SPEEDWAY HISTORY

 

1930s-1940s: In late 1937, car owner at that time, Emmett Shelley convinced Williams Grove Park Owner Roy Richwine to build a speedway across the street from the park and on May 21, 1939, Williams Grove Speedway held its first race. The race was won by Tommy Hinnershitz. The speedway ran “big car” races under the American Automobile Association (AAA) sanction as well as select American Motorcycle Association (AMA) Pro Flat track races in its first few years of operation. In 1942, the speedway halted operation due to World War II until after its completion in 1945. In 1947, a year after the continuation of racing, major improvements at the speedway were made including lighting for night racing, a pedestrian tunnel at the entrance to turn one and the “famous” bridge across the backstretch. In 1949, the American Championship Car Racing National Championship would make an appearance, drawing a large crowd in a race won by Johnny Mantz. At the end of the 1940s the National Roadster Championships were held at the speedway, which would help greatly influence the future of racing in the next decade.


Notable Drivers:
Tommy Hinnershitz, Ted Horn, Joie Chitwood, Jimmy Chann


Notable Races:
AAA East National Championship, Indy Sweepstakes, National Roadster Championship


1950s:
The 1950s saw a slight shift in racing from open wheel to “fendered” cars. Big cars were still a very popular attraction on select Sunday afternoons, but Jalopy Stocks became the weekly division on Fridays. Stock Cars also made numerous appearances including the NASCAR Grand National division in 1954. On the open wheel side, sanctioning changed from AAA to the newly formed United States Auto Club (USAC) in 1956. Champ Cars ran at the speedway yearly until 1959 for the Indianapolis Sweepstakes race. AMA Motorcycles and Midgets were also recurring divisions throughout the 50s.


Notable Drivers:
Tommy Hinnershitz, Johnny Thomson, Johnny Mackison Sr., Dick Tobias


Notable Races:
Horn/Schindler Memorial, NASCAR Grand National, Indy Sweepstakes, Midget 100 Lap Championship


1960s:
The 1960s saw an evolution of racing in Central Pennsylvania. Jalopies became 30x90 Super Modifieds or “bugs” as they were widely known. Drivers like Bobby Hersh and Johnny Mackison Sr. were frequent visitors to victory lane in the early 60s. On October 20th, 1963 the “Biggest Race in the East,” The National Open was born. Eventual two-time Indy 500 winner Gordon Johncock would be the first winner of the Open. Ray Tilley would obtain a record that is still in place today by first winning 17 races in 1965 and then breaking his own record with 21 wins in 1966. The late 60s saw more evolution in racing, this time in the form of “Sprint Cars.” The beginning of Sprint Car racing came from putting a wing on top of a Super Modified. The addition made a significant impact in racing and so it was again tried on a “Big Car,” which then led to a new weekly division. Late Models also became a weekly attraction a few years earlier.


Notable Drivers:
Ray Tilley, Bobbie Adamson, Mitch Smith, Bobby Hersh, Johnny Mackison


Notable Races:
Horn/Schindler Memorial, National Open, Spring Championship


1970s:
In the 70s, modern Sprint Car racing and Late Models were the weekly divisions along with Midgets, Street Stocks and Limited Late Models making routine appearances throughout the decade. By 1970, Jack Gunn was in his 3rd year of promoting the speedway. He was instrumental in bringing the best talent to the area to race each week, many who decided to stay and call Central Pennsylvania home. In 1972, new ownership came to the speedway when Morgan Hughes came from New Jersey to purchase the park and speedway. The Hughes family is just the second family to ever own the famed speedway. The 70s also brought a new era into racing with the formation of the Sprint Car touring divisions, the All-Star Circuit of Champions and World of Outlaws, which would add even bigger races to the speedway’s schedule.


