By Shawn Brouse
For The Daily Item
Selinsgrove Speedway revived its National Open for 410 sprint cars Saturday night with the 28th annual running of the event in honor of late champion Jim Nace. Nace’s wife Chrystal called the turnout of 39 cars and legions of fans “incredible.”
Admission lines stood back through the parking lot, reminiscent of the 1980’s.
“I haven’t seen this place like this since the $50,000 shows,” one fan remarked in the middle of the bedlam as patrons tried to get seats and food.
The night was full of nostalgia and a goodbye as Nace was remembered fondly by all, but especially by good friend, veteran Todd Shaffer, who drove a replica of Nace’s famed Camel Express No. 26 for car owners Gary and Patty Beam.
Shaffer said goodbye to the Beams in the event as the couple made official their retirement from the sport at the end of the night after 30 years of ownership.
Whoever thought up the promotion of making the Open a pair of 22-lap segments with $6,000 to win each and a $14,000 bonus for a sweep deserves a medal. The races were full of drama and excitement.
Track 358 sprint dominator Pat Cannon stole the first 22 lapper away from Tyler Walker on a last lap restart and set himself up for the bonus money in the second leg. He had to overcome an inversion that forced him to restart sixth. And just like in the first segment, Cannon got a shot at the leader on a final lap restart but came up shy of Lance Dewease’s horsepower.
Dewease ended up Nace Memorial National Open Champion, his second Open in a row and third in his career, and took $7,600 from both segments while Cannon ended up with $8,000 for a win and a second.
Track prep man Steve Paige had a great surface in place for the super event.
“I haven’t seen a track like this in a while up here,” Cannon said.
“This is the fastest I’ve seen this place in a long time,” remarked Dewease.
The track called the turnout one of the largest crowds in its 65-year history. Private estimations put it easily over a few thousand as droves of people came back to the races for the first time in more years than they could count, all to remember Nace.
“I don’t know if it is the largest crowd here, but it has to be close,” said Dewease.
Shaffer remarked on his owner’s retirement, his future and his running of the Camel Express for the night, which made its return to a track for the first time in 21 years.
“To see the people standing and cheering, I know they’re rooting for it. This is a special night for me,” he said.
Shaffer said he doesn’t know yet if he’ll keep driving. His mechanic and Nace’s as well, Jimmy Russell said he’s likely going to be done and he’s hoping that Shaffer, “goes with Gary and Patty and myself and finds other things to do.”
Russell called Nace, “Probably my greatest friend ever.”
Shaffer ended the night with a pair of thirds in the Open segments, a heat win in new eight-lap track record time and the win in the dash.
“Nacey” would have been proud of his night, his family, his friends, his track, his race, his car, his fans and his sport.
OPEN NOTES: Of the 39 cars in action, eight of them were regular weekly 358 sprint drivers with 410s under the hood. Those drivers were Cannon, Blane Heimbach, Cody Keller, Mike Walter, Phil Walter, Ryan Kissinger, Colby Womer and Davie Franek...Franek was driving the Guy Howie No. 19...Keller’s was his first race ever in a 410 and he looked as good or better in the car than he does in a 358...Heimbach had motor woes in his heat but ran the B for a win...The winner’s share of the 50/50 was more than $2,000.
NOT OVERLOOKED: The Selinsgrove based No. 17B 410 sprint owned by Clair and Jan Ritter took the victory with driver Steve Buckwalter at Williams Grove Speedway on Friday night. Buckwalter led all 25-laps for $3,600 plus $250 in lap money. It was Ritter’s second win at the track as Ron Kramer won his first years ago. Pat Cannon drove his 358 to a sixth oval season victory...Lincoln Speedway founder Hilly Rife died Friday...Williams Grove staffer Denise Ellis could use get-well wishes, which can reach her at: 107 Coxe St., Hazleton, PA 18201.