Most folks love nostalgia. They long for the “good ‘ol days” of yesteryear where some of their fondest memories were had. The same can be said with those in the dirt racing community.
Locally, there are still plenty of older dirt track cars around that racers discarded for newer technology or have sat dormant over the years.
But what if there was a group of drivers who raced at local tracks using those cars that you grew up loving? Enter Jim Kirkwood and “open invitation vintage modified racing.”
Earlier in the 2010s, Kirkwood founded the “Thunder on the Dirt” vintage racing series that traveled all over Western PA and surrounding states, including Canada. But the Clearfield resident and Australian native always wanted to race locally, even though local track options were few. With series such as the one he had created becoming more restrictive in rules and not extending the hand of friendship and allowing visitors to race, he left the club dissatisfied with the direction it was headed.
Last year, Hidden Valley Speedway and the Luzier family — who originally opened the track in the early 1990s — reopened the dormant Clearfield track and dirt track racers and fans rejoiced in seeing action on the 1/4 mile track once again. That got Kirkwood thinking that maybe he could do something locally with vintage racing.
“We’re not going to put any constraints on how many times you can race,” Kirkwood said. “Locals and visitors alike can come as many times as they want and race.”
Kirkwood said he went to Hidden Valley and they embraced the idea, as did nearby Dog Hollow Speedway in Northern Cambria.
“The whole idea is to get the local guys back racing — all these cars that don’t have anywhere to go — and bring in a bunch of visitors to support them,” Kirkwood said. “By not putting any constraints on ... you can race as many times as you want. I think we should be able to drag in a lot of visitors. All these tracks want big car counts. And the more cars we can get there, the better show we can put on and the happier the track is, the happier the fans are and the happier we are.”
There will be two divisions — vintage modifieds and vintage sportsmans. Visitors would race to their own club rules and there’s a set of rules for locals that ensures they wont be disadvantaged in any way.
So what constitutes a vintage race car? Kirkwood said the bodies are from vehicles 1985 and earlier — he has previously run a 1978 Ford Pinto and a 1953 Chevy himself. However, chassis can be newer as they’ve gotten much safer over the years. They’re trying to keep costs down and aerodynamics out of it.
“If 10 guys from 10 different clubs turn up, they’ll race to their own set of rules and we’ll slot them in to (one of the two classes),” Kirkwood said. “Everybody will get a chance to race ... Nobody’s going to be disadvantaged in any way.”
Kirkwood said the ultimate goal is to race semi-regularly at a handful of tracks relatively close to the area where three or four races would be held at each track. It’s not like it will be ultra-competitive either, as Kirkwood joked they’ll be racing for the fun of it and for a plastic trophy.
While he will be 63 years old in a couple months, Kirkwood said he’s not ready to give up the racing bug quite yet, as he got hooked on it in Australia and has been driving since he was 17.
“That first time your car kicks sideways going into a corner, you’re hooked from then on,” Kirkwood said. “You really are. There’s just something about trying to control it and trying to get faster and faster without putting it around. It’s a buzz, it really is.”
Currently there are four races scheduled. Dog Hollow Speedway will host the group on June 19 and Sept. 6 while Hidden Valley Speedway in Clearfield will run on July 4 (not officially confirmed but tentatively slated) and Aug. 22 — the latter of which will be the Bobby Roos/Larry Schultz Memorial. Local driver Cody Schultz won that race last year in his Bobby Roos tribute car built by his late grandfather Larry Schultz.
“I can’t thank the Luziers and the Henrys enough for the opportunity that they’re giving us around the area,” Kirkwood said. “I hope that we can appeal to people and get them interested in bringing back the vintage cars. And not only has Hidden Valley embraced the idea, but so have local businesses like 120 Pub & Grub that will give us a chance to display our cars prior to racing and that’s massive.”
Those wanting more information or to become involved can contact Kirkwood at 577-9074 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.