The World of Outlaws just entertained enough Eldora spectators to start a small country. They have spun turnstiles of 230 speedways in 39 U.S. states, plus Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. No matter the amount of international currency required, fans pay to see “The Greatest Show On Dirt.”
Pennsylvania, however, is where people religiously drop dollars to walk coolers of beer into Williams Grove in hopes that the World of Outlaws suffer humiliating defeat at the hands of the home team, titled “P.A. Posse” since 1980.
Atmosphere in Central PA when Outlaws visit is unique. All regions cheer its track regulars as they offer token resistance. All regions hope to witness a hometown upset. But only in Pennsylvania are folks angry when one does not occur. They believe the best already reside in PA; Outlaws only add spice. Money is the only difference between Outlaws and Friday Night heroes. That is the consensus on Beer Hill, turn three at The Grove.
Roots of this superior air run deep. America’s finest post-World War II talent all took lumps from the knob tires of Tommy Hinnershitz, who farmed sassafras close to Grandview. He rode the rims of Reading and Williams Grove to seven AAA championships in ten years. So devoted were Tommy’s followers that when he needed time for repairs, they blocked The Grove until Bluebird was fixed. It is conceivable that descendants of such vigilantes fired beer cans at David Gravel in 2014 for spinning Stevie Smith when Stevie was Posse. Generation after generation has been told that the world’s greatest mushrooms and dirt track talent grows within 100-mile radius of the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg.
Hinnershitz retired to his tractor in 1960. Pennsylvania pushed Eddie Sachs, Bobby Marshman and Mario Andretti to international stages. Men of USAC renown appeared at Williams Grove three times most seasons. The idea of a local upset was remote, though Jim Maguire managed one in ‘63 right before he was disqualified.
Friday Night Lights illuminated its own revolution. All across America, full-bodied stock cars were cut, chopped, channelled and bobbed until the fastest were little more than sprint car wolves in sheep’s clothing. Bolting roll cage to four-bar Trevis that had just enough box rail to measure 30×90, Ray Tilley won 100 times in less than three seasons before hitting his head at Langhorne and being replaced by Kenny Weld.
Williams Grove hosted its first National Open in 1963. It is 15 years older than the World of Outlaws, which has sanctioned the storied classic since 1989. When it began, The Open was exactly that: open competition. Dual wheels were illegal and fireproof suits were suggested, but beyond that, few rules. Local lead sleds were humbled. Gordon Johncock brought the first wing and took the first trophy back to Michigan. Ohio sprint cars of Larry Dickson, Hank Jacoby and Lou Blaney bagged the next three National Opens.
Williams Grove operator Roy Richwine and successor-in-training Jack Gunn faced crisis. Should they ban sprint cars? It sounds preposterous today, but in the winter of 1966-67 the popular move would have appeased “bug” owners by exterminating the space-age tube frames. Gunn, of course, had vision. He saw no future in scouring scrap yards for ‘37 Chevy hardtops.
Williams Grove threw away the rulebook in 1967. Selinsgrove, Port Royal, Lincoln and Susquehanna followed suit. Wings were standard but rarely on the nose and more commonly between the wheels like corn pickers. Big block engines juiced with nitromethane were also standard. More than anywhere else, PA pioneered Firestone Drag 500 rubber from straight-line speed to oval traction with a handful of sheet metal screws and much faith.
Central Pennsylvania in 1972 was the World of Outlaws of 2019. Most any Friday, The Grove gathered Jan Opperman of Hayward, CA to challenge Kenny Weld from Kansas City, MO. Saturday saw Florida faces, Bobby Allen and Steve Smith, at Lincoln alongside Texas brothers Dub and Van May. Selinsgrove attracted Roger Rager of Mound, MN and Roger Larson from Solomon, KS. Port Royal might find Junior Parkinson of Wichita Falls, TX. These guys did not blow in for a weekend. They dropped luggage and stayed for years.
