14 Years of Sprint
While New York State and Ontario are known as Modified Territory, Merrittville Speedway ventured into the special ESS Sprint Show back on June 29, 1984. At this point it was during the 33rd year of operation that the Empire Super Sprints first tried Merrittville's d-shaped oval.
Since most modified fans hadn't been exposed to these lean, mean 1350 lb., direct drive 700 horsepower rockets, it was a real eye opener. The first feature winner at Merrittville Speedway was Bobby Cain - a twenty year veteran from Weedsport NY. The near capacity crowd watched as Craig Keel led the feature and seemed to master the d-shaped oval, however with a couple laps to go, he slid off of turn 4, hitting the front-stretch concrete wall on the 21st lap of 25. That gave Cain the lead on the restart, but he still had to contend with John Brutcher and Jeff Taylor for the win. The thirteen car field that made the trek from New York State found the clay surface of Merrittville to their liking, but not the tight fourth corner.
Over the years the ESS Sprint Cars continued to put on many memorable shows, however this year after some 14 years, twenty four winged sprint cars put on two tremendous shows. While I've always been a fan of dirt modified racing from the coupe era of the 50's and 60's to the very technical 21990's style cars, I had to admire their raw power and speed of these traditional upright rockets. Up close these cars are a short wheel-based, highly staggered chassis, with 360 cu. In. Engines, fuel injected on alcohol, with an in and out box connecting the engine to a quick change rear end.
While watching these cars carve a groove in Merrittville's clay, it seemed that the wing was the only apparatus keeping these racers on the track. I had to appreciate the quick reflexes of the drivers, but also wondered if these fellows raced on sheer guts or something else.
While the heart of sprint car racing seemed to have it's roots in Pennsylvania at tracks such as Williams Grove or even Knoxville Iowa which hosted the Nationals last weekend also - it was a treat to see twenty four winged warriors on Merrittville's tight d-shaped oval.
Since it seems that the World of Outlaws are reluctant to cross into Canada it was great to get a taste of sprint car traditions on an Ontario oval. While over the years Merrittville Speedway has entertained the likes of midget racers, 3/4 midgets, a thrill show and even a rodeo - the winged sprints have been a welcome addition to Merrittville's program, giving us a taste of dirt track tradition.
Stock car racing - dirt track modified style - will always be dear to my heart especially since real race cars have a roof, doors, a transmission, and start on their own power ... in my opinion. Sprint Cars and Stock Cars do share one philosophy though - 'dirt is for racing ... asphalt is for getting there' - without a doubt.
We look forward to seeing the Empire Super Sprints return again next year with even a bigger field of cars and we thank them for keeping their style of dirt track racing alive and well for those of us in Canada to enjoy. Sincerely, Rick Kavanagh