Lincoln Speedway is set to kick off another season of area auto racing this Saturday afternoon.
The Ice Breaker 30 for the sprint cars is on Lincoln’s racing slate. The latest forecast calls for a high in the low-60s, but an 80 percent chance of rain.
If the weather conditions co-operate, this will mark the 14th time Lincoln has opened its season in February. Lincoln first tried to start the season in February in 1994, and has attempted to do so every year since then.
The earliest Lincoln has opened its season in that time was on Feb. 20, 1999, with Fred Rahmer scoring the win. The latest Lincoln has opened in that time was March 20, which has happened twice. In the first year of 1994, Glenn Fitzcharles won Lincoln’s March 20 opener, while in 2010, Mark Smith won a March 20 opener.
The latest Lincoln has ever opened its season was in its first year of 1953, when the completion of the track was ready for an Independence Day eve opener. It rained that day, and Lincoln opened for competition on July 10, 1953. Mel Kreiser won. The latest Lincoln has opened under regular circumstances was on June 6, 1959. Bobby Abel won that one.
In recent years, Lincoln has posted a Sunday rain date for its openers, but that will not be the case this year. Lincoln’s promoters have wisely dropped the rain date for the opener because of the running of the Daytona 500 this coming Sunday.
Spring Grove’s Greg Hodnett has won the last two Ice Breakers at Lincoln, but there's a good chance he won’t be in the field for this year’s race. As of now, Hodnett plans to stay in Florida for the 360 Sprint Nationals at East Bay Raceway.
Fred Rahmer leads all drivers with seven Opening Day wins at Lincoln. Hanover’s Bobby Allen is second with five.
Lincoln hasn't always opened the season: While Lincoln has been opening the local season most often in the last 24 or so years, it wasn’t always that way. The Reading Fairgrounds and then Hagerstown once held those honors. Hagerstown was the first to try a February opener 33 years ago. In the 33 years since then, area tracks have been able to open in February 17 times, which is a little better than half the time.
Actually the earliest opener on record came in 1955. That year the Bowling Green Speedway, near Jefferson, held a race on New Year’s Day. Reports from that era say that 3,000 fans showed up to watch Jerry Banks drive to the victory. Bowling Green’s regular season opened on March 20 that year with Johnny Mackison Sr. scoring the win. That date is still the earliest regular-season opening date I have on record for that year.
The latest Opening Day ever in the area came in 1945 at Williams Grove. For folks not up on their history books, any unnecessary use of automobiles was banned during World War II. Williams Grove had last raced on May 10, 1942 with Bill Holland the winner. The first race of 1945 was twice rained out before being held on Sept. 30.
The 50-lap “Victory Championship Race” was sanctioned by the Central States Racing Association, since AAA wasn’t planning to offer racing until 1946. That day a reported 32,000 fans turned out to watch Ted Horn drive to victory.
With those seven wins on Opening Day at Lincoln, plus one earlier Opening Day win at Hagerstown in 1988, Fred Rahmer leads all drivers with eight wins in the race that opened the local racing season.
Keith Kauffman is second on that list with seven wins. Kauffman’s wins on Opening Day include two each at Lincoln, Williams Grove and Hagerstown, and one at Port Royal.
Legends of Opening Day: Since in the early years of local competition, either the Reading Fairgrounds or Williams Grove would open the local season with races for the AAA or USAC, the local Opening Day list is frequently dotted with the names of national driving champions.
Legendary aces Ted Horn and Tommy Hinnershitz each have four wins in the area’s season opener. A J Foyt, undoubtedly one of the greatest race drivers ever, has three wins in this area’s season openers. Remarkably, Foyt was once quoted as saying Hinnershitz was probably the best dirt track racer he had ever competed against.
Another national sprint car champion, Johnny Thompson, also had three wins in local openers.
Although perhaps best known for the Thrill Show that once bore his name, Joie Chitwood Sr. also won a season opener in the area. Chitwood was a top competitor in his day, and is also known for winning the first heat race held at Williams Grove.
Opening Day is always known for some heart-warming stories. Perhaps the best in this area, and one that gets a lot of mileage, is from Susquehanna in 1960. Legendary driver Bobby Abel, from Wrightsville, was already a seasoned veteran by that time, and had picked up a ride with the famed Yorkshire Garage No. 1080 team. He still had his equally famed orange and blue No. 2 sitting in the garage.
For Susky’s race that would open the local season, he opted to let a relatively unknown young racer from Brogue drive the No. 2. It was the first high point in what would become another legendary local career. That day Gary Wolford drove the No. 2 to Susky’s victory lane, just ahead of the No. 1080 driven by his car owner Abel.
Just for the record, I have found 132 wins for Abel during his career. Although 145 of Wolford’s 150 wins came in what are now the super sportsman racers, Wolford actually scored more wins than his mentor.
