While many short tracks are comfortably in the midst of their weekly racing season, Jennerstown Speedway (PA) is preparing for their 2015 season opener. It is definitely an improvement considering that a few short months ago indications were that it may perhaps become a track of the past once again.
Stepping in are six area businessmen, who have various ties to racing’s past at the ½-mile facility. Carefully but committedly they have worked together on a plan to get the track back on the map for fans and racers across the region. One of the partners spoke with Speed51.com during the track’s afternoon open practice session this past Saturday.
“I’ve got five partners that are fabulous people,” Snooky Williams, General Manager for the speedway, told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “You never know who is doing something; things just seem to magically happen and get done. It’s a real pleasure working with these guys.”
Williams, also a former driver and car owner for several years at area tracks, owns a local Sunoco business as well. Additional members that have partnered in leasing the facility include local business owners and management Dennis Neri, Doug Domico, Larry Hemminger, John Morocco and Richard Pollogruto.
“Everybody has a prior tie to racing and one another,” Williams continued. “Some people have sponsored cars, some people owned cars, other people have driven cars, and one actually promoted the track before. It’s been very positive with my people.”
Joining them as the Business Manager for the track is Stan Lasky Jr., a familiar name to most in the area. Lasky most recently operated nearby Motordrome Speedway prior to the current owners of that track. In addition, his father, who was best known as Piney Lasky, owned and promoted Jennerstown for several decades including its move from dirt to asphalt as well as many upgrades to the facility. Stan Jr. even operated Jennerstown for a few years after the unexpected passing of his father in the mid-1990s.
Williams hopes that the optimism leading up to and including practice day, which featured two dozen cars across five divisions on the grounds, will gradually lead to the track getting back to its glory days.
“The way that we are looking at it, we want to pack the stands the first week and we expect to pack the stands the next week,” Williams said. “My thing this year is hold on to your hat because you are going to see things happen that have never happened before.”
Two of the divisions with the largest counts on this afternoon were the Four Cylinder cars, being billed the Fast N’ Furious 4s, and the always popular Late Models. Although the 2015 schedule has been planned conservatively with racing currently from June through August for its initial year under new management, the first few weeks start off with a bang. Major features for the two aforementioned divisions as well as a visit from the ARCA Truck Series at the end of June will begin as the headliners.
“We are starting with a $500 to win Four Cylinder race, which is unheard of in this area,” Williams mentioned. “We want to promote those cars. Those are the cars of the future.”
The following Saturday, the Late Models will take the stage with Twin 31-lap races, each feature paying $1,000 to win and $300 to start. It is an impressive payout for the region, which could also attract drivers from outside the state.
This will be the second time Twin 31 races will be held. A year ago the distance was changed to congratulate longtime racer Mark Cottone on his recent marriage as well as his continued support of numerous competitors. Williams and his partners had another reason for keeping the same distance.
“31 laps is different, and people say ‘why 31 laps?’ That’s why I made it 31 so they would ask me. It’s embedded in their mind. We look to have a good field of cars. We have some people coming in from New York and Ohio to run that race with us.”
The Late Model competitors came out in support of the track’s unofficial reopening, with nine practicing on the track surface. One of them was the 2014 Street Stock track champion Teddy Gibala. The 24-year-old is looking to give racing in a Late Model a second try after competing previously at Motordrome, and is excited to add his name to the younger generation going up against the track veterans.
“This track compared to anything else I have run is absolutely great,” Gibala said. “It’s so smooth and fast; I love it up here. I used to always go to Motordrome and here and watch these guys race, and I never would have thought I would have a chance to race them. It’s pretty cool being out there on the same track with them.”
A mainstay in Western Pennsylvania asphalt Late Model racing for decades has been Barry Awtey. Residing a short distance from Jennerstown Speedway, the multi-time track champion has known each of the partners for a long time and has confidence in what they are attempting to do.
“As much effort as these guys are putting in to make this track go; if it doesn’t go this time it is never going to go,” Awtey stated. “They are all good business people and all really good individual people. It’s the last resort, hopefully it makes it.”
Awtey has also been making his own effort, knowing that it is partially the racers’ responsibility to get the track where it needs to be.
“I’ve been calling everybody and trying to get whoever I can to get here,” Awtey added. “If we have a lot of people in the stands then we need cars in the pits too. If they come, they want to see good racing.”
With this group assembled and their commitment via a four-year lease with an option to buy there are some very optimistic vibes in the atmosphere leading up to their first night of racing this coming Saturday. In addition, Williams and his partners want to help in return.
“The people in the area are excited. We have a lot of people helping us promote the track to make things happen here. If there is any type of a group or part of an organization that possibly could use our help in promoting some things we are willing to work with those people.”
Speed51.com powered by JEGS will be on hand with updates from the Twin 31 Late Model races on Saturday, June 20.
– By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Pennsylvania/Central New York Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
– Photo credit: Speed51.com