Toledoan Dempsey gets a surprise

Dominant driver discovers he is a hall of famer decades later

Bob Dempsey, pictured in 1974, won a total of six Grand National karting events.
Bob Dempsey, pictured in 1974, won a total of six Grand National karting events.

Back in his heyday in the 1960s, Bob Dempsey was one of the elite kart racers in the United States.

Only recently — some 36 years after he gave up the sport — did the 64-year-old Toledoan find out he was hall-of-fame material.

The International Karting Federation, established in 1957 and located in Ontario, Calif., does not actually have any hall of fame or museum to honor its great race drivers like baseball’s Cooperstown or football’s Canton.

The IKF does have a database to log what are called “Hall of Fame Experts” in eight different karting classifications, and Dempsey’s name is on that list in the 2-Cycle Sprint division along with more famous drivers like Scott Goodyear and Scott Pruett.

The only trouble was that Dempsey never knew his track performances from 1965-69 earned him that recognition.

Not until getting a call from his brother, Hank Dempsey, the father of Central Catholic football coach Greg Dempsey.

Hank phoned Bob a couple months back to tell him that his son Steve, Greg’s brother, had discovered his uncle Bob’s IKF honor one day while probing the Internet.

“I feel like I was lost in history,” Bob Dempsey said. “It’s amazing to me. My nephew Steve is kind of a fanatic with the computers, and he’s always looking stuff up."

Steve contacted his father and Hank called Bob to tell him of the achievment, which was found on a video posted on YouTube last summer.

“At first I laughed and said somebody’s just writing a lot of stuff so that it looks good on YouTube," Bob said.

Instead, he learned two weeks later from IKF bookkeeper Carmen Carranza that he was indeed in the racing organization’s record books.

“She sent me a book, and I looked in it, and I was shocked to see all the other people who were in it, like Scott Goodyear, Scott Pruett, A.J. Allmendinger, and all these Indy drivers,” Bob said.

He did not miss an induction ceremony because the IKF has none.

He actually qualified for the recognition in 1982 — five years after he retired from racing in 1977.

To be listed as an expert, a driver must win two IKF Grand National championships in the same classification in the same year.

To become a Hall of Fame Expert, the driver must be retired for at least five years after having won two Grand Nationals (since 1981 called Duffy awards) in the same year and class at some point during his or her career.

Whatever the case, Bob is happy he finally learned of the honor.

These days, on disability retirement, his only connection to race tracks is watching events on TV and competing in slot-car [remote control] racing events around the country.

He packed a lot of on-track competition from the time he first became a driver.

He had a good head start on much of his competition because his father, the late Jim Dempsey, got him started behind the wheel early — really early.

Jim, who operated two drive-in movie theaters, taught Bob to drive a car when the lot was empty at the age of 8.

By age 10, Jim let Bob take the wheel on lightly traveled country roads in rural Kentucky, so when he started kart racing in 1959 at age 11, Bob already had a good foundation for driving skill.

“He was a real expert on cars, and he enjoyed racing," Bob said of his father. "We went to Indianapolis all the time. In 1934 he drove at the Chicago World’s Fair for Barney Oldfield’s Hell Drivers, flipping cars over.

“When I got into the go karts, he saw that I had a talent for it. It was pretty natural for me, and I really enjoyed the competition, the speed, and the camaraderie with everybody. It was really fun.”

The early training served Bob well during a 19-year career in which he estimates he competed in 500 plus races, winning more than 200.

Between 1965 and 1969 Bob won a total of six Grand National events, split between the summer and winter schedules, plus he won one international karting Olympics event.

His best year was 1968, when he went undefeated, winning three regional events, a state title, a four-state Territorial championship raced in Mansfield, plus a summer Grand National in Batavia, N.Y., and a winter Grand National in Barnesville, Ga.

“My best memory, and it still chokes me up, is seeing my dad after I won my first national,” he said.

In the 1970s, Bob moved on to midget and sprint cars. Why was he so successful?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I just had a coordination for driving.

"The biggest thing isn’t how fast you go into a turn, it’s how fast you go through the turn.”

As far as learning of the hall-of-fame status?

“It’s something I’m proud of, and it’s a real hoot to me,” he said.

"I really thank my nephew Steve because he’s the one who went on the computer and found this stuff.”

Contact Steve Junga at:,

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