MECHANICSBURG, Pa. – Sprint car fans on the East Coast will assemble Saturday night for the 57th running of the Champion Racing Oil National Open at Williams Grove Speedway.
The event, sanctioned by the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, will pay $65,000 to the winner this year – the largest payday in event history.
In fact, that event history is a grand story, dating back to its inception and inaugural champion in 1963. The race pre-dates all other season-finale races in the East.
Eventual Indianapolis 500 champion Gordon Johncock of Hastings, Mich., won the very first 100-lap affair, driving a contraption that had what looked like a wing atop its roll cage.
And this too would soon come to pass, as sprint cars would begin taking over dirt tracks in the East, including Williams Grove Speedway.
Ohio USAC standout Larry Dickson scored Open round two in 1964, while Western Pennsylvania invader Henry Jacoby of Franklin took the 1965 running.
The name of Blaney graced the National Open winner’s circle in 1966, as family patriarch Lou took Open laurels decades before his sons Dave and Dale would compete on the scene.
Bobbie Adamson, becoming a regional name, took back-to-back victories in 1967 and 1968 before a virtual unknown named Gene Varner from Selinsgrove drove a back-up Gary Wasson No. 5 to an upset win in 1969 after a distance of 150 laps.
The decade of the 1970’s dawned with Altoona flyer Johnny Grum picking up the Open win.
The first of three consecutive wins by Midwest transplant Kenny Weld took place in 1971. All three of Weld’s wins came aboard the Bob Weikert No. 29.
Another transplant, The Bandit – otherwise known as Steve Smith Sr. – took wins in 1974 and again in a rain-shortened 122-lap race in 1976, while original Outlaw Bobby Allen drove to a win in 1975.
Texas native racing brother Van May took the 1977 version of the National Open before the Pink Panther struck in 1978 with a Kramer Williamson 100-lap win.
Smokey Snellbaker drove to victory for Charlie Lloyd in 1979 before the grandson of a coal miner named Lucas, Allen Klinger of Hegins, kicked off the 1980’s with a 40-lap victory.
Steve Smith Sr. returned for a third Open triumph in 1981, before Lynn Paxton went back-to-back in 1982 and 1983 and stunned the racing world after his second 75-lap win by going into retirement during the off-season.
Three more in a row for owner Bob Weikert came at the hands of South Dakota driver Doug Wolfgang from 1984 to 1986, but Wolfgang got stunned, denied and passed by Bobby Allen’s brother, Joey Allen, for the victory in 1987.
The Mouse, Kenny Jacobs of Holmesville, Ohio, took another win for Weikert in 1988.
The year 1989 found the first true World of Outlaws National Open contested, as the yearly sanctioning began with Stevie Smith taking a victory to carry on his father’s tradition.
Technically, the 1978 National Open was considered an Outlaws race as well, although no Outlaw drivers competed in the event.
The King of the Outlaws, Steve Kinser, took his first National Open checkers in 1990.
Stevie Smith returned for another Open win, again for car owner Al Hamilton, in 1991. The race was now at a distance of 50 laps.
Kinser was again the champion in 1992 before daytime specialist Don Kreitz Jr. drove to victory under the Sunday sun in 1993 after 40 laps of action.
Steve Kinser was again the winner in 1994, before Outlaw cousin Mark Kinser took 1995’s National Open. But the locals went back in front in 1996, with Lance Dewease and No. 461 car owner Walt Dyer driving to a popular win.
Sammy Swindell won his first National Open in 1997 on a night that had fans returning to frozen windshields on their cars by the time the race ended.
Persistent rain forced a non-sanctioned event in 1998, won by modified-turned-sprint star Billy Pauch in a mount owned by John Zemaitis.
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