Time seemingly trickles like a shallow stream in the rolling hills of Oley Township, Pa., tucked tightly into bucolic Berks County. Its quietude and wafting aromas of agriculture belie its lofty place in history.
Daniel Boone, the frontiersman and folk hero, was born there in 1734. People around town still talk about it, even though much of Oley Township’s most recent history has moved considerably faster than it took the frontier folk hero to meander from Pennsylvania to Kentucky. Especially, you’ll learn, when it comes to automotive competition.
Another son, Tommy Hinnershitz, went forth after tilling its rich loam to capture seven East Coast titles in sprint cars with AAA and USAC. That melding of speed and agriculture is all encompassing. But Hinnershitz achieved great things while doing both, like Craig Von Dohren is still doing 60 years after his forebear retired to the fields for good. In this town, Von Dohren’s a legend, too.
“Racing is a business. It’s a very stressful, high-energy, cutthroat sport,” Von Dohren said matter-of-factly. “We run so many races, that after we win, my wife, Kimberly, says, ‘Can’t you just enjoy the win, instead of worrying about tomorrow’s race?’ I really enjoy it, but the joy is short-lived because tomorrow we’ve got to do it again, or do this, or do something else. It’s just a high-maintenance racket. It’s not where you come home from work and work in the race shop for a couple of hours. It’s progressed so much that full-time racers have more knowledge, technology and finance than the little guys. But it is what it is. The world is always speeding up.
“Go interview a junkie,” he explained. “This is my drug. This is what we do. This is what we’ve always done. I just love this sport, the competition, racing in general and performing. My wife tells me that if I went out and got a 40-hour-a-week job, I’d make more money and have more fun. And she’s right. The hours, and the ups and downs of the sport, make it tough. But this is what we do. I’ve got a couple of more years left and we’re going to finish it out. You have good days and bad days, like anything else.”
Von Dohren knows of what he speaks because this has been a full-time deal for him for a long time. Two feature wins during the COVID-constricted season allowed him to secure his 11th championship in the modified division at Grandview Speedway, a maximum-contact banked bowl dug out of a hilltop a little farther east in Berks County.
Von Dohren is demonstrably the dominant figure in Grandview’s modern history; his 109 victories in the modifieds ranking him first on the track’s list of all-time feature winners. Von Dohren’s legacy there includes five wins in the track’s most prestigious race, the Freedom 76, and eight more in the Forrest Rogers Memorial, named for the speedway’s founder.
Von Dohren’s march to star status has paralleled the rise of the 358 modified as the weekly race car of choice in eastern Pennsylvania. Since his first feature win in 1981, Von Dohren has captured an estimated 300 victories — he’s uncertain of the exact number — at speedways in five states.
Von Dohren’s Grandview bullet is his own No. 1c Bicknell chassis with horsepower by Nick Gatto. Prepared by crew chief Jason Bashore, the car rides on required American Racer tires. For Friday nights at Big Diamond, Von Dohren drives for car owner Dave Dissinger, another Bicknell customer. He also runs a variety of shows for Bruce Brueche. While special events and midweek programs draw him to Delaware, New Jersey and other locales, Von Dohren’s orbit largely embraces Grandview and Big Diamond.
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