The Ice Breaker 30 for sprint cars is set for Saturday afternoon, Feb. 24, at Lincoln Speedway.
Of course, at this time of the year, weather is always a factor, but Lincoln seems to have a knack for getting the first race of the season into the record books, usually in late February. Saturday's show does have a Sunday rain date.
The forecast for Saturday is iffy at this point. The temperature looks good, with a high of 56 degrees and just 4 mph winds. There is, however, an 80 percent chance of rain.
Lincoln has been able to open in late February in 14 of the past 24 years. Last year’s event was one where fans experienced complete opposites of the late-winter weather during the course of the racing program.
The day dawned bright and sunny with very mild temperatures. The first several heat races of the day were run under those conditions. Then the weather changed abruptly. During the third heat race, the skies opened up and heavy rain fell. Since it was a fast-moving storm, track management decided to stick it out and complete the program after the rain.
But rain wasn’t all that fell, so did the temperatures. By the time things got going again, the sun, which had re-appeared, was setting and the temperatures had dropped by 30 degrees. By the time Danny Dietrich took the checkered flag in the feature, the lights were on and the thermometer was near the freezing mark.
The earliest Lincoln Speedway has ever opened its season was Feb. 20. That happened in 1999, and Fred Rahmer was the winner. The latest the season has ever opened at Lincoln was July 10. That was actually when the speedway first opened in 1953. The very first race at Lincoln was won by Mel Kreiser.
The latest the regular racing season has opened at Lincoln was June 30 in 1990, the last year Tom Livelsberger owned the speedway. Dan Dietrich won that race.
In its early years, Lincoln opened in late April or early May. Over the course of the 1959 and 1960 seasons, promoter Hilly Rife was working at some upgrading projects and didn’t open the speedway until the first week in June.
Then, during the 1960s into the early 1970s, the track opened in early- to mid-April. After that, it was usually mid-March when the speedway opened. The 1994 season was the first attempt at a February opener, and that one was pushed back four weeks and a day by weather conditions. The next six shows opened in February.
Fred Rahmer, the all-time win leader at Lincoln, is also the biggest winner on opening day at Lincoln with seven victories. Bobby Allen is next with five.
In recent years, there have been several drivers who have won the opener. As mentioned, last year Dietrich picked up the win, his first on opening day at Lincoln. Spring Grove’s Greg Hodnett won the two previous openers.
From 2009 through 2014, Brian Montieth won three of the six races, with each coming in alternate years. Mark Smith, who has been doing very well in Florida 360 sprint races, was the first to slip in between Montieth’s wins, with York’s Adam Wilt getting the other two races.
It’s interesting to note that a dozen drivers who have won Lincoln’s opener have gone on to be inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. They include Rahmer, Allen, Lance Dewease, Keith Kauffman, Glenn Fitzcharles, Frankie Kerr, Steve Smith, Bobby Davis Jr., Kenny Weld, Smokey Snellbaker, Kramer Williamson and Lynn Paxton
All but Davis and Fitzcharles are also in the York County Racing Club Hall of Fame, but so are 10 more winners of Lincoln’s openers: Hodnett, Todd Shaffer, Stevie Smith, Van May, Paul Pitzer, Bobby Gerhart, Bobby Abel, Frankie Thompson, Gene Goodling and Johnny Mackison Sr.
Other drivers who have won season openers at Lincoln over the years include early track champions Walt Ragan and Junie Taylor, Ralph Smith, Troy Funck (who was the first two-time winner with victories in 1957 and 1958), Bobby Myers, Dub May, Jimmy Edwards, Richard Lupo, Chris Knopp, Doug Esh and Niki Young.
Mark Smith shines in Florida: The 360 sprint-car nationals were run at the East Bay Speedway near Tampa over the weekend.
Local driver Mark Smith fared very well in those events.
In Thursday’s feature, Thomas Kennedy scored the victory, with Smith finishing second. Tim Shaffer, Terry McCarl and local racer Robbie Stillwaggon completed the top five.
Friday evening, Smith picked up the win over Dylan Westbrook. Kennedy, McCarl and A.J. Maddox completed the top five.
Saturday’s big event went to McCarl, who bested Shaffer for the victory. Kennedy, Smith and Wayne Johnson completed the top five. Stillwaggon was ninth.
1984: The 1984 racing season opened on this weekend, with a Sunday afternoon show at Hagerstown.
It was an interesting field that day, with Keith Kauffman kicking off his season with the win in Al Hamilton’s No. 77. Future NASCAR driver Dave Blaney chased Kauffman to the line that day. He’s now known as a top modified driver, but for part of that season, Craig Von Dohran drove the Keystone No. 126, and that day he finished third, with Smokey Snellbaker and Scott Tobias in the top five. Rounding out the top 10 that day were Brian Miller, Donnie Kreitz Jr, Steve Stambaugh, Paul Lotier and Dan Dietrich.
Bryan Householder writes about dirt-track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.