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Florida racing takes its toll on Pennsylvania sprint drivers

COMMENTARY

February 26, 2011
Craig Rutherford, Sentinel correspondent

Hello again race fans. The winter is coming to a close and it's time to return to racing in Central Pennsylvania. Speedweeks have come and gone in Florida and we have a Cinderella story from the Daytona 500. And here are a few items that have come a cross my desk since we last spoke:

Five nights of sprint car competition at Volusia Speedway Park in Florida proved tough on 410 sprint car engines. Some competitors felt cool weather conditions and the fact that today's sprint car engine requires so much upkeep were the cause. Greg Hodnett left Florida early after damaging both engines the team took south. Mark Smith suffered a a similar fate. Smith's journey proved interesting in that he came home and went snowmobiling in New York.

After that, he returned to East Bay Raceway near Tampa for 360 sprint car action. Look for Smith to run a few 360 shows here at home this season. The team will focus on Williams Grove and Lincoln speedways with an occasional visit to Selinsgrove and Port Royal. Smith won a 360 event at East Bay last week.

Another driver with local ties fared well at East Bay. Daryn Pittman won last Saturday night's 360 finale worth $10,500. Pittman was driving the Michael Heckman No. 27. And Mifflintown's T.J. Winegardner competed in 360 action at East Bay after borrowing an engine from Brad Wickham of North Carolina.

Also on 360 racing, I'm glad to hear that Dave Ely has recovered from head injuries suffered last year and is ready to go. Ely raced in 410 action last year at Port Royal. Ely will race with URC, Patriot and ESS this season. All are 360 groups.

The World Racing Group, which owns Volusia Speedway Park, will not operate the track on a weekly basis this season. The track will be leased to a former promoter of Orange County Speedway in New York. WRG will continue to run its own winter speedweek programs next season.

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Here are a few opening dates: Port Royal hosts the first of three Bug Days March 5. Racing begins March 19 with 410 and 358 sprints. Selinsgrove will open with 410s and pro stocks on March 13. The modified stock cars will race there March 18-19. Lincoln Speedway planned to open today but that has been scrubbed; they will try again March 5. Heston Speedway's regular season begins May 14. It appears Hesston will basically run every other week this season. Bedford Speedway starts with a regular five-division show April 15. The Lucas Oil late models race there on April 29.

Two other tracks that have announced sprint car dates are Central PA Speedway in Clearfield and Dog Hollow Speedway near Stormstown. Central PA will host 305 sprints July 3. They will also have a 410 show sometime during the Labor Day weekend. Dog Hollow has 410 cars July 17 and 305s October 1.

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Greg Hodnett is driving the Trone No. 39 car this season and will call Williams Grove and Lincoln home. Former car owners Jim and Sandy Kline retired from the sport in December and Hodnett was had to hustle to get ready to race in Florida. Most of his sponsors from last season signed on with the Trone team.

The man from Mifflintown, Keith Kauffman, has a new ride this season. Kauffman will pilot the Heckman Racing No. 8 with Kriner power plants. Kauffman will campaign at Port Royal on a regular basis and run a few other time trial shows. I predict he will have a good season.

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I had the chance to speak with Area Auto Racing News columnist Jerry Reigle this past week. Reigle is doing well while continuing to undergo cancer treatment, which is scheduled to end in May. Reigle has five treatments left and was able to travel to Florida for speedweeks. I wish him well.

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How does the NFL impact NASCAR and dirt track racing?

The Daytona 500 has been pushed back one week starting next season because it is expected the NFL will go to an 18-game schedule next year. That also means all speedweek dirt events will move back a week as well. Next year's Daytona 500 is set for Feb. 26.

The good news is the weather is better the last two weeks of February in Central Florida. and the racing should be better.

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As I finish up this cloumn, all isn't well in our country. What that means to racing is we are in for a challenging year to say the least. Reports this week place racing gasoline for local competitors near $10 a gallon. Alcohol fuel is inching near $4 a gallon. How our competitors and tracks are going to stay in business remains to be seen.

Let's hope for the best. Until next time, please drive safely!

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Craig Rutherford writes about motorsports for The Sentinel.

 
 
 

 

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