Williams Grove National Open Preliminary Has Its Place In History

By Shawn Brouse
Mechanicsburg – As much as the Champion Racing Oil National Open at Williams Grove Speedway deserves its place in sprint car lore as it celebrates its Diamond Anniversary, 61st running on September 30 with a $75,000 payday, the National Open Preliminary race itself also has a place at the history table.

Although not an annual event, the National Open Preliminary race will hold its head high and celebrate its 36th running on September 29.

The preliminary was first run in 1980 with Keith Kauffman taking the win aboard the Weikert Livestock No. 29.

That preliminary win would be the first of two for Weikert in the race with Doug Wolfgang scoring again a few years later in 1985.

Noted author and television commentator of today, driver Brad Doty of Apple Creek, Ohio was lured East back in 1981 and picked up what would be his first of two career Williams Grove wins in the preliminary before suffering career ending injuries in a racing crash a few years later.

The event has only been lost to weather eight times over the years and on 10 occasions the preliminary winner has swept both National Open races, going on to score the coveted big prize in the Open itself.

Sweeps came in 1982, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2011, 2017 and in 2022 at the respective hands of Lynn Paxton, Wolfgang, Stevie Smith, Steve Kinser, Mark Kinser, Lance Dewease, Sammy Swindell, Jason Myers, David Gravel and Lance Dewease.

And that sweep by Paxton in 1982 was surrounded by considerable controversy stemming from the preliminary race.

The Williams Grove record books actually show a tie for the preliminary win between both Paxton and Ohio’s Dave Blaney on September 17.

A young Blaney was leading, headed for his first career Grove win on that night when he ran into mechanical problems as he raced off of the fourth turn toward the checkers.

Veteran Paxton was trailing and gaining fast as Blaney tried to limp home and the scorers documented his No. 10 as crossing the finish line first.

However unrest abounded regarding that decision and a picture of the finish taken at the line produced the next day clearly showed Paxton crossing very close but definitely first.

Thus both drivers were paid for and credited with a victory and Paxton could go on to score the weekend sweep with Grove career wins 38 and 39.

No driver has been able to put up big numbers in the preliminary race over the years unlike within its big brother National Open wherein World of Outlaws driver Donny Schatz is going for an amazing seventh event title in this year’s race.

Rather, in the preliminary no driver holds more than a trio of wins with Kauffman, Steve Kinser, Gravel and Dewease all holding that distinction.

Before the World of Outlaws began sanctioning the preliminary in 1989, the race was contested once as an All Stars Circuit of Champions contest with Maynard Yingst the winner in 1986.

Today and for many years now the National Open Preliminary at Williams Grove is run as a separate and stand-alone show aside from the Open itself.

However for a number of years as an outlaws race, the top four finishers in the preliminary race were automatically locked into the next night’s National Open.

This was standard procedure under World of Outlaws sanctioning rules for two-day shows for many seasons.

In the 2006 running of the event, Washington state driver Jason Solwold made speedway and outlaws history with a preliminary night win.

Up to that point in outlaws history at the track, every sanctioned race ever run had been scored by either a series regular or a clear member of the home team PA Posse.

Solwold’s drive to victory made him the first true independent driver to ever win a Williams Grove outlaws feature main.

Another piece of history from the National Open preliminary comes from 2018 when the “Fresno Phenom,” Giovanni Scelzi crossed the country for an upset win on September 28.

Scelzi’s victory etched his name in the record books as the youngest driver ever to win a sprint car race at the historic venue at the ripe old age of 16.

In 2021, NASCAR star Kyle Larson stopped at Williams Grove and copped the preliminary before going on to claim the season title on NASCAR’s top circuit.

The 2022 version of the race, won by Dewease, ended up being the shortest in history at 10 laps after the race was called official by outlaws gurus thanks to persistent, intermittent light rain.

The 36th running of the 25-lap National Open Preliminary gets underway at 7:30 on September 29.

The winner will receive $10,000.

Admission prices for Friday’s program are $35 for adults and $15 for youth.

Keep up to date on all the latest speedway news and information by visiting the oval’s official website located at www.williamsgrove.com or by following the track on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.