Ernie & Marilyn Saxton
One of the founders of the Eastern Motorsports Press Association in 1969 and the group’s president for nearly 40 years, Ernie Saxton (January 21, 1942) was the driving force behind the EMPA for many years. And that leadership also included the efforts of his wife Marilyn – who served as the organization’s executive secretary – as they were in charge of the EMPA’s day-to-day operations until stepping down from those positions in 2009.
As a kid growing up in the 1950s, Saxton first became involved with auto racing as more than just a spectator in 1958 when he co-founded and became president of the Johnny Thomson Fan Club. But after the EMPA Hall of Fame driver was killed in a 1960 USAC Sprint Car race, he first became a racing photographer and then turned to journalism.
In the mid-1960s as the youngest columnist for the old Illustrated Speedway News, Saxton sought to improve working conditions of those who covered racing. And in 1969 he, Al Consoli, John Ernesto and Red Kirsch founded the Eastern Motorsport Press Association.
The goal of the EMPA was “to bring about a better understanding of the sport and to bring more professionalism to the coverage of motorsports” and Saxton worked tirelessly in that behalf. He also helped the media to gain increased access to the valuable information that is supplied by promoters and racers, and was instrumental in the establishment of a press release format that is widely in use today.
And more than anyone in the motorsports media, Saxton has worked continually to seek to improve driver and race-track safety standards, and to be a vocal advocate of adequate insurance and medical coverage for all who are involved in motorsports.
Prior to opening his Langhorne, Pa.-based Ernie Saxton Communications in 1989, Saxton was the Manager of Marketing and Advertising at the Chilton Book Company for 13 years. He has been a columnist with Area Auto Racing News since 1981 and has written or does write for such varied publications as the Bucks County Courier Times, Inside Track Motorsports News, Stock Car Racing, NASCAR Magazine, Speedway Illustrated and National Dragster. And since 1985 he has published the informative newsletter, Motorsports Sponsorship Marketing News.
The director of public relations and communications at the one-third-mile high-banked Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pa., for 47 years (1966-2013), Saxton also worked at the dirt Bridgeport (N.J.) Speedway and New Jersey’s old asphalt Trenton International, New Egypt and Atlantic City Speedways, and he was press liaison for six years at Pennsylvania’s Pocono International Raceway.
Saxton was also the 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 been a regular contributor and/or host on local and regional radio auto racing programs.
One of the original 55 members of the Voting Panel that determines the inductees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., Saxton served in that capacity from 2009 through 2012. And he was cited for his efforts on behalf of the motorsports media in 2009 with the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame’s Leonard Sammons Award and in 2010 with the Living Legends of Auto Racing’s Russ Moyer Media Award.
Another well-known aspect of Saxton’s career was his long tenure as a public address announcer which found him calling the action at 174 tracks all across the nation and serving as the popular MC for the “Ms. Motorsports Contest” at the annual “Len Sammons Motorsports Auto Racing & Trade Show” from 1986 through 2009.
But maybe the thing that he was most proud of when it came to his race-announcing work was his 45 years (1968-2013) in that capacity at Grandview Speedway, a position that held until his retirement after the running of the track’s signature “Freedom 76” for NASCAR 358 Modifieds.
* * * * *
Marilyn Saxton’s unselfish contributions in helping her husband and the EMPA, however, should not be denied or minimized.
She was always someone whose many behind-the-scenes efforts did much to make the EMPA the respected professional organization that it is today. And she was able to do the multitude of things that needed to be accomplished – especially when it came to organizing and putting together the EMPA’s annual convention – with a smile and a dedication to seeing that whatever was undertaken was handled in the best and most efficient manner.
Ernie Saxton has always acknowledged Marilyn’s considerable behind-the-scenes work for the EMPA and for that which also helped to advance his career with a great deal of love, respect and appreciation.