Posts Tagged ‘Auto Racing’

Why I Love Auto Racing

Last Sunday I was getting ready to head to Sundance Vacations Speedway in Drums, PA when I stopped to ask myself why I was going. I’ve been to Sundance Vacations Speedway many times and to tell you the truth, it’s not one of my favorite tracks. So, if it’s not one of my favorite tracks, again, why was I going? What I realized was that yes, I love the racing but what I really love is the time I get to spend with my friends. I’ve been going to the races for over 40 years and regularly for the past 25 or so. During that time I’ve made some great friends that I will cherish forever.

When I lived in Long Island (1986 – 1991) I used to go to Riverhead Raceway every Saturday night. There I met my friend Herb. Herb was in his eighties and had been a racing fan for 60 years. I used to love sitting at his kitchen table listening to his stories about the golden age of racing. I was lucky enough to take Herb on his last racing road trip to Flemington Speedway in 1991. I think about him all the time.

In 1987 I went to the Race of Champions at Pocono International Raceway in Pennsylvania. For those who don’t know, the Race of Champions is the biggest event in modified racing. I decided to save some money by camping at the track so I packed my camping gear and picnic accessories and headed to the track. When I got there I pitched my camping tent and built a fire. Within 10 minutes a man and  his two sons came over to my fire to say hi. I found out that his name is David and that he’s from Maryland. We got to talking and became good friends. I still keep in touch with David today even though I don’t see him as often as I used to. You know what, I think I’ll call him tonight.

It turns out that David had a bunch of other racing friends and it didn’t take them long to make me a member of the gang. Today I see Ed, Jeff, Jim, Keith and many of the others at races all over the north east. Last year there was a modified race in North Carolina so I called Ed in Connecticut to see if he was going. Ed stopped and picked me up on his way and we went to the race in North Carolina together. The funny thing is that I’ve never seen David, Ed, Jeff, Jim, Keith or any of the others anywhere except at the races. Funny how friendship works.

This brings me back to why I went to Sundance Vacations Speedway last Sunday. Did I go for the racing? Maybe to a degree. The fact is that I went because my friends Joe and Mike were going to be there. Joe and Mike are father and son and I met them at a race in Oswego, NY in 2004. It turns out that we were all regulars at Mahoning Valley Speedway but we had never met.  Since then we have gone racing together to many tracks in several states. Joe and Mike have become two of my best friends in the world and I went to Sundance Vacations Speedway that day to be with them.

I love racing because of the speed, the smells and the sounds. I realized today, though, that I love racing mostly because of the many friends I’ve made at the races and the lifelong memories that racing has given me.


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My Friends Joe and Mike at Shangri-La 2

My Friends Joe and Mike at Shangri-La 2

Are you a fan of short track auto racing? Have you been sad to see all the tracks shut down over the past 15 years? Were you as angry as I was when Darrell Waltrip said that short tracks should run on Friday nights so NASCAR could own Saturdays?  If you answered yes to these questions then you’re going to love hearing about the brand new Shangri-La 2 Motor Speedway in Owego, NY. Yes, that’s right, a new era in auto racing has begun in the southern tier of New York.

I was there on that sad day in 2005 when Jan Leaty won the final modified race and the orignial Shangri-La Speedway (renamed Tioga Motorsports Park) shut down for good in the name of progress. I was also there many times in the 1970s when racing greats like Richie Evans, Jim Shampine, George Kent and others put on some of the best modified races ever. Do you know that George Kent and Richie Evans together won 156 modified races at Shangri La? Everyone including me believed that an era was over on August 28, 2005 when the gates of the original track were closed forever.

While nothing can ever replace my childhood memories of Shangri-La Speedway, I’m pleased to report that a new tradition started on the Fourth of July weekend in 2009. Shangri-La 2 Motor Speedway opened for its first weekend of great racing. The scream of race car motors brought to fruition the years long efforts of owner and racer George Swansbrough. While Jim Lamoreaux and Earl Paules were the first main event winners, the real winners were everyone in the grandstand. We have a fantastic new track to visit and the tradition of modified racing in the southern tier is safe for many years to come.

Earl Paules at Shangri-La 2

Earl Paules at Shangri-La 2

Shangri-La 2 is a one-half mile concrete high banked oval track that is built to be very fan friendly. The infield pit area is sunk into the ground far enough that visibility is great from just about anywhere in the grandstand. The track was built along side of Skyview Drags, a one-eighth mile dragstrip also owned by George Swansbrough. The two tracks run at the same time and your admission price is good for both venues. We had a fantastic time on Sunday walking back and forth between the two and taking in the great racing action. The track concessions were good and you are allowed to bring your picnic cooler with food if you want to.

