The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 18, 2013

Checkered flag falls at Dog Hollow

Cory Isenberg

JOHNSTOWN — There will be no more howling in the hollow.

Through social media, Dog Hollow Speedway in Strongstown - located close to the Indiana/Cambria county line - announced on Monday evening that it would no longer be in operation.

The closing of Dog Hollow, a 4⁄10-mile dirt/clay surfaced track, marks the end of a 16-year existence for the speedway, which raced on Friday nights from May into September. The closing will effect approximately 20 to 30 part-time workers as well as having a major impact on the finances of the Pine Township Volunteer Fire Department, which provided support at the track.

On the track’s website, owner Jim Michny said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you, the fans, the drivers, and employees, for your dedication throughout the years. Due to the economy, I understand that things are difficult and unfortunately dirt track racing in rural Pennsylvania is losing its place on the list of things to do. Unfortunately this season has seen a slow economy met with a decline in attendance and drivers. It is with deep regrets that I am closing the doors effective immediately. Thank you.”

The abrupt closing announcement came as a surprise to drivers and employees alike.

Track announcer Dave Kittey of Latrobe said he understood Michny’s difficult decision to close the track, noting that car counts and crowds had indeed been down in 2013.

“It made me sad and sick in the stomach when he called to tell me about his decision to close,” Kittey said. “On Fridays, I couldn’t wait to get there. Jim was a great guy and a good guy to work for and stood behind his employees.”

Late model driver Dan Lee of Windber said that he and his crew were working on the car Monday night when his sister-in-law called to tell them about the Facebook posting.

“We were told at a driver’s meeting two weeks ago that they were not going to be closing,” Lee said. “Attendance has been down over the last couple weeks and (Michny) had talked about raising the pit price, but he didn’t do that.”

Chris Yoder of Ebensburg, a sidewinder four-cylinder driver, also mentioned the rumors that had been swirling about the track’s closing.

“I know that times are tough but it’s just really hard to take,” said Yoder, who has been racing for seven years. “I just put $4,000 into building a new car this year and the biggest thing is that I have sponsors that paid to be on the car.”

Reports said that Michny was losing $5,000 to $6,000 a week running the regular racing program.

“He reassured us at that driver’s meeting that even though he was losing money that he was going to run,” Yoder said.

Fans on several social media sites have been critical of the track over the past several years.

The track would often cancel race events early when threatening weather was in the forecast. On one occasion the track canceled its program citing it was “too hot” to race.

 Michny, who did not return phone calls, has also been the lightning rod of controversy over other issues in the past.

At one point he dropped the super late model class, the oval’s premier and highest-paid division, and combined it with the limited late model class in a cost-cutting move. Although the move seemed financially successful at the time, Michny later brought back the elite late model division.

Several of the bigger race programs that featured traveling series of super late model drivers in 2011 and an open-wheel show in 2012, were not successful and led to some deficits for the track.

 The track was one of the first in the region to champion the crate late model class, which utilizes an inexpensive $6,000 factory-sealed engine rather than motors costing six times as much in the late model cars.

Michny was also a pioneer in developing the inexpensive four-cylinder class that Yoder raced in, which appealed to beginning racers and those on a limited budget. The track attracted more than 40 of the cars per event at one point and Michny once referred to them as the track’s “bread and butter.”

Lee said that he liked to race on the smaller track.

“They had a beautiful racing surface,” Lee said. “It was real smooth and I like the layout of the track.”

Lee says that he will probably move to racing at Marion Center Speedway while Yoder is unsure of his plans.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do because the closest track that has this kind of car is either Bedford or AMP in Clearfield County,” Yoder said. “That’s an hour-and-a-half or two-hour trip and I’m not sure that I can do that.”

Last Friday at Dog Hollow, the track drew 71 race teams in six different classes of cars including 16 late models, 11 fastrak late models, 13 305-sprints, 10 pure stocks, 18 four-cylinder sidewinders and three modified four-cylinders.

The Dog Hollow web page announced that the USA East Championship Pulling Series with tractor and truck classes will still be run on July 3, and the speedway is also working to move the third annual Connor Bobik Memorial race to AMP Speedway if a date can be agreed upon.

In demise, Dog Hollow joins other area race tracks that have ceased holding regular weekly racing programs, including Ebensburg, Windber, Jennerstown and Thunder Valley.