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HOUSEHOLDER: Pennsylvania facility set to welcome back racing shows next season

BRYAN HOUSEHOLDER
717-505-5403/@ydsports
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  • Auto racing is expected to return to the fairgrounds in Bloomsburg next year.
  • A new 3/8th-mile track is to be constructed inside the current half-mile cinder track.
  • The Bloomsburg Fair facility hasn't played host to auto racing since the last 1980s.

Next season, local dirt-track drivers are expected to race at another Pennsylvania track.

Word came out last week that the folks up in Bloomsburg plan to bring back auto racing to their fabled fairgrounds, but it will be on an all-new 3/8th-mile track to be constructed inside the half-mile cinder track that has been a part of the fairgrounds since it opened in 1855.

The fairgrounds in Bloomsburg hasn’t seen auto racing since the late 1980s. The first auto race held there was in 1922.

Plans call for the current stage to be razed, since it sits in the path of the new oval track. Reports state that a stage can be rented for shows during the fair, offering the entertainers a more modern and comfortable area on which to work.

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The Bloomsburg Fair’s operators have contracted with Birtwell’s Armory Agency to construct the new track, with input from former United States Auto Club driving champion Levi Jones. Jeff Nordstrom, who has experience with the fairgrounds as the builder of each year’s Monster Truck track, will do the excavation work.

Bloomsburg doesn’t plan to host weekly racing but has a special-events-only format in mind. They hope to have the new track ready by the time Pennsylvana Sprint Car Speedweek rolls around and are certainly looking at the USAC Midget Week. There are hopes  to stage either a sprint or midget race during the last day of the fair.

The half-mile cinder track at the fairgrounds in Bloomsburg started with big-car (now sprint-car) racing in the 1920s. In 1953, the fairgrounds hosted a NASCAR Grand National (now Cup Series) race that saw Herb Thomas hold off Dick Rathman for the win.

The American Racing Drivers Club midgets started racing at the Bloomsburg Fair in 1951, and some form of midget racing was hosted there until the final event in the late 1980s. Fair racing ended in 1985 when a car flipped onto a picnic table outside the speedway. No one was injured in that mishap. Racing on dates when the fair wasn’t in operation continued for a few more years. 

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The midgets were the main racing group at the fair for many years and many sprint racers enjoyed trying their hands in that class. Some of the big-name sprint drivers who scored midget wins at Bloomsburg were Bobbie Adamson, Kenny Weld and Kramer Williamson, all local members of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

Additionally, midget standouts Jiggs Peters, Bill Randall, Len Duncan, Dutch Schaeffer, Jim Maguire, Ronnie Dunstan and Bloomsburg native Johnny Heydenreich have all won there.

IndyCar veterans Eddie Sachs and Ernie McCoy also have Bloomsburg wins.

As noted, in the past, the cars raced on the half-mile cinder track that has been used for horse racing for the many years of the fair. As with all tracks of that type, the track always became dusty and was abrasive on tires. The new track in the infield of the other track will be constructed with cars in mind, and hopefully won’t have those problems.

Many fairground tracks in the state have attempted auto racing, including the one here in York. As cars became more modern, those tracks had the same problems as Bloomsburg. Fairground tracks such as Port Royal and Bedford long ago converted their surfaces to clay for weekly racing. When they host horse racing during their fairs, they cover the clay with cinders or gravel. Bloomsburg apparently plans to go a step further, actually building a new track inside the old one.

The Showdown: The local racing season will draw to a close this Saturday with the Sprint Showdown at BAPS Motor Speedway.

For this event, the 410 sprint cars will be joined by the 358 modifieds racing under Pennsylvania rules.

For the modifieds, it will mark their first time competing in the Showdown. The sprint cars have competed in this event every year since 2010. The sprints will be racing for $5,000 to win, while the modifieds compete for $3,000 to win.

The first Showdown in 2010 fell to Chad Layton and marked his first big score in sprint racing. Donnie Kreitz Jr. won in 2011, while Kreitz’s current driver, Lance Dewease, was the 2012 winner.

In 2013, Derek Sell scored a major upset for his only career sprint win. Of course, Sell had some big shoes to fill that year. He was driving his father’s car that the legendary Fred Rahmer had driven to the Williams Grove, Lincoln and overall Pennsylvania titles that season before retiring.

The late Greg Hodnett scored his only Showdown win in 2014, while Danny Dietrich got his first Showdown win in 2015. Hanover’s Jacob Allen brought the house down in 2016, scoring his first career sprint win in the Showdown.

Dewease got his second Showdown win in 2017, while Gerard McIntyre Jr. was the 2018 winner. Last year, Dietrich scored his second Showdown win.

While the modifieds haven’t ever competed in the Showdown, they have raced at BAPS. In fact, the class headlined action at the speedway for a number of years in the 1990s and early 2000s. Kenny Brightbill is the track’s leading 358 modified winner with 33. Jeff Strunk, Craig Von Dohren, Richie Tobias and Meme DeSantis complete the top five in all-time 358 modified wins at BAPS.

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