Williams Grove Speedway and Selinsgrove Speedway have both been running a memorial race to honor a promoter who helped make sprint cars what they are today in Central Pennsylvania. That promoter’s name is Jack Gunn and he created something lasting that fans have enjoyed for years.
Selinsgrove started their race to honor him in 1981, while Williams Grove started theirs in 1983. Jack Gunn died at the end of 1980, at the age of 48, after fighting cancer for 18 months.
Today, many fans today know of the name, but you would have to be 50 years old or older to actually remember him and what he created. He started out as an announcer in the area in the 1960s, and then turned his talents to promoter at area speedways. He eventually took over promoting sprint car races at Williams Grove Speedway, Selinsgrove Speedway, Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland, and also Penn National Speedway.
The tracks in Central PA ran cars back then called Bugs, or supermodifieds, until 1968 when Gunn brought super sprint cars to Williams Grove Speedway.
Jack Gunn’s plan was to help raise sprint
car racing to not only a weekly division but
a premiere weekly headline division
In 1975, Gunn formed Keystone Auto Racing on Speedways (KARS) to sanction racing at all of his tracks. He was one of a few single promoters running a sprint car sanctioning body in the country. In doing so, he became one of the most powerful promoters of sprint car racing at the time.
During this era, Gunn and his tracks rose to prominence locally and nationally. Gunn’s plan was to help raise sprint car racing to not only a weekly division but a premiere weekly headline division at the tracks.
Gunn was feted nationally as 1979 Promoter of the Year by Racing Promotion Monthly and inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1990, the first year of the Hall’s inductions.
I was a fan in the stands in the late 1970’s and remember Gunn in victory lane always with an entertaining interview of the winner. Jack was a promoter’s promoter and reminded me of a P.T. Barnum, always with a smile on his face in victory lane in front of the crowd.
He liked bringing new talent to the area to race and most of them stayed. Jan Opperman, Kenny Weld, Steve Smith, Bobby Allen, Steve Seigel, Van and Dub May all moved to the area to race, some on their own and some with Gunn’s help.
In 1978, Ted Johnson came to town with a brand new traveling series called the World of Outlaws. It was the perfect series for Central PA, as we already had many out-of-state drivers and some became part of Ted’s series. Those early years the series was run out of the trunk of Ted Johnson’s car. It’s come a long way since then. Gunn only saw three years of World of Outlaws, as he died the end of 1980. I remember seeing him watching the races at Williams Grove Speedway that last year from the big picture window in the office in turn one.
I wonder what Jack Gunn and Ted Johnson would say today if they saw how things have turned out 40 years later. They both were a big part of putting sprint car racing where it is today.