HOUSEHOLDER: Remembering career highlights of legendary sprint-car owner Al Hamilton
One of the area’s best-known former sprint-car owners has died.
Al Hamilton died early last week at age 91.
Hamilton fielded cars on the local circuit for many years, and also spent several years on the World of Outlaws tour.
Hamilton started his racing career as a driver near his native Clearfield in the 1950s with the modified stock cars of the era. He was a big winner with those cars, winning 24 races in 36 starts in 1960.
Eventually, he moved into late-model, stock-car competition there. His time in the late models allowed him to venture east a bit, and in 1966 he scored a late-model win at Port Royal Speedway. He also got a look at the modified stock cars, known as bugs, that were racing in the area.
When the 1966 season ended, Hamilton purchased the car that Ray Tilley had driven to 42 wins for car owner Bud Grimm. That particular car, built by noted car builder Floyd Trevis, was patterned after Trevis’ sprint cars, and when several local tracks allowed sprint cars to compete for the 1967 season, Hamilton’s new purchase was still very competitive. Hamilton finished as high as fifth with the car himself before deciding to leave the driver's seat to concentrate on providing a top-notch car for others.
During the 1967 season, several drivers handled the Hamilton No. 77, with the first being western Pennsylvania standout Muss Weyandt. Bobby Gerhart Sr. was one of the drivers that season and put the car in victory lane.
When the 1968 season dawned, Rick Schmelyun Sr. was behind the wheel of the potent No. 77 and several victories followed. Then in 1969, Hamilton began a four-year association with Wrightsville driver Bobbie Adamson. Together they won many races, and several track championships. During this time frame, Hamilton also often fielded a second car that found victory lane with drivers such as Billy Cassella, Smokey Snellbaker and Mitch Smith.
When Adamson and Hamilton parted ways not long after winning in Tampa, Florida, in early 1973, Manchester’s Ed Zirkle drove the car for a while, winning a race at Port Royal. Then Kramer Williamson climbed behind the driver's seat and again was a winner.
Later, Hamilton’s friend, Lynn Paxton, drove for a while, as did Mitch Smith. Then Jan Opperman and again Smith were his drivers. After a brief break in the late 1970s, Hamilton was back when Paxton needed a ride for the 1983 season. Paxton completed his career with Hamilton, winning that year’s Williams Grove National Open in his final race. By that time, Keith Kauffman was Paxton’s teammate.
Over the next several years, Kauffman and Hamilton had some really great years with numerous wins and track titles.
Then Hamilton hired Stevie Smith and, after a year on the local circuit, took his show to the World of Outlaws. Wins were frequent and top-five point finishes a regular occurrence, including second to Steve Kinser in 1992. When Smith parted ways with Hamilton, drivers such as Jeff Shepard, Danny Lasoski and Johnny Herrera completed the Outlaw season in the car.
That led to Hamilton’s return to the local circuit in 1996. Dave Calaman drove the car for part of the season before Hamilton was able to hire Fred Rahmer. Over the next half dozen or so years, Rahmer proceeded to win more races for Hamilton than any other driver and the championships came just as frequently.
Eventually Rahmer and Hamilton parted ways, and first Lance Dewease and then Greg Hodnett added to Hamilton’s hundreds of feature wins. On one memorable night at Grandview Speedway, Billy Pauch Sr. returned to sprint cars for a one-off appearance after several years away. Hamilton and Pauch won the feature together.
As the season drew to a close, Hodnett and Hamilton parted ways. In one final appearance at the track, Hamilton reunited with Rahmer for Hagerstown’s Octoberfest. That was in 2006 and Al Hamilton ended his career that day.
Over the years, Hamilton relocated to Manheim, Lancaster County, where he still lived at the time of his death. Hamilton started penniless in life, but built an empire in the Clearfield area in coal mining, before purchasing numerous properties in Lancaster County.
Al Hamilton was inducted into both the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and the York County Racing Club Hall of Fame during his years in the sport.
While his cars hadn’t been on the local track for a number of years now, his name is still frequently mentioned, and fans still hold many special memories of the races his cars competed in over the years.
Rest in peace Al Hamilton, and thanks for the many memories.
Openers: Tentative 2021 opening dates have been set for Lincoln on Feb. 27, Port Royal on March 7 and Williams Grove on March 14.
No. 46 for Larson: Kyle Larson won his 46th race of the season in a midget contest at Millbridge, North Carolina, over the weekend.
Racing Extravaganza postponed: The Racing Extravaganza show that was set for the York Expo Center on the first weekend in February has been postponed for this year and will return in 2022. COVID-19 restrictions are the reason.
Bryan Householder writes about dirt-track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.