Green flag as local tracks open
The 2017 racing season is underway in central Pennsylvania.
Lincoln Speedway survived a four-hour rain delay last Saturday to complete its Icebreaker opener. While it didn’t feel like ice, the temperature dropped 20 degrees during the day.
Danny Dietrich won the main event, in which 27 sprint cars signed in. The Adams County oval is back in action today at 2 p.m. The rain date is Sunday.
Port Royal Speedway scheduled a practice session this afternoon from 1-4 p.m., and another Thursday from 6-9 p.m. The Juniata County oval is set to open March 11 with 410 sprint cars and super late models. Late model champion Andy Haus attempts to defend his title aboard a new ride owned by Shamokin-area resident Vern Zerby. Zerby is an accomplished tractor pulling titlist on the eastern seaboard who also fields a late model stock car for Beavertown driver Dave Brouse Jr.
The Selinsgrove Speedway completed its Susquehanna Valley Mall car show Friday. More than 30 full-size cars were on display this past week. The Snyder County oval booked two practice sessions for March 25 and April 1. Opening night racing is set for April 8. Chad Layton returns to regular competition in the 358 sprint car class after a long absence. Layton will pilot a car owned by Karl Ritter of Middleburg.
There will be racing at Hesston Speedway this season. The schedule is short at this time — a seven-race schedule.
Bedford Speedway’s opening date is April 7. The historic track enters its 81st year of competition. A car show and practice day is set for April 2.
Susquehanna and Hagerstown speedways open for racing March 25.
I can’t forget to mention “Beaver Bob” McCardle’s Beaver Springs Dragway, which opens for Friday night street racing March 31. Sunday action gets underway April 2. Practice days are March 26-27. Beaver Springs has already hit the big time this year in a unique way — the Sunoco fuels commercial aired on last Sunday’s Daytona 500 broadcast included vintage drag racing action from the Snyder County facility.
Area raceways continue to upgrade their facilities. Both Port Royal and Selinsgrove have done lot of offseason work, which will be appreciated by racers and fans. At Port Royal the pit area has been dug out and a new infield concession stand was built. A new scoreboard also is planned. Selinsgrove resurfaced both of its tracks while generally sprucing up the facility. I expect a good season for both venues.
I’m of mixed emotions when a driver announces retirement from competition. I’m happy one is walking away from the sport healthy, having survived what can be a violent experience. Yet I miss the competition. Such is the case when Stevie Smith announced he was hanging up his helmet to concentrate on his business. Smith is 50 years old and still in the prime of his career. Car owner Fred Rahmer said there will be a car available for Smith to compete should he change his mind.
Greg Hodnett will be joining Jed Donahue today on the PA Sports Network at 11:30 a.m. The show airs locally on WLUI-AM 670 and FM 92.9.
One thing that can be said is last week’s Daytona 500 had a crazy finish. Congratulations to Kurt Busch on the win. Action moves on to Atlanta this weekend.
For the ninth year revenue has declined for NASCAR tracks, down 7.4 percent last year. TV ratings also continue to fall. At some point NASCAR can’t rely on TV money to see it through and will have to address real problems. I’m not sure last week’s event convinced many diehards to like the new race format. One positive move is all non-Cup events, at tracks during Cup weekends, will admit children under 12 free. The average age of a NASCAR fan is 48, so new fans are essential.
It’s good to be back in the groove for another racing season. I’ll be back next week with more news and opinions. Have a great racing weekend.
Craig Rutherford writes about motorsports for The Sentinel.