Depending on what Mother Nature has to offer the rest of this week, the local racing season is set to begin this Saturday afternoon.
Lincoln Speedway will usher in the Northeast outdoor racing season with Saturday's Icebreaker 30 for sprint cars. The 30-lap feature will pay $3,500 to the winner.
As I mentioned last week, February openers are a 50/50 proposition. The first in the area was held in 1984, and since that time 15 seasons have opened in February. In the last 10 years, five seasons have opened in February, and five have been pushed back to March.
One thing is for certain, if it's going to happen this month, Lincoln is the place that will get it done. Lincoln has opened the local season in 18 of the last 19 years. In 2010, winter weather pushed the season opener back to March 19, and Williams Grove got the jump on Lincoln by one day.
Prior to the start of Lincoln's 16 consecutive openers in 1994, Lincoln had only opened the local season twice.
My record of season-opening races goes back to 1932 at the Reading Fairgrounds, although I'd guess that in the first decade or so I could well be missing some tracks that are now long gone.
Since I can't be absolutely certain of those very early races, it's hard to say which track has opened the local season most often. If indeed Reading was the first track to open locally in the 1930s and 1940s, then it holds the honor of the most season openers with 27. For certain, Lincoln's number of 20 season openers is firm. I have Williams Grove with 14 and Susquehanna with 11.
Fred Rahmer leads all drivers in opening-race wins with nine, while Keith Kauffman is second with seven. Third place is a tie between legendary drivers Tommy Hinnershitz and Ted Horn, who have won four times each on opening day. Equally legendary open wheel racers from days gone by, A.J. Foyt and Johnny Thompson, stand tied for fifth with three opener wins each.
It's been years since two or more tracks opened on the same day with the sprint cars, or their predecessors. But it used to happen frequently. In the late 1950s, the local tracks would open their stock car season (these are the cars that evolved into today's sprint cars) at the same time Reading opened with the USAC sprint cars.
Only twice have the local sprint cars opened at two tracks on the same day. In 1972, Susquehanna and Hagerstown went head to head with their season openers. At Susquehanna, Manchester's Eddie Zirkle drove to victory over Ron Blazer, Gene Kohr, Lee Osborne and Kenny Slaybaugh, while at Hagerstown, Loganville's Kenny Weld bested Jan Opperman, Johnny Grum, Buddy Cochran and Smokey Snellbaker. That was on March 12.
In 1978, Lincoln and Port Royal opened on the same date. This time a harsh winter pushed the openers back to April 1. At Lincoln, Bobby Allen was the winner over Dub May, Billy Steif, Bobby Weaver and Steve Smith. At the Port, Jay Myers scored the win over Kramer Williamson, Lynn Paxton, Paul Pitzer and Barry Camp.
Last year, York's Adam Wilt won the season opener at Lincoln on Feb. 25. The win was Wilt's only victory of the season. Wilt isn't the first driver to win his only sprint car race of the season on opening day. It has happened before.
In 1960, legendary Gary Wolford won at Susquehanna for his only win of the season. But there was a lot more to the story that day. Wolford was subbing for good friend Bobby Abel in Abel's famed #2. Abel had a ride with the Yorkshire Garage #1080 that year, and put Wolford in his own car for the opener. Wolford won the race, while Abel finished second.
In 1964, Johnny Crawford Sr. won the opener at Susquehanna for his only win of the season in the "bug" class. Crawford did win some late model races that year.
Tommie Spriggle's win at Susquehanna in 1970's season opener was his only sprint car win of that season. Spriggle was driving Roy Morral's #880 at the time.
Hanover's Cris Eash raced with the World of Outlaws in 1988, but his only win of the season came in the area's season opener at Williams Grove.
The most recent time it has happened prior to last year was in 2008, when Niki Young won his only race of the season in Lincoln's opener.
Florida races: The winter series of sprint car races at Volusia Park Speedway got off to a wet start with the All Star races being rained out on Wednesday and Thursday. The World of Outlaws moved into town on Friday with Daryn Pittman getting his first win for new car owner Kasey Kahne. Pittman won over Jac Haudenschild, Brad Sweet, Sammy Swindell and Paul McMahan.
On Saturday, Pittman came from deep in the field to finish second to Terry McCarl. Kraig Kinser, Tim Shaffer and Sweet completed the top five. On Sunday, Danny Lasoski shook off his early Florida woes to win the Volusia Park Speedway finale. He was driving the locally-based ZEMCO car.
One big surprise from Florida was that Fred Rahmer was on hand driving a pretty famous car. Last I had heard was that Rahmer hadn't planned to race in Florida this year, but I guess a call to drive Tony Stewart's own car can change your plans. Rahmer subbed for Stewart on Friday and Saturday nights while Stewart was racing at Daytona. On Friday, Rahmer finished 15th, while on Saturday, mechanical problems sidelined him while leading a qualifying event.
-- Bryan Householder writes about dirt-track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.