Eyes of sprint car world are on Port Royal tonight

The eyes of the sprint car world are upon Port Royal Speedway tonight. Port Royal Speedway celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Tuscarora 50 which began in 1968.

Over the years the Tuscarora 50 has meant many things to the racers, fans and speedway.

Racers compete in the longest Port Royal sprint car race of the season. The best competition is on hand and a win is on many racers’ bucket list of victories they seek. When ones name is added to that list, the driver enters an elite group having won one of central PA’s premier events. A number of racers have won the race more than once. Lance Dewease is the only 5-time winner of the Tuscarora 50 and is the defending champion. Greg Hodnett has scored four wins. His last was in 2014. Hodnett hopes to be in tonight’s A-Main seeking yet another win.

Fans look forward to this race hoping their favorite driver can score a win. Campers fill the parking areas for Juniata County’s largest tailgate party of the year. The expansion of the race into a two-day program made the tailgate even bigger. Look for several hundred campers to be on the grounds for the weekend. Others will frequent nearby campgrounds. Some campers could end up in neighbors’ yards. It’s going to be a fun-filled weekend for many. The only downside for race fans is the weekend signals the season will soon be over. A handful of shows are left after tonight.

The race has been a major economic stimulus for the community and speedway. At times the Tuscaroa 50 was the program that kept the fair and speedway in business. Today the Tuscarora 50 is the icing on the cake. At one time it was the cake itself.

Mitch Smith won the first three Tuscarora 50s run from 1968-70. I’m old enough to have witnessed two of those events. Smith was impressive in the No. 5 car. I went home hooked on a sport I’ve loved ever since.

Perhaps the worst moment in Tuscarora 50 history came in 1985 when Van May flipped wildly on the front straightaway striking the flag stand and injuring himself, starter Bob Hockenberry and others. May was taken from the speedway by helicopter which landed in the infield. Spectators helped clean up trash before vacating the area for the chopper’s arrival. Fortunately May recovered to race again. The accident led to the widening of the frontstrech to where it is today.

This year’s program will start 25 cars. The winner receives $50,000, the largest payout ever at the Juniata County oval. In fact $105,000 total purse plus several thousand dollars contingency money will be awarded. In addition several special awards will be handed out. They include the Bob Bergstresser Memorial Hard Charger award which will be worth a minimum of $300. There’s also the Will Gamble Memorial Award given to the first Port Royal Speedway regular that fails to qualify for the Tuscarora 50. This will pay the recipient a minimum of $300. Finally The Lucas Snyder Hard Luck Award is named after driver Lucas Wolfe and 3-year-old Lucas Snyder who lost his life in an automobile crash last year. The recipient receives at least $400. Starting the A-Main is worth $900.

Dewease is expected to attempt to defend his title in the Donnie Kreitz Jr/Davey Brown prepared No. 69. The night marks the closing of the season long points battle so a track championship is also on the line.

The field of competitors will read like an A list of sprint car racers from around the world. Drivers from Australia and all across America are expected to compete. Tony Stewart’s All Star Circuit of Champions sanction the program and their regulars should all be in attendance. Stewart himself told reliable sources he would make a decision about tonight based on Clint Bowyer’s status in NASCAR Cup Series playoff competition. Several midwestern cars that regularly compete at the Knoxville, Iowa Speedway are also expected to make the trip. I expect more than 50 sprint car teams will be in the Port Royal Speedway pit area tonight.

The econo late models are also on the schedule. The econo winner will earn $1,000.

Where will the the Tuscarora 50 go from here? Officials originally stated this payoff was a one-time event. They do hope to offer an expanded purse in 2018. With what should be a huge crowd and the nationwide interest this race has drawn, it may be hard to go backward. Hopefully sponsors and the speedway itself will take a another look after season’s end.

If you plan to attend I urge you to go early. Parking is going to be at a premium. There were contingency plans being looked at and some neighbors may be making their yards available to park as well.

So there you have it, this year’s version of the Tuscarora 50. Selinsgrove and Lincoln Speedways are dark this evening. Selinsgrove presents the Jim Nace Memorial National Open for sprint cars also sanctioned by the All-Stars next weekend. The Kasey Kahne Dirt Classic will be presented at Lincoln Speedway in two weeks.

Enjoy the weekend. Hope to see you at the speedway!