The 56th running of the Williams Grove Speedway National Open was a two-night show, with two totally different story lines.
The first night produced a first-time winner, while the second night ended as another notch in the belt of the career win leader. A young charger and a cagey veteran.
In the end, though, it was a weekend of healing for all of those in the area racing community, and a chance for everyone to pay their respects to some never-to-be-forgotten heroes.
The National Open was the first 410 sprint race in the area since the death of Greg Hodnett. Greg’s wife, Sherry, was on hand. Commemorative T-shirts sold out in no time.
The Williams Grove management also donated their proceeds from the track’s 50-50 drawing to the Hodnetts — an amount that totaled more than $13,000 for the weekend.
Many drivers offered tributes to Hodnett over the weekend, with Saturday’s big winner, Lance Dewease, almost in tears. He also brought tears to the eyes of most everyone in the house. And there were plenty of people in the house, with very large crowds on both nights of the Open.
Hodnett’s car paced the field on both nights, with former driver-turned-mechanic Sean Michael at the wheel. The World of Outlaws used the “missing man” formation in the feature lineups both nights, with the Hodnett car pacing the field for the famed four-abreast parade lap.
Saturday night, it was even more heartwarming. In the pace truck that night were Bobbie and Jaxx Johnson, the wife and young son of Jason Johnson, who lost his life in a sprint crash this year as well. Bobbie is a local native. Most every driver on the track moved alongside the pace truck to offer a wave to young Jaxx.
Friday’s preliminary feature ran a distance of 27 laps, the number of Hodnett’s car, and when it was over a young man from California had scored his first Williams Grove and World of Outlaws win. Giovanni Scelzi, son of the famed drag racer Gary Scelzi, took the lead around the mid-point of the race and went on to score a very popular victory.
Just about a month shy of his 17th birthday, Scelzi becomes the youngest driver to ever win a 410 sprint race at the Grove and the youngest to win an Outlaws race anywhere.
Dewease’s win Saturday was worth $56,000 and marked his fourth National Open triumph. It was also the 92nd career Williams Grove win for the driver, who just this summer was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.
There were a number of other story lines during the National Open. Paul McMahan’s team carried the Michael Heffner No. 27 colors on its machine and
was able to garner a top-10 finish in the Open on Saturday. That pretty much assured that Heffner will still win the Grove’s car owner point standings.
The track at the Grove was lightning fast for time trials both nights, with lap times close to the 16-year-old pre-weight-rule track record of 16.140 second. Scelzi set fast time Saturday with a lap at 16.250. Scelzi wasn’t even born when the record was set.
Car counts for the Open were 50 on Friday and 49 on Saturday. Two cars were unable to return on Saturday, while one just ran the Saturday show.
This weekend: Lincoln’s fifth Dirt Classic will be presented Saturday evening.
The big race, with a unique qualifying format and $25,000 on the line for the winner, was postponed on the weekend of Hodnett’s death. Last year, Dewease won this race, with Stevie Smith having two Dirt Classic wins. Brian Montieth has the other Dirt Classic victory.
Williams Grove races Friday with a full show of sprints and 305 sprints. In addition, the make-up of the Al Hamilton Tribute Race will be a part of the program. That feature was started a few weeks ago, but was struck by rain after an opening-lap incident stopped the field. New point leader Lucas Wolfe starts from the pole. Hodnett had been second in the line-up.
BAPS Motor Speedway returns to action with a big National event for the Legends racers. The speedy little vintage race car lookalikes will be on hand from all around the world for this event, which begins with practice on Thursday evening. Friday, the Legends qualify, while the the Xtreme stock cars and roadrunners race. Saturday is the big event for the Legends, plus the super sportsmen will race.
The biggest race of the season for the 305 sprints will headline the Blue Collar Classic at Port Royal Speedway on Saturday. Usually pulling a field of 60 or more 305 sprint racers, the show also includes the Mason-Dixon limited late models, Xtreme stock cars and mini stocks.
Historic night in 1984: One of the most amazing performances in local racing history took place on this weekend in 1984.
Lincoln Speedway presented a program of four 15-lap features with a big invert in the starting order for each event. It didn’t matter to legendary racer Steve Smith. Smith took his Swope Salvage No. 119 to the front in each event, scoring four wins in one night. Those four wins pushed his season win count up to nine.
Sunday evening, Selinsgrove presented the unsanctioned Jack Gunn Memorial, with the “King of the Outlaws” Steve Kinser dropping by to pick up the big win.
Bryan Householder writes about dirt track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.
CHAMPION RACING OIL/STIRLING LUBRICANTS
CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA SPRINT CAR STANDINGS
Presented by Hoseheads.com
1. Greg Hodnett (4) 1273
2. Lucas Wolfe (6) 1194
3. Freddie Rahmer (6) 1136
4. Danny Dietrich (10) 1040
5. Brian Montieth (8) 979
6. Lance Dewease (10) 836
7. Brock Zearfoss (2) 578
8. Anthony Macri (1) 557
9. Cory Haas (2) 481
10. T.J. Stutts 408