HOUSEHOLDER: Pair of Pa. tracks will begin 2017 season this weekend
- Port Royal and Williams Grove will both begin their 2017 racing slates this weekend.
- Longtime local racer Stevie Smith is stepping away from the sport after amassing 222 career wins.
Two more tracks will open their gates for the 2017 racing season this upcoming weekend.
Williams Grove and Port Royal will join Lincoln on the weekend racing slate.
Lincoln will start things off with a Saturday afternoon show starting at 2 p.m. For the final time this season, Lincoln’s show will be sprint cars only, as the following weekend, it moves to a later starting time and add a second division of racing, the super sportsman. This weekend at Lincoln there will be practice for any other Lincoln divisions following the sprint car show.
Last weekend, Lincoln didn't race because the track froze overnight. Lincoln postponed from Saturday to its Sunday rain date, but the track surface froze both nights and then the water pumps for the water trucks also froze overnight.
Port Royal opens its gates: For sprint car racers, there is a good chance of catching two shows on Saturday.
Port Royal will open its season with a 5 p.m. show of sprints and late models, with the sprints racing for $3,500 to win, while the late model winner gets $2,000.
This will mark the 71st consecutive season of racing at the Port. Actually, the first auto race of record on old fairgrounds oval came in 1938, when Russ Campbell won a AAA “big car” race during the Juniata County Fair. The “big cars” was an early name for sprint cars. The Port also hosted a race for the AAA in 1939, but then didn’t race again until the 1946 season. For the most part, races at the Port in the 1940s were fair races for the AAA cars. Multi-time national champion Ted Horn won three consecutive fair races from 1946-1948.
On Nov. 11, 1950, the Port hosted a stock car race, won by Elmer Gray. The next year, weekly stock car racing began at the Port and eventually evolved into weekly sprint car racing. Curt Zook won the 1951 season opener, while Ed McCardell won the first of his three opening day events in 1952.
The Port has had a number of invaders win its openers over the years. New Yorker Bryan Osgood won in 1962, while western Pa. racer Henry Jacoby was the 1964 winner. Ohio’s Dave Blaney won the opener twice, first in 1984 and then not again until 2013. Doug Wolfgang of South Dakota won the 1986 opener while driving for Bob Weikert. World of Outlaw star Jeff Swindell won the 1991 opener while also driving for Weikert. Australia’s Skip Jackson was the Port’s season opener winner in 2000 while driving for Shawn Keen.
Over the years, Todd Shaffer has won the most opening day sprint car features at the track, winning the first race of the season six times. That's unless one would want to count the 1996 racing season when the opening night feature was rained out on April 13 and reset as part of the regular program on April 20. Shaffer won the make up feature that night and then went on to win the regular event as well, so I guess a point could be made for Shaffer having seven wins on opening day.
Mitch Smith has five opening day wins at the Port. Last year, Spring Grove’s Greg Hodnett was the opening day winner at the Port.
The Grove begins 2017 season: Williams Grove will open its season on Sunday afternoon this weekend.
This will mark the first Sunday afternoon opener at the Grove since 2008, when Fred Rahmer won the feature. It will also be the Grove’s earliest opener since then.
The Grove’s show this week will be sprint cars only with practice to follow for the late models, which will compete at the track the following two weeks.
Rahmer leads all drivers with six opening-day wins at the Grove, which opened in 1939. Tommy Hinnershitz won the very first feature at the Grove that year. The track has been in continuous operation since that time with the exception of the years during World War II when racing was banned. The Grove has operated for 72 continuous years and this will mark the 77th year of racing there.
In the early years, the AAA and then USAC sprint cars often opened the Grove’s season and a number of very well known names have seen victory lane in the first race of the season. Hinnershitz has three wins in the Grove’s opener, while Horn has also won the race three times. Indy 500 winners Troy Ruttman, Jimmy Bryan and A.J. Foyt have all won season openers at the Grove. USAC National champion Johnny Thompson has two wins in Grove openers.
In 1983, modified racer Kevin Collins shocked the racing world by winning the sprint car opener at the Grove. More recently, in 2000, a young kid from Washington named Kasey Kahne was the surprise winner of the Grove’s opener and has since moved on to NASCAR fame.
Rick Lafferty won the opener at the Grove last year.
Smith calls it a career: Word is that Stevie Smith has retired from driving sprint cars.
Smith has business concerns that have been keeping him busy and has decided to step away from the driver’s seat. Smith started his career as a second generation driver in 1984, a year in which he won four races. His latest win came last season in Lincoln’s Dirt Classic. In between, Smith won a career total of 222 sprint car races, including 69 World of Outlaws A-Mains, and another 19 World of Outlaws Preliminary Day features.
This weekend in history: The local racing season opened on this weekend in 1972, with Susquehanna and Hagerstown both opening on Sunday afternoon.
At Susquehanna, new promoter Ted Ruth opened the gates for the first time. In the feature event, Manchester’s Ed Zirkle drove to the victory. It was Zirkle’s first race with the new team he had formed himself over the winter months. Zirkle drove his own red No. 33 to the win that day over Ron Blazer, with Gene Kohr, Lee Osborne and Kenny Slaybaugh in the top five.
At Hagerstown, it was the first installment of the battle that would wage on all over the country for the next two seasons. Kenny Weld, who was living in Loganville, drove Bob Weikert’s No. 29 to the win that day over the Bogar No. 99 of arch rival Jan Opperman. Johnny Grum, Buddy Cochran and Dover’s Smokey Snellbaker rounded out the top five.
— Reach Bryan Householder at email@example.com