The story of the history of Selinsgrove Speedway is being brought to the race fans and community thanks to the memories and historical documentation of the many people listed below. We would especially like to thank Bo Fasold for his input for this story. Bo and his father have collected volumes of historical information and photos that were contributed to this article and the website. A special thanks also to Scott Harro for doing the research and putting all the acquired information together. We simply call it "The Story". Enjoy!
The land on which the Selinsgrove Speedway sits was formerly the 115-acre Allison-Davis farm. The Dauntless Hook and Ladder Fire Company of Selinsgrove purchased this farm in 1941 as a permanent home for it's annual carnival and night fair beginning in 1942. The property became managed by the Selinsgrove Fair Inc. in October 1947.
Joie Chitwood at Selinsgrove in 1947
Selinsgrove Speedway was designed by well known Hollywood stunt man and race driver Joie Chitwood and was built in 1945. Mr. Chitwood purposely designed the front stretch of the speedway to be much wider than the rest of the track to host his daredevil auto show.
Advertisement at Speedway Entrance 1946
Selinsgrove Speedway's first ever race, an American Automobile Association event, promoted by Sam Nunis Speedways, occurred on Saturday afternoon July 20, 1946.
Bill Holland, who later went on to win the Indianapolis 500 in 1949, won the 20 lap inaugural event. Robert "Red" Byron, who place second behind Holland, won Nascar's first sanctioned beach race in 1948 and became Nascar's first Grand National (Sprint Cup) in 1949. (photos taken pre-race 1946)
Robert "Red" Byron
1st Turn Hill
Under promoter George "Buster" Keller Selinsgrove Speedway started hosting weekly events in 1950 after just 6 races in 1949. A crowd of 5,000 people in the late 1940's and early 1950's was typical.
Construction of the grandstand, designed by Mark Starr of Selinsgrove, began in March 1948 and still stands today as a proud symbol of the history of Selinsgrove Speedway. The grandstand was built by the Bogar Lumber Company of Selinsgrove and used 175,000 board feet of lumber. The new grandstand increased seating capacity at the Speedway from 3,300 to 5,500
Folding Wooden Chairs Were The Original Seats
Lights Installed in 1953
While lighting was used on the front stretch near the stage for the Fair Week entertainment, lights were not installed for racing until 1953. the first night race was held on June 19, 1953.
The track announcer at the speedway in the early 1950's was none other than legendary Chris Economacki. In fact, according to his autobiography Let “Em All Go!, Selinsgrove Speedway was the first track that Mr. Economaki ever called a race.
The Calm Before The Storm
From 1959-1962 Selinsgrove Speedway did not run regular weekly point races like it had been since 1949. Racing didn't completely stop though, as races were still held on special occasions such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and other special events like Fair Week. The speedway closed on July 23, 1960 and reopened on May 25, 1963. There really isn't a concrete reason for the closure but there is a theory, readily agreed upon by speedway railbirds, that suggests television had a hand in it. Dave Herrold, a well-known retired assistant sports editor from the Sunbury Daily Item, who has been going to the races at Selinsgrove Speedway since 1949, said in an interview that he "wouldn't argue that point." By the late 1950's television sets had become affordable and available and with it people no longer had to venture out of their homes as much for entertainment.
By the time new promoter Bob Richwine had re-opened Selinsgrove Speedway in 1963 to regular weekly races, dirt track racing had become engraved as weekly entertainment in Central Pennsylvania and soon again in Selinsgrove. The report of the track's weekly results in local newspapers became commonplace, never missing a week, and the highly competitive point racing for a track championship returned. Richwine also enlarged the track in 1963 by widening the turns.
In 1968 Jack Gunn, the speedway announcer since 1963, took over promoting duties from Bob Richwine. Gunn was probably the one man who had the biggest influence on the track in its storied history and was responsible for bringing the newly popular Sprint Cars to Selinsgrove.
In 1979 tom Livelsberger took over the promotion of Selinsgrove Speedway after Jack Gunn fell ill and had to give it up. Livelsberger switched to Friday racing as not to compete with Lincoln Speedway, which he also promoted. Friday night fields were great but crowds immediately dropped off. By mid summer Livelsberger turned the track over to Joe Trone who switched back to Saturday nights.
In 1980 George and Earl Zechman along with Terry Gonzales formed G.E.T. and took over promotional duties at Selinsgrove. Barry King took over for Gonzales in 1981.
From 1993-1997 tri-promoters Tedd Reitz, Herm Braim and Bill Groom operated the speedway.
