Racing season at the Legendary Hilltop Speedway begins tonight

For many the real beginning of spring means the crack of a baseball bat or the smell of fresh cut grass.

Others prefer the roar of an engine and the smell of burning racing fuel.

For those who prefer the latter, the wait is over as the long racing offseason officially comes to a close tonight when the Legendary Hilltop Speedway opens its 2014 season with five classes of dirt track cars scheduled to compete.

The speedway, which opened in the 1950s, will begin its second full season after reopening late in 2012 after sitting vacant for the better part of two decades.

This season the track hopes to take another step forward as it will run the popular AMRA Late Model division cars on a weekly basis for the first time since its reopening.

The late model cars raced three times last season on the quarter mile oval and those three events happened to be the most attended races of the season at the speedway.

“We are excited about having the late model cars here on a weekly basis,” said track spokesman Matt Chalfant. “They put on a great show when they were here last year and the fans responded really well.”

Veteran racer Butch McGill who competed at Hilltop as far back as the 1970s claimed two of those races last year while Chris Garnes was victorious in the other. Chalfant is hopeful that a move by Skyline Speedway in Stewart to Saturday night racing will result in an increase of car counts as well as an attendance increase for the track.

“We will be the only track in the immediate area racing on Friday nights,” said Chalfant. “Hopefully that will bring in some of the big boys. I think fans will like it because they will never know who might show up on certain nights to race.”

While the Super Late Models will earn top billing each week, fans will still get to see the popular AMRA modified class on a weekly basis who provided some of the area’s best finishes last season.

“The modifieds just seem like they are perfect for this track,” said Chalfant. “They are super competitive races and the depth of the field is impressive. There are several drivers capable of winning on any given night.”

The track will also run the Edge Hot Modified series as well as a four-cylinder class and the popular mini-wedge class for the kids.

Last season Jeremy Miser (Steel Block Late Models), Roy Roush (AMRA Modifieds), Chad Smith (Edge Hot Mods), Josh Saylers (4-Cylinders) and Cameron Roush (Mini-Wedges) claimed track championships.

“Fans will see some great racing,” said Chalfant. “It is neat to be able to go to a track on a Friday night that your grandfather went nearly 60 years ago and still see some great races.”

Gates will open tonight at 4 p.m. at the speedway located halfway between Marietta and Belpre with racing scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.