On a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon, race fan Bob Ball of Pavilion was at New York International Raceway Park, formerly known as Lancaster Speedway, watching the stock cars circulate around the asphalt oval during the first practice session of the new season like he has done for decades. And like so many in the local auto racing fraternity, Ball was filled with gratitude and relief.
The Gunnville Road dual asphalt stock car/drag racing facility, which has featured various forms of auto racing since 1959 was for sale this past winter and in danger of not opening for racing. Fortunately, new owners were found and racing has returned. The drag racing season began May 24. On Saturday, it was the stock cars' turn as drivers took advantage of the opportunity to shake down their machines prior to the June 27 stock car season opener.
"I started coming to Lancaster in 1964," Ball said. "I've been coming ever since and I'm here every year and as many races as I can get to. It was a long winter knowing that other tracks like Holland, Spencer and Lancaster were all in trouble. The only savior I had was Wyoming County International Speedway. I knew they were going to be open. But that was it. I have lots of friends here from over the years and I just enjoy their company and I enjoy the racing. I'm more than happy to be here today even if it's just for practice."
Like NYIRP, Spencer Speedway in Williamson has reopened for racing but Holland owners are still contemplating whether they will open for stock car racing this season. An announcement is expected within days.
Many of the drivers pit side were equally happy that racing has been saved at NYIRP.
"I'm grateful to the new owners for allowing us to come out here and play," Jim Loffredo said while getting his Street Stock class entry ready. "I'm glad there's drag racing here again, too. I'm very grateful to be stock car racing out here this year. I'm looking forward to it."
Nick Cappelli was on hand testing his ISMA supermodified. Cappelli is a four-time Sportsman champion (2002, 2003, 2006, 2007) at the track. His father, Vince Cappelli, claimed this same championship in 2000. Nick is new to supermodified driving.
"Our shop is only 10 minutes from here, so it's really nice to come to Lancaster," Nick said. "I am new to supermodifieds but I've raced quite a bit over the years here. Today, I'm driving a car that's completely different than I'm used to. I guess you could say that today I'm driving a car that I don't know much about yet at this track that I know very well. I've done a lot of laps here in the past. This is a good place. Being here today brings back a lot of memories. I'm glad it's still open. I love this place."
New NYIRP co-owner Vito Antonicelli was busy Saturday at the track. It was his birthday. One of his chores was hand scrubbing the dirt and grime off of some of the track equipment.
"Can you believe I'm doing this cleaning on my birthday?" Antonicelli said laughing. "I guess it's all part of being a track owner now – whatever it takes."
Antonicelli's wife, Sylvia, said she promises to take her husband to dinner to have a birthday celebration at a later date. For now, it's full speed ahead at NYIRP.
BEI hits Freedom
On Friday evening, the traveling BEI Lightning Sportsman Series paid a visit to Freedom Motorsports Park for the series' 2019 opener. The original opener was set for June 2 at Humberstone Speedway, but suffered a weather-related postponement until June 16.
Following Friday's event at Freedom, won by Kyle Inman, BEI series race director Tony Kulesza gave the evening mixed reviews. He was happy with the racing, but disappointed with the turnout of 23 sportsman racers. He expected more entries.
"All in all, everything was alright," Kulesza said. "The track got a little bit dusty. The drivers put on a heck of a show. It was a quality field. The car count was not what I expected, but it's early in the season. Freedom has had a negative rapport over the years, which I personally think is [undeserved]. I think you'll see our car counts go up quite a bit as the rest of our races come along. I've been in contact with drivers from Pennsylvania and Ohio and all over, and they'll all be coming to one or two of our shows for sure. We're still looking good."
Inman is a big supporter of the BEI series.
"(BEI owner) Brian Bellinger has been a friend of mine for probably 20 years," Inman said. "We've hung out together forever. I think this series goes over and above and beyond what any other series does and it's just great to see what they can do and the kind of money Brian just keeps funneling out. He's doing a great job with the series and I really appreciate it."
Other winners Friday at Freedom, before a capacity grandstand of around 1,000 fans were: Bryce Davis, super late models; Kurt Stebbins, street stocks; Tyler Oakes, mini stocks; and Dustin Skinner, bandits. A field of 14 super late models were at Freedom.