Story By: JUSTIN SNYDER / RPW – MECHANICSBURG, PA – On August 31, 2018, Williams Grove Speedway will host a race honoring one of the area’s most successful owners in Al Hamilton. The Al Hamilton Tribute Race for the 410 Sprint Cars will pay $4770 to the night’s winner and $400 to start.
The event will be a Hoosier Racing Tire Diamond Series race and will feature an extended point fund for the top 5 finishing drivers. Also on the bill for the night will be the 360 Sprint Cars sanctioned by the United Racing Club Series and the Patriot Sprint Tour. The Eastern Museum of Motor Racing will host a display focusing on the many Hamilton owned cars, drivers and history with fans also being treaated to fireworks.
Past drivers will be on hand to honor the famed owner and sign autographs along with possible retro paint schemes to be run for the night’s event.
“As a track that prides ourselves in our history, we feel it very important to honor those who have played an instrumental part in making Williams Grove Speedway the track it is today,” said speedway general manager Justin Loh, “All Hamilton is the winningest car owner in the history of Williams Grove Speedway and it’s an honor to pass on his legacy to our fans and drivers for one night.”
A 2003 Inductee to the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum, Hamilton and his Red #77 were synonymous with Central PA Sprint Car racing. At Williams Grove specifically Hamilton captured 8 owner track championships, 4 National Open titles and over 80 race victories.
Hamilton first became a 410 Sprint Car owner during the 1967 season after a brief stint as a driver. His first driver was Mus Weyant.
For the next 40 plus season, Hamilton’s car was driven by the who’s who of sprint car racing. Notable drivers to find success in the car throughout the 70’s included Bobby Adamson, Smokey Snellbaker, Jan Opperman, Lynn Paxton, Kramer Williamson and Mitch Smith.
Hamilton stepped away from racing for 6 years in 1976 before returning in 1983 with Paxton at the helm. Paxton would go on to win the Williams Grove National Open that season before retiring. As an owner he finished out the 80’s with over 80 feature victories thanks to Keith Kauffman.
In 1989 Hamilton hired a young Stevie Smith and in 1990 the duo took to the World of Outlaws Tour for 4 ½ seasons, racking up over 40 feature wins and nearly winning the 1993 Knoxville Nationals. Future Outlaw standouts Danny Lasoski, Jeff Sheppard, Johnny Herrera and Joe Gaerte would take turns wheeling the car on the road before Hamilton returned to Central PA in 1996.
Dave Calaman picked up a victory for Hamilton in a brief stint in the car before Fred Rahmer was hired as the driver. Together they became one of the most consistent and powerful forces in Central PA until 2001 where Lance Dewease became his driver.
Current driver of the Heffner Motorsports #27, Greg Hodnett, piloted the #77 for two seasons in 2005 and 2006. After a successful few years in Central PA driving for Bob Stewart and a brief return to the World of Outlaws, it was with Hamilton that Hodnett, a Memphis native, became a full-fledged member of the PA Posse.
“It was a great opportunity to get to drive such a historic car that was not only a large fixture in Central PA racing, but Sprint Car racing as a whole,” said Hodnett. “Getting to be apart of the legacy that is Al Hamilton and strapping into his car, if I wasn’t already looked at as a PA Posse guy, I’d say that just about cemented me as a local. I’ve since made my home in PA and I guess in a way that’s thanks to Al and I’m really proud of my time in the car.”
While winning is always the goal each night Hodnett and his team pull into the pits, it would be an extra special moment if he were to capture the victory in this race.
“One of the coolest moments for me as a driver was driving the Hamilton #77 to victory lane at Williams Grove Speedway on Al’s 77th birthday,” said Hodnett. “His whole family was there and it was just a really special night to end up on the front stretch with that checkered flag and see Al beaming ear to ear.”
“I look back on that moment and how cool it was to be apart of that and it really be a cool moment to take home the victory in honor of him again in this special race.”
Aaron Ott most recently piloted a Hamilton sponsored red #77 car in the 2011 racing season.
General admission prices for the night’s event will be $18 for adults and $10 for youth. More details regarding potential tributes and drivers attending will be released in the near future.