There were a lot of race fans who said that Shangri-La 2 would never be built. Some of them are among my best friends. After all, the economy is lousy, NASCAR would be happy if there was no short track racing and people have many choices of how to spend their entertainment dollars. Truth is, there is still much to be done on the grounds, parking lot and camping area but I’m glad George decided to open the track now. There will be time to get the work done and short track racing fans really needed the boost that we got from Shangri-La 2 on the Fourth of July. I can’t wait to pack my picnic basket and camping tent and get back to Shangri-La 2 very soon. Thank you George Swansbrough.

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Are you looking for something different to do on a Saturday Night? Do you like the sound of powerful motors and the smell of burning fuel and rubber? If you answered yes to either of these questions then Doug and Gina Hoffman’s Mahoning Valley Speedway is for you. Located just west of Lehighton, PA, Mahoning Valley Speedway is Pennsylvania’s home for the mighty modifieds.

Modifieds are stock cars in name only. These little rockets are powered by 600 horse power motors and weigh less than 2,700 pounds. They ride on 15 inch wide slick tires on both the front and back meaning that all that power gets transfered directly to the race track. These cars are so powerful that they have a difficult time passing at many race tracks. Not at Mahoning Valley! Mahoning Valley Speedway is a 1/4 mile track with no real straightaways. The cars are always turning meaning that the action is non-stop. Cars race side by side all night long. Last Saturday’s 35 laps went from green to checker without a yellow flag and the top three cars were never more than a foot apart. Four more times this season, the modifieds will compete in special 100 lap races with bigger purses and even more excitement. The next race in this modified series will be on Saturday, June 6.  SS1

The modifieds are only part of the great racing programs at Mahoning Valley. My next favorite division is the street stocks. These cars are mainly 198os vintage Camaros and Monte Carlos dressed up for racing. Their 25 lap feature races  racing that often goes three wide. There are times when you couldn’t fit a sheet of notebook paper between the cars. On any given Saturday night, there are up to 10 street stocks that have a chance to win.

Mahoning Valley also runs late model stock cars, 4-cylinder stock cars that are mainly Ford Pintos and modifieds that were made for dirt but fly on asphalt. They also have guest divisions most weeks. The gates at Mahoning Valley Speedway open every Saturday evening at 4:00 and racing begins promptly at 6:00. On most evenings you’ll be on your way home before 10:00.

One of the great things about Mahoning Valley Speedway is that you can bring your picnic cooler full of food and beverages meaning that an evening at the races will cost your family far less than a ballgame or other sporting event. Another family  friendly feature is that there is no alcohol allowed. Admission to Mahoning Valley Speedway ranges from $12 for regular shows to $20 for the 100 lap modified races. Students, seniors and active military receive a $2 discount and children 10 and under are always free. Pack your picnic backpack and head for Mahoning Valley Speedway very soon. When you do, tell them the Pennsylvania Wanderer sent you.

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Wall Township Speedway has been running auto racing for 56 years.  I’ve been going there on occasion since 1986.  When I heard, this past winter, that it was closing its doors forever, I was both shocked and saddened.  Yet another of my favorite places to wander to was gone forever.  Not so fast!

In September, rumors started to fly that Wall was going to re-open for the 35th annual Turkey Derby on Thanksgiving Weekend.  At first, I was among the doubtful majority but soon the rumors turned to reality.  Mr. Jim Morton decided to risk his own personal financial future and lease the track so Turkey Derby 35 could go on!

Many questions remained…would the drivers show up after having the track padlocked on them last winter?  Did they still have their race cars?  Would the fans who some might say were treated unfairly as the rumors of the shutdown grew return?

The answer to all these questions was a resounding YES!  A beautiful fall day greeted the over 200 race cars and drivers who showed up yesterday.  The grandstand and pits were jammed full.  The food was excellent (although quite expensive) and the racing was explosive at times.  I’ll leave the race rundown to other authors and websites but suffice it to say, I had a great time.

I take my hat off to Mr. Morton for going out on a limb for the race fans.  Sure he hoped to make a lot of money on the deal, but everyone deserves a return on a good investment.  Now Mr. Morton is talking about the future.  I hope you’re able to find a way to keep the great tradition of Turkey Derby going for many years.  Whether that happens or not, today I say thank you Jim Morton!

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Today I wandered off to Wall Township Speedway in Belmar, NJ for their 35th annual Turkey Derby modified race.  I left at 4:00 this morning and just got home.  I’m too tired to write about it tonight but stay tuned for all the details tomorrow.

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