When a devastating fire ripped through the garage of racing champion, Jack Pencil Jr. of Bedford earlier this month, it could have meant the end of the road for the Late Model local legend, but friends and competitors alike raced in to show their support.
"We've been offered other garages to work in, a car to race, parts, tools, you name it," said Pencil. "You race against these guys and they're your opponents and your competition, but it's also one big family. When times get tough, we band together."
That's exactly the kind of spirit that will keep local dirt tracks alive through these difficult economic times. While some NASCAR teams are struggling to find and keep sponsors, businesses like Bedford Speedway are holding their own.
"We are in pretty good shape," said track promoter, JR Keifer. "Obviously, we worry about the economy, but we have all of our sponsors back and have even picked up a few new ones. Our car count is real good."
Keifer says Bedford Speedway is positioning itself to prosper through the challenging climate, in part by cooperating with like-minded venues throughout a tri-state region. There are at least 15 race tracks within a couple of hours of Bedford.
"A lot of us share cars," he says, "and many of the tracks are working together more than ever before."
For example, Keifer has put together the inaugural Appalachian Mountain Dirt Late Model Speed Week: seven races in seven nights at seven different tracks, beginning June 6 in Hagerstown, and culminating June 12 at Bedford with stops in Selinsgrove, Winchester, Williams Grove, Lincoln Speedway and Port Royal.
The Bedford schedule also includes nights with hefty payoffs, like a Lucas Oil Series event in April, and the World of Outlaws in August. Each event pays $10,000 to win. But the local track is also working to make the purses bigger and deeper into the field: an attempt to encourage local teams to stay and race close to home while also enticing pros to come to town, offering the local drivers a great chance to test their talents against the best.
"Pennsylvania is where dirt racing started," said Keifer. "We are blessed to have the sport's hottest drivers and toughest teams right here in central Pennsylvania, and we're working with other tracks in the area to keep those drivers local."
Pencil hopes to be back on the track this weekend in Cumberland, and his team looks forward to a strong season of local dirt track racing in Bedford. In fact, Pencil believes local tracks may benefit from this economy: fans who don't want to shell out big bucks to attend a NASCAR race might quench their need for speed locally.
"Come to Bedford," said Pencil. "It's close, it's convenient, it's good entertainment for the entire family."
Keifer agrees: "I still believe our future is bright. Our schedule is super."
The green flag falls on the Bedford Speedway schedule April 17.
Kellie Goodman can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.