Roy Richwine purchased the property that is now known as Williams Grove Speedway in 1937. It was formerly known as the Grangers Picnic Fairgrounds. The first race was held on May 21, 1939. Joey Chitwood Sr set the fast time that day by finishing a lap in 26.03 seconds. Tommy Hinnershitz won the forty-lap show, winning $ 400. The Flying Farmer won 19 speed car races on the track, competing until the late 1950s! He also won 7 Eastern Speed Car Championships and enjoyed a top ten finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The only NASCAR Cup race at Grove took place on June 27, 1954. It was won by Herb Thomas, leading 150 of the 200 laps, in a 1954 Hudson. Leading the other 50 laps and finishing second was the winner of pole Dick Rathmann, Hershel McGriff was third. Other notable hosts were Buck Baker, Lee Petty, Dizzy Dean, Ralph Ligouri, and Hilly Rife.
On July 29, 1951 it became known as “Black Sunday”. Two drivers, Cecil Green and Bill Mackey, died in consecutive qualifying races at Winchester, Indiana. Also that day Walt Brown was assassinated in Grove. He spun into turn two while grading his # 29 car. He rolled over and Brown died at Carlisle Hospital that same day. Eleven other drivers, in addition to 1 official and 1 spectator, have lost their lives on the track.
The Grove has a connection to the Indianapolis 500. The last connection is that of the conductor PJ Chesson, who participated in the event. Indy race track winners include George Robson (1946), Bill Holland (1949), Johnny Parsons Sr (1950), Troy Ruttman (1952), Pat Flaherty (1956), Jimmy Bryan (1958), AJ Foyt (1961, 64, 67 and 77) and Parnelli Jones (1962). Jan Opperman, Joey Chitwood Sr, Johnny Thomson, Duke Nalon, Duane Carter Sr, Eddie Sachs, Rodger McCluskey and Elmer George (whose family still owns IMS) have speed car wins here. Ted Horn won 14 speed car races (then known as “big cars”) here in addition to 3 National Driving Championships (1946-48)! He was assassinated in DuQuoin, IL in 1948, but had enough points to win the title.
Jack Gunn was the announcer for the track and later took over as promoter. It added Selinsgrove, Penn National, and Hagerstown to its list of promotional efforts. Gunn, whose last name was actually Gunnells, attended the Milton Hershey School for Orphans along with his brother Trim. Trim owned a garage business in Lebanon, Pennsylvania and owned a car on the track for many years. Jack won the Promoter of the Year award in 1979 and passed away in 1980. Gunn is responsible for bringing the best drivers in the country to compete in central Pennsylvania. He is in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.
Since speed car racing began weekly in 1967, Fred Rahmer has become the most successful driver, winning 83 races. Lance Dewease has 75 wins, Donnie Kreitz Jr has 54 wins and Keith Kauffman enjoyed 51 wins. Kauffman has the most wins in a season with 13 in 1984!
The track has long straights and tight corners. It was supposedly inspired by Legion Ascot Speedway in California. It is also known for its spectator bridge that spans the home stretch into the infield. There is a tunnel under the track at the first turn that connects the fans on the front straight to the infield. Gone are the starter’s grandstand in the frame and the covered stands on the front straight. Did you know that at some point there was a runway for airplanes outside the final stretch of the runway?
Williams Grove Speedway is referenced in a Hollywood movie. The 1949 film is called “The Big Wheel” starring Mickey Rooney as the driver “Billy Coy.” After getting into trouble on the west coast tracks, he heads east. A newspaper headline is shown with him winning at Grove. Later it arrives at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.