The Pennsylvania Posse is just a shell of its former self.
Decimated by tragedy, retirements and defection of both drivers and car owners, sprint car tracks in the Keystone State are struggling to fill their fields on a weekly basis.
We don’t need to look back 20 years or even 10 years to recall the glory days of the Pennsylvania circuit. Within the past six years the following drivers were racing regularly in Pennsylvania: Greg Hodnett, Fred Rahmer, Don Kreitz Jr., Stevie Smith, Doug Esh, Logan Schuchart, Jacob Allen, Brent Marks, Brock Zearfoss, Gerard McIntyre Jr., Pat Cannon, Aaron Ott and Chad Layton.
Imagine a field containing those drivers today. That’s what it was like in Pennsylvania just five or six years ago.
Rahmer, Kreitz and Smith are already in the Hall of Fame. Hodnett will certainly be inducted posthumously, possibly as early as next year. Esh, Schuchart, Marks, Zearfoss and Layton have World of Outlaws victories on their resumes. Cannon, Ott and McIntyre were proven winners in Pennsylvania.
All of those drivers simply cannot be removed from Pennsylvania sprint car racing without being missed.
Where did they go? Rahmer, Kreitz, Smith, Esh, Cannon and Ott have retired. Schuchart, Allen and Marks are World of Outlaws regulars. Zearfoss and McIntyre are travelling with the All Stars. Layton is racing 360s. Hodnett was fatally injured in a racing accident last September.
With the drivers went some successful car owners during that same six-year period. Gone are the likes of Rob Sell, Bobby Allen, Jeff Marks, Moose Zearfoss, Dick Leach, Dave Middleswarth, Matt Highlands, Don Ott, Scott and Chris Dietz and Mark Coldren to name just a few.
It’s not like there were 40 cars in the pits at Williams Grove every Friday night six years ago, but if there were 27 cars, 20 may have been capable of winning. That isn’t the case right now.
Against this backdrop of doom and gloom, the showing that some local drivers made during the World of Outlaws Eastern Spring swing seems all the more remarkable.
The Outlaws rolled into Lincoln Speedway on Wednesday night, May 15, with their 13 touring pros, plus some surprises like Tim Shaffer and the brothers Scelzi. When the dust settled, the Posse’s Lance Dewease and Ryan Smith completed a one-two sweep for the home team.
Only the most loyal Posse fans
could have predicted such an impressive showing for their favorites.
Next up was a two-night stop at Williams Grove for Morgan Cup weekend. Dewease set fast time and had he not jumped the start and been penalized in his heat he may have put himself in position to win again. But he missed the dash and was never in contention to win the feature.
David Gravel scored one for the Outlaws. Danny Dietrich finished second, giving the Posse fans something to cheer about.
Saturday night at the Grove paid $17,000 to win and Dewease made it look easy in scoring his second World of Outlaws victory in three attempts. WoO champ Donny Schatz settled for second, followed by Dietrich, who notched his second consecutive podium finish. Outlaw Daryn Pitman was fourth, with Pennsylvania’s Freddie Rahmer fifth. That was three local drivers in the top five if you’re counting.
On Tuesday, May 21 the tour moved to New Jersey’s Bridgeport Speedway. Dewease did not enter.
There was no home track advantage at Bridgeport. The race was run on the south Jersey facility’s new three-eighths-mile track, built inside the sweeping five-eighths-mile, and it was the first 410 race ever run on the inner oval.
Dietrich and Schatz swapped the lead a couple of times before Dietrich took over coming to the white flag and went on to score the third win in four races for the Posse.
Only the most loyal Posse fans could have predicted such an impressive showing for their favorites.
While the depth of driving talent and financial backing may not be what it once was in Pennsylvania, there is still enough at the top to make any invaders work for whatever they get.
Dewease, at 53, is still a force to be reckoned with and his fellow Hall of Famers Donnie Kreitz and Davey Brown give him a car that obviously works well on the Pennsylvania tracks.
Dietrich and Ryan Smith are both 31 and haven’t even reached their prime. Their car owners, Gary Kauffman and Mike Heffner, provide them with everything they need to be fast.
Rahmer, at 23, is just scratching the surface of his talent. He has a great mentor in his famous father, who also manages to attract enough sponsorship to field a competitive race car.
Those four drivers were competitive with the Outlaws in May and they proved there are still some fast cars in Pennsylvania. There’s just not as many as there once were.