The 2012 racing season is under way here in Central Pennsylvania.
Unseasonably warm temperatures are bringing race fans out in droves and tracks are getting off to a good start. The weather was in question for area raceways as this column was prepared. Check websites or phone before heading to your favorite track.
Port Royal Speedway has the late models joining the 410 sprint cars for a two-division show. Race time is set for 6 p.m. Scotty Haus is the defending late model champion at the Juniata County oval. Waylon Wagner won last year's late model opener over Mitch Hack. Wagner was joined as a single season winner by Scotty and Andy Haus, Tim Wilson and Dylan Yoder. Matt Parks scored two wins. Jeff Rine was a three time winner and top honors went to Gary Beward who claimed four main events.
Williams Grove Speedway was set to open Friday for its 73rd year of action. Stevie Smith was last year's season opener winner. Smith is in a new ride this season and will again sport the family's familiar black bandit No. 19 colors on his car. The racer will be co-owned by Chris Luck of California and Chad Clemens. Smith should be tough as ever and I feel the team will find success quickly.
Selinsgrove Speedway hosts 360 sprint cars and pro stocks tonight starting at 6.
This evening at Lincoln Speedway the 410 and 358 late models are joined by thundercars. Again, action gets under way at 6.
Bedford Speedway has posted a message concerning a car show at the fairgrounds April 1. The event will be held in the commercial exhibition building, where a home show is also taking place. Practice Day is April 15 and it opens for racing April 20.
Hagerstown Speedway will host the Lucas Oil Racing Late Models April 21 as part of the Stanley Schetrompf Memorial Event.
Hesston Speedway opens May 15 with limited late models the headline class.
I had a chance to speak with Karen Mansfield of the Country Inn and Suites in State College about her latest racing project. Those of you that know Mansfield are aware that she has been a longtime supporter of auto racing. She also drives push truck at area tracks and pens a column for trade paper Area Auto Racing News.
Her company will pay a cash award to the late model and pro stock team that is a Port Royal regular and attends every Port Royal event for those classes this season. The driver winning that award will receive $350 in the late model class and $150 for pro stocks.
"Unfortunately you have to have a person who finishes last to also have a race," Mansfield joked. "This is a way to help out those people too."
Mansfield presented a similar award to the URC 360 sprint racing group several times and it helps pad the teams' point money when they receive it. One point I would add is that it can be anyone this happens to - winning that award does not mean you are a bad team or driver. I've seen plenty of racers have a horrible year with bad luck and crashes and be back in points. At another track during the same year, they may do well. This is a way to reward their efforts.
Let's return to Port Royal Speedway for last week's season-opening event. I had a chance to visit with drivers and old friends who were enjoying the beautiful weather. Along the way I picked up a few tidbits and rumors.
Bob Bennett has teamed up with the Bolger Racing Team for 2012. Former driver Daryl Stimeling campaigned in his own car last Saturday night.
I'm told Justin Henderson will likely sport the Weikert Livestock No. 29 colors for this year's Bob Weikert Memorial Race, which features the All Star Circuit of Champions sprint cars.
I also learned that the Thomas Timberland Race Shop in Pleasant Gap is alive again as Bobby Howard is driving truck for Thomas and his race car is garaged and maintained at Thomas shop. Fred Grenoble told me he has not had the urge to pick up a wrench and help out. Grenoble is a longtime mechanic who turned wrenches for more than 40 great drivers. He also works for Thomas and oversees maintenance and mowing operations during the summer. He recently was inducted into the York County Racing Club's Hall of Fame.
A huge crowd was on hand and overall it was a good opening night. Folks were stopping me on the street Monday talking about concession stand concerns and dusty track conditions in turn four.
No matter what, you can't argue a large crowd turned out and I'm sure the kinks will be worked on.
Port Royal fans will likely be seeing more of Greg Hodnett and Fred Rahmer this season. I asked Rahmer about conditions on the racetrack and he told me the improvements were great. His only complaint was all area sprint car track surfaces recently put down still contain too much sand for his preference.
Keith Kauffman continues to show he is effective and had a top 10 finish despite having help spinning on lap 10. Kauffman was forced to go to the rear before coming back to finish 10th. Kauffman will win some races again this season. He plans to stay close to home most of the year.
I want to mention and congratulate Ashley Diehl on her marriage to David Stremme of NASCAR fame. Diehl is the daughter of Joe and Diane Diehl of Mifflintown. The couple got married during the off season which is always the right time for a racing marriage. Diehl and Stremme are both real racers.
That's going to wind it up for this week. Get out to an area track and enjoy yourself. A bad night at the speedway is still better than a good day at work. Drive safely!
Craig Rutherford writes about motorsports for The Sentinel.