Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Myth of Hagerstown vs. Winchester

The last few weeks I have heard way too much about how much better of a field Hagerstown gets than Winchester, and it's just not true. The Winchester drivers don't get enough credit from some people, and it's time that someone stood up for them. It was a shame when Hagerstown promoter Frank Plessinger moved the track to Saturday nights because both tracks used to get awesome fields on a weekly basis when Winchester ran on Saturday nights, and Hagerstown ran on Sunday nights. The first couple of years Hagerstown's field was much better than Winchester's but as time has marched on, the field have leveled out. Don't believe me. Let's take a look at it. Last year, former Winchester regular J.T. Spence won the track championship at Hagerstown, and current Winchester regular Bo Feathers was the fastest car all year and ended up losing the championship to Spence due to mechanical failures throughout the season. Nothing against Spence, his car held together all year, and he won the championship fair and square. The point is that Spence and Feathers are both Winchester guys that who started their careers and blossomed at Winchester, not Hagerstown. A few years ago Ronnie DeHaven Jr. looked to be the fastest thing at Hagerstown on a weekly basis, and he too was a Winchester driver. A few years back Roy Deese Jr. barely beat Allen Brannon (Winchester regular) for the track championship. A lot of people might get mad at me for saying this, but in my opinion the track championships at both Hagerstown and Winchester are a joke compared to what they used to mean to an area driver. The fields that are running for points on a weekly basis just are not as good as they used to be. Feathers is going to end up winning the Winchester championship more than likely and he skipped a points race earlier this year. Roy Deese Jr. is going to more than likely win another Hagerstown track championship and he doesn't even show up for the sanctioned races at Hagerstown. Now, I understand he is not a high dollar team, but when you compare locals to a major field, your points leader should probably be leading the charge against the sanctioned guys. Also, there are not any local drivers who are capable of winning sanctioned shows the way they used too. In the 80's at Hagerstown there were as many as 7 or 8 local drivers (guys that run at the track almost every week) that could win sanctioned races against really good fields at their home track. Those guys included Rodney Franklin, Buddy Armel, Gary Stuhler, Denny Bonebrake, Jeff Robinson, Ronnie McBee, and Tom Peck. Every single one of these drivers either won sanctioned races at Hagerstown, or were up front competing for the win on numerous occassions. The last time I saw a local driver compete for the win in a sanctioned race at Hagerstown or Winchester was when Gary Stuhler gave Rick Eckert a run for his money during a 2004 World of Outlaws Late Model Series race at Hagerstown. Before that, it was probably when Bo Feathers won the STARS sanctioned Winchester 200 in 2001. Now, some people might say that Jeremy Miller and Jason Covert are local guys, but the other day BloomerDaMan pointed out on the VA Dirt Lovers board that those guys really are not local drivers any more and I tend to agree with him. They travel around and run more races on the road than at Hagerstown or Winchester. Heck, Miller doesn't even run at Hagerstown anymore but a selected number of shows due to his American Racer tire deal. When I refer to locals, I am referring to drivers that run at a track not every week, but a lot of the weeks that track runs. Guys like Gary Stuhler, J.T. Spence, Roy Deese Jr., Kirk Ryan, and Nathan Durboraw at Hagerstown. Guys like Bo Feathers, Gerald Davis, Tommy Armel, Wesley Bonebrake, Denny Bonebrake, and Allen Brannon at Winchester. That is what I mean when I refer to locals. The local fields just are not as tough as they used to be, and that's the same throughout the country. Everyone talks about the local field in Tennessee, but they usually run terrible when sanctioned shows come into Volunteer or Tazewell. As a matter of fact, I can prove the point that the local drivers used to compete more. The first ever race that paid $50,000 to win in this country was run at Hagerstown in the Free State 100. Clarksville, TN's Jeff Purvis came home with the win and anybody