The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Motorsports

September 16, 2011

Motorsports: Memorial to Nace on tap Saturday

THOMPSONTOWN — The late Jim Nace was to Selinsgrove Speedway what Richard Petty was to NASCAR when it came to understanding the importance of fans.

"He was a driver that was involved with his fans," Chrystal, his wife said. "He took time for them, he talked with them. To him, they were as important as his crew members because you have to have fans in the stands if you want to have a race."

The memory of the speedway's only five-time 410 sprint car champion, who died in November of 2009 after a seven-year battle with cancer, will be honored again on Saturday night with the Jim Nace Memorial 29th annual National Open for 410 sprint cars.

It's the final appearance of the 410s this season at Selinsgrove.

Lance Dewease won the opener on March 13 while Greg Hodnett won two Keystone Cup and PA Speedweek shows on May 29 and July 3, respectively. The late models round out the two-division show with a 25-lap feature paying $1,500 to win. If needed, Sunday is the rain date at 6 for the sprint cars only.

Nace, who founded Fast Tees in Thompsontown in 1989, collected 46 wins at Selinsgrove, fourth on the track's all-time 410 win list. He is the only driver in the track's 66-year history to win three straight 410 titles from 1987-1989.

His first three titles came in the Camel Express No. 26 with his fourth and fifth titles in 1994 and 1995, coming in the Bulldog Coal No. 6. That sprint car will be featured on the National Open t-shirt this year. Any fans wearing a Jim Nace t-shirt into the track will receive a $2 discount off general admission.

"He was friends with the other racers and he raced them hard and clean because he knew that he was going to race them the next week, and that is how he wanted to be raced," Chrystal said.

Fans still come up to Chrystal and her daughter, Jamie, who now owns the business, with stories about Jim.

One story Chrystal recalled happened before Jim passed away. A fan came with his child and wanted to take a picture of Jim sitting in his car and holding the child. The fan had told them he had his photo taken with Jim as a child and wanted that for his kid as well.

The story fans often recall is the time Jim walked down the frontstretch and without saying a word to Fred Rahmer, who had just driven over Jim's hood on a restart, went over to Rahmer's car, and ripped the spark plugs wires off and threw them over the fence.

"He left a lot of memories with a lot of different people," Chrystal said.

Fast Tees is still involved in the sport by sponsoring the fast time awards and operating the novelty stands at both Selinsgrove and Williams Grove speedways. Nace had two track titles at Williams Grove.

Jamie majored in business and marketing at Elizabethtown College, the same college where her sister, Mindy, graduated from. Mindy is in her last year of general surgery residency at the New Hanover Regional Medical Center, in Wilmington, N.C.

"He taught my sister and I the work ethics that we employ today," she said. "It was very inspiring as a kid to watch his sheer determination. We have part-time workers at the business and this gives me the chance to see the product before it goes out the door. Dad liked to see what was going out the door. He'd look at every shirt to make sure that anything with our name on it was done to the best of our ability."

"He was always having fun and cracking jokes," said Jamie of what she misses the most about her dad.

Nace, who was 55 at the time of his death, started racing go-karts when he was 16. He moved up to bombers then to the Super Sportsman before making the move to the 410s.

His first-ever sprint car win was the 1976 Tuscarora 50.

In last year's inaugural Jim Nace Memorial, Lance Dewease of Fayetteville won his third National Open title, passing Etters' Pat Cannon on a lap-21 restart. Dewease won the Open in 2002 and 2009.

"It is pretty special that they would have that much respect for him and pay tribute to him," Chrystal said of last year's race.

The event will now be an annual date on the speedway's calendar.

"We are just overwhelmed by last year's tribute," she added. "It was truly amazing and heart-warming to see all of the support not just from the racers and fans, but and from Frank Campbell, Todd Shaffer and Jimmy Russell. I think Jim would feel very proud that people would come back to honor him."

One thing Chrystal noted about Jim was he could do everything in racing.

"He could build a car, an engine, wrench the car and drive the car and he did all those successfully."

Nace learned to build race cars from Ralph Heintzelman Sr., father of Selinsgrove pro stock driver Peanut Heintzelman.

After a successful debut last year, the twin 22-lap features that paid $6,000 to win each returns this year. If a driver sweeps the features, the latter one counted by the speedway as the Open win, he or she will get a $14,000 bonus.

Rahmer, the track's winningest active 410 driver with 54, is the only five-time winner of Open.

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