Local Speedways Offer Revved-up, Affordable Family Fun
Jul 31, 2018 02:18PM
By Jennifer Monahan
The Pittsburgher 100 at PPMC. Photo courtesy of Steve Skarupa
While stock car racing grew out of bootlegging Appalachian whiskey during Prohibition, today the sport offers family-friendly entertainment for racing enthusiasts of all ages. Though tickets on the NASCAR circuit can range from $60 to more than $200, local speedways in and around Pittsburgh offer the same kind of fun at far more affordable prices.
Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway (PPMS) is among the area’s premier racing facilities. Located only 15 minutes south of Pittsburgh International Airport, the .625-mile dirt track hosts events every weekend through early October.
Owner Matt Miley said one of the most popular events each summer is the Red Miley Rumble, featuring Ultimate Super Late Model Series cars. Super late model cars are the fastest form of stock car racing at PPMS, with the fastest speeds averaging more than 125 mph. Super late model cars can produce up to 850 horsepower. To put that in context for the mechanically challenged, a typical SUV produces just under 200 horsepower.
Other popular events at PPMS include Tony Stewart’s Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Cars in July; the Jook George Classic on Aug. 11, and the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series 30th Annual Pittsburgher 100 on Oct. 5-6, which Miley said draws competitors from all over the nation and is a must-see event.
The Jook George Classic is particularly kid-friendly; Kids Fest begins at 2 p.m. and features a petting zoo, pony rides, face painting, balloon animals, finger-painting, a mermaid experience and amusement-park style food, plus racing at 7 p.m. Kids age five and under are free, with tickets only $5 and $10 for older kids and teens up to age 16, respectively.
Miley, who grew up going to the racetrack with his parents and fell in love with racing more than 50 years ago, said the best thing about the PPMS experience is that it offers affordable family fun. Special events such as $1 hot dog night, autograph night, and kids’ bike races on the speedway are draws for younger patrons.
Miley said many fans also enjoy picking a driver’s name and number or a favorite car to cheer for that evening. For anyone who might hesitate to try something unfamiliar, he encouraged, “Try it once. You may not get hooked, but it’s an experience the kids won’t forget!”
For details and tickets, check out www.ppms.com.
Lernerville Speedway in Sarver is the only track in the nation that hosts each of the top three racing divisions every week. Fans can see 410 Sprints, Super Late Models and Big Block Modifieds every Friday night.
Located in southeastern Butler County, Lernerville’s half-mile dirt track is home to the annual Firecracker 100, a three-day event in June which pays $30,000 to win and draws competitors from across the U.S. July’s Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup race is the single largest one-day sprint car race in the country, and the Steel City Stampede in October features more than 300 race cars in 10 divisions. Whether attending a regular race night or a weekend-long series of events, both racing aficionados and those new to the sport can find plenty of reasons to cheer.
Eric Westendorf, an administrator at Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center by day, served for many years as Lernerville’s director of public relations and is currently the track announcer. He said one of the biggest reasons people love the speedway is “dirt therapy.”
“For six hours on a Friday night, the rest of the world goes on pause,” he said of the fans that get caught up in the speed and excitement of the races. He added that people appreciate the opportunity to share an affordable, wholesome and fun experience with their families. Concessions are significantly less expensive than at Pittsburgh’s professional sports arenas and admission is free for kids 10 or younger.
The track has seen a significant investment of local resources in the last two years. Westendorf explained that the Tomson family, owners of Tomson Scrap Metal in Natrona and Brackenridge, purchased the speedway in 2016. “They put a lot of money into the facility, and they take a lot of pride in making it a vital part of the community,” he explained.
Westendorf recommended that first-timers looking for an authentic racing experience check out any regular Friday night events. Go-Kart Night on Aug. 17 and Championship Night (with fireworks) on Aug. 24 are sure to appeal to fans of all ages. Find out more at www.lernerville.com.
Anyone looking for a fun and affordable family night out should make sure to check out one of the local speedways. The thrill of engines revving, stock cars flying into tight turns and fans cheering on their favorite drivers is an experience tough to match. And all of us could benefit from a bit more dirt therapy in our lives.