---- — By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The last time the Empire Super Sprints had a full points show at Selinsgrove Speedway, Ted Reitz was the promoter and announcer and Dave Ely finished third in his first-ever ESS start.
On Saturday, ESS returns to challenge the speedway's premier division, the 358 sprint cars, in the ESS-sanctioned 360-358 challenge presented by MACH 1 Chassis.
It's the season-opening race for the club which celebrates its 30th season of sanctioning 360 sprint racing in the Northeast.
"Selinsgrove regular Bobby Parrow (Waterloo, N.Y.), who drove 410s at the time, won the race back in 1995," long-time ESS public relations director Dean Reynolds said. "We were looking for a Friday night race to go along with our stand-alone event on May 18 (full ESS points show), but we just couldn't find a place to run."
Reynolds noted that while the May date is up against the World of Outlaws at the Grove and URC is in Delaware, the $3,000-to-win feature should draw a good group of cars.
"Brian Scandle stepped up and supported us last year with giving a chassis to give away for our hard-luck award and he's sponsoring all three of the races at Selinsgrove that we are at this year," Reynolds added. "We supported him last year with his 360 series and he's been a big supporter of us and he's back again this year with the hard-luck aware."
Among the young drivers of the ESS series is 18-year-old Kevin Ward Jr, Boonville, N.Y.
Ward led the first-half of the 360-358 National Open last year and has raced his 270 micro sprint at Selinsgrove Raceway Park on several occasions.
"I like Selinsgrove," Ward said. "We raced at the go-kart track and at Linda's and Lanco and we are getting used to the clay they use in Central (Pennsylvania)." Ward spoke of the difference between the New York and Central Pennsylvania tracks.
"The New York tracks are usually slick by the time the feature starts," he said. "We're just not used to the track getting slick during the feature."
Ward has been racing 360 sprint cars since he was 15 and he started racing go-karts when he was 4.
Ward was one of 18 different winners with ESS last year. His best finish to date at Selinsgrove was seventh in the opening round of last year's MACH 1 Chassis 360 series. He finished 14th in ESS points in 2012.
"I'd like to head out west to try Eldora and Knoxville one day." Ward added.
Last year's champion, Chuck Hebing, who scored a series-leading four wins, won't be making the trip to Selinsgrove this week, but he too enjoyed racing at the track.
"As far as speed wise, Selinsgrove to me seems like one of the faster tracks we race on because of the clay," Hebing said, "The clay has a lot more grip at night and, on some nights, you can run wide open there."
Hebing is a former modified driver who competed with the likes of "Barefoot" Bob McCreadie, Danny and Alan Johnson and Joe Plazek on a weekly basis at Canandaigua Motorsports Park (N.Y.). He has 22 career ESS wins and two championships.
Hebing finished second in the 360 opener last March.
"Every year it gets tougher to win with ESS," he noted. "The level of competition in ESS has grown quite a bit over the past several years. You see it at other events that ESS guys race at, they are very competitive."
"I think it's good for the club to come down and have a race at Selinsgrove," he added.
The format for the challenge race will be time trials, heat race and a B-main to set the field for the 30-lap feature.
Mark Smith, of Sunbury. who won the season-opening 358 sprint car feature last week, was the MACH 1 Chassis 360 champion last year. He is the chief fabricator at Mach 1.