ABBOTTSTOWN — In a literal sense, Joey Saldana's drive from his home in Indiana to Pennsylvania is about 7 1/2 hours.
But for Saldana and the other World of Outlaw drivers, the trip to the midstate might as well be a homecoming.
Or, at least, he looks at it that way.
“I drive our team's T-shirt trailer and we've been driving from Florida to Texas to Arizona, Nevada, California, and we base our team out of Indiana, where I live, so really, this is a treat for me,” Saldana said Wednesday. “...It's always neat to come in here and race. They obviously have a really good fan base here and the locals put on a good show.”
That sentiment is echoed throughout much of pit row from the Outlaws whenever the touring circuit stops in Pennsylvania for its annual races.
Wednesday night's scheduled race at Lincoln Speedway was postponed by rain after several starts and stops and will now be held Thursday night. It's the first of three local races the Outlaws will run this week against the Pennsylvania Posse. There will also be races on Friday and Saturday nights at Williams Grove Speedway.
With a long history of strong dirt-track racing in Pennsylvania, the area tracks present a unique challenge for the Outlaws. Typically, when they race in other states, they compete mainly against each other, with little competition from the local drivers. This week, however, they'll be going head-to-head with some of the best drivers from Pennsylvania, and beyond.
The local drivers are familiar with the tracks they'll compete on this week because they race them on a weekly basis. In a way, it levels the playing field between the Outlaws and the Posse.
“These tracks are unique, so it gives the Pa. Posse guys a little bit of an advantage,” Outlaws point leader Brad Sweet said. “It's their home turf and they get to race so much, locally, at these couple of tracks in the area, that they're very tough to beat.”
For the local drivers, these races are a way to measure where they stand against some of the country's best sprint racers.
“It's probably a pride issue to where, if you can run competitively with these guys, then you're feeling pretty good about yourself and your team,” Spring Grove's Greg Hodnett said. “So, that's a really good measuring stick to seeing how you're going.”
Not to mention, when the Outlaws come to town, they brings with them some unusually large payouts to the winners of the main event. The prize money only adds to the intensity that follows the Outlaws wherever they go.
Last year, Hodnett won the event at Lincoln Speedway, capturing the $10,000 first-place prize, by far one of the largest payouts he received in 2015.
Over the years, the Outlaws and Posse have developed a rivalry that makes their three-race series very popular. For the Outlaws, the drivers want to back up the perception as being the best sprint drivers in the country, while the Posse racers don't want to lose on their home tracks. It's about bragging rights.
Regardless of who winds up winning, however, it normally delivers exciting racing.
“It's a great rivalry and the fans really get into it,” Sweet said. “The drivers talk a little smack. These are the toughest races to win in the country, I think. There's 40-something cars here, so anytime you can win in Pennsylvania, it means a lot. We've been pretty good, so hopefully we can get a win for the Outlaws.”
Wednesday race postponed: Wednesday's attempt at racing was plagued by rain from the start.
The first rain delay lasted an hour and 41 minutes, pushing the start time of the race back from 7 p.m. until 8:41 p.m. Shortly after getting through the first six warm-up sessions, a light rain began falling again, causing a second delay of about 15 minutes.
Things cleared up after that and the program continued, getting through the first heat before a steadier rain fell, prompting the program to get postponed for the night.
The event will start from scratch on Thursday, beginning with time trials at 7:30 p.m. Tickets purchased for Wednesday's program will be honored at the gate on Thursday.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com