Friday, July 11 - It was the day before our vacation but we wanted to see the postponed Mitch Smith Memorial at the Willams Grove Speedway. This race is in honor to Mitch Smith, one of the greatest sprint car drivers ever in Central PA who was a first ballot inductee into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa years ago. Smith was a thorn in USAC’s side when the best sprint car racing of the 70’s and 80’s came east to do battle with the Central PA regulars. It was either Smith or Dick Tobias handing the USAC boys their heads when they invaded. This race was originally on the PA sprint week schedule paying $10,000 to win but fell to rain last Friday. It was rescheduled for this Friday but the winning purse was dropped to $5000 to win.
We arrived near 7:30 finding a good crowd on hand but not an overflowing one. Time trials started at 8:06 and wrapped at 8:30 with Brian Leppo setting fast time with a lap of 16.669 seconds on the half mile. The 358 sprints were also on the card tonight and followed with their four heats for a fine 35 car field. In the running of the second heat race eight time 358 winner in the 2008 season, Pat Cannon, caught a right rear tire of another competitor and literally launched his sprinter over the third turn fencing completely clearing the fence without touching it. Thank goodness he did not hit front end first or he might still be flipping at this moment as the speed he had at the end of the backstretch was great. Instead he landed on all four wheels but we’re sure the impact was still quite severe. This car was done for the evening but Pat jumped into his brother’s sprinter and grabbed the last qualifying spot for the feature.
The 410 sprints had three heats for their 26 car field and it was already 9:45 when the heat racing ended. It was right into the two consies for the two divisions with all qualifying completed by 10. A short intermission was then taken and first up for their feature were the 410 sprinters. With all time winner, Fred Rahmer, starting second due to him setting second fast time, many conceded the win to Fast Freddy. But no one informed Doug Esh about this arrangement. Esh who has struggled very much this year exploded from his sixth starting position and went to work tracking down Rahmer. He finally caught and passed him on lap 19 of 30 for the lead but jumped the second turn cushion two laps later and almost gave the lead back to him. But Esh, known as the Hammer in Central PA circles, regained his composure and held Rahmer at sway. Not only was the race up front but the action throughout the field was very good. Especially at one point late in the race in the battle for positions six through eight were being hotly contested. Greg Hodnett, Nikki Young and Jeff Shepard went three wide down the backstretch in this battle royale. By the way this one went non-stop in 12 minutes as the crowd rose to their feet to cheer on Doug Esh to his well deserved victory on this evening. It is not very often that someone passes Rahmer for the lead. Rahmer came home second with Lance DeWease bagging third, Brian Leppo claiming fourth and Greg Hodnett rounding out the top five with the checker waving at 10:47.
Normally we stay to watch the 358 sprinters but with a two hour drive and a 5:45 vacation wakeup call we decided to call it an evening. Later we found out that Nate Hammaker grabbed the win on the last lap passing Mark Coldren.
As I type this blog in a hotel room in Richburg, South Carolina our nine day racing road trip is underway and it is time to head out the door and take the long mile and a half drive over to I-77 Speedway for tonight’s racing. Hopefully we will be able to crack out the blogs in a timely manner as we will have two races to report on at the end of this day.