HOUSEHOLDER: More than five decades ago, racing legend opened area season with sprint win

A.J. Foyt

With the coronavirus pandemic worsening, the local dirt tracks have stopped racing for the time being.

That, unfortunately, leaves little local racing news to report.

However, each year I promise to cover a weekend from the past where the dates coincide with the current season. This season, that year is 1964.

As it happens, the 1964 racing season opened with a very big bang on Sunday, March 29.

Given that background, let's take a trip down memory lane and review the 1964 openers. We'll also look at the March 29 races through the years.

The local stock-car season started at Susquehanna Speedway (now BAPS Motor Speedway) on Sunday, March 29, 1964. The Reading Fairgrounds also hosted the United States Auto Club sprint cars on that date. 

Foyt wins at Reading: At Reading on that long-ago Sunday, a legendary figure would emerge triumphant in the USAC event. His name was A.J. Foyt and he would go on to record his second of four Indy 500 wins later in 1964.

Foyt’s name will go down in racing history as one of the greatest racers of all time. In addition to his four Indy 500s, Foyt won the the Daytona 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Foyt is still the all-time win leader in IndyCar competition.

On that Sunday afternoon in Reading, however, he drove his sprint car to victory at the now long-shuttered Reading Fairgrounds. Foyt owns 28 career USAC sprint wins. Five of them came at Reading and another four came at Williams Grove Speedway.

The Susky opener: The 1964 season on the local stock-car circuit was an interesting one and it started on March 29 at Susky.

The heavy full-sized stock cars were dwindling in number, and most teams were racing the cut-down cars with the 30-x-90 chassis. The 30-x-90 meant a 30-inch-wide cockpit with a 90-inch wheelbase. To most local fans, these cars were known as the “bugs.”

On opening day at Susky, the winner was a veteran of the stock-car racing circuit about 60 miles to the north. As it turns out, it would be his only win that season in the bugs, although he also raced with some success with the late-model stock cars that year as well.

Johnny Crawford Sr. drove his white bug with the bright orange No. 96 on the sides to victory that day. Following Crawford to the line was Fawn Grove’s Milford Wales. Wales was a rookie to the top class that season, having moved up from the limited-stock-car class he raced in years past. Wales drove the second car on the potent Emrich Chevy team. His powder-blue No. 1e was a team car to Dick Tobias’ No. 1, which would later dominate the season. Legendary Davey Brown was the mechanic for both cars.

Veteran racer Bud Folkenroth, from Seven Valleys, finished third that day in the Gurtizen No. 50. The 1964 season saw Folkenroth’s team resort to fuel injection after the supercharger set-up they had used the past several seasons was outlawed. Popular Dizzy Dean (real name Royce Renfro) finished fourth, probably in the pink No. 7 car, and Willie Musselman finished fifth in the No. 76 car, a second entry from the Ken Appler team, which fielded the No. 77 for defending track champion Gene Goodling.

Other March 29 races: The earliest race I have found in the area for the March 29 date was at the Reading Fairgrounds in 1953. 

On that day “the Flying Dutchman” scored one of his more than 100 wins on the national sprint circuit. The AAA was still sanctioning racing back then when legendary Tommy Hinnershitz thrilled his hometown crowd by taking home all the marbles. Hinnershitz is Reading’s all-time career sprint win leader with 12 victories there.

Williams Grove has hosted the most races on March 29. In all, the Grove has raced eight times on the date. Lynn Paxton won in 1981, while Doug Wolfgang was next in 1987. Steve Smith won there in 1992, with Hanover’s Cris Eash picking up the victory in 1998. Greg Hodnett won at the Grove on that date in 2002, while Fred Rahmer was the 2013 winner. Gerard McIntyre Jr. in 2014 and Danny Dietrich last year make up the rest of the list of the Grove’s March 29 winners.

Port Royal and Selinsgrove have each completed four races on March 29. At the Port, Johnny Grum won in 1975 and Hanover’s Bobby Allen won in 1986. Todd Shaffer won there twice on March 29, in 1997 and again in 2008.

At Selinsgrove “the Ohio Traveler” Rick Ferkel won on the date in 1975, while Brian Seidel won in 1985. Wolfgang won in 1986 and Billy Pauch Sr. was Selinsgrove’s March 29 winner in 1997.

Lincoln has raced on March 29 three times. Donnie Kreitz Jr. won there on that date in 1997. Rahmer was the winner in 2008 and Brian Montieth triumphed in 2015.

Susquehanna has one other March 29 race in its record books. In 1968, Kenny Weld won there on that date.

Hagerstown has hosted one race on March 29 as well. Wolfgang won there in 1985. Interestingly, all three of Wolfgang’s local March 29 wins came in Bob Weikert’s No. 29 car.

Bryan Householder writes about dirt-track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at Householder's dirt-track columns will be suspended until the local dirt-track season resumes.