The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

June 27, 2014

Motorsports: The speed week grind starts tonight

MECHANICSBURG — Just like going to the ballpark with your dad, speed week in Central Pennsylvania is a rite of summer.

The 24th annual Pennsylvania Sprint Car Speed Week begins tonight at Williams Grove Speedway and concludes Sunday, July 6, at Selinsgrove.

Over the course of the next 10 days, the best 410 sprint car drivers in the world will tackle everything from quarter-mile to half-mile speedways in two states.

Following tonight’s race at the Grove, the series heads to Lincoln Speedway on Saturday and Path Valley on Sunday.

After Monday’s off day, the series races for six straight nights starting Tuesday at the Grandview Speedway.

The tour heads south on Wednesday to Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway before making the first of two stops at Port Royal (Thursday and Saturday).

The granddaddy of speed weeks, the Mitch Smith Memorial, is Friday, July 4. The race pays $10,000 to win.

The Jan Opperman memorial closes out speed week at Selinsgrove.

This year’s speed week will have a different look as for the first time in 23 years, Fred Rahmer will not be competing.

The Hall of Famer, who retired at the end of last season, is promoting the race at Path Valley on Sunday.

“My main concern is that everybody — the competitors and the fans — leave happy,” he said. “I want to promote more races next year if I can if everything goes OK. I truly believe the race could be one of the more fun races to watch in speed week.”

Rahmer is using a lot of incentives to make the race different from a regular show. There is money for winning a heat race or setting fast time to fans giving away a right rear tire to their favorite driver or a driver who might need it the most.

“It’s a lot more work than I had anticipated, but I am not one to shy away from work,” Rahmer said.

Rahmer is the series’ all-time leader in win (30) and titles (13). He lost out on his 14th title to Greg Hodnett last year by five points.

“I always enjoyed running speed week,” Rahmer said. “I thought to win speed week you had to be versatile and run good at all of the tracks. My boys (Freddie Jr. and Brandon) will run the Lincoln and Grandview shows.”

Last year’s speed week saw seven different winners in seven races as rain stopped the Grandview and Selinsgrove shows.

Hodnett, who has won the speed week title four times, leads all active drivers with 23 wins. Lance Dewease is third with 19.

“Fred had a real good qualifying package last year and qualifying is a bigger part of it than most people realize,” Hodnett said. “We didn’t qualify well last year but we raced OK. Part of the success this year is that we have go out and qualify better.”

Hodnett, second in the points at Williams Grove, said the team is putting a new car together and they will bring it out sometime during speed week.

Like Rahmer, he is a fan of speed week.

“I like the intensity of it,” he said. “There is enough of a variety of tracks surfaces and configurations that it makes it a challenge to be consistent every day.”

Dewease is the only other driver with multiple series titles. His third and last title came in 2001.

“It’s fun to race nine races in 10 days,” he said. “It’s a fun week and it’s a great week for everyone involved.”

The 23-year history of the series has seen just six different champions. Single titles have been won by Keith Kauffman, Steve Smith and Lucas Wolfe.

“We can win it,” Dewease said of getting his fourth speed week title. “We are just as capable as anybody right now. Last year we finished fifth and we could have won three races easily had the draws gone our way.”

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