Friday night short track racing is a popular event in towns all across the USA.
From the '50s clear through the '80s, racing fans in the mid-Ohio Valley didn't have far to go to get their fill of roaring engines, burning racing fuel and side by side racing as just between Marietta and Belpre in Institution, Hilltop Speedway was known for some of the best dirt track racing in the area.
Fast forward some 20 plus years in time and once again racing is alive and well in the valley as the Legendary Hilltop Speedway prepares to celebrate it's first year anniversary after re-opening late last summer.
Photo courtesy of Zach Yost
Drivers go around the bend at Legendary Hilltop Speedway during a race earlier this season.
The quarter mile banked oval proved a training ground for some of the best dirt track racers in the area in its early days including Marietta native Larry Dickson, who went on to secure a place in the Sprint Car Hall Of Fame as well as starting the Indianapolis 500 some eight times.
After sitting vacant for more than two decades, a group led by Lhan Weppler leased the track and after months of hard worked, re-opened the speedway in August of 2012.
Since then the track is running each and every Friday night with five different classes of cars.
The speedway runs steel block late models, modifieds, hot modifieds, four cylinders, and mini wedges.
Competition to attract both cars and fans to the track is steep as Skyline Speedway in Stewart and Midway Speedway in Crooksville both race on Friday evenings as well forcing local drivers and fans to chose which track they want to go to.
"Our car counts have been pretty good lately," said Weppler, who grew up at the track as a youngster as his father operated a push truck. "We've had full fields in all classes the past few months."
Building a fan base has been a slow but steady process for Weppler and his crew as they are operating the track on a limited budget and have been able to do only limited advertising.
"We would like to see our attendance improve a little bit," said Weppler, noting that he is currently talking with potential sponsors that could assist with the funding to continue to improve the facility. "We have a lot of fans that we see here each and every Friday night."
One constant at the quarter mile track is the quality of racing it features as many evenings the winner has been decided by inches at the drop of the checkered flag.
"That is a main positive. Our racing is outstanding week in and week out and that is what keeps our fans coming back each week," said Weppler. The speedway had hoped to hold a sprint car race the first week in August but that event was recently canceled as Weppler just didn't feel the timing was right.
Instead the track will run the popular super late model class on the track for the first time since it's return along with the other classes on August 9th.
The track will also hold a family day on August 4th which will feature a double header of mini wedge car racing as well as a popular endurance race.
The September schedule for the track has yet to be announced as for the speedway to continue racing on Friday nights it would mean a head to head battle for fans with high school football.
"We are even considering running some Sunday afternoon races in September," said Weppler, noting that the track used to run on Sundays back in it's hay day.
Weppler considers this season as another stepping stone to reestablishing Hilltop to one of the premiere racing facilities in the area and has some goals for the facility in the future.
"We would love to see full fields in every class we run and continue to make it an affordable event that a family can come to," said Weppler. "We would also like to run the super late models on kind of a special event type basis as well."
Points leaders so far this season include Jeremy Misel in the steel block class, Roy Roush in the AMRA modifieds, Chad Smith in the hot mod's, Josh Saylers in the four-cylinder class, and Cameron Roush in the mini wedges.
The track will return to action Friday night with a full slate of racing.