June 15, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
Old cars, old drivers, and fans of both came together Saturday at Thunder Returns 5 at the former location of Portsmouth Speedway at the Lazy Village Campground and RV Park in West Portsmouth.
“There’s a lot of memories here all right, good and bad,” Portsmouth area racing legend Dean Knittel said. “I see a lot of guys are still around. They come down here every year. It was good here (Portsmouth Speedway) while it lasted.”
Knittel said he started driving at Portsmouth Speedway in 1954.
“I was driving just a regular old, what you call a stock car, and I think I quit racing in 1968 at KC Raceway and Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe),” Knittel said. “I had a pretty good time. It’s good to see the old guys, a lot of them look really good.”
One of those is former NASCAR driver and Scioto County native Junior Spencer, who has difficulty talking, but that has no effect on the gleam in his eye.
“I drove here in 1964, and I drove three years in NASCAR,” Spencer said.
He produced a picture of an orange and white number 37 car, against the backdrop of the Daytona Speedway sign.
“That was (19)65. I ran it at Daytona. That was pretty good.”
Spencer paused to sign an autograph from an admiring fan.
It’s great to see all of my old buddies,” Spencer said. “It brings back old memories.”
Many of the drivers were talking about Ross Hamilton, Sr., longtime driver who died several weeks ago.
“We brought the procession down around the track here, and we gave him his last checkered flag,” Thunder Returns 5 organizer Gary Meade said.
While he was very young when his dad began racing, Ross Hamilton, Jr. has a lot of memories about those days and those races. And seeing his grandson Alex Hamilton next to his go-cart gives one the feeling the racing tradition is going to continue in that family.
“I was two years old when this track opened,” Hamilton said. “Dad, he raced here from the first day it opened. I remember when my dad won his first race, and they put me in the car so I couldn’t get out and get into trouble. And it was a NASCAR track probably in (19)53 for three or four years. It was NASCAR sanctioned.”
Meade said he had been running it through his mind as to whether or not to have a Thunder Returns 6 next year, but the turnout Saturday made him reconsider and schedule next year’s event already.
“We’ve got about 10 old race cars, and close to 40 cruise-in cars,” Meade said. “This is a really good turnout, a really good turnout.”
Meade added an autograph session this year, and a lot of the drivers from the ’50s and ’60s were on hand signing their names and shaking hands.
“We had 11 ex-drivers show up,” Meade said. “And I can’t be more happy.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.