I’ve long been aware that those of us who are dirt racing fans are blessed to live in the Western PA, Eastern OH area. We are fortunate to have many great speedways with quality programs to choose from on any given weekend throughout the summer. Several of them have marquee events on their schedule. PPMS has The Pittsburgher, Lernerville has the Silver Cup and the Firecracker. The World of Outlaw Sprints and Late Models, as well as the Lucas Oil Late Models, the All Star Sprints and the Super Dirt Series are sprinkled in the schedules of many tracks in region.
Sharon Speedway has events from most of these sanctioning bodies on their schedule as well. They also have a unique event making its second appearance this year. The Penn-Ohio Pro Stock Series will present the Steel Valley Nationals at Sharon on June 14th and 15th. I believe this weekend has the largest payout for the division of any place in the country, totaling more than $40,000 throughout the two day event. The Pro Stocks will be joined by the EconoMod division this year for a $2,000 to win race. That marks the highest paying race in the history of the EconoMod class in our area as well.
Penn-Ohio Series Director and founder, Shaun Hooks, who along with his wife, Deanna oversee operations, saw a need to unify rules for the division back in 2014. Although it has not been without a few bumps in the road, the progress they have made has been rewarding.
“It started small, but I’m amazed how quickly it has grown,” the reserved Hooks commented. “In the beginning, we were struggling to get a handful of tracks to put together some $1,000-to-win shows with a modest point fund to help with travel expenses. We are now close to a dozen tracks and 15 events throughout the summer. Our schedule is headlined by the Ed Laboon Memorial at PPMS on June 1st, paying $4017 to win and the $10,000 to win Steel Valley Nationals,” he concluded.
To say the inaugural race was a success would be an understatement. Car counts for the weekend approached an unbelievable 90 cars from 7 states, with 81 actually in competition. The crowd rivaled that of Sharon’s other traditional special events including the AllStar Ohio Sprint Speedweek show and the Lou Blaney Memorial. Fans in attendance were brought to their feet at the thrilling conclusion of the 75 laps to see the race decided by a mere half car length.
“I was on board with the concept of the race from the beginning.” said Sharon’s General Manager, Dave Willoughby. “I hoped it was something that would be supported and that we could build on. The fact that both the teams and the fans came out in such large numbers last year was certainly a plus,” he continued.
Part of the success of last year’s race was due to Willoughby’s willingness to keep “pricing at a fan friendly level” according to Hooks. “Many of the competitors commented about how appreciative they were about that and the fact that they were able to bring their families along. They were also very complimentary about the overall quality of the facility.” Hooks related.
“Friday will still offer free, yes free, grandstand admission, as well as a bonfire and DJ entertainment this year. Saturday’s general admission will remain at 10 dollars” Willoughby commented. “We will also continue to offer free camping for the weekend. Sharon Speedway is committed to offering fan friendly entertainment at an affordable price. We are able to keep prices at this level because of all the great sponsors that have been willing to get involved in this grass roots event. We simply could not do it without them,” he concluded.
I recently spoke with Brookville, PA’s Brent Johnson, owner of Redline Performance Machine and the winner of the inaugural event. In Johnson’s words, “Shaun has just done an incredible job shaping this series. Winning the first-ever Steel Valley Nationals is definitely a highlight in my racing career. You can count on me being back there to defend the title this year.”
According to Lower Burrell’s Chris Schneider, “Winning this race would mean a lot to me or anyone. I hope I can get it done this time, especially after coming so close last year. If I can’t I hope one of my customers can.”
Chris, a multi time series champion, and the owner of S&S Chassis will have many his chassis designs in the competition at the Steel Valley Nationals. “The Penn-Ohio Series has been just what our division needed. The rules have now been standardized so you don’t have to prepare for an event like this and tow all the way there to find out the rules will be interpreted differently.” Schneider also had high praise for Sharon’s red clay surface. “It’s very racey, and the groove changes throughout the night. It really keeps you on your toes.”
Long time Pro Stock racer and 2017 series champion Bobby Whitling, aka the Seneca Slider, said “It’s great to see the division get a race of this caliber, and at a place as nice as Sharon. I’ve traveled across the state and even to other states, towing as much as 5 hours to race for half this much money. It’s a bonus for me to have this event an hour from home.”
If you are a race fan, even if you only follow Sprint Cars, Late Models or Big Block Modifieds, you may want to mark this June 14th and 15th on your calendar. You will be surprised by the quality teams and the talented racers this series has to offer. What they may lack in budget compared to some of the National traveling teams in other divisions, they more than make up for with enthusiasm. It’s truly an event like no other.
Lifetime race fan, long time track official