Aerial View 1987
1998 marked a first in the track's history as the Selinsgrove Fair Association, which owns the facility, acted as it's own promoter with Steve Inch and Ed Clark serving as race organizers for the Sunday night fanfare.
After one season the Fair Association again opted to lease the operation. This time to co-promoters Bob Leiby and Tim Hughes. Leiby and Hughes presented weekly Sunday night shows in 1999 and 2000.
The 2001 season marked the return to Saturday night racing competition under the direction of T.C.R. consisting of tri-promoters Earl Zechman, Carl Zechman and Charlie Paige. Carl Zechman opted out early during the 2001 season. The speedway adopted the 358 engine maximum for sprint cars in an effort to control costs and increase car counts. In an effort to increase fan base at the speedway the promotional team made headlines by hosting a "Pack the Track" night in which general admission for the regular racing program was FREE. This highly popular and successful promotion became an annual event through 2006.
Constructed by Zechman and Paige for the 2001 season was Selinsgrove Raceway Park. Raceway Park is a 1/5-mile clay oval built in the infield of Selinsgrove Speedway and is home to Friday night racing action for 17 classes of Go Karts and Micros Sprints.
The Long Frontstretch
Since 2001 many major improvements have been done to the Speedway. it has been resurfaced several times, new concession, rest room and V.I.P. facilities have been built and new guardrails and lighting have been installed completely around the 1/2 mile surface.
5 Tier Guardrail - Turn 4
New Guardrail - Turn 1
In 2006 promoter Charlie Paige, the sole promoter since 2004, installed a new 10 position scoring tower and an electronic scoring system. This system benefited both fans and competitors with the information that was made available.
At the conclusion of the 2006 racing season the back stretch and turns 1 thru 3 were widened 15-18 feet to provide more exciting and safer racing action.
In July of 2007 the track was widened 20 feet from turn 3 to the front stretch to complete the improvements that now allow for four and five wide battles throughout the field.
At the conclusion of the 2007 season 60 loads of clay were put on the Speedway and an additional 20 loads on Raceway Park. Speedway management put an addition on the infield concession stand and made improvements to the V.I.P. booths in turn 1. Raceway Park had improvements made to the tire safety barriers surrounding the 1/5-mile track. The back stretch of Raceway Park was made 6 feet wider to help soften the radius of turns 3 and 4.
2008 marked the 46th consecutive and 63rd year overall of automobile racing at the half-mile clay oval in Snyder County. 2008 saw the return of the Modifieds to the Speedway after a 25 year absence.
2009 began the 47th consecutive and 64th year overall of automobile racing at Selinsgrove Speedway as well as the 9th season of racing at Selinsgrove Raceway Park. Selinsgrove Raceway Park was completely resurfaced with 250 tons of new clay while the turns on the big 1/2 mile were also resurfaced. Additional lights were installed on each pole on the front stretch of the Speedway and a new PA system, benefiting both the Speedway and Raceway Park, was installed by Moyer Electronics of Sunbury, PA. The PA system is wireless and will use fewer speakers to produce more sound than the 20 year old model it replaced. Fans and race teams will be able to monitor announcements as well as lap-by-lap coverage by the Speedway and Raceway Park announcer on any FM receiver by tuning to FM frequency 88.3. The most visible addition for the 2009 racing season is a four-foot by thirteen-foot message board from Infinite Creative Enterprises. This board, controlled by a computer in the tower, will be able to display advertising as well as Speedway and driver information throughout an event. Also new for 2009 will be the ability for fans and race teams to receive "live scoring" on their computers at the speedway. Electronic scoring personnel will help setup this service for those interested. General Admission tickets for Selinsgrove Speedway will be printed on site for 2009. This new procedure will allow sponsorship to be printed on each and every general admission ticket, which translates into thousands of potential customers each year. The Speedway has also replaced some of the older track preparation equipment with newer models including the grader and water truck. Selinsgrove Speedway Promoter Charles Paige, in his 9th season as promoter, continues to make improvements in all areas of the Speedway to benefit the drivers, race teams and fans.
With the current lease between Charlie Paige and the Selinsgrove Fair Association set to end after the 2010 racing season the two sides began negotiating a new lease early in the 2009 season. While both sides were on the "same page" from the start it took time to get the "i's" and "t's" properly dotted and crossed. On June 13, 2009, promoter Charlie Paige and the Selinsgrove Fair Association signed a new 5-year lease with an additional 5-year option. Victory Lane was the setting for this landmark event that should keep racing at the speedway through the 2015 season and beyond.
