HOUSEHOLDER: Central Pennsylvania loses a true racing icon with death of Steve Smith

BRYAN HOUSEHOLDER
717-505-5403/@ydsports
Steve Smith is shown here after one of his confirmed 266 sprint wins.

Steve Smith, one of central Pennsylvania's true racing icons, died early Saturday morning after an extended illness.

He was 74.

Smith followed Miami-area friends Bobby Allen and Richard Lupo in moving north in the late 1960s to begin his racing career. He located into the Hanover area, eventually settling in New Oxford, Adams County.

Smith’s racing career started in 1969 with sporadic appearances when his limited budget would allow him to race. Still, even in that abbreviated first season, Smith was able to score his first career victory in an Aug. 24 make-up race from a feature that was rained out the week before. The win came at Susquehanna (now BAPS) Speedway in northern York County.

That win was the first of 266 confirmed victories in sprint cars during his career and was the only one that came in one of the “bugs” that preceded the sprint cars on the local circuit.

Known as the "Black Bandit," Smith also drove late models for a while in the early 1980s. He started driving the late models after suffering a broken leg at Susquehanna, which rendered him unable to bend his knee enough to get into a sprint car. His time driving a late model for Manchester’s Barry Klinedinst produced an additional eight wins, including one in a 100-lap race at the York Fairgrounds.

Smith’s career really took off in 1970 with financial aid from Hanover furniture dealer O.J. Myers. As the years proceeded, Smith would also drive for Harry Feltcher and Floyd Swope, before ending his career again in his own cars with financial aid from Leiby’s Mobile Homes.

Smith won 150 sprint races at Lincoln Speedway in Adams County and also scored two of his late-model wins there. He was a nine-time Lincoln champion, including six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

Other local wins include 32 at Williams Grove (Cumberland County), where he was a champion in 1989, and won the fabled National Open in 1974, 1976 and 1981. There were 28 wins at Susquehanna, where he won track titles in 1978 and 1986. Fifteen of his wins came at Hagerstown (Maryland), with four at Port Royal (Juniata County), three each at Trailway (Adams County) and Grandview (Berks County) and one each at Selinsgrove (Snyder County) and Path Valley (Franklin County).  

Smith won the very first Pennsylvania Sprint Car Speedweek title in 1991.

He ended his career during the 1996 racing season with two wins. His 150th career Lincoln sprint win came on May 4 against the All Stars, and his final win came on Aug. 3 at Hagerstown against the World of Outlaws.

His son, Stevie Smith, followed in his father’s footsteps, winning 222 sprint features during his career.

Both Smiths are members of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. Steve Smith was inducted in 2000. His son was inducted in 2019.

PIT STOPS

This week: This weekend of racing starts off with a Yellow Breeches 500 program for the 410 sprint cars at Williams Grove. 

The races offer $5,000 to win and $500 to start. The 358 sprints return to the Grove on Friday for one of the Summer Series events.

Trailway hosts the super sportsmen on Friday, along with 270cc micro sprints, legends and scramble cars.

Lincoln has the Brandon Little Memorial Fallen Firefighters Night event Saturday. This will be the 10th-and-final Brandon Little Memorial event. The 33-lap feature pays $5,000 to win. The 358 sprints will also compete.

The sprints, late models and 305 sprints race at Port Royal Saturday, while the Patriot Tour 360 sprints compete in the Joe Whitcomb Memorial Race at Selinsgrove. The limited-late models and roadrunners also race at Selinsgrove.

Hagerstown hosts the late-model sportsmen, crate late models, pure stocks and hobby stocks Saturday, while BAPS takes the weekend off.

Sunday, the sprint cars will get a new venue, when they make their first-ever appearance at the quarter-mile Action Track at the Kutztown Fairgrounds for a $6,000-to-win show. The wingless 600cc micro sprints also compete there.

Last weekend: Last weekend was a good one for some of the area’s younger drivers.

Two youngsters got their first career 410 sprint wins, while another got his second-ever win.

Justin Whittall, a 20 year old from New Jersey, won at Williams Grove, while Aaron Bollinger a 21 year old from Birdsboro, won at Lincoln. Second-generation 20-something driver Jared Esh got his second career Port Royal win.

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

CHAMPION RACING OIL

CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA SPRINT CAR SERIES

Presented by Hoseheads

(Wins in parenthesis)

1. Anthony Macri (3)             540

2. Freddie Rahmer (3)          474

3. Danny Dietrich (1)             472

4. Lance Dewease (4)           398

5. Logan Wagner (1)             339 

6. Dylan Cisney (1)                321

7. Chase Dietz (1)                  313

8. Alan Krimes (1)                  306

9. Tim Shaffer (2)                    281 

10. Justin Peck (2)                  268