Grove regulars did not challenge USAC until roll cages came in 1970. If there were 30 entries in advance, locals were told to stay home. If grudgingly invited, it was only after downsizing from 427 to 305 cubic inches, ditching drag rubber, and proving that key components were “magnafluxed” for stress fractures. In spite of such hurdles, Mitch Smith used Trevis to trounce USAC three times in the epic summer of ‘71. Central PA puffed with pride. Weld and Opperman dusted USAC in ‘73. USAC was sick of it. Larson arrived at The Grove and was denied entry. Jack Gunn was so livid that USAC sprint cars did not race Williams Grove for 22 years.
When the World of Outlaws began, Central PA saw them as no more potent than USAC or IMCA or early All Star tours. Who were these Outlaws anyway? Rick Ferkel? He was good but no better than third most visits. Steve and Karl Kinser were an unknown commodity. They came to Lincoln during that first World of Outlaws season, as did Sammy Swindell, Doug Wolfgang, Gary Patterson and Charlie Swartz. Yet in four features with wings and without, Steve Smith won ‘em all. These new Outlaws were slow to get respect. Ferkel did drive around everyone at Lincoln. Kinser won at Penn National and Grandview in his first try. Sammy swept The Grove and Lincoln before Federal Express engines expired. NorCal’s Tim Green stunned Grandview.
During the first three World of Outlaws seasons, fans were more likely to see guest stars defeated by cars built by Charlie Lloyd near infamous Three Mile Island. Lloyd Enterprises engineered five of seven World of Outlaws wins in 1979, thanks to Lynn Paxton, Allen Klinger and Charlie’s driver, Smokey Snellbaker. Lloyd lit the torch on 1980 World of Outlaws winners for Kramer Williamson (Harry Kuhn 21) and Bill Stief’s Dyer Masonry 461. Weikert Livestock took Paul Pitzer to Eldora three times in ‘78 but did not top the Outlaws until squeezing Yenko big block and Keith Kauffman into Ben Cook chassis.
In 1981, the youthful King of The Outlaws gained Pennsylvania’s undying admiration when Steve Kinser captured eight straight through PA and NY. Steve and Karl really won ten consecutive, but first was Macon, IL and last was Wayne County, OH. Later that season, Kinser chipped an elbow and the championship belt went to Swindell, who parked Nance Speed Equipment in win circles at The Grove and club’s New Jersey debut at Bridgeport.
Bobby Allen enjoyed a fine 1982 highlighted by World of Outlaws wins at Rolling Wheels, Lebanon Valley and twice at Williams Grove. Allen was always an enigma; never a full-time Outlaw, seldom a full-time All Star, always saving that fourth non-sanctioned start for races like the Tuscarora 50. Because he belonged to no one, wins by Bobby Allen were wins for the PA Posse.
Bobby Davis Jr. was another curious case. The kid from Memphis became the youngest driver to ever win with World of Outlaws just before joining Weikert Livestock. Using a Gambler that accommodated 482 inches, Davis and Weikert were America’s fastest in 1983. They dominated The Grove and The Port, and when The Outlaws came calling, Bobby beat them too at Lernerville, Lebanon and twice at The Grove. He was even fastest at the Knoxville Nationals.
Was he Posse? Parameters are hazy but basic understanding is that the answer rests in the car. If that car is based in PA and the driver is not a card-carrying Outlaw, that driver is Posse even when he flies to Tennessee each week like Davis or Greg Hodnett. Al Hamilton’s first World of Outlaws win with Keith Kauffman came in 1983 when Al was Posse. When he joined the tour with Stevie Smith in 1990, Hamilton had to surrender Posse status.
Weikert and Hamilton showed Ted Johnson one too many big blocks. Though founded on open competition (minus nitro) Ted adopted his first World of Outlaws engine limit of 430 for the 1984 season. When he saw 430 and 410 factions split, Johnson assumed the standard that remains 34 years later. He also standardized wings to 5×5 with 2×3 nose candy. Prior to 1982, Williams Grove used skinny 4×4 foils and Karl Kinser was as tired of toting one as he was tired of chasing Weikert Livestock.
