Bright lights illuminated clouds of red dust and the roar of engines could be heard for a country mile when dirt track races were held at the Hilltop Speedway.
Weekly, from the 1960s through the 1980s, fans filled the speedway stands to experience the thrill of stock car racing.
Now partners Chris Erb, Steve Valencourt and Lhan Weppler are bringing the Hilltop Speedway back to life, with the grand opening planned for Aug. 19.
SAM SHAWER The Marietta Times
From left, Lucas Weppler, Chris Erb, Lhan Weppler, and Josh Tonkin look over the track at Hilltop Speedway off Blue Knob Road Thursday afternoon.
"In 1967 my Dad drove a push truck at the track and my brothers and I would go along," said Weppler. "The races were held on Sundays from 4 p.m. until after dark-I was about 9 years old.
"It was all about speed and maneuvering the track," he recalled. "And it was a lot of fun to watch the sprint cars."
Weppler explained that sprint cars were small vehicles, about 1,350 pounds, rigged with 1,200-horsepower engines that raced around the quarter-mile track.
If you go
What: A test and tune run on the refurbished Hilltop Speedway.
When: Sunday, Aug. 7, at 1 p.m.
Where: Hilltop Speedway on Blue Knob Road, just off Ohio 7 north of Marietta.
Spectators admitted free (for this Sunday's test run only).
Regular races at Hilltop Speedway are scheduled to begin Aug. 19.
Races will be held every Friday.
Gates open at 4 p.m.
Tickets are $10 at the gate.
Pit passes for spectators or drivers are $25.
Children, ages 10 and under, admitted free.
Contact the track via e-mail at email@example.com.
Today Weppler's son, Lance, is a stock car driver who's currently attending the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima where he's taking a course in high performance racing.
"He started driving racers when he was 16," Weppler said.
Erb has been a racing fan for some time.
"I moved to Belpre from Columbus last summer, and at that time I was an RC (radio-controlled) car enthusiast," he said. "But then I sold off a lot of my equipment and bought a 4-cylinder Ford Probe that my brother-in-law raced at Skyline Speedway in Muskingum County."
Erb and his brother-in-law began looking for a local "place to play" with their vehicle and found the former Hilltop Speedway property along Blue Knob Road, just off Ohio 7 north of Marietta.
He leased the property from the nearby Hilltop Auto Wrecking and later, along with Weppler and Valencourt, decided to bring the Hilltop Speedway back to life.
"The property was covered with weeds, some as high as six feet," Erb said. "And we had to move tons and tons of dirt from the old track."
The facility also needed new bleachers, new electrical service, and drainage for the track.
"We've had an architect design the bleachers so they'll be up to standards," Erb said.
Weppler said the quarter-mile track at the speedway will surround a smaller, eighth-mile track that will be used for go-kart racing.
Erb signed the lease for the property in April and work to restore the track began within a few days.
On Sunday the renovated dirt track will be the site of a test and tune event for racers and the Hilltop Speedway will be open to give local race fans a look at what's being done to restore the facilities.
"We've already had several people stopping by, asking if we're reopening the track," Erb said.
"I think we'll bring in a lot of the old-timers who will remember the track in its heyday," Weppler added.
Erb said the speedway will be family-oriented, so that adults and children can enjoy the racing events.
And he's hoping the track will again become a favorite with local race car drivers.
Josh Tonkin of Marietta said he's been driving modified stock cars for about three years now.
"I really love this," he said of the Hilltop renovations.
"And I'm really anxious to run on this track," he said. "The first race is Aug. 19 and I'll be there."