HOUSEHOLDER: Reflecting on a strong season by York County dirt-track drivers 60 years ago
- The local winner in 1957 was southern York County driver Bobby Hersh with 15 wins.
- Johnny Mackison Sr., known as "The Delta Dart," was second with 14 wins.
- Port Royal champion Peter Swarmer was third that year with 13 victories.
With Christmas approaching, the local dirt-track racing scene is quiet at this time of year.
So, this is a good time to reflect on some local racing history.
In the past, I’ve largely kept away from racing before the 1960s, because records aren’t complete from that long-gone era. There were lots of tracks in operation back then that no longer exist.
Still, it might be fun to look at the records that are available from 60 years ago. The 1957 racing season was a good year for York County drivers, with four of them in the top 10 in wins for that year.
The cars of that era were the full-sized stock cars, mostly running the V8, flathead, Ford engines, with a mix of straight eight- or six-cylinder engines from other brands. Coupes from the 1930s and 1940s were the top pick, but there were some coaches from that era as well. In our area, most of the cars didn’t have fenders, but to the south in Maryland, fenders were still required.
The big winner that year, according to available records, was southern York county driver Bobby Hersh. “The Chicken Farmer” from the Seven Valleys area won 15 times. His 11 wins at Condon, Maryland, gave him that track’s point title, and he also won four times at Susquehanna.
“The Delta Dart”, Johnny Mackison Sr., shows up second with 14 wins. I believe that was also the year that Mackison started venturing out to do some racing on NASCAR’s Grand National (Now Cup) circuit, so he missed some local races during that season. Mackison won seven times at Lincoln, five at Reading and twice at Williams Grove.
Port Royal champion Pete Swarmer ranks third with a total of 13 wins. A legend from the northern part of our circuit, Swarmer got 11 of his wins at Port Royal, and added two more at Selinsgrove.
Fourth on the list was Jerry Banks, with nine wins. Banks drove a big white coach-bodied car to four wins each at Lancaster and Susquehanna, and added one more win at Williams Grove.
There was a tie for fifth with seven wins each. Dick Tobias was just starting to make his mark on the local circuit that year. During the 1957 season, Tobias won four times at Port Royal, twice at Susquehanna and once at Williams Grove.
Matching "Toby," with seven wins was Russ Delp, who was a mainstay at Reading, where he won six of his races that year. The other win came at Williams Grove.
Wrightsville’s Bobby Abel was seventh with six wins. Abel won three races each at Lincoln and Susquehanna.
Another southern York County driver, George Kessler, was right behind Abel in the eighth spot with five wins. Kessler won twice each at Lincoln and Susquehanna and once at Williams Grove.
Two drivers tied for ninth. Selinsgrove champion Gerald Zechman won four times there. Zechman was the older brother of former late-model star Don Zechman, making him the uncle of current stock-car racer Randy Zechman, and the great uncle of another current stock-car racer, Dan Zechman.
The other driver with four wins that year was Port Royal standout Hal Hoose, who won all four of his races at the Port. Hoose was fataly injured at Port Royal the following year.
Other champions, winners: Some other champions that season included two-time winner Dave Leppo at Susuqehanna. That should have been the season that York County’s Leppo drove the Trone No. 39 with a straight-eight Buick engine.
George Speck was able to claim his third consecutive Williams Grove title that season with one win at the Grove.
Winless Charlie Boone won the Lincoln point title.
Other winners that season included three-time winner Troy Funck and two-time winners Gene Goodling, Shorty Kershner, Leroy Felty, Buzz Wilson, Johnny Roberts, Ralph Smith and Joe Davis.
Single wins went to Dave Marberger, Bob Testor, Larry Valeriano, Dale Adams, Hilly Rife, Elmer Gray, Ed McCardell, Sonny Kratzer, Lorenz Alwine, Ronnie Rough Sr., Bill Miller, Jackie Raezer, George Root, Fred Ragan, Bick Bickelman, Dick Kinard, Bill Smith, Johnny Nuzum, Blackie Balliett, Johnny Dubendorf and Wilbur Reese.
Those wins include records from Williams Grove, Lincoln, Susquehanna, Port Royal, Selinsgrove, Reading, Lancaster, Condon and West Point (Maryland).
There were a number of other tracks from that era that could have been racing in 1957. Hagerstown had a spotty record of racing in the late 1950s. Records are not complete there, but show just one race, for midgets. Records from Dorsey (Maryland) are sketchy until the early 1960s. The are full-season records prior to 1957, but no records from 1957 or 1958. Winchester (Virginia) should also have been racing in 1957, but there are no records from that track.
The Blue Mountain Speedway somewhere near Carlisle did race in 1957 and 1958. There is a complete win list from Blue Mountain, but not a record of which races were held each year. Most of the drivers from Blue Mountain seem to be those from Silver Spring, although Fred Ragan, who shows up on my above list with one win, has two wins at Blue Mountain.
Some other tracks from that era that may or may not have been racing in 1957 include Hilltop, near Lebanon, from which there no records, although both Dick Tobias and Leroy Felty are said to have started their careers there.
Taneytown (Maryland) and the Mason-Dixon Speedway in Oxford on the Pennsylvania-Maryland line, both ran in the 1950s, but may have been closed by 1957.
Bryan Householder writes about dirt-track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.