Williams Grove Open Circa 2001!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Cris Eash's look in 2001 after 9/11Cris Eash's look in 2001 after 9/11 (Bill W) October 12, 2016 – I’ve considered central Pennsylvania a second home for a long time.  The great history there, both racing and of our country, memories of some great racing, and some great friends that I consider family always cross my mind when venturing to PA.

Ellen W and I were able to make it out a couple of weeks ago.  After attending the Four Crown at Eldora, we visited Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, Pittsburgh (Heinz Field and Pirates/Cubs at PNC), Gettysburg, Philly (running the Rocky steps, eating real cheesesteaks and seeing the Liberty Bell) and Hershey’s Chocolate World.  Did you know you can make your own candy bar and wrap and watch it on the conveyor belt?  Mind blowing!

Unfortunately, all three nights of Williams Grove’s National Open was rained out.  We spent some good time with Joe and Jill Stine (formerly known as GroveGirl) and the “Steve’s” from the Port (O’Neal and Swarmer).  It definitely wasn’t a lost trip.  But, Ellen flew out Friday for Homecoming, and I left early Saturday morning for a kickass finale at the Queen’s Royale in Farmington, Missouri (13 hour drive or so).

The rainout was definitely a bit of a bummer, but the powers that be have rescheduled for this Friday.  In addition, Port Royal will be hosting the WoO on Saturday.  That has drawn the attention of Midwest runners like Brian Brown, Kerry Madsen, Bill Balog and RJ Johnson, who was already in the area.

Long story short, it has all piqued my interest enough that I’m crazy enough to be heading back solo this weekend.  It should be a great one.  My trips to PA have traditionally been around Speedweek or Keystone Cup time, so this will actually be my first Open since 2001.

I remember my first trip to the Open like it was yesterday.  It was a couple weeks after 9/11.  There seemed to be a flag erected in every other front yard, and the country felt very unified.  Fifteen years have changed that quite a bit it seems.  The turnpike will take you close to the Flight 93 Memorial, which Ellen and I visited two weeks ago.  Then, it was just charred earth where real heroes fell.  They have done a great job with the Memorial, and obviously, it’s a very emotional visit.

Like many, 9/11 changed my outlook greatly on life and our country.  Some was for the better, and some not.  The long drive gave me plenty of time to think.  My trip included WoO shows at Lernerville, Port Royal and the Williams Grove Open.  It turned into a great trip.  Can you believe Danny Wood swept the events at Lernerville and the Port…almost as mind-blowing as making your own chocolate bar!

Following is the report I wrote on my trip in 2001…

Eastern Museum of Motor RacingEastern Museum of Motor Racing Fall 2001: Bill W on the PA Swing

As I pointed my Ranger from central Iowa to central Pennsylvania, one question entered my mind, "Will I have a better chance of seeing Danny Wood win two features in PA, or will I perhaps catch a glimpse of the head of Dick Van Patten of 'Eight is Enough' fame on the side of a semi trailer." Much to my delight, both occured on this journey!

A long drive brought me to Lernerville in western PA. One to be early at a sprint car race, I arrived two hours before they were ready for me. This was my first time at the facility and I could tell it was going to be a fast track. A disappointing 29 car field showed up.  Some like the Apple 12 were looking at the threatening weather as a reason not to travel. Track champ Jimmy Hawley's owner Doc Crawford had an illness in the family and that team did not attend. Some of the All Stars seem to be boycotting WoO and Gumout events this season and it was disappointing for the fans not to have them in attendance.

Nonetheless, when the boys took to the track, they were getting around it in good fashion. Mark Kinser topped the field with a lap of 13.026 seconds around the four-tenths of a mile facility. After not much surprise and not much passing in the three heat events, you could tell starting up front would be paramount to success. After visiting the Sprint Car Network guys (Wayne Harper and Bill Meyer) uptop and getting my Knoxville shots in on the broadcast (and warming up) it was time for the dash. Johnny Herrera and Danny Wood finished first and second with Mark Kinser and Danny Lasoski behind them. Wood shot to the lead in the feature event, and cruised to his third WoO win (first technically according to the WoO rules that prelims don't count). The highest finishing local was Ed Lynch Jr. who was scored seventeenth.

I relaxed the following day, catching the Carnegie Science Center (pretty cool!) and attending a Pirates vs. Cubs game in the new PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The new stadium is beautiful, and so is the restoration to the area down by the riverfront.

Enough of that, Thursday it was on to central PA. Taking the turnpike is always an adventure, running into construction and the like. After exiting, it was time to dodge the buggies on my way to Port Royal. Many there stated that it now looks like the "Emerald City" compared to what it did before the new stands were put in. Yes, they do have backrests! A 41 car field took to the track on another cool night.

