Fred Rahmer's win in the 51st annual Williams Grove National Open was, as track announcer Bruce Ellis said, "storybook stuff."
The National Open was the only big local race Rahmer had never won in his 28 years of sprint-car racing. This year's race was also his last shot at the big one, because he plans to retire at season's end.
Williams Grove had a tremendous crowd for the Open, and for once in his career, Rahmer wasn't "the bad guy" to the crowd. It seemed as if everyone rose from their seats to follow Rahmer's last lap, and the cheers were heard above the roar of the engines. Once Rahmer stopped in victory lane, the crowd surrounding his racer was gigantic.
The CBS Sports Network was taping the show for airing later, and cameraman Greg Stephens told me it was the largest crowd he's ever seen in victory lane. But it wasn't just the fans, it was the racers, too.
At World of Outlaws events, the top-three finishers are sent to the front stretch for post-race interviews. Both second-place Daryn Pittman and third-place Lance Dewease exited their cars and rushed to Rahmer to offer their congratulations.
Their interviews reflected their thoughts as well. Pittman, the current Outlaw point leader, reflected on the four years he spent in this area before returning to the Outlaw circuit this year.
"This is the happiest second place I've ever had," he said. "Over the past four years, I've developed a great respect for Fred Rahmer. Not just Fred Rahmer the racer, but Fred Rahmer the man. He does so many things that no one ever hears about. Each week when I was driving back home to Indiana after racing here, Fred would call to make sure I didn't fall asleep during the long drive."
Dewease simply said: "I'm so happy for Fred that he could win this one before he retires."
In an earlier Grove win this year, Rahmer speculated that if he could just win this one race, he'd retire on the spot, much like Lynn Paxton did in 1983. However, that didn't happen, at least not for sure. I sense that Rahmer would be happy to do so, but feels an obligation to his team to finish out the season.
He's currently leading the point chase at Williams Grove and in the overall Speedway Motors/Champion Oil Central Pennsylvania circuit. The Grove title chase is a very close race with Greg Hodnett, and pays $20,000 to win. In the Speedway Motors chase, it's not quite so close, but not yet a done deal. Rahmer's lead there equates to about a 41/2-race lead over Hodnett. There are something like six or seven races remaining in that chase.
NATIONAL OPEN NOTES: In other National Open notes, the Grove drew 63 cars on Friday night and 62 on Saturday. Four drivers from Friday didn't return Saturday, but three different drivers showed up on Saturday. That means 66 different drivers took part in this year's National Open weekend.
Of those 66 drivers, 30 had won an Outlaws race in their careers, and 52 had at least one 410 sprint-car win. Another 11 had 358 or 360 sprint wins. Add in one driver with big-block Modified wins, and you can see it was a very stout field.
Time trials reflected that. On Friday, 28 drivers were within half a second of fast time and 57 were within one second. On Saturday, the number of cars within half a second dropped to 23, but those within one second climbed to 59.
Friday's feature consisted of 12 Pennsylvania Posse racers, nine Outlaws, three All-Stars, and one driver each from the West Coast, the Midwest, New York state and a Texas driver who travels anywhere, anytime. Saturday, the numbers showed 10 Pennsylvania Posse drivers, nine Outlaws, two All-Stars and one each from the West Coast, the Midwest and New York state.
In Donnie Kreitz Jr.'s Friday win, the top 10 consisted of eight Posse members, one Outlaw and one All-Star. Saturday in Rahmer's win, there were six Outlaws and four Posse members in the top 10.
Just how tough was it to make the field for each night's feature? On Friday, the Outlaws' provisional starters were Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell, the two winningest drivers in the history of the circuit. On Saturday, the Grove's two provisional starters were Kreitz and Danny Dietrich, the top two finishers from Friday night.
The CBS Sports Network will air Friday's show on Nov. 10 and Saturday's show on Nov. 17.
THIS WEEKEND: Williams Grove hosts the sprints and 358 sprints on Friday evening.
Saturday, Lincoln hosts the rescheduled Kenny Weld Memorial Race, with $5,000-to-win plus lap money. The thundercars are also at Lincoln.
Port Royal hosts the two-day Blue Collar Classic this weekend. The 305 sprints get top billing, with races both Friday and Saturday. On Friday, they are joined by the limited-late models, a pro-stock/street-stock challenge and an enduro dash. Saturday, the super sportsman racers and an enduro dash join the 305 sprints.
Selinsgrove hosts the Late Model Fall Classic on Saturday evening, with $5,000 to win. There will also be a street-stock/roadrunner challenge race.
-- Bryan Householder writes about dirt-track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.