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HOUSEHOLDER: Barry Skelly leaves lasting legacy in regional racing community

BRYAN HOUSEHOLDER
717-505-5403/@ydsports
Barry Skelly
  • Barry Skelly, a well-known local racing figure, died Aug. 11.
  • Skelly was 79 when he died from COVID-19 at UPMC Pinnacle Hospital in York.
  • Skelly was a vendor and photographer at both Lincoln and Williams Grove speedways.

The local racing community lost a true friend recently with the death of Barry Skelly.

According to his obituary, Skelly died on Tuesday, Aug. 11, at UPMC Pinnacle Hospital in York at age 79 from COVID-19. 

Skelly had compiled perhaps the most complete photographic history of local auto racing on record. The Spring Grove High School graduate was a vendor at both Lincoln and Williams Grove speedways.

Getting his start: Just a few months before Skelly was to reach his teenage years, heavy equipment was moved into a farmer’s field near his Seven Valleys home and began carving a high-banked oval out of the earth. That oval was to become the Bowling Green Speedway, which was located near Jefferson and operated from late 1953 through 1956.

Skelly became interested in what was going on in the area, and took his little camera along to record the progress of the construction.

Barry Skelly 1940 - 2020 - Obituary

By the time Bowling Green Speedway opened for action, Skelly had reached his 13th birthday. In that era, he was still years away from being permitted to enter the pit area of any race track, but that didn’t stop him from taking his camera along to the races when Bowling Green opened.

Skelly’s father owned a local auto garage and actually fielded some cars that raced at Bowling Green, but Barry watched from the grandstands, and used his camera to take photos of the racing from that vantage point. It is amazing how well some of the photos turned out. With his restricted viewing area and his camera of the day, Skelly actually began recording some very fine images of racing from the area. 

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His shots from Williams Grove’s infield viewing area from that era also turned out very well.

Starting his own business: As the years progressed, Skelly eventually was allowed into the pit area. His cameras also got better with time. Eventually, he hooked up with Lloyd King, a man who worked with most local tracks, operating novelty stands and photographing the race cars.

Skelly took over King’s operations at Lincoln Speedway in Adams County, eventually owning the stands himself after King retired. Skelly also operated stands at Williams Grove in Cumberland County for many years, and also spent some time at Selinsgrove Speedway in Snyder County. He was still operating his stand at Lincoln when he fell ill about a month ago.

Race-O-Rama in York: I first met Skelly as a youngster, although in later years he and I would both joke that neither of us really remembered when that actually happened. Skelly and his father owned the Race-O-Rama hobby shop that was located in the Queensgate Shopping Center in York.

Each year Skelly would promote a race car show at Queensgate just before the local season was set to open. He also always kept race car photos on hand for fans who would stop by wishing to purchase them. That’s how we met. Between race car photos, model car kits and their accessories, and the slot car track in the back room and the slot cars he sold, I probably gave Skelly quite a bit of business in my younger years.

The slot car track also helped start the racing career of one of the area’s greatest drivers. It was at that track that Smokey Snellbaker would meet the young man who owned his first race car.

Longtime career: Skelly never lost his love of auto racing and he never stopped taking photos of local race cars. His career as a photographer spanned from the time when he was 13 and took pictures over or through the fences, until just a few days before he took ill in late July. That’s something like 66 years of racing photographs that have been recorded for history. In many cases more than 1000 each year.

Skelly was a friend to anyone he ever met, and certainly helped promote local auto racing for many years. He was a man who can never be replaced in local racing circles. 

Rest in peace my friend.

Bryan Householder writes about dirt-track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@yorkdispatch.com.