Mark Kinser smoked Keith Kauffman's track record in time trials with a lap of 15.912 seconds on the half-mile, but it was again Wood gaining the headlines, winning his heat, the dash and the feature. In my opinion, the fastest car was Craig Dollansky who had just passed Wood for second and was approaching the leader Paul McMahan, when he jumped the cushion in turn three and flipped. Surprisingly, the highest finishing Pennsylvania local was Lance Dewease in ninth. Skip Jackson was present in Shawn Keen's car and held off Joey Saldana in the B to garner a transfer. The Port is similar in shape to Knoxville, so it's not surprising that Skip has a win there in his short PA career. Todd Shaffer was a missile after a disappointing qualifying lap. He drove from 23rd to 10th in the feature event, after getting a serious break when Brian Paulus could not make it out for his heat race. Another disappointing part of the evening was the fact that Port Royal and promoter for the evening Bob Jones decided on not starting Port provisionals. Both Lernerville and Williams Grove used their maximum of two provisionals at their events. This left a couple of team's feathers ruffled.
Walt Dyer's famous #461Walt Dyer's famous #461 Friday found me visiting the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing. My guide was Bev Thompson, whose family took good care of me all weekend. The museum, located near York Springs is very impressive and has a vast record of archives that a person could spend a month looking at. It's collection of cars is equally as impressive, including my favorite car of all times, the 461 Brickmobile. Walt Dyer's entry in the museum is the car Lance Dewease drove to the 1996 Williams Grove Open crown. They are doing a great job with the museum and the auction on Saturday, benefiting the museum and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame went very well according to Craig Agan.

Though it was not my first trip to Williams Grove, it was my first Williams Grove Open. Having been to a two-day WoO show there before, honestly I didn't see much different, other than the purse and a few hundred more people. Nonetheless, the Grove is always exciting and you can count on the locals running somewhere near the front! Impressively on Friday, nine (if you count the Chessons and Skip Jackson) local cars made the 16 car inversion in time trials. PJ Chesson set the new track record with a clocking of 16.588 seconds. Dave Ely was back in the family 77E scoring third quick, but his night would end with motor woes after qualifying for the dash. He took the green for the A and ducked in the pits, not to be seen the rest of the weekend. Jackson was again impressive, finishing fifth in the dash after passing Mark Kinser for a heat win. He had a top ten nailed down in the A before slowing dramatically on the white flag lap. Dewease took the dash and then held on for third in the A behind Tim Shaffer and Jason Meyers. Cris Eash wins my "Best Appearing Car of the Year" for his patriotic colors for the weekend.

The win was Shaffer's first at the Grove and many got their first glimpse of Meyers when he is on his game. Craig Dollansky finished fourth and was feeling some pain as he found out later he had fractured his scapula in his flip the night before at the Port. He is one tough hombre! Some rumors in the pits this week, had the Cormack 20, the Forbrook 5 and the Johnson U2 coming of the WoO trail next year, with the 20 and 5 possibly running locally at Knoxville. With two or three other cars already committed to running the 410 class next year at Knoxville, weekly car counts in the 40s are not unlikely. How about a 24 car field every week for the feature?

Saturday saw a car count of 44 cars. Steve Kinser definitely had a rough start, having something break on the car in time trials. He flipped hard, but got another car to start at the back of the field with. He fell one spot short of transferring for the feature in his heat race, so he utilized a provisional, started at the tail of the 28 car field, and moved up to 14th. Dewease was the man tonight, however, maneuvering to win the dash, and then leading all forty laps in dominating fashion despite a lap 19 open red for a fuel stop. Sean Michael was another impressive local coming home fifth. James Chesson was fourth after starting eleventh. Stevie Smith was running well until, reportedly, water was put in the tank under red. Oops! Todd Hestor was another impressive runner all weekend as he ran seventh on Friday night and eleventh on Saturday.

Looking at payouts is always interesting. On Saturday, Jason Hagenbuch made $125 for finishing third in the C, Lynton Jeffrey made $100 for finishing fourth in the same race. Even Billy Sims got $60 for finishing seventh (last). Greg Hodnett finished seventh in the B (the highest finishing car not to be in the A). He made $150. Mark Richard, Brooke Weibley, Ricky Lafferty, Mark Smith, Paul McMahan, and Len Thompson all made $50 and were in the B. How does that happen? I guess they would have been better off qualifying for the C, huh? It would be nice to see this purse a little higher, especially with all the seats that were filled.

Who can complain as a fan? The racing was good and this reporter had a ball! Until next time.

Bill Wright
Bill W Media
Twitter: @BillWMedia
Website: www.OpenWheel101.com