Taking trip down memory lane to examine rich history of local dirt-track circuit: Part 1

BRYAN HOUSEHOLDER
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Steve Smith was a big winner on the local dirt-track circuit in the 1970s and 1980s.

The history of dirt-track racing in this area is a long and storied one.

It features legendary drivers, nationally known tracks and passionate fans.

Those fans often comment that they enjoy reading about the region’s rich racing history.

So, as an early Christmas present, I’d like to take a look at some local racing history for this week’s column offering. Since we are about to enter into 2022, let’s take a look at the big winners from years ending in two.

Seventy years ago — 1952: The local auto racing landscape was quite different seven decades ago in 1952.

Of the tracks that make up the current local racing calendar, only one was in weekly competition back then. Many of today’s tracks weren’t even built yet. Port Royal Speedway in Juniata County raced weekly back then, while Williams Grove Speedway in Cumberland County was a specials-only track, offering national touring series. Hagerstown Speedway in northern Maryland and Selinsgrove Speedway in Snyder County were around then but racing only on occasion. The weekly racing series consisted of full-sized stock cars, mostly with flathead or inline engines.

Pete Swarmer was the big winner around the area that year with 17 wins. Of those 17 wins, 13 came at the long-gone Reedsville Speedway, which was a few miles northwest of Port Royal. Swarmer’s other four wins came at the Port.

Two drivers tied for second with just five wins each. They were Ed McCardell, who won three times at Reedsville and twice at the Port, and Walt Ragan, who scored all five of his wins at another long-gone track in Lancaster.

Buck McCardell was fourth on the list with four wins, three at Lancaster and one at Delmar, Delaware.

Three drivers showed up with three wins — Bud Hamilton and Vic Nauman, with each winning three times at Lancaster, while Pee Wee Pobletts won twice at Delmar and once at Hagerstown.

Sixty years ago — 1962: Most of the current local ovals were on the scene by the time 1962 rolled around, and most of the cars were getting smaller, with the full-sized cars getting cut down into “bugs.” 

Several of the top teams actually built new cars during the season, getting even smaller. The overhead engines were prevalent by this time, although the flathead engines still were competitive, and in fact at the Reading Fairgrounds, they were all that were allowed.

Seven Valleys chicken farmer Bobby Hersh was the big winner that year in the Trone cars. Hersh won 24 races, to 22 for arch-rival Johnny Mackison Sr. Mackison, from Delta, drove the Emrich Chevy car. Hersh won 10 times at Williams Grove, seven at Lincoln Speedway in Adams County and seven at Susquehanna Speedway (now BAPS Motor Speedway) in northern York County. Mackison had six wins at Williams Grove and also won six times at Susquehanna. He also won five times each at Lincoln and Port Royal.

Russ Smith dominated at his home track in Reading, winning 11 times for third on the list. Dick Tobias was close behind with 10 wins — six at Port Royal, three at Williams Grove and one at Susquehanna.

Wrightsville’s Bobby Abel wrapped up the top-five winners that season with eight wins. Abel won three at Reading, two at Williams Grove, two at Susquehanna and one at Lincoln.

Fifty years ago — 1972: By 1972, the local racing landscape was much as it is today, with the exception that more tracks were offering weekly races for the sprint cars, which took over the local circuit as the decade of the 1960s wound down.

The top four drivers on the list all relocated to this area for the racing. At the top of the list that year was California native Jan Opperman. Opperman’s win total for the year with the Bogar No. 99 was 39. Seven of those wins came outside the area, while he won eight times at Port Royal, seven at Selinsgrove, five at Williams Grove, four at Hagerstown, three at Susquehanna, three at Bedford and twice at Lincoln.

Close behind with 30 wins was Kansas City native Kenny Weld, who lived in Loganville at the time. Weld drove Bob Weikert’s No. 29 to 11 wins at Lincoln, six at Hagerstown, four at Williams Grove, two at Selinsgrove, one at Susquehanna, one at Bedford and five outside the area, including the Knoxville Nationals.

Pittsburgh area native Bobbie Adamson was third with 17 wins in Al Hamilton’s No. 77. Adamson won 10 times at Selinsgrove, five at Williams Grove and twice at Jennerstown in Somerset County.

Miami native Steve Smith ranked fourth in wins with 15. Smith won eight of those at Lincoln, with three at Williams Grove, two at Susquehanna and one each at Hagerstown and Bedford.

Dover’s Smokey Snellbaker wrapped up that year’s top five with 11 wins in the Roy Morrall No. 880. Snellbaker won nine races at Port Royal and two at Williams Grove.

Forty years ago — 1982: Sprint cars were well established by 1982, and the tracks around the area were much the same as they are now.

Lynn Paxton led the way that year with 19 wins in the Maynard Boop No. 1. Paxton won 10 times at Selinsgrove, seven at Williams Grove and two at Port Royal.

Steve Smith was tied second with 15 wins in Harry Fletcher’s No. 66. Smith won five times at Lincoln, three at Hagerstown, two at Williams Grove, one at Port Royal, one at Grandview and three outside the area. Smith’s former Miami area neighbor, Bobby Allen, also won 15 times that season. Seven were at Lincoln, four at Williams Grove, one each at Port Royal and Hagerstown, and two outside the area.

Randy Wolfe was fourth in wins that season with nine. Wolfe drove the Keen No. 5w to five wins at Port Royal, two at Williams Grove and two at Selinsgrove.

Smokey Snellbaker was fifth for the season in wins with six. Snellbaker won three at Port Royal, two at Williams Grove and one at Selinsgrove.

Next week, I’ll take a look at 1992, 2002 and 2012.

Reach Bryan Householder at sports@yorkdispatch.com or @ydsports. Please consider subscribing to support local journalism.