Bob Weikert booted the ever popular Snellbaker to clear the bench for Wolfgang in 1984. Beer Hill bristled. There was also faint skepticism because Doug had done little in PA. He had won at Lernerville but that is Eastern Ohio to Posse. Doug did win twice at Syracuse, which pulled more Posse than Lernerville. Weikert and Wolfgang won on Day One. Week Three ended atop Knoxville Nationals. Doug and Davey Brown reached remarkable heights.
To counter Weikert might, Karl Kinser gave up Gaerte Engines to service his own horsepower needs. Karl’s work with cylinder heads put Steve head and shoulders above everyone in ‘87 when he netted 11 of 17 eastern events. Shaver Ford propelled Ron Shuman to his only eastern World of Outlaws victory with Ken Woodruff and Casey Luna. Stevie Smith matched dad by defeating The Outlaws at Lincoln. After four summers with Wolfgang, Weikert won with Jimmy Sills at Rolling Wheels. Maryland’s Cris Eash was an Outlaw in ‘88-89 when he won at The Grove and Lincoln so The Posse could not claim him.
Port Royal’s first World of Outlaws race in seven years was the first club success by Don Kreitz Jr. Two months later was when he stunned Kings Royal. Also stunning was Donald putting that Fifty Grand toward NASCAR. But after a year of travel to Maine and Virginia to race all day for peanuts, Kreitz came back to wax the World of Outlaws at Canandaigua and Lincoln. As car owner, he bedevils The Outlaws today with Davey Brown and Lance Dewease.
Youngest son of 1966 National Open winner, Dave Blaney won Syracuse (‘87), Hagerstown (‘88) and Lernerville during 1989 strike season when Blaney, Steve Kinser, Mark Kinser and Sammy Swindell formed United Sprint Association. Wolfgang was loyal to neither and basked in stellar season. Doug won first World of Outlaws visit to Flemington, NJ and on three of four New York half-miles. When the Outlaws returned in summer, Davis won three straight in Luna Ford.
Strike settled, the Kinsers came back with a vengeance in 1990. In two weeks around Memorial Day, Karl’s new Maxim won six of 12. In four-night summer stop, Steve was undefeated. In the first World of Outlaws National Open since 1978, Kinser led at the break, got penalized for too many men over the wall, then won from last. Beer Hill fell silent. Kinser crushed 1991’s opening PA tour by spearing seven of 13 including club debut at Susquehanna.
As sanctuary city for USA, Selinsgrove was exiled from the World of Outlaws trail for six years. Its 1991 champ was Todd Shaffer in Gary Turnbaugh 11. By rule, if outlaws used the same car numbers as track regulars, the locals had to tape letters to their wings. After he parked “11x” in win circle, Shaffer served red meat. “Around here,” he told the crowd, “we’re Number Eleven!” A hundred Yuenglings were hoisted in salute.
Though surprising, Todd Shaffer was Selinsgrove’s biggest star. More shocking was the 1993 World of Outlaws win by Bill Brian Jr. at Lincoln, where Bill had never won. Kreitz kept the ‘93 National Open trophy in Sinking Spring. Davey Brown was back to bother the Outlaws with John Zemaitis and Jersey legend Billy Pauch, who scored Syracuse (‘94) and Rolling Wheels. National Open ‘96 made the Posse proud after Dewease (Dyer 461) stacked bricks on both nights.
Fred Rahmer required almost as many years to beat the World of Outlaws at Lincoln as Danny Lasoski and Shane Stewart needed to finally win at Williams Grove in 2002 and 2017. Summer of 1998 saw Zemco win at The Grove with Kevin Gobrecht, who died in 1999 Nebraska World of Outlaws carnage. Crew chief on that tragedy was Woodruff, who won National Open 2000 with new shoe Donny Schatz. Dewease won the Open for Joe Harz (2001) and Al Hamilton in 2002.
Summer swing of 2002 began with a huge Lernerville accomplishment by Ed Lynch Jr. Hodnett grabbed The Grove for Apple Chevrolet, which made him Posse. There was no Jersey Posse, but if there were, P.J Chesson’s victory at New Egypt was one for the home team. NorCal’s Brad Furr shocked Posse at Port Royal 2002, as did Jason Meyers subbing for injured Craig Dollansky in 2003. Zemco won the opener to National Open 2004 with Mark Smith. Doug Esh was victorious in 2006 Open. Four years later when Jac Haudenschild was hurt, Leonard Lee hired Esh for Lebanon Valley victory.
