In this edition of the guest spot photographer Dan McFarland recalls memories from the Sharon Nationals. Now living near Columbus, McFarland grew up near Sharon and the Sharon Nationals holds a special place for him. McFarland shares those memories in his first writing contribution for the site.
By Dan McFarland
(August 31, 2022) Some kids grow up at Knoxville. Some at The Grove. Some at Chico. However, I grew up at Sharon Speedway, and growing up at Sharon meant that the Sharon Nationals was the greatest race in the world. Steeped in history and memories, one of the crown jewels of the All-Star schedule is making its return after a 15+ year absence.
Looking at the winner’s list reveals the quality of the fields drawn to the Sharon Nationals. Three Kinsers have won the event (Steve ‘81, Kelly ‘83 & Mark ’90, ’93, ‘95). Doug Wolfgang is the only 4-time winner (’84, ’85, ’86, ’89). Dave (’87) & Dale Blaney (’96, ’03) have combined for three victories at their home track. Lee Osbourne (’82); Kenny Jacobs (’88, ’92); Joey Saldana (’99). The list reads like a Hall of Fame roll call.
While that group is certainly impressive, what I couldn’t wait for was the chance to see the infamous Pennsylvania Posse come over the border to wage battle with our local stars, the best of Ohio and the All-Stars. Top teams such as the Hamilton #77, Dyer #461, Harz #88 and the Zemco #1z among others made the trip. The Posse not only made the field one of the toughest in the country but also took the loot back home numerous times. Todd Shaffer was always dominant at the track and won in ’91, Fast Freddie Rahmer in 1994, Greg Hodnett in 1998 and 2001, Jeff Shepard in 2004 and Mark Smith won the last running in 2005. Today we joke about the Posse “Leaving the Porch”, but in the 90s especially there was no doubt that they’d be there in numbers pushing for the win.
The Sharon Nationals has set the stage for some of the wildest moments I remember growing up at the track. In 1997 some kid from California burst onto the national scene with Tyler Walker taking the win and doing backflips (literally) in victory lane. Buddy Cochran won the “Slow Dash” in 1998 and the place went wild. In 1999 Kasey Kahne did some flips of his own and went out of the ballpark, landing near the parking lot. Phil Gressman shocked the field and scored an upset win for Northwest Ohio in 2000. Hodnett’s win in 2001 came after finishing third and not leading a lap, how’s that for some trivia! (Presumed winner Kenny Jacobs didn’t make weight and 2nd place Jason Johnson was disqualified when weight was found hidden in his seat. The video of that race can be viewed here featuring Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame announcer Rick Eshelman on the call.
Beyond the winners and competitors, this event meant so much to my fandom of this sport. Despite living a few miles away in Hubbard, Ohio we would camp at the track each year off of turn four. It would be a 48-hour bonanza of living, eating, and breathing my favorite thing in the world: Sprint Cars. From late nights with post-race cover bands, to hanging out in the pits to see the haulers pull in and running back to excitedly tell my dad, to getting no sleep in that awful tent, I loved every minute of it.
Without the Sharon Nationals I don’t know that I’d still have such a strong tie to dirt track racing and have met some of the amazing people I call friends today. It’s my hope that every race fan gets to have their own foundational experience that creates and defines their love for this sport because looking back those emotions and memories could never be replicated.
This weekend I get to step back in time to my childhood and spend Labor Day weekend in Hartford, Ohio, and I couldn’t be more excited.