At the end of the 2010 racing season, the future of the historic Port Royal Speedway looked grim.

Ten years later, the speedway is one of the top dirt tracks in the country.

The entire facility has been transformed. Fans and race teams once again flock to the track, which is located about 50 miles northwest of Harrisburg, Pa. Victory lane interviews almost always include statements such as, “Port Royal is one of the best race tracks in the country.”

The Juniata County Agricultural Society owns the speedway and hired Port Royal resident Steve O’Neal as the track promoter following the 2010 season. He went to work assembling a great team. O’Neal and his team, along with tremendous support from the ag society, saved the speedway from extinction.

While huge crowds and car counts have been the norm lately, especially for the track’s big races, the 2020 season opener exceeded everyone’s expectations.

It was Sunday, March 8, and a perfect late-winter day in central Pennsylvania. An impressive field of 46 sprint cars and 27 late models was in the pits and a record opening-day crowd filled the stands.

With the huge car counts, O’Neal announced at the drivers’ meeting that 26 sprints would start the feature, instead of the typical 24, and all 27 late models would start. He also increased the sprint car tow money from $100 to $150.

“I would say it’s every promoter’s dream,” O’Neal said. “I just had one come true today.

“I still can’t get over the support. I can’t thank everybody enough. I appreciate it so much. I also appreciate all the hard work from the fair board and everyone from the speedway that worked very hard this week so we could even get this show in.”

Six-time track champion Lance Dewease raced at Port Royal Speedway when things were bad and loves what he sees now. He finished fourth in the opener and won the second race of the season.

Freddie Rahmer (51) battles Logan Wagner during Sunday's sprint car feature at Port Royal Speedway. (Dan Demarco Photo)
Freddie Rahmer (51) battles Logan Wagner during a sprint car feature at Port Royal Speedway. (Dan Demarco Photo)

“I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I’ve never in my life been anywhere and seen an opening-day crowd like this,” Dewease said. “That shows the dedication of our fans. And, my hat’s off to Steve O’Neal, Steve Stimely and everybody that puts so much hard work into this place to make it what it is. I’ve been around here a long time and I was here when this place was all but under, so it’s great to see this place be strong again.”

It was Port Royal’s largest opening-day crowd, and one of the largest crowds in track history.

“I love coming here,” Dewease said. “I met my wife here. This place means a lot to me. I just love coming here. It’s all about the fans and this speedway right now. What they’ve done and what they’re doing is just unbelievable. It’s great the effort that everybody puts in and this shows what effort can do.”

Cory Eliason won the season opener.

“This is one of my favorite places,” he said. “It’s a fantastic facility. I love this place. The whole team loves coming here. It’s a good place to be.”

Support for the track is unwavering. Even in week two, on a cloudy, chilly day, with the COVID-19 hysteria just beginning in Pennsylvania, the speedway had a good crowd and a good field of cars in both divisions.

Speedway officials left no stone unturned over the past decade and their hard work is paying off. Everything has been improved.

The race track has been widened and new clay has been added every year. Jersey barriers now line the inside of the track and the old tin fence in turns one and two has been replaced.

New fencing surrounds the facility and new buildings have been erected for the speedway and surrounding Juniata Co. Fairgrounds.

New Musco lighting was installed, including in the pit area, which was leveled and widened. The main aluminum grandstand was already in place, but another section has been added toward the fourth turn.

Just as important, trust has been restored with race teams and fans, generating increased car counts and a loyal fan following.

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