The front stretch of the Jennerstown Speedway. There have been plenty ofchampions first ac
The racing landscape has changed immensely since Pennsylvania's Jennerstown Speedway ran its first race. The fact that there is still a Jennerstown Speedway is a testament to the forethought of the promoters who have followed.
Jennerstown Speedway began racing in the '20s, but there are spots in its history where the track sat dark for a season or so. When stock car racing arrived in the early '50s, they replaced the Sprint Cars (or "Big Cars" as they were known at the time), and the full fendered machines have been the anchor from that point forward. There were times when the Sprints still came to center stage, but that was during the era of dirt racing. Once the track was paved, the open wheel invaders became the Supermodifieds with shows sanctioned by the International Supermodified Association (ISMA).
New pavement is just one of the improvements planned for JennerstownSpeedway. The repaving
The track is hanging its hat on the stock cars these days and realizing a fair amount of success. Local businessman Dave Wheeler took over as promoter a few seasons back. Wheeler had a plan for the facility to bring it up to high standards, and the plan is working.
"We're reaching a crossroads with short-track racing, and we want to move with the times," says Jennerstown General Manager Larry Mattingly.
Mattingly is the newest member of the Jennerstown team but far from a stranger at the track. He was a freelance writer, reporter, and radio show host with an emphasis on motorsports, and his visits to Jennerstown were common. Mattingly also had experience in track management and assumed his new position in October.
A vast seating area gives the paying customer a good view of the track.About half the seat
One of the most obvious improvements came early in the 2004 season. There is a five-year master plan for Jennerstown Speedway, and one of the ideas was advanced to this past season.
"When Dave bought it, he knew there would be things that would have to be done. We hadn't planned to repave the track until later, but we decided to go ahead and move it up to the second year. The traveling series weren't thrilled with the old surface, so Dave put about $350,000 into getting the asphalt down. It helped all the shows, even the local shows. After we repaved, the veterans said it gave them an advantage. When you put out an effort like this, it makes a statement to the racers that you're serious about it."
While there are a few traveling series that make appearances, the lifeblood of a racetrack can be the weekly classes. Jennerstown was a member of the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series in 2004, and the local classes keep the track the place to be on Saturday night.
The idea of family entertainment is a prominent thought in the minds ofthe Jennerstown Spe
"We try to keep racing reasonable for everybody," says Mattingly. "We develop classes for racers that will work. We started a crate engine Late Model class and have the four-cylinder hobby class as the entry level division. The entry level class of the past like Street Stocks is getting too expensive. We try to get a class where the cost of the whole car is $1,500.
It's hard to beat the concept of the crate engine that costs only $5,000," Mattingly continues. "You've got a total car cost of $15,000. We run a tight tech area. This is not a sealed engine, but one you can get rebuilt so we can tear it down. Our next area of concern is going to be tires. How do we keep the tire cost down? Do we go with an allotment? What about a harder tire? We'll have to consider everything before making a decision."
Jennerstown Speedway is located in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, a state that boasts 60 racetracks, according to Allan Brown's 2004 National Speedway Directory. It is more than an hour away from a major metropolitan area, relying on local fans in smaller communities to make it work. The largest towns in the area are Johnstown and Somerset. The track is 60 miles from Pittsburgh. The community of Jennerstown has been very supportive of the track, and the feeling is mutual from the speedway's point of view.
The pit area is open, giving spectators an easy view around the track.There's plenty of ro
"We have a good relationship with the community," says Mattingly. "We work with the volunteer fire department and they are the ones you'll see selling the 50-50 tickets, so they can get a little out of this as well. You have to help your community because you are part of it."
There is so much competition for the entertainment dollar that racetracks face the challenge of bringing people out on a regular basis. Special shows help, and Jennerstown builds the excitement for these programs.
"The sport has changed," Mattingly notes. "You can't depend on the hardcore fan who used to be there every week sitting in the same spot. You have to understand it as family entertainment. We need to appeal to the younger market, knowing they are not going to make all the races. We have to attract every member of the family. We are cutting the admission price for a regular show. It will be two dollars less than last year. You have to keep it priced close to what you would pay for a movie. We have to learn from minor league baseball teams. They seem to be doing the best job in getting people to come through the gates."
Jennerstown's 2004 champions: (Back row, left to right) Duane Noel(Chargers), Patrick Parl
Along with getting people into the stands, there's the task of keeping them entertained. Jennerstown management wants to keep the show to about 2 1/2 hours, long enough to get a great program without inconveniencing anyone with a long drive home. They also plan to help competitors find sponsors for their efforts. Sponsors plan such a key role in keeping cars on the track.
"There's always been the idea through the sport that the track will try to steal any sponsor you have," Mattingly says. "We don't operate that way. We can help them get that sponsor. If we work with the competitors to keep them coming to the track, it helps our show, too."
There are a number of tracks throughout the region that are facing an uncertain future. The efforts of the management team at Jennerstown are pointing the track to a healthy tomorrow.