Johnny White # 1 Fike Plumbing Special leads Jim Hurtubise in the # 56 Sterling Plumbing Special off of turn 4.
(WoS Photo)

It was around this time ... 56 years ago that I was a young kid working as a draftsman for a major heavy machinery manufacturer in Trenton, NJ. Like most guys of that age I was interested in cars. One day while eating lunch at my desk and reading Hot Rod Magazine, a summer intern engineering student came up to me and said that I should go see real racing on dirt. Well I was a stick and ball fan and watched just about every Yankees game on WPIX Channel 11 TV from NY. I didn’t know anything about racing except watching a few Jalopy (stock car) races from Culver City, California on TV. A few weeks later I was reading the sports section of the Trentonian newspaper and see an ad for USAC Sprint Cars at the Hatfield Speedway. I got out my gas station roadmap (no GPS back then) and found out where this Hatfield PA was and how to get there.

The day of the race came Friday July 26, 1963, after work I went home to change and with map and instructions in hand it was off to see what this was all about. When I found the track , an ambulance was coming out as I was parking my car. I later found out that Jim McElreath crashed into the first turn wall in practice. I got my ticket and saw all of the people in the stands and didn’t know where I should go. The track crew were trying to fix the wall and I saw other people going in the infield so that’s were I went. While walking around in the infield before racing resumed I ran into a guy who worked at the same place that I did He had been a new employee and I didn’t know his name. His name was Bruce Jones who would become a life long friend. He was with another guy named Jack Rule who just happened to be the brother of the engineer student intern at work who told me to go see real racing on dirt. The race drivers were named A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Bobby Marshman, Don Branson, Roger McCluskey, Bob Harkey, Jim Hurtubise, Earl Halaquist, Cotton Farmer, Jim Maguire, Arnie Knepper, Ron Lux, Chuck Hulse, Bud Tinglested, Chuck Yost, Ralph Liguori and others. When the green flag waved to resume practice all I could say to myself was WOW! What the hell have I been missing all of my life. I was hooked for the rest of my life. I became friends with Bruce & Jack. Bruce ran stock cars and I would hang out at the garage. We would go to watch a lot of races, sometimes 5 a week. We would see the best Modified stocks (dirt and asphalt), Midgets and Indy Cars, but nothing could compare with the Sprint Cars. There was just some magic watching them.

What was this force that had a grip on me, let me try to explain. When I first started to go to the races, open cockpit race cars didn’t have cages. When they would crash or go over it was like 50/50 if the driver would be badly hurt or be killed. It was an adrenaline rush watching them do something dangerously crazy. It’s the feeling you have if you were watching a man walking on a high wire 100 ft off the ground with no net and he is having a hard time keeping his balance. The adrenaline rush is because you see before you what can happen if he falls. That adrenaline rush would not be there if the walker was 20 feet off the ground and had a net under him.

It was all of this that branded my soul to love Sprint Cars, no stockcar could duplicate those feelings. Sprint Cars have become 1000% safer over the years, much so that some drivers don’t respect the car, only to be brought back to reality when we lose one of our drivers.

Today’s cars are basically the same cars that ran in the 1960’s. They have fuel injected engines, no transmission (must be pushed to start), quick change rear, 4-bar torsion, quick steering and no flywheel (the engine barks when you punch the gas).They have the newest gadgets but they still look the same on the track. If it’s a winged sprint you couldn’t tell if it was Kenny Weld or Donny Schatz; or wingless if it was A.J. Foyt or Brady Bacon. The cars still look the same way on the track as they did decades ago.

Fast forward to the other night at the Grandview Speedway, part of the 2019 PA Speedweek Series. Standing between the first and second turns taking pictures and watching the 900 plus Horsepower Sprints taking time. They run wide open all the way around, no change in the sound of the motor. If you closed your eyes you couldn’t tell the turns from the straights. After 56 years there is still magic watching the fastest race cars on dirt.

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