If Mother Nature cooperates, Lincoln Speedway is set to kick off the local outdoor racing season this Saturday afternoon with the Ice Breaker 30 for the sprint cars.
The race will pay $4,000 to win the 30-lap feature.
Last year, Dover’s Chad Trout raced to his first career 410 sprint win in this event. Last year’s race was delayed one week by weather conditions. Overall, Lincoln Speedway is batting just over .500 in getting the first race of the season in the record books in late February.
The first race of the season is always a special one, with all the new cars and excitement of local sprint racing. The chance to get out of the house after being cooped up inside all winter just makes it all the more special.
How many of you remember the first time you were able to attend the opening race of the local season? Be it in recent years at Lincoln or in the long-ago past at some other local speedway?
I sat down the other day and looked over the records I have of season-opening races at the local speedways, trying to see if I could indeed remember my first season opener. In my 58 years, I have attended perhaps 40 season-opening races on the local circuit.
The first local race of the season is always a memorable one.
Remembering 1969 opener: Pouring over the records I have, I’d have to guess that my first opener was in 1969 at Susquehanna Speedway. I would have been 8 years old at the time. The date was March 16, 1969. Sprint cars and late models were on the racing slate that day.
The sprint feature was a battle between two of this area’s legendary racers. In the end, it was Mitch Smith in Gary Wasson’s Gary’s Auto Wreckers No. 5 besting Ray Tilley in Bud Grimm’s No. 88 for the victory. Western Pennsylvania invader Ted Wise finished third, with Kenny Weld and George Weaver, driving the Trone No. 39, in the top five.
The late-model feature that day went to an unknown, at least to me at the time — a Maryland driver named Marvin Isanogle in a red 1964 Chevelle. Kenny Slaybaugh finished second.
That race was the first of four consecutive years of attending Susky’s first race of the season for me as a youngster.
Surprise winning in 1970: The 1970 racing season was one of change at Susquehanna. Bud Bricker had sold the speedway to Silver Spring’s Will Kreitzer, and for most of the season, Susky would present the same show as Silver Spring — super sportsmen and hobby stocks on Sunday nights. However, the season opener was a sprint-only show.
The 1970 season opener produced a surprise winner, at least for that time. Tommie Spriggle started that season driving Roy Morral’s famed No. 880 racer. And he started it in style with the win in Susky’s opener. Unfortunately, that win would be Spriggle’s only win in the No. 880, and by season’s end the car would have a new driver, Smokey Snellbaker.
Hal Browning, taking a one-off ride in the Bud Grimm No. 88, would finish second. Of course, Kenny Weld would take over the Grimm car a few weeks later and go on to a big year. Ray Tilley, who had driven the Grimm car to much success in the past, was still recovering from injuries suffered at Langhorne the previous fall. Tilley would return later in the season, in fact driving one of Roy Morral’s cars, but would soon hang up his helmet.
The Emrich Chevy team cars of Bobby Allen and Lynn Paxton were next in line at Susky that day, with Bob Shaw completing the top five.
Smith does it again in 1971: Back to Susky for opening day in 1971. That year, Kreitzer would feature sprints and super sportsmen on Sunday nights, but opening day was just for sprints.
As had happened two years before, Mitch Smith scored the win in the Wasson No. 5, and again it was Tilley, back in the Grimm No. 88, who finished second. That second-place finish would be as good as it got for Tilley’s return to racing, and he would soon step away. The Morral No. 880 was third, with Smokey Snellbaker at the wheel. Gus Linder in the Banas No. 69 and Lee Osborne in the Tobias No. 17 completed the top five.
"Flyering Barber" takes 1972 opener: The 1972 season would be the fourth year in a row that I got to Susky’s season-opening race and it will probably always be my favorite. That’s because I got to see my favorite driver win the race. When I was about 6 years old my uncle took me to “The Flying Barber” for a haircut. From that time until he stopped racing in the early 1980s, Manchester’s Ed Zirkle was my favorite driver.
At the end of the 1971 season, Zirkle parted ways with the Gurtizen No. 50 team and bought his own race car. He purchased a used sprint from Lynn Paxton’s Emrich Chevy team. (At the time Zirkle had stopped cutting hair and was selling new Chevy cars at Emrich.)
Zirkle changed the car from a blue No. 1 to a red No. 33, and on opening day at Susky that year he raced to the win. Ron Blazer, in Ken Appler’s No. 76, finished second. Gene Kohr in the Boldosser No. 00, Lee Osborne in the Tobias No. 17 and Kenny Slaybaugh in the Rich Bair No. 61 would complete the top five.
Susky that year was again undergoing changes. Ted Ruth had purchased the speedway from Kreitzer. A few years later, Ruth would give me my first job in racing as a concession-stand worker.
Opperman takes 1975 Grove opener: Other tracks hosted the season openers for the next couple of years, but I did get to Williams Grove’s season-opening race in 1975. That was the year the local circuit moved to 312 engines and smaller wings. I got a chance that day to watch national driving legend Jan Opperman race to victory in Al Hamilton’s No. 77. Van May finished second in his own racer, with Kenny Weld third in the Weikert No. 29. Weld would soon decide he didn’t like the smaller engines and stepped over to the modifieds for a few years. Steve Smith and Paul Pitzer completed the top five.
After that, it would be a few years until I again got to another season-opening race.
1991 opener: The local season opened on this weekend in 1991 with a race at Hagerstown Speedway on Sunday afternoon.
Steve Smith, driving his own Leiby’s Mobile Homes No. 19 drove to the win that day over Billy Pauch. Kenny Jacobs was third, followed in the top five by Joey Allen and Fred Rahmer. Rounding out the top 10 were Donnie Kreitz Jr., Johnny Mackison Jr., Joey Kuhn, Bobby Fletcher and Lance Dewease.
Bryan Householder writes about dirt-track racing for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.