Weedsport, NY — May 12, 2009 – By Herb Anastor, Northeast Modified Hall of Fame Selection Committee
*Ace Lane Jr. Photo: Ernie Saxton (R) awards 2008 EMPA Driver of the Year Billy Decker
Nationally recognized public relations, motorsports marketing and promotions specialist Ernie Saxton has been named recipient of the 2009 Leonard J. Sammons Jr. Memorial Award which recognizes outstanding contributions to auto racing. Saxton will be honored when the 18th annual Northeast Modified Hall of Fame driver inductions and special award ceremonies take place Sunday, May 24 on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds in conjunction with the annual Memorial Day Weekend holiday show at the adjacent speedway.
When it was first announced that Saxton was to receive the Sammons Award, being surprised was just one of the emotions that he felt.
“I am humbled to have been selected for this award,” said the 67-year-old publisher of the highly-regarded Motorsports Sponsorship Marketing News upon being told of this honor. “After writing so many columns and articles and working for so many speedways and organizations, I still enjoy what I do. And as long as my health holds out, I plan to continue doing this, although I might phase a few things out in the years to come. But I am really looking forward to the activities at Weedsport.”
Saxton has a long history in the professional business world of motorsports. But just like anyone else, his first involvement with racing came as a fan. As a kid growing up in the 1950s, he enjoyed the excitement of open-wheel racing. He went to local tracks – including the legendary Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway – and soon began to follow one of the big stars of that era, Johnny Thomson.
Saxton liked the way that “The Flying Scot” handled himself on and off the race track so much that he organized and became the president of the Johnny Thomson Fan Club, and he had fun running the fan club and watching his favorite driver race. But after Thomson was killed in a Sprint Car race in September of 1960 at Pennsylvania’s Allentown Fair, he looked around for another way to stay involved in the sport that he loved.
For a short time, he took on the duties of a racing photographer. But the proximity of the cars whizzing by him as he tried to capture their images caused him to rethink that idea and he turned to writing. And that change proved to be the perfect fit.
In the mid-1960s, Saxton began writing for the old Illustrated Speedway News and even as the youngest columnist on that staff he was trying to improve the working conditions of those who covered racing. It was because of this that in 1969 he, Al Consoli, John Ernesto and Red Kirsch founded the Eastern Motorsport Press Association.
The goal of EMPA was “to bring about a better understanding of the sport and to bring more professionalism to the coverage of motorsports” and through his long tenure as the EMPA president – a position that he will relinquish at the end of this year – Saxton has worked tirelessly in that behalf. But he has also helped the media to gain increased access to the valuable information that is supplied by promoters and racers, and he was instrumental in the establishment of a press release format that is widely used today.
Prior to opening his Langhorne-based Ernie Saxton Communications business in 1989, he got a closer look at the automotive industry during his 13 years as the Manager of Marketing and Advertising at the Chilton Book Company. And the relationships that he developed then and since have enticed many of the top personalities in racing to come to the annual EMPA Convention and give attendees a unique and insightful look into the business of motorsports.
A columnist with Area Auto Racing News for some 28 years, Saxton has written or still writes for such varied publications as the Bucks County Courier Times, Inside Track Motorsports News, Stock Car Racing, NASCAR Magazine, Speedway Illustrated and National Dragster.
The director of public relations and communications at Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pa., for 43 years, Saxton also served in that capacity at New Jersey’s Bridgeport and Trenton International Speedways, and he was the press liaison for six years at Pennsylvania’s Pocono International Raceway.
Saxton’s résumé lists the position of public relations director for the United Racing Club, American Racing Drivers Club and American Three-Quarter Midget Racing Association; once handling those three jobs all at the same time. And he has also been a regular contributor and/or host on auto racing programs that were broadcast to local and regional radio markets.
The public at-large also got a different look at this man of many talents from 1986 until just a couple of years ago when he served as the popular MC for the “Ms. Motorsports Contest” at the annual Len Sammons Motorsports Auto Racing & Trade Show. But due to other mounting duties at the show – which include the coordination of the event’s “Promoters Summit” – he was forced to relinquish that enviable position to DIRTcar television host Shane Andrews.
Its obvious to see that Saxton is the type of person who gets things done. He is also someone who is never hesitant to speak his mind and that has sometimes made him controversial. Yet, the focus of what he has written or said has always been on what is good for racing and some of his previously criticized ideas and opinions are now widely accepted.
As an announcer, he has worked at 174 tracks across the country. He has been behind the microphone at Grandview for 41 years and also called the racing action at such unique locations as the old Ascot Park in California, New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the old John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, and the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia.
As a writer, Saxton brings clear thought to his columns and an interesting slant to his stories. And, as an authority on public relations, marketing, sponsorship and the business aspects of racing, he champions the idea of seeing that everyone — from fans, competitors and sponsors to the race tracks themselves– gets the best value for the money, time and effort that they have put into the sport.
At the upcoming ceremonies later this month you can be sure that Ernie Saxton will acknowledge the help that his wife Marilyn has given him over the years. And their relationship in this light is well-known throughout the racing community. But so is his leadership in motorsports and he is well-deserving of this singular recognition.
DIRTcar Racing Northeast main office is located in Weedsport, New York on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds www.cayugacountyfairspeedway.com, home of the 2009 DIRTcar All-Star Weekend, July 17-19, featuring Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Championship Series events for Sportsman and Big-Block Modifieds in the richest short-track show of its kind in the nation — the $20,000-to-win Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series “DIRTcar All-Star 100” on Sunday, July 19.
Headquartered in Roanoke, Va., Advance Auto Parts, a leading automotive aftermarket retailer of parts, accessories, batteries, and maintenance items in the United States, serves both the do-it-yourself and professional installer markets As of April 19, 2008, the Company operated 3,291 stores in 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Additional information about the Company, employment opportunities, customer services, and on-line shopping for parts and accessories can be found on the Company’s web site at www.advanceautoparts.com.
The Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series for Big-Block Modifieds is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Advance Auto Parts, Hoosier Racing Tire www.hoosiertire.com and VP Racing Fuels www.vpracingfuels.com. Promotional partners include Rite Aid Corporation www.riteaid.com, Dig Safely New York www.digsafelynewyork.com and the University of Northwestern Ohio www.unoh.com and the contingency sponsors are Bars Leaks www.barsproducts.com, Bert Transmission www.berttransmission.com, Bicknell Racing Products www.bicknellracingproducts.com, Bilstein Shocks www.bilstein.com, Brodix Cylinder Heads www.brodix.com, Ferris Industries www.ferrisindustries.com, Integra Shocks www.integrashocksandsprings.com, Intercomp www.intercomp-racing.com, KSE Racing Products www.kse-racing.com, Motorsports Safety Systems www.motorsportssafetysystems.com, Penske Shocks, www.penskeshocks.com, Racing Electronics www.racingelectronics.com, Rislone Oil Stabilizer www.barsproducts.com and Wrisco Industries www.wrisco.com.