For the past several years I've been looking back in my record books to give you a little bit of history with each of my columns.
I find a year with dates that match the current year, and then pass along the winners of races from those dates. For 2013 I've decided to look back in time 45 years to the 1968 racing season on the local circuit. I've picked 1968 because it was a very interesting year.
Most fans with a sense of local history point to 1967 as the year that sprint cars took over from the cut-down modifieds that folks have come to call the "bugs," but that was only partly true. It was in 1967 that Jack Gunn allowed sprint cars to race regularly at his tracks, Williams Grove and Selinsgrove. But it wasn't until 1968 that the other area tracks joined in with the sprint cars.
There were still plenty of "bugs" competing with the sprints in 1968, and there were some pretty interesting cars on the circuit as well. Kenny Weld started the season with his old No. 91 "bug," as he put the finishing touches on a new car for his new car owner, Don Rice, a Bedford-area Ford dealer. Weld's new car was a copy of the roadster-type sprint car that his brother Greg had used to win a USAC sprint-car title. The Ford engine was mounted off center and the body work was much lower than a traditional sprint car.
Car owner Harry Fletcher had designed a similar "sidewinder" type car for his driver, Johnny Grum, and it too sported a Ford engine. Between his two cars, Weld would win 15 races that year. Grum won eight times with Fletcher's sidewinder.
Recently departed Milt Miller drove a rather traditional bug-type racer, but it was powered by a big-block Plymouth Hemi engine. Miller won 12 races and the Jennerstown and Hagerstown point titles with the Mopar machine.
Regular tracks on the circuit in 1968 included Friday night racing at Williams Grove. On Saturdays, Lincoln, Selinsgrove, Port Royal and Winchester, Va., were the regular tracks, with Jennerstown joining the Saturday scene in mid-June. Sundays were divided between Susquehanna and Hagerstown.
Reading hosted a few USAC races and Bedford held a handful of races for the local sprint cars. Interestingly, the local sprint cars also made a visit to the quarter-mile paved track inside the Hershey Stadium. At the time, Hershey was running weekly stock car and midget races.
The big winner for the season was Ray Tilley in Bud Grim's potent Ford No. 88 sprint car. Tilley won 25 races in 1968. His closest challenger was southern veteran Ray Dovel. Dovel drove the potent Lee Stultz No. S3 Chevy bug to 20 wins that season. Dovel's wins were concentrated between Hagerstown and Winchester.
Mitch Smith was third on the 1968 season win list with 19. Smith spent most of the season driving a new sprint car for longtime car owner John Regester of Regester Chevrolet. Near the end of the season, Regester decided to retire from racing, and Smith found a new ride. Smith's new ride was one that fans still closely associate with the famed driver to this day, the Gary Wasson No. 5.
Wasson was new to sprint-car racing that year, having started the season with late-model driver Paul Long in his new No. 5 mount. When Long suffered a broken leg in a nasty crash, Wasson put several different drivers in the car for test runs before settling with Smith in September. It was a team that was feared for years afterwards.
The 1968 season also marked the first time cars from the local circuit began winning races in Florida during February. Bobbie Adamson, in Wilbur Hawthorn's No. 35, won two of the cageless IMCA sprint-car races at the old Tampa Fairgrounds. Adamson also notched a fourth and fifth in the five-race series. Gus Linder notched two seconds and a fourth during the Tampa races, and Tilley finished third , fifth and second in the last three races of the series.
The local season was four weeks late getting started that year because of rain and cold, but it was Weld who won the opener at Susquehanna on March 29. The season ended on Oct. 27.
That was the day that Williams Grove's sixth National Open went head to head with Lincoln's first Pennsylvania State Championship race. The National Open was a 100-lap race that paid $2,000 to win, and Adamson won his second in a row.
Lincoln's Pennsylvania State race was a 70-lap affair with $1,800 to win. Ironically it was the Williams Grove track champion Tilley who won the race at Lincoln.
The 1968 season was also the first time Port Royal hosted a Tuscarora 50 event. That was on Sept. 21, and Mitch Smith was the winner in the Wasson No. 5.
INTERESTING FACT: I didn't realize this one, but sprint-car racing guru Kevin Eckert reported in Flatout Magazine, that Keith Kauffman's win during last summer's Hagerstown Speedweek race makes Kauffman the oldest driver to ever win a winged 410 sprint-car race. Kauffman was 62 years old when he scored that win.
BANQUET: The York County Racing Club's Hall of Fame banquet is this Saturday at the Holiday Inn in West York. MRN pit reporter Steve Post is the guest speaker.
Bryan Householder writes about dirt-track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@yorkdis patch.com.