When the Bloomsburg Fair returns in 2021 there will be a new attraction, at least new to younger attendees: Automobile racing will return to the fairgrounds next year, ending a 35-year hiatus.
Starting in the 1930s and ending in the 1980s Bloomsburg would host racing on the 1/2 mile cinder track that sits in the middle of the Fairgrounds. Starting on Friday construction will start on a 3/8th mile track sitting inside of the current track used for harness racing.
“We are going to get started this Friday moving equipment in to tear down the stage,” said Grandstand Director Brian Waworski.
“Tearing down the stage was a tough decision," Waworski said. "It’s only 10 years old but when we considered the operating costs as opposed to renting a stage, the costs were close to the same plus it offers us new flexibility.”
The new stage will be 40-by-50-feet.
The stage hosts nightly acts during fair week and hosts big-name stars and huge crowds. “We are still going to have the shows but it’s becoming a tougher environment,” Waworski said. “We need to find ways to continue giving the people what they want and pay the bills and we think it’s motorsports.”
Waworski said the idea has been floating around the fair for several years. It took a combination of the right people coming together at the right time, he said. Fair leaders met with B.J. Birtwell whose Birtwell Armory Agency is overseeing the project and Levi Jones from the United States Auto Club (USAC).
The next obstacle was where to build the track, how to blend it into the existing horse track, making the facility friendly to the other motorsports events such as the monster trucks, tractor pulls, demolition derbies and the popular figure-eight racing as well as building a state of the art speedway that could host anything from 600cc Micro Sprints, Midgets, Sprint Cars and Late Models, all divisions that Waworski was familiar with from his days of crewing for National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year Billy Crawford and later racing Karts and Micros.
Working in conjunction with Jones, who is a USAC vice president and seven-time national champion as well as getting input from Kyle Larson, who recently spent the Summer in Pennsylvania dominating Sprint Car racing, the Fair decided 3/8th mile was the right size.
“Here in Central Pennsylvania we are surrounded by big half miles and we wanted something different,” Waworski said. “We are building the track to USAC specs. That means the track has to be 12 feet away from the spectators.”
That presents another design challenge as the current walkway is just adjacent to the front stretch.
“We talked about a lot of things,” Waworski said. “How to set it back, how to blend with the current track. We had a meeting Wednesday night to finalize the design but things will change, maybe even daily. We will cut out the track and Levi will take some laps. If there’s something he doesn’t like, we’ll change it. Jones said he had been to 80 different tracks just this year so there are some things he likes. He may even take a race car out and do a few laps."
The entrance to the track will be on the front stretch, the exit is still being considered. The pits for the fair race will be inside the half-mile but outside the new track for better sightlines for the fans. For the other races, they will be outside the half-mile where the rides are located during the fair and will cross the second turn of the big track.
“We are not looking to race weekly," he said. "Just 10-12 events a year. USAC just released their Speedweek and we are scheduled for June 20, plus we are looking at two USAC Regional series before the Speedweek race so we can see how to do track prep and race procedures. The Midget week schedule isn’t out yet but we’ll have a race there and then the fair race. Right now, those are the only events we have planned but we are open to speaking with other groups.”
“We have an incredible opportunity with the team from the Bloomsburg Fair to pay homage to the great sport of dirt oval racing but to modernize it for the next 50 years to come. We are looking to capture local enthusiasm. You could always hear people saying, ‘I wish they could get racing back at Bloomsburg.’ When I got on the board, that was one of my goals.”
The history of racing at the fairgrounds includes Midgets, Big Cars, now called Sprint Cars, and even held a NASCAR Grand National race in 1953 that was won by Herb Thomas on his way to clinching the season championship. Other notable drivers to race at the fair were Indianapolis 500 winners, Bill Holland and Mario Andretti who was also a Formula 1 champion.