HEINTZELMAN: Central Pennsylvania Late Model Racing

Todd Heintzelman

LIVERPOOL, Pa. — Central Pennsylvania is 410 sprint car country.

Always has been. Always will be.

However, tracks in Central Pennsylvania have been scheduling more and more higher-paying late model races and the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series and Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series have returned to several area sprint car tracks.

Jason Covert is one of the top late model drivers in the Mid-Atlantic region. He has won 10 series and track championships during his career.

“The late models have grown throughout the country,” he said. “The car counts for the sprint cars are lower because of the cost. The late models still have a massive number of cars. It’s costing a lot. I think in this area there is a hunger for good racing, and the late models provide good racing.”
In particular, Port Royal Speedway has upped the ante for the late models over the past few years, including a $3,000-to-win race earlier this year that Covert won.

“Port Royal is so racy and conducive to our cars,” Covert said. “It makes it so much better here for us. I think that’s the attraction. The racing is so good, two and three wide. I think that’s why we are gaining these races in this area.”

While Central Pa. tracks are adding more late model races, sprint car fans aren’t being left out.

Port Royal’s WoO LMS shows came with 410 sprints on the schedule. Williams Grove Speedway was scheduled to do the same, but the program was rained out.

Port Royal, however, did host the Lucas Oil late models on a Sunday night the past two seasons without sprint cars and still attracted great crowds.

“I think they are trying to attract fans with different divisions,” Covert said. “Bigger names coming in and you get to see them once or twice a year and you get the crowd that goes with it.”

Covert doesn’t race for track championships, he likes to travel to the bigger shows and lately has been staying closer to his Central Pa. home while still racing for higher purses.

“I love it,” he said. “It makes it way easier for me. I would rather just race these races. The cars cost quite a bit to run per night. At least here, we have the opportunity to make a little bit and cover what we spent. We could be on the truck tonight, too, watching the feature because late model racing is so competitive. We could run really well tonight, you never know, it really is a challenge right now.”

During the Aug. 18, WoO LMS race at Port Royal, Covert raced from 16th to fourth and earned $2,500, plus a bonus for being the highest-finishing non-Outlaws regular.

While Williams Grove runs the late models a few times a year, the class is a staple at both Port Royal and Selinsgrove Speedways. The regular shows pay $2,000 to win. The World of Outlaws has sanctioned the Selinsgrove National Open for many years.

Port Royal added an econo late model division a few years ago and limited late models are also doing well in the area.

The last two years, Port Royal and Selinsgrove, which are located only 30 miles apart, have featured a series between the tracks with a higher purse and a separate point fund. Three races are held per track and whichever track has a series race, the other doesn’t race late models that night. The Route 35 Series — named for the highway that virtually connects the two tracks — has been very successful.

Jeff Rine owns track records at Selinsgrove Speedway for most wins and championships and has enjoyed a lot of success in these higher-paying races. He also earned his first WoO LMS victory last year at his home track.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Rine said. “The late model racing has gotten a lot better the last couple of years. The fans are seeing it. The promoters are seeing it. We don’t get out and travel a whole lot because we don’t have a crew to do that. All my guys work and I work. It’s tough to get out too far, but it’s neat to race with them when they’re in our area.”

Over Labor Day weekend, Port Royal hosted the Butch Renninger Memorial for the late models, which honors a former track champion. The race paid $4,333 to win and $333 to start.

Former WoO LMS champion Rick Eckert swept a Memorial Day weekend doubleheader at Port Royal, coming away with $8,000. Eckert always takes advantage of racing around home when the Outlaws are off. He won the Lucas Oil late model race at Port Royal last season and also has a few recent Williams Grove victories.