SEASON OPENING WINNERS
1932 READING 5/15 Freddy Frame
1933 READING 4/30 Billy Winn
1934 READING 5/19 Johnny Hannon
1935 READING 4/28 Doc McKenzie
1936 READING 4/26 Vern Orendorff
1937 READING 4/25 Tony Willman
1938 READING 4/24 Ted Horn
1939 READING 4/23 Mark Light
1940 READING 4/28 Mark Light
1941 READING 4/20 Jimmy Wilburn
1942 READING 4/19 Joie Chitwood
1945 WILLIAMS GROVE 9/30 Ted Horn
1946 WILLIAMS GROVE 4/14 Walt Ader
1947 WILLIAMS GROVE 4/20 Ted Horn
1948 WILLIAMS GROVE 4/17 Ted Horn
1949 READING 4/3 Tommy Hinnershitz
1950 READING 4/2 Tommy Hinnershitz
1951 READING 4/8 Bill Schindler
1952 READING 4/6 Tommy Hinnershitz
1953 READING 3/29 Tommy Hinnershitz
1954 READING 3/28 Johnny Thompson
1955 BOWLING GREEN 1/1 Jerry Banks
1956 WILLIAMS GROVE 4/15 Johnny Mackison Sr.
1957 WILLIAMS GROVE 3/31 Johnny Mackison Sr.
SUSQUEHANNA 3/31 Bobby Hersh
READING 3/31 Johnny Thompson
1958 WILLIAMS GROVE 4/13 Johnny Thompson
SUSQUEHANNA 4/13 Troy Funck
1959 SUSQUEHANNA 4/5 Bobby Hersh
READING 4/5 Elmer George
1960 SUSQUEHANNA 4/10 Gary Wolford
1961 READING 3/26 A J Foyt
1962 READING 3/25 Jim Hurtibise
1963 READING 3/24 A J Foyt
1964 SUSQUEHANNA 3/29 Johnny Crawford Sr.
READING 3/29 A J Foyt
1965 READING 3/27 Jud Larson
1966 SUSQUEHANNA 3/27 Bobby Abel
1967 READING 3/31 Larry Dickson
1968 SUSQUEHANNA 3/29 Kenny Weld
1969 SUSQUEHANNA 3/16 Mitch Smith
1970 SUSQUEHANNA 3/15 Tommie Spriggle
1971 SUSQUEHANNA 3/14 Mitch Smith
1972 SUSQUEHANNA 3/12 Ed Zirkle
HAGERSTOWN 3/12 Kenny Weld
1973 PORT ROYAL 3/24 Jan Opperman
1974 PORT ROYAL 3/23 Lynn Paxton
1975 WILLIAMS GROVE 3/23 Jan Opperman
1976 READING 3/14 Jay Myers
1977 LINCOLN 3/6 Van May
1978 LINCOLN 4/1 Bobby Allen
PORT ROYAL 4/1 Jay Myers
1979 READING 3/11 Billy Steif
1980 PORT ROYAL 3/22 Lynn Paxton
1981 PORT ROYAL 3/21 Keith Kauffman
1982 PORT ROYAL 3/27 Steve Smith
1983 PORT ROYAL 3/12 Bobby Davis Jr.
1984 HAGERSTOWN 2/26 Keith Kauffman
1985 HAGERSTOWN 3/3 Van May
1986 WILLIAMS GROVE 3/16 Keith Kauffman
1987 WILLIAMS GROVE 3/8 Cris Eash
1988 HAGERSTOWN 2/28 Fred Rahmer
1989 WILLIAMS GROVE 3/2 Stevie Smith
1990 WILLIAMS GROVE 3/4 Kenny Adams
1991 HAGERSTOWN 2/24 Steve Smith
1992 HAGERSTOWN 2/23 Keith Kauffman
1993 WILLIAMS GROVE 3/7 Keith Kauffman
1994 LINCOLN 3/20 Glenn Fitzcharles
1995 LINCOLN 2/25 Fred Rahmer
1996 LINCOLN 2/24 Fred Rahmer
1997 LINCOLN 2/22 Fred Rahmer
1998 LINCOLN 2/21 Todd Shaffer
1999 LINCOLN 2/20 Fred Rahmer
2000 LINCOLN 2/26 Keith Kauffman
2001 LINCOLN 3/3 Fred Rahmer
2002 LINCOLN 2/23 Keith Kauffman
2003 LINCOLN 3/15 Chris Knopp
2004 LINCOLN 2/21 Fred Rahmer
2005 LINCOLN 3/12 Fred Rahmer
2006 LINCOLN 2/25 Doug Esh
2007 LINCOLN 3/3 Lance Dewease
2008 LINCOLN 3/1 Niki Young
2009 LINCOLN 2/28 Brian Montieth
2010 WILLIAMS GROVE 3/19 Fred Rahmer
2011 LINCOLN 3/5 Brian Montieth
2012 LINCOLN 2/25 Adam Wilt
2013 LINCOLN 2/23 Brian Montieth
2014 LINCOLN 3/15 Adam Wilt
2015 LINCOLN 3/15 Greg Hodnett
2016 LINCOLN 2/28 Greg Hodnett