by Lisa Moody Breslin, photography by Phil Grout
For 63 years, Lincoln Speedway has been the go-to place for folks who have a need for speed. Saturday night races lure as many as 3,000 fans, most who echo drivers’ sentiment that “racing gets in your blood.”
Audiences are not flocking to watch go-carts or junkers tooling around the track.
“We are talking $50,000 sprint cars that weigh 1,400 pounds and average 102 miles per hour on a 1/3 mile long track,” said Wayne Harper, the speedway’s track announcer and public relations director. “This is fast. This is powerful.”
Chris O’Hara who brought his son, Zach Uplinger, 9, to Lincoln for the first time in early June.
“This is a piece of Americana,” he said.
O’Hara has been a racing fan for more than 20 years. He and Zach looked forward to cheering for 410 sprinter Kyle Moody, from Lewisberry. “We love the sounds, the speeds…”
“And how they slide,” said Zach.
A Saturday night at the races begins at 7 p.m., but fans fill the grandstand or set up chairs and coolers on the fields as early as 5:30 p.m.
Lincoln Speedway is the kind of place where fans savor vinegar-bathed fries chased by lemonade and funnel cakes.
Couples go on first dates there, and some have even said their “I do’s” on the infield.
As the cars roar around the track, children scootch a little closer to their parents or older siblings. Loved ones, who help drivers train and maintain cars, bite their nails and often pray as their sons (and one daughter, Brie Hershey of Dillsburg) roar around the track.
As the race announcer, Harper’s conversational style keeps fans hooked.
If he is not announcing a race, or a tidbit about a driver, Harper courts the crowd with birthday or anniversary shout outs: “Happy 21st birthday Jeremy. Jeremy’s favorite driver is Matt Campbell.”
Campbell, age 17, earned his fourth career win in the 20 lap 358 Sprint car feature at Lincoln in late May.
“I’ve been around racing my whole life. I love the speed,” said Campbell, who began racing go carts when he was five. “To be good, you have to practice – a lot.”
To be good, said Matt’s father, Ron, you can’t be scared.
“I’ve seen some drivers hesitate; he doesn’t hesitate,” Ron said. “My heart races when I watch him race.”
The youngest driver at Lincoln is 15-year-old Cole Young of East Berlin.
The son of sprinter Niki Young, Cole picked up his first 358 Sprint win in mid-May.
Another fan-favorite father-son(s) team is “Fast Freddie” Rahmer and his sons, Brendon and Freddie Jr. The elder Rahmer is a racing legend, with 417 career sprint car wins, 168 of which were garnered at Lincoln Speedway.
Harper said he has been around the country and seen about every driver in the last 35 years.”
“There are four greats in my mind: Steve Kinser, Doug Wolfgang, Sammy Swindell, and Fred Rahmer ranks among them,” Harper sid. “He is an intense competitor and has the most career wins in central Pennsylvania.”
Recently retired, Rahmer now owns three cars – two of which are driven by his sons, Brendon and Freddie, and a third, by a track favorite, Stevie Smith.
“I had had enough [racing],” Rahmer said. “I was beat up at the end. I was always with good owners and the competition kept me going, but racing wears you down. My batteries were dead.”
Having Smith behind the wheel and as a mentor for his sons thrills Rahmer.
“Steve is great with them, and until they get more experience, we have more chances for winning with him driving too,” Rahmer said. “I have incredible respect for him.
When he mentors, they listen. It’s really hard to give your own kids advice at the racetrack. They actually listen too much.”
As hard as it is to offer advice, Rahmer said it is even harder to watch them race.
“I’d rather be beat with a bat. It’s so hard. You don’t want anything to happen, but you know what you have to do and you worry,” he said.
“Last year was their first year, and Lincoln is the best place to learn a race. This is some of the best racing in the area.”
Folks who cannot get to Lincoln often visit the speedway’s website (www.lincolnspeedway.com,) which offers race results and “The Pit Shack,” an online message board where fans interact with each other.
Harper said sprint car racing is the ultimate Xbox game.
“Society has really gotten into X games like skateboarding and motorcycles,” he said. “Well, here, audiences actually experience racing’s unbelievable thrill.”