who was anybody in the early 1980's was at Hagerstown for the biggest payday in dirt racing history at that time. HALF of the field was made up of Hagerstown regulars. The STARS Series started in 1984 and ran a lot of races at Hagerstown the first few years of the series' existence, and they always brought in really good field including legendary drivers like Jack Boggs, Larry Moore, Rodney Combs, John Mason, Charlie Swartz, and Bob Pierce to name a few. In 1984 the STARS ran four races at Hagerstown. Those races were won by Rodney Franklin ($20,000), Rodney Franklin, Bob Wearing, and Jack Boggs. Two of the four races were won by a Hagerstown regular. As a matter of fact, Franklin battled for the lead in an awesome race in the first ever STARS race when he bested Bob Pierce, and you guessed it, a Hagerstown regular by the name of Denny Bonebrake for the win. In 1985 there were five STARS races run at Hagerstown. Rodney Franklin won 4 of those races, and Buddy Armel won the other one. That's a total of all five sanctioned races won by Hagerstown regulars. I just watched the 1985 Miller 85 lapper that Buddy Armel won the other day, and he almost didn't win the race. Another Hagerstown local named Al Shawver charged from the B-Main to almost take the lead before wrecking racing for the lead. Also, local drivers like Franklin and Stuhler have had some great runs in some of the crown jewel races of dirt late model racing. In 1984 Franklin ran third in the Dirt Track World Championship, and in 1986 he ran second in the World 100. In 1988 Stuhler ran second in the Dirt Track World Championship, and in 1989 he ran third in the World 100. One of those years in the mid-1980s Tom Peck has a terrible season running bad almost every week at Hagerstown but mustered an eighth place finish in the Dirt Track World Championship. Look, I'm not saying that the fields at Hagerstown are not tough because there are some good drivers over there. Even some good young drivers like Spence in particular, but the fields are not as competitive as they used to be, and a lot of that has to do with running on the same night. Also, many drivers who were Winchester guys are the guys that have been mopping up the money at Hagerstown in recent years, but all I keep hearing about is how all the Winchester guys suck, and how they can't drive. Trust me, there are plenty of "squirrels" at Hagerstown as well. The last time I went to Hagerstown for a non-sanctioned race earlier this season the B-Main took nearly an hour to run 12 laps becaus there were so many wrecks and spin-outs. Can anyone tell me the last time a Hagerstown regular won a sanctioned race at Hagerstown because I don't remember it's been that long. What used to be a common occurence, much like a Pennsylvania driver winning a World of Outlaws sprint car race at Williams Grove the local used to dominate sanctioned events at Hagerstown. Even as near ago as when Gary Stuhler was mopping up all of the area STARS races in the late 1990's and running a lot of races at Hagerstown. The main point behind this article though if to get some people on VA Dirt Lovers to give Winchester drivers a break and just admit that they are not way behind the drivers at Hagerstown. Look at the special event winners at Winchester this year. The first Shootout race was won by Gerald Davis (Winchester regular), the Stultz Memorial was won by Gary Stuhler (Hagerstown regular), the second Shootout race was won by Josh Richards (WoO), the Paul Johnson Memorial was won by Booper Bare (independent), and the Lucas Oil race was won by Earl Pearson Jr. (Lucas Oil regular). Only one Hagerstown regular has come in and won a big paying event at Winchester. Also, Hagerstown has went downhill over the year when talking about the pay for drivers. In the late 1980's Hagerstown was running 35 lap features paying $2,000 to win. Now, they may run 10 laps less, but I'm pretty sure they are paying $1,300 to win. The last time I checked the cars were a little more expensive to run nowadays than in the 80s. Come on people, give the Winchester guys some credit, they have proven that they deserve it. Look at the success that guys like Spence, Feathers, and Brannon have had at Hagerstown in recent years. The drivers at Winchester are not bad, although there are some people that would lead you to believe that they are terrible.

1 comment:

Brett Rose - WVRacefan said...

I agree with everything you said.