It's been a very tough year for local auto racing heroes from the past.
Now it's gotten even tougher.
We've lost another one.
York’s Irvin Eckert Jr. died unexpectedly Saturday morning.
Junior Eckert was so much more than a local auto racer. A strong supporter of the sport and the head of a family of racers, Junior was well known and loved in the racing community.
The Eckert family features four generations of racers, but it was Junior who started it all. While it’s true that Junior was the second generation of the family to race, he was the first to climb behind the wheel of a race car. His father, Ervin Eckert Sr., got the bug to race after Junior was already racing.
Junior Eckert knew the ups and downs of racing better than most. His career as a driver was put on hold for several years after an early 1970s crash at Williams Grove Speedway cost him part of a foot. At the time, Junior was one of the area’s top late-model racers. After several years away, he returned driving in the semi-late class, where he was a big winner and the 1980 Lincoln track champion.
Eventually Junior returned to the late-model ranks, but along the way he generated plenty of racing interest in his family. Two sons and three daughters all won races in the semi-late class. Oz and Rick Eckert, along with Candy, Kitty and Lori, each became good racers in their own right. Candy went on to win a street-stock title at Selinsgrove. Rick has gone on to become one of the nation’s top-ranked and best-known late-model racers, even winning the World of Outlaws late-model title a few years ago.
Kitty’s son, Cody Darrah, is a winning sprint-car racer who spent several years driving for Kasey Kahne on the World of Outlaws circuit.
Junior Eckert was always with his family at the local races and often ventured out on the road to watch them race as well. When Rick Eckert won the Late Model Speedweek feature at Williams Grove just two weeks ago, Junior was on hand to watch.
Rest in Peace my friend.
Last week, long-time race mechanic and speedway tech man Bob Jones also died. Jones was perhaps best known during the many years he spent as a tech man at Lincoln and Susquehanna speedways.
Another friend is gone.
Courtney picks up USAC Eastern Storm win at Susquehanna: Tyler Courtney wrapped up the United States Auto Club Eastern Storm by becoming the fifth winner in five sprint-car races this week.
Courtney’s $6,000 win came at Susquehanna Speedway Sunday evening.
Courtney first took the lead on the fourth lap, but later lost the top spot to Thomas Meseraull on lap 12. With just two laps remaining in the 30-lap contest, Courtney regained the lead and went on to the victory ahead of Meseraull, who had won at Lincoln last Wednesday. Justin Grant finished third, with last Tuesday’s Grandview winner, Brady Bacon, in fourth. Wiliams Grove Thursday winner Kevin Thomas Jr. rounded out the top five.
Chris Windom, who won at Port Royal on Saturday, edged Thomas for the Eastern Storm crown.
Newberrytown’s Alex Updegraff won the Xtreme stock feature at Susky over Manchester’s Patrick McClane, and Roger Weaver was the stock 600cc micro-sprint winner over Zane Rudisill.
This weekend: Things settle down a little bit on the local racing circuit this weekend, before Pennsylvania Sprint Car Speedweek begins June 30.
This Friday, Williams Grove Speedway plays host to a Yellow Breeches 500 series race for the 410 sprints and the opener of the K1 Racewear Summer Series for the 358 sprints. The 358 sprints, 600cc micro sprints, 270cc micro sprints and limited stocks race at Trailway on Friday.
Saturday, Lincoln Speedway plays host to the sprints, 358 sprints and All American Outlaws, while Port Royal has the sprints, late models and 305 sprints.
Susquehanna will offer up a $5 grandstand ticket this Saturday for the super sportsmen, limited-late models, street stocks and Xtreme stocks, while at Selinsgrove, it’s 360 sprints, late models, pro stocks and road runners.
Hagerstown will have a tribute to long-time announcer Frank Sagi on Saturday evening, along with it being Auto Racing Club of Hagerstown Night. Late models, late-model sportsmen, pure stocks and hobby stocks compete.
Latimore Valley Fair: The folks from the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing will present the 33rd annual revival of the Latimore Valley Fair this weekend.
The fair runs Friday through Sunday at the restored Latimore Valley Fairgrounds. This site hosted fairs and racing events in the early 1900s and then sat unused for many years before the EMMR folks bought it and restored it for vintage race-car events.
The Eastern Museum of Motor Racing sits on a hill overlooking the fairgrounds. There will be vintage race-car track time Saturday afternoon during the fair.
1972: This was the weekend when Hurricane Agnes flooded all of central Pennsylvania in 1972.
Nearly all local racing was washed out, and several speedways were left under several feet of water. However, there was some racing.
The Wednesday before the flood, some local racers ventured out to Mercer, located between Pittsburgh and Erie, for a race. The rivalry from this area was on at Mercer’s 100-lap race. Jan Opperman took the Bogar No. 99 to his 14th win of the season over arch-rival Kenny Weld in Bob Weikert’s No. 29. Bill Bannick, Ralph Quarterson and Frank Raiti completed the top five.
All the local tracks were washed out on Friday and Saturday after the storm hit the area on Thursday. With Hagerstown under water, and most routes to Susquehanna under water as well, they didn’t race on Sunday, but Lincoln did shift its show to Sunday.
Weld won that one for his 13th win of the season. Paul Pitzer, Steve Smith, Richard Lupo and Bob Elbin completed the top five.
Bryan Householder writes about dirt-track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.
2017 CHAMPION RACING OIL
CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA SPRINT SERIES
PRESENTED BY HOSEHEADS.COM
1. 48 Danny Dietrich 667 5
2. 24 Lucas Wolfe 585 6
3. 27 Greg Hodnett 504 3
4. 69K Lance Dewease 452 5
5. 21 Brian Montieth 428 1
6. 51 Freddie Rahmer 421 3
7. 3z Brock Zearfoss 333 1
8. 07 Doug Esh 285 2
9. 25 Aaron Ott 270
10. 11 T J Stutts 264
11. 1 Dale Blaney 263
12. 87 Alan Krimes 225
13. 39 Cory Haas 219
13. 5 Dylan Cisney 219
15. 16 Gerard McIntyre Jr 168 1
16. 5 David Gravel 164 3
17. 44 Trey Starks 158 1
18. 0 Rick Lafferty 152
19. 20 Ryan Taylor 139
20. 1x Chad Trout 135
21. 55 Mike Wagner 133
22. 59 Jim Siegel 130
23. M1 Mark Smith 129 1
24. 12 Blane Heimbach 122 1
25. 17B Steve Buckwalter 121