:00 pm – Competitor Pits Open – Hauler Parking – (Scott Fremouw, Track Staff, Pit Gate Staff)
3:30 pm – Inspection Opens / Draw Begins
4:30 pm – Fan Pit Opens
4:30 pm – Grandstand Gates Open
4:30 pm – Music Starts
4:30 pm – Hall of Fame Autograph Session
5:15 pm – Hot Laps (following order)
Midstate Vintage Stock Car Club
Super DIRTcar Big Block Modified Series
DIRTcar Stock Car
6:00 pm – Track Preparation if necessary
6:15 pm – Super DIRTcar Big Block Modified Series Bilstein Time Trials
6:45 pm – Opening Ceremonies including Anthems/Hall of Fame Inductees
6:55 pm – DIRTcar Stock Car Division Qualifying Races (8-laps)
Immediately Following – Super DIRTcar Big Block Modified Series Qualifying Races (8-laps)
Immediately Following – DIRTcar Sportsman Qualifying Races (8-laps)
Immediately Following – Midstate Vintage Stock Car Club Qualifying Races (6-laps)
7:45 pm – Super DIRTcar Series Re-Draw
Immediately Following – DIRTcar Sportsman B-Main (if necessary – 8-laps)
Immediately Following – Super DIRTcar Big Block Modified Series B-Main (if necessary – 10-laps)
8:15 pm – 8:30pm – Track Preparation / Autograph’s under-the-grandstand (Heat Winners)
8:35 pm – Midstate Vintage Car Club Feature (2) – 12 laps each
9:05 pm – DIRTcar Stock Car Division – 20-laps
9:25 pm – DIRTcar Sportsman – 30 laps
9:45 pm – Super DIRTcar Big Block Modified Series – 66-laps