Jennerstown Speedway
(Photo: Nate Smallwood/NASCAR)

Consistency key for Jennerstown Speedway’s growth as the track goes NASCAR-sanctioned this season

When Jennerstown Speedway Complex general manager Bill Hribar was in Florida visiting New Smyrna Speedway in February for the track’s annual Speedweeks, he ran into some old friends who now work in NASCAR. They all started talking about the possibility of adding Jennerstown to the list of NASCAR-sanctioned short tracks, and, he said, “Next thing you know, we started talking at the table with a NASCAR sanctioning agreement.”

It was about two or three weeks after Hribar returned from Florida that Jennerstown came to an agreement with NASCAR. The Jennerstown, Pennsylvania, half-mile oval became the 45th NASCAR-sanctioned short track in the United States and Canada.

“It’s been an incredible experience,” Hribar said in a phone interview this week. “There hasn’t been one person in NASCAR that hasn’t been amazing to work with so far.”

RELATED: Jennerstown officially returns to Weekly Series

Jennerstown Speedway
Jennerstown Speedway (Nate Smallwood/NASCAR)

It’s been about 15 years since Jennerstown was a part of NASCAR. The track closed in 2008 and was not NASCAR-sanctioned at that time. Back then, Jennerstown had a sister track, Motordrome Speedway, about an hour away in West Newton, Pennsylvania.

Hribar grew up a mile from Motordrome, and he eventually started racing there himself.

“That was my entire childhood. I spent every Friday night there,” he said. “When I got my first teaching job in 2007, the very first purchase I made was for a race car to race at Motordrome Speedway.”

His knowledge of racing and his involvement in the fire department and other local organizations in the community helped Hribar move from behind the wheel to the management side of the sport.

“You meet some of the greatest people of your life in racing, and I met one of the current owners there,” he said. “The owner asked if I would help out at Motordrome and kind of give it a breath of fresh air.”

Hribar and others had an agreement to purchase Motordrome in 2013, but the deal didn’t work out. A year later, he got a call saying, “We’re going to Jennerstown.”

“I thought he was kind of crazy,” Hribar said. “It’s an hour away, and I didn’t really know many people.

“Long story short, I went in front of six individuals, spoke for about two-and-a-half hours about what I wanted to do and how to make it work, and here we are eight years later, and I’m running the place.”

Hribar has been at Jennerstown since it reopened in 2014. He started as basically a volunteer, got a little more involved in 2015, and was named general manager before the 2016 season.

The track has been through several different owners in that time, but it has continued to grow.

It was that growth that convinced Hribar and others it was time to go NASCAR-sanctioned.

“I believe timing is everything in this sport,” he said. “We feel we’ve got a pretty good foundation underneath us.”

Jennerstown Speedway
Jennerstown Speedway (Nate Smallwood/NASCAR)

Hribar said the response has been “remarkable” since Jennerstown made the NASCAR announcement, from the drivers to the sponsors to the fans. When they made the announcement, they were on a Facebook live stream, and almost immediately, he said, their phones were “just going ballistic.”

“And it was from some of the people you would never expect to hear from in regards to that,” he said. ” Even if they were in favor, you wouldn’t expect them to reach out. It has been nothing but positive support from everyone involved. It’s opened up numerous opportunities for the speedway, for drivers, sponsors. It has been a win-win the whole way around, and NASCAR has been amazing to work with.”

Jennerstown hopes to continue to grow in 2022. Hribar said the track recently completed a $350,000 LED lighting project. They redid the VIP area and press box, and they’re currently redoing all the bleachers and some spots in the pit area.

Completing these projects and bringing Jennerstown back to prominence has, most importantly, revived the excitement for short track racing in Southwest Pennsylvania. Before the track re-opened, Hribar said what the sport was missing in the area was consistency.

“You had individuals opening and running the racetracks, and you wouldn’t know until March of the following year if the racetrack was even going to be there,” he said. “So people weren’t willing to invest in their cars, the equipment or the facility not knowing, that uncertainty.

“So we made it quite clear the gentlemen involved, and still are involved, we’re the real deal. They’re investing their time, energy and money into making the speedway successful.”

The biggest reflection of Jennerstown’s success has been in the car count and the fans in the stands. Last year, the track had 34 cars in their top Late Model division collect points, something Hribar said “this region and part of the country hasn’t seen in decades.”

The track is also averaging between 4,000-4,500 fans a week, he added.

“Low and behold, when you pay your bills and treat people with respect, they want to come to your facility,” Hribar added. “And we actually saw people. A gentleman here who hadn’t raced in 20-something years came back. Other people who hadn’t raced in 15, 16 years. Everybody wants to be part of Jennerstown Speedway, and it’s just like a revitalization, and it’s been great.”

Hribar still teaches high school manufacturing full time, and he doesn’t race any more himself. While he said he can’t compare racing to being the general manager of a track, and can’t say which role he likes more, he couldn’t imagine being in any other position at this time. To him, he’s doing a lot more good on that side of the track, and being the GM “scratches the itch where I’m still involved in racing and doing a lot more good on this side of things.”

What he’s most excited about this season is seeing everyone again — from his drivers to the fans to everyone else involved with Jennerstown’s growth.

The track held a registration party last weekend, and Hribar said people came out in droves to support the track and get excited for the 2022 season.

“We’re really excited,” he said. “The 2021 season was probably the most remarkable for Jennerstown, not just in our years but any other years combined.

“In every other year it seems like there’s always, I don’t want to say down time, but you don’t have that adrenaline rush. I live off adrenaline, and all offseason you wait for that to kick back in. Well, I can confidently tell you the adrenaline rush hasn’t stopped since September of last year, and ever since we’ve made the NASCAR deal … It is full speed ahead for everyone involved.”

Jennerstown will hold its first practice day on April 23 and a second practice on April 30. The track will open the season on May 7.

Jennerstown is also one of 21 tracks currently competing for the Advance Auto Parts Advance My Track Challenge for a $50,000 prize. To learn more or vote for your favorite track, go to https://www.advancemytrack.com/.