The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Division One took over the town of Hershey this past weekend to celebrate the end of yet another successful race season and kick off an optimistic 2017 season.
The weekend started on Friday when members of Maple Grove Raceway’s management team attended the Track Operators meeting. This meeting is when all the tracks in the division gather to discuss any changes regarding the upcoming season. One key point that stood out at the meeting was visually seeing the data from successful year in NHRA. Both Peter Clifford, NHRA President and NHRA Senior Vice President – Racing Operations, Graham Light expressed their satisfaction of an effective year of transitioning television rights to Fox and they remain optimistic about the 2017 season.
Saturday was a long day full of information and celebration. Maple Grove Raceway had quite a few representatives in attendance for the 2017 Tech Seminar meeting and Technical Inspector Certification Program testing. We are proud to say that our staff took time out of their Saturday morning to gain more knowledge about tech and regulations to help keep our racers safe. We even have a new member of our team, who many of our racers will have the opportunity to meet first hand when going through tech this year.
Once all of the official business was squared away, it was time to sit back and celebrate some truly talented individuals in the drag racing scene. Cocktail hour consisted of mingling with friends, racers and fellow track representatives, with dinner to follow in a banquet room at the Hershey Lodge.
After dinner, the celebration of champions started with a message from Graham Light. He mentioned how positive the 2016 season was for NHRA and that he only expects that to continue in growth. Maple Grove Raceway was extremely honored to have been represented numerous times throughout the night by the likes of very gifted and strong willed individuals.
When the time came to recognize the Junior racers in the division it was Chris Smolenski to accept the award in the 14 – 15 year old age group. Chris was one of the 15 juniors who ventured to Mason Dixon Dragway in August to represent Maple Grove Raceway. He walked away from that weekend with a Junior Drag Racing League (JDRL) Division Championship. During his acceptance speech Chris mentioned how the heat played a major factor in that weekend and how it was not easy on the racers. He went on to thank numerous friends, family and sponsors who have helped him along the way including Mark Knarr with Pray Hard Racing.
Going along the line of the JDRL, Jason Leber, Race Director for Maple Grove Raceway went on stage to accept the award for the Junior Drag Racing League Team Championship. As proud as Maple Grove was to accept the award on behalf of the Juniors who attended the Divisional race, it was due to the hard work and dedication of them that made it possible. It was also Chris Smolenski’s win that secured Maple Grove Raceway as Team Champions. So a special congrats goes to all 15 of the Juniors who gave that weekend their all and even with the heat, came home champions.
Next on the podium was Dave Sciarretta to accept an award as a result of his success at the E.T. Bracket Finals. In September, Sciarretta won the Street E.T. Bracket Final at Lebanon Valley Dragway. Dave later went on to represent Maple Grove Raceway out in Pomona, California at the Summit National Championship in November. During his acceptance speech he thanked his family, friends and fellow racers who encouraged him in the journey to becoming the 2016 Street E.T. Bracket Final winner. He also briefly touched on his cross country road trip to Pomona for the Summit National Championship. Dave made it a point to note how humbled he was to finally accomplish that task. The task he has been working towards for years. But this year he can proudly say he is an E.T. Bracket Final winner.
The biggest surprise of the night was during the Hall of Fame portion of the banquet. Lex Dudas, General Manager/ Vice-President of Maple Grove Raceway arrived to the banquet with the thought process of attending a normal divisional banquet to represent Maple Grove. The first red flag went up for Lex when Maple Grove Raceway President and Senior Vice-President of Don Schumacher Racing’s Mike Lewis sat down to fill the remaining seat at the table. Given Mike’s involvement with NHRA, Lex just played off Mike’s presence as only slightly odd.
Lex realized as the night progressed, something was not adding up, especially when he turned around at the table. Sitting at the table directly behind him was his sister, brother, sister-in-law, daughter and grandsons. Once he spotted his family, they quickly tried to think of a reason for their presence as to not give away the surprise and real reason for their attendance. After that the night went on and not more was mentioned about all the odd coincidences, they just sat back and enjoyed the occasion.
Once all the special awards were presented, it was time to recognize the five 2016 inductees into the NHRA Northeast Division Hall of Fame. The master of ceremonies, Bob Frey, who also happens to be a Hall of Fame member, began reading off the accomplishments of the second recipient who still remained anonymous at that point. He noted this inductee to be a “die hard supporter of drag racing.” He also briefly touched on all of the endeavors this person tackled over the last 40 years including being President of Super Chevy Shows, General Manager of Indianapolis Raceway Park, Track Manager, NHRA Division Two Director, and Vice-President/ General Manager of Maple Grove Raceway. Lex began to put the pieces together and realized that what he thought were odd coincidences turned out to really be a well thought out plan.
Lex stood behind the podium to receive his award and give a complete impromptu acceptance speech. “It’s been a hell of a ride,” said Dudas. He reminisces about over the years watching great racers clinch championships. And how he witnessed racers who were just youngsters grow up and now have children of their own who race. Lex was truly touched to have his whole family in attendance and he states that his only regret in his career was time away from his kids. Which he says he plans to make up for as the end of his professional career draws near. As a 2016 NHRA Northeast Division Hall of Fame Inductee, Lex is now part of a prestigious group of individuals such as “Jungle Jim”, Bill Jenkins and Bruce Larson.
The night concluded with pictures along with more mingling. Overall the weekend was a success on many levels. As a way to celebrate the accomplishments in the 2016 season but also as a phenomenal boost of encouragement into the 2017 season. NHRA Division One returns to Maple Grove Raceway in May and October for two outstanding weekends jam packed full of racing. The Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event Memorial Day weekend will again feature a special show Saturday night with the Showdown at Sundown. Division One comes back just two weeks after the 2017 Dodge NHRA Nationals on October 6-8th for the 46th Annual P.C. Richard & Son Pennsylvania Dutch Classic Presented by Penske Truck Leasing.
Entering its 55th season, Maple Grove Raceway will once again host a full season of championship racing events. Including, the Dodge NHRA Nationals, which is part of the NHRA Mello Yello Series’ Countdown to the Championship. The Dodge Nationals return to Reading, Pennsylvania September 21st through September 24th.