With half of their season in the books under new management and a familiar facility name from the past, the 1/3-mile Evergreen Raceway Park outside of Hazleton, Pennsylvania abruptly closed its doors, at least temporarily, in the middle of July.
Those making the decisions put forth some reactive changes that had some mixed opinions. In recent weeks, fan and car counts began gradually growing after a switch to Friday night competition from the originally scheduled Saturdays during summer months. Additionally, competitors and staff were banding together to rejuvenate the Late Model division which had fallen to as low as a two-car turnout in early June.
The biggest event of the year had been a 17-car Modified race featuring some of the top drivers in the region, including the winner of the 75-lap event Matt Hirschman. Brian DeFebo, a Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour regular this year, was another driver in the field and is currently the last driver on record to win a Modified feature at the track. He saw some good things happening, but noticed that perhaps too much was being done too quickly.
“They started off good and it looked promising,” DeFebo told Speed51.com powered by JEGS following a recent RoC event at Shangri-La II Motor Speedway. “I think they would have been better to delay it maybe a month and have everything done, that way when people would have shown up there would have been more of an impact of a change. It’s just a shame because this day and age we can’t afford to lose any tracks.”
With Evergreen currently closed that leaves only one track, Mahoning Valley Speedway, which regularly campaigns Tour-Type Modifieds in the region. Many facilities have switched to the Sportsman, or also known as SK or B-Modified division, as their headliner or have completely backed out from running the 600 horsepower ground-pounding machines on a weekly basis.
“We need something to keep the Modifieds alive because B-Mod racing isn’t Modifieds, and we need some racers to get together and we need to support tracks,” said DeFebo.
The veteran campaigner from nearby Berwick, Pennsylvania has accumulated an impressive record at Evergreen with a division leading 56 career wins in the Modified division during its modern day history since 1977, while also achieving three track championships along the way. In addition, he amassed 10 Late Model victories in a span of as many years and started off his career in the mid-1990s with 18 Street Stock victories and a championship. It would be easy to say that DeFebo has been a major mainstay in the area, despite occasionally touring around.
“It’s a little aggravating when you figure it’s twenty minutes away and when coming home last night we said we have no option to race because I like to race every week,” continued DeFebo. “You can go to Mahoning, but at Mahoning you just get caught up in little drama all the time and that’s really not fun for me down there. Evergreen was a fun track. Maybe it’s time to go dirt racing or maybe it’s time to promote a race track.”
Another racing family with a long history are the Fishers. Larry Fisher was a force in the Late Model division for more than a decade, with a division leading 27 victories and two track championships. He passed his talent down to his son, Travis, who started at the track with a four-cylinder title in 2007 before making his way up to the division his dad had so much success in.
Recently, Fisher has been attempting to branch out with his small team operation to run some longer distance events. However, after winning on opening weekend they had plans on returning.
“We were actually going to head there on Friday night (July 18th),” mentioned Fisher after a win at Jennerstown the next night more than 200 miles away. “They were going to put a Late Model show on and cancelled it Thursday night. We weren’t sure what exactly happened and then heard that they had ceased operations for a while at least. Hopefully they can get everything back in order and get stuff back together.”
Like DeFebo, the track’s closure really hits Fisher personally when it comes to being so close to home.
“We are only 15 minutes from the place,” said Fisher. “It’s definitely like our home track. My dad raced there forever. I grew up in the grandstands playing with matchbox cars. You never want to see a place like that shut the doors for sure.”
For the time being, another place with such a storied history sits dormant. There have been a variety of rumors swirling about what its future will be and a meeting was held two weeks ago with interested investors, but at the moment everyone will have to wait and see how soon cars may be going around the scenic oval nestled in the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania again.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Correspondent – Twitter: @Aaron_Creed
-Photo Credit: Joyce Thompson