At the conclusion of the 2009 racing season work immediately began on renovations and repairs to several areas of the facility. New clay was added to both Selinsgrove Raceway Park and Selinsgrove Speedway in October. Raceway Park received a complete resurfacing with 400 tons of sifted clay while the turns of the 1/2 mile speedway were resurfaced with 1500 tons of sifted clay. The main grandstand was renovated and now features a handicap accessible seating area in Section A, as well as new concrete steps and handrails for all sections. 3000 feet of guide rail was replaced around the facility along with all new support posts on the front stretch.
2010 will mark the 48th consecutive and 65th overall season of automobile racing at Selinsgrove Speedway and the 10th season at SelinsgroveRacewayPark. This season will also mark the 10th year under the leadership of promoter Charlie Paige. Racing in 2010 on the big 1/2-mile will continue to feature 358 Sprint Cars, Super Late Models, Pro Stocks and Roadrunners as well as special appearances by other classes during the season. Modifieds returned for the 3rd consecutive year and the Super Sportsman returned for the 1st time since 2004. Racing on the 1/5-mile RacewayPark will continue with Micro Sprints and Go-Karts as well as special appearances by other divisions throughout the season.
Track improvements prior to the 2011 season included 75 truck loads of clay on the speedway and 10 truck loads of clay on raceway park. The speedway also saw additions to both the tracks operations tower and the turn 1 suites. The new addition to the operations tower doubled it in size and contains more room for announcers and scorers as well as a media center. The 7 new suites doubles the amount of suites available. In addition a handicap accessible suite was also constructed. The 1st floor of the building is currently vacant as different ideas for its use is being considered. Live Timing and Scoring will be broadcast on 32” video monitors in each of the new suites and will be expanded to the original 7 suites in the near future.
2011 marks 49th consecutive and 66th overall season of automobile racing at Selinsgrove Speedway and the 11th season at Selinsgrove Raceway Park. The season began with the dissolution of T.C.R., which oversaw promotional duties at Selinsgrove Speedway since 2001. Former T.C.R. members Charlie and Terri Paige then joined forces with longtime speedway employee Steve Inch to form PPI Motorsports Properties Inc. to promote events at the speedway and raceway park in 2011 and beyond. PPI Motorsports Properties Inc will complete the term of the lease agreement formerly held by T.C.R. This season marks the 11th year of involvement by promoter Charlie Paige. Racing in 2011 on the big 1/2-mile will continue to feature 358 Sprint Cars, Super Late Models, Pro Stocks and Roadrunners as well as special appearances by other classes during the season. Modifieds returned for the 4th consecutive year and the Super Sportsman will again return for the second consecutive year. Racing at Raceway Park will continue to feature Micro Sprints and Go-Karts as well as special appearances by other divisions throughout the season.
2012 marks the 50th consecutive and 67th overall season of automobile racing at Selinsgrove Speedway and the 12th season at Selinsgrove Raceway Park. Improvements for the 2012 season included new and taller light poles from turn 2 to turn 3 and a new underground transformer between turns 1 and 2. This improvement should definitely enhance the safety at the speedway. Improvements were also made to concession stands on both sides of the track. Two new enhancement to the electronic scoring system are the availability to view live scoring on the speedway’s website and the capability to receive the scoring information from the track on smart phones, I-pads or any other device capable of receiving digital data information anywhere you can receive a cellular, 3g, 4g etc. signal. You no longer have to be at the track to receive this information. 2012 will see 358 Sprint Cars, Late Models, Pro Stocks and Roadrunners as regular divisions. 360 Sprint Cars, United Racing Club, 410 Sprint Cars, RoC Modifieds for the fifth consecutive year, and Super Sportsman for the third consecutive year will make special appearances during the season. This year Selinsgrove will be part of a mini speedweek for the RoC modifieds. Also announced early in the 2012 season was the first ever scheduled appearance of the World Of Outlaw Late Model Series in August. Raceway Park will continue to feature Micro Sprints and Go-Karts as well as special appearances by other divisions throughout the season.