Notable Drivers:
Kenny Weld, Mitch Smith, Smokey Snellbaker, Kramer Williamson, Bobby Allen, Lynn Paxton, Jan Opperman, Steve Smith, Gary Snellbaker, Bobby Goodling, Ed Spencer


Notable Races:
National Open, Horn/Schindler Memorial, Summer Nationals, Twin 25s, Williams Grove Late Model 100


1980s:
In the 1980s, more drivers were migrating to the area and the local talent was arguably at its best. Each week was a “who’s-who” of sprint car racing. With the newly formed World of Outlaws making regular appearances at the speedway and claiming to have the best talent in sprint car racing, a new rivalry was beginning. Through this, the term “Pennsylvania Posse” was coined for the regular sprint car drivers at the speedway to signify that there was a “new sheriff in town.” While drivers such as Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell were tearing up the national scene, Central Pennsylvania proved to house the toughest challengers. The names of Lynn Paxton, Bobby Davis Jr., Keith Kauffman and Bobby Allen among others, were leveling the playing field. The 80s also brought on the classification of sprint car racing by engine size. The main division would become 410ci sprint cars. A new weekly attraction, 358 sprint cars, were added in 1989. The World of Outlaws began a Late Model series in 1988, with the first race held at the speedway. The inaugural event was won by Larry Phillips.


Notable Drivers:
Lynn Paxton, Keith Kauffman, Doug Wolfgang, Bobby Davis Jr, Jim Nace, Van May, Bobby Allen


Notable Races:
National Open, Summer Nationals, Twin 20s, Early Bird Championship


1990s:
Racing at the speedway saw a new youth movement. Now familiar names like Kreitz, Rahmer, Shaffer and Dewease were just beginning to find victory lane, but were doing it nearly every week. The popularity and following of sprint car racing in the area led to a plea for more racing which meant an earlier start to the season. Late February/early March races were being scheduled, which allowed more drivers out of the area to come into town before their season would naturally begin. The depth of weekly talent at each area speedway led to the formation of Pennsylvania Speedweek in 1991, a week-long series of higher paying races as a way to showcase the best drivers in the region. Williams Grove held the first race in the series on July 3rd, 1991 which was won by Steve Smith. 358 sprint cars were now a very promising division, drawing large car counts and acting as a development division for the 410 sprint cars. Late Models were having less weekly races at the speedway in large part because of the growing 358 sprint car division, but had a large presence when the national touring series STARS made their yearly appearance.


Notable Drivers:
Don Kreitz Jr., Lance Dewease, Keith Kauffman, Todd Shaffer, Billy Pauch, Fred Rahmer, Cris Eash, Jeff Shepard


Notable Races:
National Open, Summer Nationals, Twin 20s, Early Bird Championship, Mitch Smith Memorial


2000s:
Most records were broken in the new century, not only because the cars were getting faster but also because Fred Rahmer, Lance Dewease and Don Kreitz Jr., were now surpassing the names of Ray Tilley, Lynn Paxton and Mitch Smith for spots on the All-Time win list. In 2006, the speedway expanded its racing program to two nights a week to incorporate the continuation of racing divisions from the closing Silver Springs Speedway. While most of the divisions from the former speedway had raced previously at Williams Grove, the “Saturday Night Series” officially began on April 15, 2006. The Super Sportsman, 358 Late Models, Street Stocks and 4 Cylinders made a handful of appearances on Saturday’s in the first few years of the series. Sunday Enduros were held once a month throughout most of the decade. In 2007, speedway owner Morgan Hughes passed away. He left the speedway to his family for his daughter, Kathleen to run.


Notable Drivers:
Fred Rahmer, Don Kreitz Jr., Lance Dewease, Keith Kauffman, Todd Shaffer, Greg Hodnett, Chad Layton, Pat Cannon, Cory Haas, Frankie Herr


Notable Races:
National Open, Summer Nationals, Mitch Smith Memorial, Twin 20s, Triple 20s, Early Bird Championship


2010s:
The new decade saw the most events in the history of the speedway with two nights of racing throughout most of the season. The Saturday Night Series had expanded to a 15+ race schedule. In May 2011, to expand the rivalry formed between the World of Outlaws and Pennsylvania Posse, the Morgan Cup challenge was formed. The winning faction (World of Outlaws or Williams Grove Speedway) of the race was given the Morgan Cup trophy to keep at their facility for the year. In 2013, the All-Time winningest driver at the speedway, Fred Rahmer retired after winning his first National Open. In 2015, the National Open was expanded into a 3-day event, making it one of the richest events in sprint car racing.


Notable Drivers:
Fred Rahmer, Greg Hodnett, Don Kreitz Jr., Lance Dewease, Kevin Nouse, Frankie Herr, Gene Knaub


Notable Races:
National Open, Summer Nationals, Morgan Cup; Mitch Smith Memorial, Twin 20s, Early Bird Championship

 

     
   

 

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