MIDDLETOWN, NY — The winning driver in the Modified feature on Opening Night of weekly racing at Orange County Fair Speedway will continue a tradition that first began in 1950. While automobile racing traces its Orange County roots back 100 years to 1919, weekly stock car racing—the precursors of today’s Modifieds—began on April 16, 1950 and has continued uninterrupted since that memorable date.
The first weekly racing program was held on a small one-fifth-mile asphalt-surfaced track that was located inside the famed five-eighths-mile Hard Clay speedway. Tex Enright, who later gained fame as a colorful race starter was the day’s winner, his only Orange County victory of record. Since then 41 other drivers have won season openers, led by all-time track record holder Brett Hearn, who has tasted first night victory champagne nine times.
Other multi-time Opening Night winners include Carl Van Horn who captured four Modified features; three-time Opening Night victors Bobby Bottcher, Will Cagle, Rich Eurich, and Jeff Heotzler; with Frank Cozze, Danny Creeden, Bud Marl, Chuck McKee, Frankie Schneider, Al Tasnady, and Bill Wimble each winning two openers.
Drivers who have raced at Orange County on a weekly basis some or all of their careers have won the vast majority of Opening Night feature races. But that hasn’t always been the case. The first outside invader to take home the season opener top prize was Hartford, Connecticut driver Dick Fletcher back in 1954. Then in the 1960s, Flemington (New Jersey) Speedway great Al Tasnady won two Orange County openers, as did Fonda (New York) Speedway champion Bill Wimble.
In 1983, C.D. Coville, from Upstate New York, ushered in the DIRT Motorsports era by winning the first race under Glenn Donnelly’s reign. “Barefoot” Bob McCreadie, from Watertown, New York, took the local boys to task in 1985, while Jack Johnson, whose home track was also Fonda Speedway, won in 1995, the last outside invader to win on Opening Night.
Winning Opening Night Modified features the past five years were Jerry Higbie (2013), Tim Hindley (2014), Anthony Perrego (2015), Bob McGannon (2016), and reigning track champion Jimmy Horton (2017). With early season bragging rights on the line, nearly three-dozen top Modified drivers are looking to start 2018 weekly racing with a victory. And who knows, there’s always the possibility an outside invader will pull into the Orange County pits and win the Opening Night top prize money.
It will all play out on Saturday, April 21, 2018 and the start of the 69th consecutive season of weekly stock car racing at Orange County Fair Speedway. Will a new Opening Night winner’s name be added to the long list of great Orange County drivers? Or will one of the previous victors take the checkered flag once again? Racing gets under way at 6:30 P.M at the historic Middletown, New York five-eights-mile “Hard Clay” surfaced speedway. Opening Night will include four divisions of race cars—Modifieds, Sportsman, Rookie Sportsman, and Street Stocks—in qualifying races and main events with the evening’s program sponsored by Halmar International.
Adult admissions to Orange County Fair Speedway weekly races remains at $15, Seniors $13, and children 12 and under $1.00. There is a $1.00 car charge for the Drive-In section.
Advance ticket sales and additional information is available at the Track Office. Call 845-342-2573 during business hours. Fans and competitors are reminded to visit the speedway website for the latest track news: www.orangecountyfairspeedway.net.
-Orange County Fair Speedway Press Release
-Photo credit: Orange County Fair Speedway