Pieces of the Past: “Weeee’re Racin’!”

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Photo submitted.

If you grew up within a 50-mile radius of the Warren-Jamestown region you probably had a few heroes. If you grew up in the 50s you followed names like Emory Mahan, Jim Scott, Squirt Johns, or Freddie Knapp.

In the 60s you might have rooted for Sammy LaMancusso, Bobby Schnars, Tom Dill, or Ron Blackmer. By the 70s Dave Turner, Johnny Whitehead, and Skip Furlow were catching your attention. When the ’80s arrived you started hearing about Dick Barton, Ron Davies, and Chub Frank. By now you know I’m talking about the one sports venue that has thrilled local fans longer than any single sports-entertainment enterprise in the area STATELINE SPEEDWAY.

Len Briggs, Jerry Frank, Don Frank, (I worked with his son Terry) and Lloyd Williams had been a part of Skyline Speedway. That facility was located atop a hill south of Sugar Grove and at the time was attracting good crowds on Saturday afternoons. A pretty good disagreement led to a split and Briggs, Williams, and the Frank brothers bought a farm along Kortwright Road just north of Sugar Grove. With a plan to build a speedway.

I was close to Lloyd Williams but the other three were always behind the scenes. In a rare conversation with Jerry Frank, he told me that the four had help getting Stateline built in the late winter and early spring of 1956. Local farmers would just show up with tractors and other equipment to get trees removed, level the area, and build roadways into the place.

When people got the news that the track was going to sell beer an uproar developed. The drinking age in New York was 18 and it was 21 in Pennsylvania. The group spread the story that the state border ran right through the infield. That there would be no beer on the Pennsylvania side of the track. This is part of the reason to this day there are two sets of grandstands. Most tracks like Eriez have stands on just one. This reduces the need for double staff.

By 1983 the scuttlebutt was that the four men had enough of running two speedways and had decided to sell one of them. Eriez, located in the sleepy little town of Hammett outside of Erie, was put up for sale. Takers for the Erie facility were sparse. When the men met with local salvage yard owner Francis Seamens, the talks took an interesting twist. Fran told me that once the talks got to numbers and a price for Eriez was established he said, “I’d pay that for Stateline!” A revival began. Seamens set about recruiting drivers from his office at the salvage yard. Car counts shot up in the lower classes. By opening night in 1984 the pits were full, the stands were too and legendary action was restored.

After Fran Seamens’ death, the track again faced extinction. Bill Catania stepped in. A couple of seasons later Catania was faced with more issues than he could solve. Jim Scott, who was one of the “stars” that shone brightly in the first decades stepped in. In 1984, after the Franks, Lloyd Williams, and Len Briggs sold the track, I became track announcer. It was a position I held for 15 seasons. “Spanky Hall with the green flag…Green flag is down…we’re racing!”