Schatz won The Grove’s biggest checks in 2007 when Posse won with Brian Leppo and Chad Layton. Hodnett (Kline 22) swept 2009 Grove World of Outlaws wins in spring, summer and autumn. Layton and Rahmer topped The Grove in spring of 2010 before Dewease and Hodnett did the same in summer. Five straight wins by Meyers netted National Open 2011 and Jason’s second straight championship.
Named for proximity to Gettysburg, Lincoln Speedway ended its 14-year absence as a World of Outlaws battlefield with Danny Dietrich decisions in 2012-13. Cody Darrah grew up 30 miles east of Lincoln, nailed National Open 2008 (postponed beyond the World of Outlaws window) and Grove World of Outlaws in summer of 2012. Darrah drove for Kasey Kahne, so Cody starred for the visitors.
Kreitz and Rahmer swept National Open weekend in Fred’s 2013 farewell. As car owner, Rahmer returned to World of Outlaws win circles with Stevie Smith and son Freddie. Stevie was in Rahmer’s car at National Open when hit by Gravel. In the spring of 2014, Kahne and Daryn Pittman picked off four straight. Hodnett and Dewease split Summer Nationals. Dietrich and Smith did the same in 2015 before Stevie’s third National Open wreath. Kreitz and Dewease combined forces to beat the Outlaws in spring and summer of 2016. Dietrich won National Open before Port Royal fell to Logan Schuchart, grandson of the great Bobby Allen, yet an Outlaw.
Pennsylvania crew chief Barry Jackson won 1992 National Open prelim with Kauffman and Leon Wintermyer well before hitting the World of Outlaws circuit for Chad Clemens, also of PA. Clemens hired Gravel in 2016, and the kid from New England really gelled with Jackson by taking three of four in the spring of 2017 followed by David’s second Open that autumn.
Tommy Hinnershitz had a “Pennsylvania Dutch” name like no other. Brock Zearfoss, however, sounds plenty Amish. Brock shocked the World of Outlaws in the summer of ‘17. James McFadden used National Open’s extended weekend for his first World of Outlaws win anywhere. McFadden’s triumphant car owner was Zane Highlands, who reigned with Pat Cannon as The Grove’s 358 champion five times in six seasons. That means McFadden repped PA Posse despite receiving mail in Australia.
For the first time in 40 seasons, wet weather delayed the first Grove World of Outlaws visit of 2018 until summer wins by Kyle Larson at Lernerville, Freddie Rahmer at Lincoln and PA’s Brent Marks in New York. Marks remains a member of the World of Outlaw, so Weedsport was not Posse property. Posse riders who turn outlaw like Brent are spared the rookie hazing of having to watch Williams Grove features from atop their trailers as DNQ dogs. Fresno’s Giovanni Scelzi (son of drag racing royalty) skipped all that gang initiation. In the first 410 that he ever brought to The Grove, Gio won the National Open opener with Indy Race Parts. At age 16, Scelzi was the youngest to ever beat The Outlaws anywhere.
Of course, the oldest guys at The Grove presented the 55th and most recent National Open in 3-D: Donald, Davey and Dewease. This year in three Pennsylvania World of Outlaw programs, Lance Dewease won twice. David Walton Brown is now 85 years young.
True rivalries cannot exist when one team dominates the other. NFL’s New England Patriots do not respect the New York Jets because New York never beats New England. Throughout four decades of the World of Outlaws, they have been beaten by the Pennsylvania Posse often enough to keep the rivalry very real.
Atmosphere at National Open very much mirrors when Ohio State brings its football team to Penn State, which is 50 miles north of Port Royal. Years from now, fans will speak glowingly to grandchildren about marvelous players on both sides. But in the heat of the moment, they taunt invaders and root, root, root for the home team. Only in PA is it “Us Against Them.”