LOCAL AUTO RACING: Selinsgrove Speedway begins transition to 360 sprint cars
SELINSGROVE - When the green flag drops at Selinsgrove Speedway to start the 2014 racing season on April 5, it will mark the start of a new era at the historic Snyder County race track.
Since 2001, the 358 cubic inch-powered sprint cars have been the headline division at the track on Saturday nights. That followed a long history of 410 sprint car racing on Saturday and, for a brief period, Sunday nights.
In 2014, the track will transition from the 358s to the 360 sprints, with both engine configurations being legal for regular shows this year. Promoter Charlie Paige decided to make the switch at the end of 2013. Over the past few seasons, Selinsgrove has hosted many successful "Challenge Races" that featured both the 358 and 360-powered sprinters.
Last year's 358/360 National Open paid $8,000 to win, making it one of the highest paying races for 360 sprints in the country.
The 358 sprint cars race only in central Pennsylvania - as support divisions at Williams Grove and Lincoln Speedways and as the Friday night headline division at Trail-Way Speedway.
However, the 360 sprints are popular throughout the country. The United Racing Co. Sprints (URC), Empire Super Sprints (ESS) and Patriot Sprints are northeast 360 groups and each series has at least one sanctioned race at Selinsgrove this year. Other than the difference in engine size, the top wings for the 360s are larger than the 358s.
"The 358 sprint car count has been decreasing in recent years at all area tracks," said speedway communications director Steve Inch. "After talking to many race teams and hosting a number of successful 360-sanctioned sprint car races in recent years, the majority expressed an interest in making the move to weekly 360 sprint car racing."
Over the past few years, Selinsgrove has had numerous 360/358 Sprint Car challenge races. Thanks to these races, many of Selinsgrove's 358 teams have 360 engines. This fact was also taken into consideration when making the switch.
"The 360 sprint cars have run a number of high-profile races at the track over the past couple of years with the 358s, so the transition was an anticipated one as we start this next chapter in the track's storied history," said Inch. "We've already put together a combined 358-360 sprint car win list for the upcoming season."
The first race of the new 360/358 era will be Saturday night, April 5. A regular 25-lap feature will pay $2,000 to win.
Williams Grove and Lincoln will continue to run the 358 sprints, along with Trail-Way Speedway.
"Time will tell as to the outcome of the move from the 358s to 360s in central Pennsylvania," said Inch. "The 360 sprint cars are popular at race tracks across the country. Selinsgrove was in position to try something new and along with URC, ESS and the Patriot Tour, will bring close, competitive 360 sprint car racing to one of Pennsylvania's premiere half-mile dirt tracks."
The National Open at the end of September for the 360 Sprints will pay $10,000 to win and is tied for the highest-paying race for the division in the country. A regular 25-lap feature will pay $2,000 to win and that's in line with the URC and ESS groups.
The URC sprints will compete at Selinsgrove five times and the ESS series twice. The Patriot Sprint Series will sanction the Joe Whitcomb Memorial on June 14 paying $2,571 to win. The National Open
isn't sanctioned, but will likely draw cars from all three groups.
York's Pat Cannon leads the all-time 358 sprint car win list at Selinsgrove and plans to race at Selinsgrove with a 360 engine this year.
"I think it's the right idea and I hope it works out for everybody here," said Cannon. "The 358s got out of hand (increasing costs) a few years ago and its showing up now. It has allowed 305s to become more prevalent in the area. Is it the answer for Selinsgrove going 360s? I really don't know. I hope it works out."
Former United Racing Co. champion Robbie Stillwaggon said he hoped to support Selinsgrove in 10 to 15 races as he does plan to do some traveling this season.
"I think Selinsgrove is moving in a good direction," said Stillwaggon. "They are in a good location where they are able to draw cars from URC and ESS. The 360s are nationwide and have a good set of rules. With Selinsgrove having the race for $10,000 (to win) this year; it will get the attention of 360 teams throughout the country."
Carlisle's Jason Shultz is the defending sprint car champion and will not be in his own sprinter this year, but driving for the Horst Family.
Along with the sprint cars, the super late models, pro stock and roadrunners will make up the regular shows at Selinsgrove this season.
Danville's Jeff Rine is the defending late model champion and all-time win leader. For the second straight season, the World of Outlaw Late Model series will make a stop at Selinsgrove on Saturday and Sunday over Labor Day weekend. The Showdown on Sand Hill on Saturday night pays $8,000 to win and the Late Model National Open on Sunday night will pay $10,000 to win.
Other high paying late model shows dot the schedule, including a $3,000 to win Three State Flyers show on May 3, a Summer Championship on July 5, and a $2,000 to win tuneup race the week before the Outlaws.
The 410 sprints will race at Selinsgrove on Sunday and then again on the Sunday prior to Memorial Day for the Ray Tilley Classic. Selinsgrove once again hosts the Pennsylvania Speedweek finale on July 6. The Jim Nace Memorial National Open paying $12,000 to win will be in September.
The pro stocks and roadrunners will also compete in their annual extra distance and extra paying races during the season.
The super sportsman and 305 sprints will make stops at Selinsgrove during the Ray Tilley Classic on the Sunday before Memorial Day and on July 6 to conclude Speedweek.