Householder: Big season-ending race slated for Williams Grove

Bryan Householder
For The York Dispatch

The biggest of the big season-ending races in the area is set for this weekend. The 60th running of the Williams Grove National Open is scheduled for Friday and Saturday evenings this week. The National Open on Saturday will offer $75,000 for the race winner.

The Williams Grove National Open was first held in 1963. At the time the cars racing on the local circuit had slimmed down from the full-sized stock cars to the cutdowns or “Bugs” as they were known.

Donny Schatz is seen here after winning the Williams Grove National Open in 2020.

In past years, the big race for all the stock car racers on the east coast was the big event held at the now long-gone Langhorne Speedway in Bucks County. Tracks all over the east coast would hold qualifying events for that race, and local drivers usually faired well there. But that race was for the full-sized stock cars, and by 1963 teams from this area would either have to pull out their old cars from years past or borrow a car from someone else to meet the rules for that event.

That is why Williams Grove's then-promoter Bob Richwine and his top aid, Jack Gunn, came up with the idea of a National Open for the local racers. Thing was, in the beginning the idea worked too well. The race attracted cars from all over the country, and with many being sprint cars in disguise. The local racers were at a disadvantage for a few years.

Early winners: The very first race went to a driver from Michigan, who brought his asphalt cutdown racer here with a very big wing on top. His name is Gordon Johncock, and he would go on to a career in Indy Cars that saw him also win racing’s biggest prize, the Indy 500.

That first race was the only race that wasn’t won by a true sprint car, as in the next several years sprint car racers took the top prize in the National Open. In 1964 it was URC driver and future USAC star Larry Dickson who drove to the victory.

In 1965, western PA star Henry Jacoby won the race.

By the end of the 1966 season Williams Grove had opened up its rules to allow sprint cars in the final few races of the year. The next year, sprint cars would become the weekly attraction at the Grove and Richwine’s other track Selinsgrove.

Those open races at the end of the 1966 season at the Grove gave drivers from outside the area a chance to get some laps in at the Grove, and one of them, Ohio’s Lou Blaney found the quick way around the track. He won the 1966 National Open and started a family tradition of excellence at the Grove. His sons Dave and Dale both have had great results there. His grandson didn’t go the sprint car route, instead moving through the asphalt ranks right to NASCAR’s Cup Series. Ryan Blaney is still in the chase for this year’s NASCAR title.

Local winners: The 1967 race produced the first driver who was a local regular to win the National Open. Bobbie Adamson hailed from the Pittsburgh area but moved to Wrightsville that year to compete locally. He won the Open in 1967 and 1968.

It wasn’t until 1990's win by Outlaw King Steve Kinser that a local circuit driver was again shut out of the National Open victory lane. That year was the second year of the now traditional World of Outlaws sanction for the National Open.

The National Open started as a 100-lap race, switched to 150 laps in 1969, and went back to 100 in 1978.  The 1980 and 1981 races were 40 laps before the event settled into 75-lap races thru Kinser’s 1990 win. There were two years of 50-lap races, but since 1993 the race has been 40 laps.

Outlaws racer Donny Schatz has won the most National Opens, with six to his credit. Local racer Lance Dewease and Steve Kinser each have four wins in the open. Kenny Weld, Steve Smith, Stevie Smith and Doug Wolfgang each have three. Two-time winners include Adamson, Lynn Paxton, Mark Kinser, and David Gravel.

Carson Macedo

Carson Macedo won last year’s National Open.

I think 19 of the 34 drivers who have won the National Open have gone on to be inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

Other racing this week: Not many tracks will compete against the National Open this week. But there are a few other options for race fans.

With the fair in full swing at Bloomsburg, the Fairgrounds oval will offer up a special Thursday race for fair goers. The Legends cars and the front-wheel drive four-cylinder stock cars will compete at the fair.

Path Valley has a big 40-lap race for the wingless super sportsman cars as part of its Saturday show.

For the second week in a row, Lincoln speedway will have an outside group hosting races. The AMA Motorcycles will headline the Saturday show at Lincoln. The 600cc modifieds and the quads will also compete.

Wilbur OK after incident: Veteran racer Steve Wilbur appears to be all right after a hard knock last Saturday at Path Valley. Wilbur founded the wingless super sportsman group and has also raced 358 sprint cars. He has seven wins this season with wingless super sportsman cars.