Port Royal Speedway Proves It’s Not Just a Sprint Car Track

PORT ROYAL, Pa. — Port Royal Speedway promoter Steve O’Neal took part in his track’s biggest Late Model event Friday and Saturday from high up inside one of the half-mile’s many boxes, one of the best from a bird’s eye view. views the track has to offer.

As fans steadily packed the frontstretch grandstand and grass-covered seating area to attend the $50,000 Rumble by the River Final to Win hosted by the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, O’Neal smiled at what had been created.

“I’m proud of the fact that when we took over here 12 years ago, all we heard was that it was (speed cars). Well, I’ll tell you what, I hope that’s gone because it’s not just about (race cars) around here,” O’Neal said. “We built this Late Model offering over the years to be one of the best offerings in the country. I hope they realize soon that it’s not just about (race cars) around here.

“I’m pretty proud of the fact that we paid $50,000 to win races in sprint cars, modified cars and late model cars. That’s quite an achievement for a small race track in the middle of nowhere.”

2022 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series at Port Royal Speedway

The third consecutive summer event of the Port Royal Lucas Oil Series had become the largest (by purse, attendance and number of cars) since O’Neal rolled the dice to add another big company to his busy schedule. track in 2020.

O’Neal intends to be added to the event next year, as the series announced on Saturday night that he will return on August 25-26 for the fourth year of the Rumble by the River in 2023.

But O’Neal, who almost always blends in with the crowd, didn’t get to fully experience his runway’s biggest Late Model event in history to date over the weekend. O’Neal tested positive for covid-19 on Wednesday, so that meant unusual precautionary measures to quarantine in one of those suite boxes high above the front stretch.

“Yeah, I sat there by myself both nights,” said O’Neal, whose symptoms are nothing more than a mild cough and some fatigue.

These next two weeks are among the busiest of the year for O’Neal and his Port Royal team as they prepare for the 168th opening of the Juniata County Fair next Saturday and one of the crown jewels of the sprint car racing September 8-10 at the Tuscarora 50.

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That’s the main reason why the third installment of Rumble by the River was cut from a three-day show to two days this year.

“The only bad part for us… well, it’s not a bad part. What makes it very difficult is that we get out of this and into our week of trade shows,” O’Neal said. “So we have five races in eight days, starting next weekend. (Track Prep Manager) Steve Stimely, all of our guys, to spend so many hours here, none of us are getting any younger. At least we took a day off for that. It is a lot of work. Most of us are volunteer aid.”

With the downsizing, O’Neal was able to pump more money into the finale and put on an event that, car-wise, compares to the sport’s top events.

The Rumble by the River became the ninth $50,000 to win or more event to draw 50 or more cars this season of Dirt Late Model, following the Show-Me 100 (54 cars), Firecracker 100 (54), North -South 100 (54), Silver Dollar Nationals (63), Prairie Dirt Classic (81), Dirt Late Model Dream (114), and Eldora Million (124). The return of the Colossal 100 in May at The Dirt Track in Charlotte also drew 51 cars.

“I have to say for the first time doing this (in this format with $50,000 to win), it was a very successful weekend,” O’Neal said. “Fifty-one cars, I don’t think you can ask for much more than that for the first time. I think the crowd was quite nice tonight. Of course, as always, we had a lot of competition around us here.”

When O’Neal says competition, he’s talking about area high school football teams that kicked off their seasons over the weekend, as well as the All Star Circuit of Champions touring race car series that is a hour later at Williams Grove and Lincoln Speedways in Central Pennsylvania.

Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway, just a half hour from Port Royal, also featured a car racing program on Saturday night. Considering the busy nature of the area, O’Neal says, “I think we should all be happy with how things went.”

O’Neal could go a few directions with the fledgling event and its easy format, but one of those moves doesn’t appear to include a 50-plus lap finish. Lucas Oil Series director Rick Schwallie, O’Neal said, is open to making the Rumble by the River main event 100 laps, or a number between 50 and 100 laps, but Schwallie let O’Neal do it. .

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“One thing is, like me, and not just me but some of the other guys here, those long-distance runs aren’t really my cup of tea,” O’Neal said. “I don’t like to watch tire racing. I don’t like to watch fuel racing. When we decided to do this, the first thing I said to Rick was, let’s get them running. It’s let’s get them started and let them run. I guess that’s a bit of the race car guy coming out of me.

“Fifty laps just makes racing better, especially on a big track.”

O’Neal added that “we have a few things to discuss” for 2023 in terms of format, which featured preliminary split-field features that gave 25 laps for $5,000 to win on Friday. The finishes of those semi-functions set up heat lineups for Saturday, avoiding the need for Saturday’s time trial.

While the event has been confirmed for next year, O’Neal isn’t sure about the details of the two-day format beyond the fact that he hopes the event will once again award a $50,000 winner’s share.

The right mix of wit and grit from O’Neal has helped pave the way for him and his track to succeed to this point. For a long time, O’Neal averaged 100 races that he attended a year beyond his commitments as a Port Royal promoter.

He doesn’t move as much as he used to, but he still attends the biggest events in the sport, like the Firecracker 100 at Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, Pennsylvania, Florida-Georgia Speedweeks, among other events you can immerse yourself in. it could help expand your wealth of promotion knowledge.

“This is how you learn. I go to as many different tracks as I can, O’Neal said. “No. 1, I’m a fan. I love the sport. But again, like I tell everyone, I don’t care what race I go to, usually you can always learn something. A lot of it is you learn things you never want to.” do. You get both the negative and the positive. You always learn something.”

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