Under Friday Night Lights At Williams Grove Speedway
WORDS & IMAGES Ben Wentzel
The 72-year-old tunnel connecting visitors to the infield of Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway has damp, warped walls and reeks of cigars and race fuel. There’s an energy here — a pocket of hurried preparation hidden in quiet farmland — and I can think of no better way to spend a muggy Friday night than drinking cold beers and watching sprint cars slide sideways at 120 mph on the half-mile oval.
The track’s old PA system crackles to life: “Driv ... eeting! Five minute ... Drivers' meeting! Five minutes!” Drivers read their qualifying order from a hastily written dry-erase board, then head back to the pits to hand-shave and customize tire treads to balance optimal grip on the dark clay; too little traction causes wheel spin, but the car can’t slide if it has too much traction.
These are hard-working weekend warriors, prepping after long workdays throughout the week in order to optimize their cars for Friday under the lights. A lot of these drivers are racing the same track their fathers raced generations before them, and it’s not uncommon to see racing legends wrenching in the pits on their friend’s or kid’s car. Local tow trucks and tattoo shops sponsor hometown racers, plastering their sprint cars with logos from hood to wing.
When the green flag drops, everyone has an eye out for the checkers. This genuine, grassroots sport is at the heart of American auto racing, and these local sprint car teams epitomize the search for pure speed and efficiency. As a kid, collecting dirt tear-offs from the edges of the track, I saw these drivers with a mythical stature. Now, as an adult, I’m even more struck by the extraordinary effort I see exerted by these everyday people.