2013 marks the 51st consecutive and 68th overall season of racing competition at Selinsgrove Speedway. Off season improvements for this season include a new tech building that will allow race cars to be inspected inside an enclosed garage. Also new scales have been purchased for the speedway and raceway park. The scales for raceway park will have a large monitor to display weight to race teams as their car crosses the scale. Speedway management continued their yearly maintenance that allows the speedway to be a showcase each and every year. 358 sprint cars, late models, pro stocks and roadrunners will again be the regular weekly divisions. Special events for 410 sprint cars, super sportsman, small and big block modifieds, limited late models, ESS and URC 360 sprint cars. Hopefully mother nature cooperates when the WoO Late Model Series makes it's 2nd attempt at their first ever sanctioned event at the big 1/2 mile.
Since opening in 1946 Selinsgrove Speedway has hosted many National and Regional touring series including the All American Outlaws (AAO), All Star Circuit of Champions (ASCoC), American Automoble Association (AAA), American Racing Club (ARC) Midgets, American Racing Drivers Club (ARDC) Midgets, Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) Stock Cars, Central States Racing Association (CSRA) Midgets, Empire State Sprints (ESS), ModCar Modifieds, National Auto Racing Association (NARA) sprints, National Sprint Tour (NST), PA 305 Sprint Series (PASS), Penn-Jersey Sprint Association, Penn-Mar Racing Association Stock Cars, SCODA Sports Cars, SpeedSTR's, Super Midget Racing Club (SMRC), Super Sportsman, Tri County Stock Cars, United Racing Company (URC) Limited Sprints, United Sprint Association (USA) and the United States Auto Club (USAC), World of Outlaws (WOOSCS) Sprint Cars, World of Outlaw Late Model Series (WOOLMS).
Weekly divisions at Selinsgrove Speedway have included Bombers, Challengers, Daredevils, Late Models, Limited Late Models, Limited Sprints (KARS & 358's), Modified Stock Cars, Pro Stocks, Roadrunners, Semi Late Models, Sportsman Stock Cars, Street Stocks, Super Modifieds, Super Sprints (410) and Thundercars.
Doug Rose & the Green Mamba Jet
Other racing divisions, events and entertainment held at the speedway have included Micro Sprints, Enduro's, 125 Modifieds, 4-Cylinders, Dune Buggies, marching and stage bands, boxing, demolition derbies, endurance races, motorcycle races, rodeos, snowmobile races, Doug Rose and the Green Mamba Jet Car, stunt personalities Ken Carter, Jose Canuck and several other motorcycle stunt performers, hell drivers and the famous Joie Chitwood Thrill Show. Chitwood was scheduled to perform at the fair in 1946 but his caravan was involved in an auto accident in Dubois, PA and they were unable to perform. The Joie Chitwood Thrill Show's first appearance at Selinsgrove Speedway was in 1947.
Speedway officials over the years have included flagmen Gordon "Butch" Book, Nick Fornoro Sr., Leroy Gabel, Rudy Ganzel, Bob Garlinger, Dick Gaumer, Barry King, Randy Kline, Galen Kohler, Dan Lengel, Gerry Moore, Charlie Paige, Joe Schonarz (1949) and Les Shearer. Track announcers include Ed Clark, Dick Crownover, Chris Economacki, Jack Gunn, Steve Inch, Tedd Reitz, Ken Stahl, handicappers Brian Householder, Harold Lockwood and Jeff Ulrich and race directors Joe Kaminski (2007- ).
Speedway Promoters past and present are Herm Braim (1993-1997), Terry Gonzales (1980-1981), Tim Gray, Bill Groom (1993-1997), Jack Gunn (1968-1979), Tim Hughes (1999-2000), Steve Inch (2011), George "Buster" Keller, Barry King (1983-1992), Bob Leiby (1999-2000), Tom Livelsberger (1979), George Marshman (1 race in the 1960's), Dick Moyer, Sam Nunis, Charlie Paige, (2001- ), Tedd Reitz (1993-1997), Bob Richwine (1963-1967), Craig Rutherford, Selinsgrove Fair Association (1998 Ed Clark & Steve Inch), Joe Trone (1979), Carl Zechman (2001), Earl Zechman (1980-1992, 2001-2002) and George Zechman (1980-1992).
Information and Photo Sources
Dave Herrold, interviewed by Kurt Gladfelter, February 22-23, 2006; Kurt Gladfelter, "Doing It In The Dirt": An In Depth Look At Dirt Track Racing In Selinsgrove Pennsylvania - http://www.susqu.edu/history/webprojects/spectacles/gladfelter.htm
George Franklin Dunkelberger - 1948, "The Story of Snyder County" - Selinsgrove Carnival and Night Fair
Gerald Hodges, "Robert "Red" Byron; NASCAR's First Champion", Snyder County Times, January 8, 2005