After the cold weather of last weekend, it may not seem possible, but the scheduled start of the local racing season is a little less than two weeks away.
Lincoln Speedway is scheduled to go with the Icebreaker 30 for sprint cars on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 27. The long-range forecast looks somewhat promising — 43 degrees for a high with a 20 percent chance of precipitation. Of course, long-range forecasts are notoriously unreliable.
While the last two Icebreakers haven’t made it into the record books until mid-March, Lincoln actually holds about a 60 percent average for getting its first race in during Febraury.
What about the rest of the local season openers? When will they be held this year?
Port Royal is next to try with an opening date of Saturday, March 12. The Port will play host to the sprints and late models that day. The Port has practice days set for the previous Saturday and that Thursday evening.
Williams Grove will be next with a scheduled opener for the sprint cars on Friday, March 18.
Selinsgrove hits the track on Saturday, March 19, with the Race of Champions for modifieds, but then doesn’t return to action until Saturday, April 9, with a regular program of 360 sprints, late models and pro stocks.
Susquehanna, Trailway and Path Valley all open their seasons on Saturday, March 26. The super sportsmen, limited late models, street stocks and Legends make up Susky’s opening-day program. The sprints first visit is on April 10.
Trailway opens with micro sprints, limited stocks and classic cars. The first regular Friday 358 sprint program is April 8.
Path Valley opens with micros on March 26, with the first visit by the wingless sportsman racers on April 1.
Sixty years ago — a new era in racing: That’s a look at the local openers for this season, but now let’s take a step back in time to 60 years ago. Where were they racing and who won the season openers around the area in 1956?
The 1956 season was the start of a new era in national, and world-wide, auto racing. There's no doubt, 1955 was a bad year for auto racing, with a number of fatal accidents, and even calls for a ban on the sport. The AAA, which for years had sanctioned open-wheel racing in the United States, dropped from the scene during the offseason, and the United States Auto Club was formed to fill the gap left by AAA’s departure.
In the area, both Williams Grove and the Reading Fairgrounds had been longtime supporters of AAA, and they quickly joined with USAC. Both tracks hosted special sprint car races under the USAC banner that season, but both had also joined the national trend in hosting weekly stock car races the year before.
Reading opened the local USAC season at the end of April with legendary Tommy Hinnershitz taking the win. The Grove’s mid-April opener for the USAC sprints was rained out, and it wasn’t until June that Johnny Thompson won the Grove’s USAC opener.
The local stock car circuit opened about mid-April, but it was early May before all the local tracks got going. Many of the local tracks had shifted away from outside sanctioning and went with their own programs. Selinsgrove and Hagerstown were closed that season, and a number of smaller Maryland tracks were part of the local circuit.
Williams Grove’s April 15 opener was the earliest for which I have an actual date, although some other tracks may have opened before that.
At Williams Grove, “the Delta Dart,” Johnny Mackison Sr., was the opening-day winner. Mackison was probably wheeling the York-based Dottie’s Diner No. 65 that day.
Reading’s stock car opener in 1956 went to Larry Valeriano, while Charlie Boone won the Susquehanna opener.
Lincoln’s opening race was on the first weekend in May, and Ralph Smith picked up that win, while on the same weekend Ed McCardell won the opener at Port Royal.
The once popular Lancaster Speedway was still in operation back then, and Jimmy Smith was the winner of the opening event there. In a related note, 1956 was the last year of operation for Bowling Green Speedway, and the season didn’t open until early June. York’s Mike Wilhelm as the winner there.
As for those Maryland tracks, drivers who would later make their marks at the more local ovals were winners in the opening events.
Red Ninninger, who went on to fame in both the “bugs” and late models, won the opener at Condon, Maryland, while the Taneytown, Maryland, opener went to Pee Wee Pobletts. Bob Testor won the opener at Westport, Maryland.
Motorama this weekend: The big indoor racing event at the Farm Show building will be held this weekend.
Motorama has it all, with indoor racing for motorcycles, quarter midgets and go karts, along with car shows for both race cars and street cars.
Florida races: As this is being written, racing continues for the sprint cars in Florida. The opening weekend at Bubba Raceway in Ocala, saw just one of two All Star races get in the record books, with Kraig Kinser scoring the win.
The All Stars moved to Volusia, near Daytona for two days of racing, with Dave Blaney and Donny Schatz scoring the wins on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, respectively.
Then the Outlaws moved into Volusia, with Brad Sweet winning Friday and Schatz winning Saturday. Spring Grove’s Greg Hodnett has not finished out of the top-10 in any of the events.
Eckert wins in Georgia: York's Rick Eckert earned his first World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series victory of the season on Saturday at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Georgia. It was his first win since last September at Berlin Raceway. Eckert earned $10,750 for the triumph.
Bryan Householder writes about dirt track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.