Back when they were teenagers, Dale and Dean Roper spent their summer Friday nights at what’s now the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds in north Springfield, watching the Midget car races. Only, they weren’t in the stands.

“We sat in the trees over beyond the east end,” Dale, Sr. recalled with a smile. “Nobody had any money back then. Of course, years later, Dean would tell people, ‘I guess we started with nothing and we’ve still got most of it.’”

Actually, they eventually had more than nothing. In fact, they went on to become racers themselves – and so did their sons – as all four weaved the Ozarks’ rich racing story into the fabric of America. Which is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted The Roper Racing Family with the Class of 2021.

In essence, Dale, Sr. and his late brother, Dean, and their sons – Dale, Jr. (PeeWee) and the late Tony Roper – earned respect locally and nationally. Which was pretty impressive for a family from the small southwest Missouri town of Fair Grove.

Dean began racing in 1959. His road led all the way to the 1983 Daytona 500, where he finished 15th – ahead of a young man named Dale Earnhardt. In that race, he drove a white Pontiac Grand Prix, as No. 89. A year later, he ran the 500 again and the Firecracker 400 before retiring from the NASCAR Series.

At one point, he was backed by John Childs, a St. Louis-area tire shop owner who later launched the careers of Rusty (MSHOF Legend 2006) and Kenny Wallace. The Mueller Brothers of Wisconsin signed Dean in the late 1970s, and they would be a rarity now – an independent ownership qualifying a car in the Daytona 500.

Dean won three championships in the U.S. Auto Club (USAC) and also competed on the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) circuit. In fact, he beat the great Bobby Allison in an ARCA race in Milwaukee in the mid-1980s and also won at Valley Park Speedway and the Ozark Speedway in Joplin.

He passed away during a race in 2001, less than a year after Tony, his son, died in a race at the Texas Motor Speedway at the age of 35.

Tony began racing in 1986 and competed in the American Speed Association short-track series, finishing as the runner-up in 1992 as ASA Rookie of the Year. That was notable because the ASA sprang Mark Martin and Dick Trickle and others to NASCAR.

From 1995 to 2000, Tony drove in 60 races in the NASCAR Truck Series, two steps below the Sprint Cup level. He had one second-place and eight top-10 finishes, earning nearly $488,000. Tony later scored three Top 10 finishes in 16 races in the Xfinity Series, NASCAR’s second-highest tier.

Referring to reaching the big time, PeeWee said that Tony once told him that there was no doubt in his mind that he could do it.

Dale began racing in 1965 and won roughly 200 races, including seven track championships at three different tracks – Bolivar Speedway, I-44 Speedway in Lebanon and Fort Wood Speedway near Waynesville.

Overall, he competed in 14 states. His first win came after he kept qualifying in heat races and then beat 24 cars in the feature.

“I don’t know how,” Dale said with a sheepish grin.

In many ways, Dale was the old-school racer who worked during the week – he drove a bus for Fair Grove Schools and was a mail carrier – and tore out to a race track on the weekends.

PeeWee won his first championship in Springfield in 1980 a year after buying a 1968 Chevelle. He then was his dad’s crew chief for years but, the itch to drive was always there.

He returned to racing in 2001, winning season championships in 2003, 2004 and 2005 at the Dallas County Speedway, and won championships in 2009 and 2010 in Bolivar and 2010 in Lebanon. He won in 2011 at Lebanon as a car owner. He’s won more than 100 features and never finished lower than third in years when he didn’t win the championship.

In 2011, he finished third in ASA regional points and 17th nationally. That year, he also won with a late model Camaro.

Overall, it’s an incredible American story. The Ropers are the only family ever inducted into the Ozarks Area Racers Foundation. Not convinced? Just visit Dale’s spread in Fair Grove, where his red shop houses hundreds of trophies and memories.

What a racing history indeed.