Mechanicsburg – Williams Grove Speedway will honor the winner of the 1977 Champion Racing Oil National Open at the 59th annual running of the event coming up this Saturday night, October 2 when Hanover’s Van May serves as honorary starter and guest of honor for the prestigious event.
May will sign autographs at the Champion Racing Oil hospitality tent in the infield on Saturday night from 6 – 6:30 pm.
Now 71, the venerable May was just 27 years old at the time he drove his familiar No. 69 to a 150-lap win in 1977.
And May still remembers that autumn day well.
“They had time trials, it was a daytime show. The track was real dusty. I went out late and I timed in slow enough that I didn’t qualify for the feature,” he recalls.
“I qualified for the B Main. I won the B Main and I started 20th in the feature. It was the last 150 lap nationals, three 50-lap segments.”
“I advanced and I advanced and the third 50 about 12 or 15 laps from the end I passed Jimmy Edwards in the Lloyd car and led the rest of the race.”
May scored $3,000 for his win in that 15th annual event which at that time was quite impressive for a sprint car payday.
“At the end of the day I was ahead of everybody that started ahead of me. It was more than anyone else paid. At that time I think the Knoxville Nationals paid $4,000 or $5,00 so 3,000 bucks was a good payoff,” May says.
He says it didn’t surprise him that he had a car good enough to win that day.
“I had just got through winning on a dry slick Williams Grove track within the last couple of weeks and I certainly felt fast enough that with a little bit of time….I was not surprised, my car was faster than anybody else there.”
May recalls that the Open was actually run on a make-up date after being rained out prior.
He remembers that midwestern star Doug Wolfgang had towed east for the original date but had other commitments elsewhere for the make-up.
“I started out the day without qualifying and at the end of the day they paid me more money than anybody,” May happily says.
“I had passed Jimmy Edwards in traffic and they had a yellow flag after I had passed him and then somehow the restart didn’t happen with Edwards because he lost quick-change gears or something.”
“ I was very happy that I had passed him before that rather than having inherited the race. Williams Grove was my home.”
These days, aside from still going to the races, May is busy putting the finishing touches on a totally authentic restoration of his winning National Open ride.
The car as it was built then was a copy of a car that his brother Dub had been running and Van built it from the ground up.
This time around May got some help from 1987 National Open champion Joey Allen to bend the tubing before getting into the rebuild.
“It’s a very, very historically correct restoration,” May says of his nearly completed project that includes many of the original parts from the car as it was the day it took victory.
That winning Nationals ride was the only car May ever built himself during his decades-long career.
Saturday’s action gets underway at 7:30 pm with the winner of the event taking home $75,000.