National Open Carrying An Air Of Unpredictability

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National Open Carrying
Williams Grove Speedway's National Open will be more unpredictable this weekend than in recent years. (Dennis Bicksler photo)

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. – After COVID-19 nixed the Knoxville Nationals and Kings Royal, this weekend’s 58th annual Champion Racing Oil National Open at Williams Grove Speedway is set to be the largest sprint car event of the season.

It all begins Friday with the 30-lap, $10,000-to-win preliminary feature and culminates Saturday with a 40-lap, $75,000-to-win finale, the richest payout in event history and in sprint car racing this year.

The event has many fixtures. It’s the track’s longest sprint car race (40 laps compared to the usual 25). The sun sits lower in the atmosphere. The field is always vast.

This year, roughly 60 drivers and teams from every corner of the sprint car world are expected to compete. But even with all these typical characteristics, many prominent race teams are loading up for Mechanicsburg with more unknowns than certainties.

“This summer has been different than any summer I can remember [at Williams Grove],” said Don Kreitz Jr., owner of the widely-known No. 69k. “We haven’t even been here that much and Lance [Dewease] has told me, from [Pennsylvania] Speedweek on, the track has been way wetter, way heavier, way narrower, way harder to pass. It’s not its normal self, where the cushion moves up toward the wall and it gets kind of slick. It’s been wet and heavy and really hard to pass.

“We really don’t know what we’re in for.”

Recently, Kreitz’s No. 69k has shouldered responsibility of sustaining the long, fiery tradition of the Pennsylvania Posse outdoing the Outlaws at Williams Grove.

This time around, the seemingly different style of racing and track conditions have even befuddled the No. 69k, which has just one win at the famed track this year.

Dewease, Freddie Rahmer, Danny Dietrich, Anthony Macri, and Brent Marks headline a local charge and all have their own ways of doing business, but for the first time since 1997, the Posse is in danger of being shut out by the Outlaws at Williams Grove.

Like it usually does in sprint car racing, it will come down to time trials, where Kyle Larson (18 quick times), Aaron Reutzel (13 quick times), and Kerry Madsen (six quick times) have flourished this year.

Of the 13 410 shows at Williams Grove this year, 11 of them have been won from fourth or better. The only wins outside the top four were when Larson won from fifth on July 17 and when Freddie Rahmer charged from 13th in a handicap show on Aug. 21.

“Looking at the track, you typically can’t tell a lot in warmups, and then the first thing is time trials and that’s the whole night,” Kreitz said. “You can adjust after that and maybe get it right if it’s different, but it’s just too hard [passing] from the back with these guys.”

A win for Kreitz and Dewease would not only keep the Posse’s winning streak alive, but it’d be Dewease’s 100th win at the track and tie Donny Schatz for the most National Open victories with five.

If there is any touring driver to deny Dewease and the Posse, it’s David Gravel, who is eyeing his third National Open crown at just 28 years old and is fresh off thrilling wins at Eldora Speedway and Lernerville Speedway.

As for other touring drivers, Schatz is certainly bound to be in the mix. World of Outlaws championship contender Logan Schuchart has momentum to capitalize on a dream season and win a sprint car racing crown jewel in his backyard.

Dietrich and Marks, meanwhile, are the only two Posse drivers looking to add a second National Open to their resumes. Rahmer and Macri, two of Pennsylvania’s finest racers in their 20s, would solidify their place in sprint car racing history with a National Open victory.

Established names like Daryn Pittman, Shane Stewart, Brad Sweet, Brian Brown and Rico Abreu are eyeing their first National Open titles.

But one thing is certain: whoever leaves Williams Grove Speedway Saturday night at the National Open champion will do so with a ton of cash and memories to last a lifetime.