HOUSEHOLDER: Reflecting on weird 2020 season on central Pennsylvania dirt tracks

BRYAN HOUSEHOLDER
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Danny Dietrich, seen here in a file photo, won the 2020 season-opening Ice Breaker sprint race in February at Lincoln Speedway.
  • The 2020 area racing season started in February with Danny Dietrich's win at Lincoln Speedway.
  • The local dirt-track season was shut down for an extended period because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The central Pennsylvania racing season ended with Freddie Rahmer's win at BAPS Motor Speedway.

As this strange year draws to a close, it's time to take a few moments and look back at some the bigger stories of the local 2020 dirt-track racing season.

The area outdoor racing season started as scheduled at Lincoln Speedway on Feb. 22 for the Ice Breaker for the 410 sprint cars. It was the start of something big, and little did anyone know at the time what was in store for the rest of the central Pennsylvania season.

The Adams County track drew a very large crowd for the Ice Breaker — so large in fact, that the overflow parking lot overflowed. Those on hand that day saw Danny Dietrich drive to the race victory.

Port Royal Speedway opened its season on March 8, with California driver Cory Eliason in victory lane at the Juniata County facility. A week later, on March 15, Williams Grove Speedway in Cumberland County, opened its season, and another California driver, Carson Macedo, was in victory lane. Macedo was at the Grove because the World of Outlaws circuit had put its season on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic that was starting to spread across the nation.

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The central Pennsylvania tracks were forced to shut down a few days later, and the opener at Williams Grove would be the last race of the early season.

Selinsgrove Speedway in Snyder County attempted to restart the season in mid-May, meeting all the state requirements, including no fans in the stands, but was shut down at the last minute. That put all the local tracks on notice that the state would not be very welcoming to auto racing this season.

The tracks finally reopen: Eventually, the tracks opted to defy the state mandates, and Lincoln reopened on Memorial Day. 

Fans were forced to social distance in the grandstands, and Lincoln had fenced and opened the previously unused half of its infield for spectators. Sanitizing stations dotted the facility and masked were required. Fans were also required to sign a wavier stating that they were healthy. 

When central Pennsylvania racing resumed on Memorial Day, Brian Montieth, seen here in a file photo, was in victory lane at Lincoln Speedway.

Surprisingly, a number of state legislators, along with the mayor of Abbottstown, showed up that day to show their support for the speedway. Defending track champion Brian Montieth scored his only win of the season that day.

Slowly, other local tracks jumped back on the racing bandwagon, and by the end of June, things were almost back to normal on the local racing circuit.

Pennsylvania Sprint Car Speedweek: Pennsylvania Sprint Car Speedweek loomed on the horizon, and it proved to be one of the biggest Speedweek events ever. With numerous tracks around the country unable to race, Pennsylvania Speedweek drew great car counts and spectacular crowds, in defiance of the state restrictions. Williams Grove had been set to reopen a week earlier, but was rained out. Lance Dewease reopened Williams Grove and opened Speedweek with a win there on June 26.

Danny Dietrich, who would go on to claim the Champion Oil season sprint title, won at Lincoln and Selinsgrove the next two nights.

Ever-popular Rico Abreu won at Lincoln on June 29, and Kyle Larson, who hadn’t finished worse than sixth in the previous four nights, won at Grandview Speedway in Berks County on June 30. 

Dillsburg's Anthony Macri, seen here in a file photo, pulled off a rare double on July 1 at Port Royal Speedway, winning a 410 Speedweek feature and a United Racing Club 360 sprint feature.

Dillsburg’s Anthony Macri pulled off a double at Port Royal on July 1, winning the Speedweek feature and the United Racing Club 360 sprint feature.

After that it was all Larson. He won at Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland, Williams Grove and Port Royal to end the week and pick up the Speedweek crown. Speedweek brought out large crowds and great racing. Hagerstown’s crowd was so large that local authorities basically shut down the track for the rest of the season. For the other tracks, the season continued on. Fans were perhaps a little leery of attending local weekly shows, but turned out in droves for all the big events.

Outlaws return to area: The World of Outlaws were back up and running by this time, and the circuit made its return to the area on July 23 at Lincoln, where third-generation driver Sheldon Haudenschild scored a popular victory. The next two nights at Williams Grove saw Shane Stewart and David Gravel in victory lane.

On Aug. 3, Selinsgrove featured the United States Auto Club Silver Crown Dirt Championship cars for the first time ever. Shane Cottle was the winner.

Kyle Larson, seen here in a file photo, was a consistent winner on the central Pennsylvania dirt-track circuit in 2020.

Larson shocked everyone by winning a Lucas Oil late-model race at Port Royal on Aug. 29. That weekend marked Larson’s first-ever attempt at dirt late-model racing.

Dewease was in top form for Port Royal’s Tuscarora 50 weekend, winning both nights in front of stellar crowds.

End-of-season events: Larson was back on top at Lincoln for the Weldon Sterner Memorial on Sept. 16 and the Dirt Classic three days later.

At the Williams Grove National Open, which sported perhaps its biggest crowd ever, Donny Schatz added a bright spot to a subpar season, putting Ford in victory lane for the first time in National Open history.

The Outlaws visited Port Royal on Oct. 9 and 10, and Larson was back in top form, winning both nights.

Freddie Rahmer, seen here in a file photo, ended the 2020 season with a victory at BAPS Motor Speedway's Sprint Showdown.

The local season ended on Nov. 14 when BAPS Motor Speedway in northern York County drew its largest crowd in years for the Sprint Showdown. Freddie Rahmer added his first BAPS win to a season that saw him win track titles at both Williams Grove and Lincoln.

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