BY DINO OBERTY
At defunct Dorney Park Speedway in Allentown and Lehighton’s Mahoning Valley Speedway there is a select number of renowned drivers who are inducted into the America on Wheels Dorney Park/Mahoning Valley Hall of Fame.
Many of those stars also competed at Evergreen Raceway in St. Johns, which made up the eastern Pennsylvania short track asphalt circuit.
When Keith Hoffman took on the role of promoter of Mahoning Valley this year, he felt there should be a way to honor those Hall of Famers who laid the foundation for the current day racers and thus created the Mahoning Valley Speedway Hall of Fame Series (MVSHoFS), five races held throughout the season and run amongst the modifieds, street stocks and hobby stocks. Each event pays tribute to a particular driver or car owner.
The modifieds are slated to compete in extra-distance/higher-dollar features with a unique twist to the number of laps for each. They will all contest in a race length that was a signature car number to the particular honoree.
“We’re very excited to bring the Hall of Fame Series to Mahoning Valley,” offered Hoffman. “We wanted to honor all these important drivers for their contributions to the track. Our loyal drivers will now have the opportunity to compete in meaningful ‘specials’ throughout the season.
“I think with the point fund and good purses we’re offering, we’ll be able to pull some talented drivers from other tracks and states and showcase our product to everyone. Even though the season got started late because of COVID-19, we’re all excited to say the least and our opener proved that.”
The series was originally scheduled to get under way in April but the coronavirus put a halt to any and all activities. When the speedway finally got the green light to commence racing on June 13, the first MVSHoFS race was held to a packed house and full pit area.
New Jersey’s Jimmy “Showtime” Blewett took the popular win in the John “Peepers” Yerger 77-lap Tribute. Yerger is a past champion of Evergreen and one of only 16 drivers to have won at all three aforementioned tracks.
The next race in the MVSHoFS will take place Saturday and honor one of the most widely acclaimed drivers to ever turn a lap in this region, George Wambold. Not surprising, he was a member of the first Hall of Fame class in 2010. His signature yellow No. 81 cars are among the most recognized by racers throughout the region, past and present.
In a career that spanned six decades, winning has been a way of life for Wambold. He owns the all-time wins record at Dorney Park with 37, amassing that tally with at least one win in 20 consecutive seasons between 1966 and 1986. Wambold also scored three track championships at the park: 1973, ’84 and ’86.
When the fifth-mile track ceased operations after the 1986 season, Mahoning Valley swung back into action after sitting dormant since 1977 and Wambold was instrumental in coming to the aid of then promoters Ward and Dottie Crozier in resurrecting the paved ¼-mile oval.
It was fitting too, since Wambold had a strong connection to the track, dating back to his teen years of the late 1950s when he would attend events there when it was a dirt track, and the speedway where he eventually began his career at.
When Mahoning took on a blacktop surface in 1970, Wambold quickly became one to the top stars, winning 11 times from 1970-74. In 1971 he would garner his first of two modified track titles.
In 1987 when Mahoning re-opened, Wambold became a force to reckon with. He won four times and would win his second track crown in the process.
Over the following years the winning continued, and when he finally hung up his helmet after the 1998 season, he had scored 27 wins. Between Mahoning Valley and Dorney his 67 feature wins rank third on the all-time eastern Pennsylvania modified winners list, with only Eric Beers (77) and Brian DeFebo (75) having more victories in that category.
Despite not racing himself in the past 20 years, the Wambold name remains at the forefront at Mahoning with his sons Brian and Michael, grandkids Tiffany and BJ and Brian’s stepson, Justin Merkel carrying on the family legacy.
Saturday’s 81-lap feature will pay $2,500 to win plus contingencies. Also in action will be the street stocks and hobby stocks which are also part of the series, plus the E. Schneider & Sons Inc. Scrap Metal Rookie Hobby Stocks. Race time is 6 p.m.
The remaining MVSHoFS races will include tributes to Doug Hoffman and his No. 60, popular car owner Marvin Bartholomew and his famous No. 85, and finally a 99-lapper that is associated with Hal Renninger.
The Renninger race will also be a Race of Champions Tour event. This will mark the first time since 2016 that the RoC will be returning to the area. And, since this race will be held following the annual Modified 250 at Lake Erie Speedway, it now sets the stage for the championship finale with the tour to take place at Mahoning Valley.
“Mahoning is a pillar in modified racing and we are looking forward to it. It has been missed and we all have to work together to unify what we are all doing. This is a great step in that direction,” stated Joe Skotnicki, Race of Champions owner.
“This race will differ a little from what we have been doing. Now the series champion will be crowned at Mahoning which puts the focus on the race at Lake Erie and a much different focus on Mahoning. It’s going to be exciting.”
In the event of inclement weather the rain date will be Sunday at 2 p.m.