The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

April 16, 2014

Jennerstown Speedway gearing for May open

JOHNSTOWN — Jennerstown Speedway released a very ambitious schedule on its website and continues to prepare for its 2014 reopening.

The track is set to hold a practice day for drivers as well as an open house and media day on April 26. A carnival is scheduled for May 8-11 with a Thrillmaster Stunt Show set for May 9.

Regular Saturday night racing will resume on May 10 with the track scheduled to run four classes - late models, street stocks, chargers and four-cylinders, and may also include modifieds.

“Our opening weekend we’ll have something from Thursday through Sunday,” said Rob Beck, one of three new Jennerstown owners. “We’re going to have a carnival on Thursday. Then, on Friday we’re going to have a thrill show with the Thrillmasters. Saturday will be our regular racing. Plus, we’re going to have a traveling series, a pro cup. On Sunday, we’ll have a monster truck show.”

The .522-mile asphalt track has been closed since 2009 but late in 2013, track owner David Wheeler of Somerset finalized an agreement to sell the track to John Taylor, Bryan Smith and Beck of the Altoona area. The purchasing organization is under the banner of ZeroTime Entertainment and the threesome are all members of the Allegheny Highlands Region of the Sports Car Club of America, which has been running autocross events at the speedway grounds for the last two years.

“We have a lot of other stuff going on that we’re working on too,” Beck said. “We have a full season of car shows. We’ll start off with a hot rod modified show. We’re going to have all-Mopar show, Ford show, a GM show and an all-Corvette show.”

Racing and car shows won’t be the only attractions.

“We’re having an all truck show the weekend the ARCA Trucks are going to be on the track,” Beck said. “We’re having a Military Appreciation night. We’re doing something with Flight 93 (Memorial). We’re wrapping up some stuff with th drive-in movies. We’ll have Friday night, cruising and a drive-in movie.

“We really want to use this Speedway. It’s a great facility. No sense of it sitting there and not being used. We’re going to be family oriented and keep our pricing as reasonable as we can.”

Long-time driver Barry Awtey is anxious to get his late model back out on the track at Jennerstown.

“I’m definitely excited about Jennerstown reopening,” said Awtey, who has spent the years since the track closed making the long jaunt to Smithton to race at Motordrome on Friday nights. “By the time you get off work and drive down to Motordrome on a Friday, it makes for a long night. Jennerstown is just five miles away, right in my own backyard.”

Awtey, 52, said that several of the drivers from the past including Mark Smith of Meyersdale, Bobby Henry of Connellsville, Snooky Williams of Latrobe and Garry Wiltrout of Somerset, have indicated that they will return to the track. He said that he’s heard that the new owners have extended the invitation to run at the track to many of the other late model drivers within the commonwealth and throughout the neighboring states.

The Jennerstown track surface was repaved just prior to its closing.

“The surface is one of the best things about the track,” Awtey said. “At Motordrome, the surface is worn out and is bumpy and the pavement has lost its grip.”

The new group informed the drivers at a meeting in January that they are also hoping to bring in the occasional series such as the Super Cup Stock Car Series and in the future, the ISMA (International Supermodified Association).

Some of the other events that the Altoona group hopes to include are monster trucks, SCCA events, flea markets, swap meets, car shows, drive-in movies, and snowmobile races.

“At the driver’s meeting they talked about how the track has to do other stuff than just racing,” Awtey said. “They said they had to bring in more business in order to survive.”

Jennerstown Speedway, which will not be NASCAR-sanctioned this season, has a rich history of racing tradition.

The speedway opened in the late 1920s as a half-mile dirt track on the site of the former Jenners Fairground. The track was paved in 1987 by the late Piney Lasky and then repaved in 2004.

Wheeler purchased the track in 2003, running the track for six seasons before closing.

Racing greats such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Sr., Jimmie Johnson, Ken Schrader, Sterling Marlin, Kenny Wallace, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Harry Gant, Jimmy Spencer and Michael Waltrip have run at Jennerstown and even some of NASCAR’s younger stars such as Trevor Bayne and Joey Logano raced in Somerset County prior to the tracks closing. Jennerstown has also played host to a number of race series including the ASA, Hooters Cup and NASCAR Modified Series.

Other newspaper reports have indicated that Andy Borkowski is the race director, Steve Walters is the director of safety and Mike Rininger is the flagman. Howie Balis is pit announcer and track photographer and Peggy Keslar is the food service director.

“Everyone in this area is buzzing about it reopening,” Awtey said. “My mom (Linda) doesn’t like to miss my racing but she doesn’t drive at night anymore, so she was happy that I’ll be running at Jennerstown now.”

Beck said the new owners have overcome a lot of obstacles that were a result of the track sitting idle so many years.

“There was a lot of vandalism,” Beck said. “They took out just about all of the wiring. Inside of a lot of the buildings was vandalized. We’ve got a lot of it back up and running. The electrical is just about done. The weather hasn’t been exactly cooperative but we’ve managed.”

Gates will open at 4 p.m. every Saturday, except for the opener. Features will begin at 7:45 p.m. and are expected to be finished by 10 p.m. most nights.

Cory Isenberg is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at Twitter.com/CoryIsenbergTD.

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