Fort Washington, PA, January 11 2002 - Spring is in the air. The robins are singing. The lilacs are blooming. The...
Wait a second. We are not even a quarter of the way through winter yet. So why does it feel like spring? Motorsports 2002!! The seventeenth annual edition of the northeast's kickoff to the racing season. Held at the Fort Washington, PA, Expo Center this weekend, it is chock full of race cars, race car parts, racers, racers signing autographs, track schedules, memorabilia, model cars, photos, seminars, entertainment, and track-quality food. Enough to hold off cabin fever til racing in the area begins with Sprints and Thundercars at Lincoln Speedway on February 23rd. Or even earlier with the Philadelphia Region SCCA Solo II Winter Series beginning January 26th.
The exhibit fills both halls of the Expo Center. Start at the back of Hall A. Why there? Because that's where the vintage racers are. Vintage race cars always get to me...maybe because I'm getting a little vintage myself. But that's where I started my visit today.
The Garden State Vintage Stock Car Club's exhibit was graced by the beautifully restored No "0" 1937 Chevy coupe built in 1972 by Frank Ransom and friends. Frank ran the car at Atlantic City Speedway for two years, with Carl Griner at the wheel. He sold the car in 1974, and it eventually disappeared. Frank is, sadly, no longer with us.
In 1999, the car was found behind a chicken coop. When Frank's daughter Ann contacted the owner of the coop (and then-owner of the coupe), he declined to sell it - but insisted on giving it to her. Ann, together with Joe Carr and Rich Terruso, spent 15 months restoring it to its former glory. The car made its first car show in 2000 at Wall Stadium. This car is from an era when cars were built from the passion of individual racers, not assembled from store-bought parts.
The Atlantic Coast Old Timers exhibit included the famous Fred O'Hara Hillegas "Checkerboard" midget. When you see it, you'll know why it's called "Checkerboard." The car ran in the east coast from 1949 through 1968, principally driven by King Carpenter, winning 55 features. At the height of its success it was powered by a 1937 Ford V8-60, modified to a "dual fire" configuration that is yet to be replicated. It was restored by Joe Fiore, and is owned by Dave Carroll.
At the National Old Timer's Auto Racing Club setup, Gene Erickson spent the day with his No. 55 "Baby Bowes" Bowes Seal Fast Special. This classic upright Championship car, with a 270 Offy under the hood, was built by Lujie Lesovsky, and was driven by Troy Ruttman, Jimmy Bryan, Tommy Hinnershnitz and Spider Webb, among others. Its best year was 1950, with Troy Ruttman up, winning the 100 lap race at Williams Grove and finishing 15th at Indianapolis. The car had the fastest practice time of the month at the Speedway, 134 mph, but never recovered that form after Ruttman had an encounter with the wall. The car was cut down to a sprinter in 1953, and ran into the 1980s, reaching its competition end in a wreck in 1989. It was restored to 1950 form by Paul Fitzgerald. Gene is planning on taking the car to Indianapolis this May, and putting it on the bricks for the running of classic racers on Carburetion Day.
If newer race cars appeal to you, this is the place to see what's coming up for the season. Local tracks are showing their plans and schedules. Lincoln Speedway is traditionally the first to open each season, with the "Icebreaker" for Sprints and Thundercars scheduled for 2 PM February 23rd. Promoter Bob Leiby was manning the exhibit, handing out schedules and flanked by the 77 and 88H Super Sprinters driven by Fred Rahmer and Lance Dewease. Oops - make that Dewease and Rahmer. The two have traded rides this season. Bob concurs that it will take a few weeks for fans to figure out which car they should now be cheering for and which they should be booing at.
Next to the Lincoln setup, Alan Kreitzer was handing out schedules for Silver Spring Speedway, home to the highly competitive Super Sportsmen. There have been rumors that Silver Spring's days are numbered because of encroaching development. Alan assures us that there are no development plans, and none are expected. The track is here to stay.
Maybe watching isn't enough. Maybe you'd like to get into one of these things yourself.
Visit the SCCA booth and get all the poop on the Philadelphia Region's 2002 Solo II winter Series. It begins on January 26th - rain, shine or snow. Bring your own car, and a helmet if you have one. If you don't have a helmet, they'll lend you a stylish dayglo pink one for your runs. Contact Steven Rosenberg, firstname.lastname@example.org, for details if you don't make it all the way to the SCCA exhibit.
If racing your own car doesn't sound exciting enough, check out the Race Car Club of America's exhibit. RCCA emphasizes maximum track time and close competition at affordable prices. The club includes classes from shifter karts through Formula 2000. A race-ready "Formula American" car can be bought for $12,995.
If RCCA's program sounds too low buck for your taste, visit Boggs Auto Rebuilders Racing Division's booth. They have a show special price of $57,500 for a ready to race Panoz GTS Spec Racer.
You don't have to turn to be a real racer. Doug Foley's Drag Racing School (www.dougfoley.com) holds classes in Florida, Georgia, Illinois and North Carolina. They offer courses that will earn a competition license in various drag classes, including motorcycles. If you just want a taste of what it's like, shorter "fantasy" courses are offered. Visit their booth for a look at what they've got to offer, and what the cockpit of a Dragster looks like.
This is just a random (and personal) sample of what the show has to offer. There are seminars on all aspects of racing. On Friday, Doug Wolfgang held forth on sprint car racing and setup. Seminars continue through the weekend. Many drivers will be appearing and holding autograph sessions. Stars like Tony Stewart, Ron Capps, and Danny Lasoski are scheduled to appear on Saturday or Sunday. There is enough memorabilia in Hall B to fill any collection - and empty any wallet.
Motorsports 2002 will continue to run through the rest of the weekend, from 11 am through 10 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Visit their web site at http://www.aarn.com for driving directions, schedule, and a full list of driver appearances.