Story By: DINO OBERTO / MAHONING VALLEY SPEEDWAY – LEHIGHTON, PA – On Saturday evening, April 9 Mahoning Valley Speedway will get the 2022 season underway with the Freddy Hamm Tribute which is race #1 of the Mahoning Valley Speedway Hall of Fames Series (MVSHoFS).
Always identified by his signature Dennis Hilbert owned No. 45, the Modifieds will compete in a pair of 45-lap features. Street Stocks, Hobby Stocks and Futures will also be in action. Race time is 5:00 pm.
The eastern Pennsylvania asphalt racing community lost one of its most iconic figures when Hamm passed away Friday, August 21, 2021 after a bout with cancer at age 74. The longtime Kutztown resident was among the inaugural class of the Dorney Park Speedway-Mahoning Valley Speedway Hall of Fame inductees in 2011.
Hamm began racing Hobby Stocks at Dorney Park then advanced into the Sportsman Modifieds raced with a tremendous amount of success at the Park and likewise at Mahoning Valley Speedway and Evergreen Raceway. He is the only driver to have won track championships at all three facilities.
Over his career he earned a boundless amount of respect from his legion of fans as well as his counterparts. It was perhaps that trait he is most associated with and puts him head and shoulders above the rest as an affable racer and champion.
Steve Barrick, president of Program Dynamics who supplied the weekly program books at Dorney and Mahoning Valley, recalled how Hamm made a lasting impression with him.
“When we started at Dorney Park it was in 1975 and Freddy had just made the transition from Late Models and into the Sportsman (Modifieds) and he had a great fan following and great reputation as a top driver and it didn’t take long to figure out why he had both because he really could get around Dorney Park probably as well as anyone in his era.
“And he also did most of his racing there without basically getting on the receiving end of what usually happened to the close contact there. He never drove over his head or ever got a wheel wrong,” offered Barrick.
“I can’t ever remember honestly him being flagged for rough-riding or being sent to the rear for being involved in someone else’s wreck that he was attributed for having caused. As a result of that he had a tremendous amount of respect among his competitors who were used to roughing each other up and he in turn did not do that and in spite of that was able to win a lot of races and championships.”
Hamm indeed had a commonality when it came to winning and collecting titles. His first win was in 1974 at Dorney Park in a Sportsman Modified and he unremittingly continued to do so until 1997 when his final victory occurred at Evergreen Raceway. During that span he won seven championships including a record five at the Park and one each at Mahoning and Evergreen.
Hamm was also many times over Most Popular Driver contest winner between Dorney and Mahoning.
“That never came as a surprise and based on the way the Most Popular Driver contest results where during the period of time he was at Dorney I would have to say, even though we never kept the tallies, there was a good chance he probably would have gotten more votes for Most Popular Driver than anyone else and by far and the same goes for when he transitioned over to Mahoning,” noted Barrick.
Throughout his career whenever Hamm’s name was mentioned it was commonly followed by how respectful a person he was both on and off the track.
“The best way I can describe Freddy Hamm is that he was the consummate professional. He was always so calm and collective both on and off the track. Growing up and watching him my brother and I admired him because he was so methodical in his driving as always the professional,” said former Dorney and Mahoning champion John Markovic who, along with his brother Terry Markovic, continue competing today at Mahoning Valley.
“He was a race car driver who had all his wits about him. He did it because he loved it and you never seen Freddy emit any types of bad emotions. People idolized him because of how he handled himself as a race car driver, never wild or crazy or argumentative. He was a unique breed of driver who always kept his emotion intact, a true professional.”
When Dorney closed in 1986 Hamm finished off with 19 wins there and like most everyone else then headed over to the reopening of Mahoning Valley Speedway the following year. In short order be became a winner, scoring 10 victories between 1988 and 1991. By the mid-1990s Hamm took his talents to Evergreen Raceway where he had already won during the late ‘70s. His 37 total career wins came over three different decades.
“Freddy was the guy you looked up to and liked and loved because of what he stood for,” added Markovic.
“When he and Dennis (Hilbert) showed up they were always prepared. When they pulled in you knew you could be running for second place that night.”
The Freddy Hamm Tribute will be the first of five MVSHoFS events. The unique races is designed to honor those Hall of Famers who laid the foundation for today’s current day racers.
“It’s great that he’s being honored. I feel that it’s important that guys like Freddy be recognized as much as anybody as one of the individuals who made the transition from Dorney to coming to Mahoning and really adapting and succeeding well,” Barrick said.
“Honoring Freddy is in a sense honoring the whole Pennsylvania asphalt Modified tradition when you think of how well he raced at Dorney and then Mahoning and Evergreen.”
The MVSHoFS is contested amongst the Modifieds, Street Stocks and Hobby Stocks. There will be a separate tally of points for each class and at the conclusion of the five events the top three will receive point fund monies. Drivers must compete in each of the five races in order to be eligible for the point fund money. A nominal entry fee to run each is required. The point fund breakdown is as follows: $1500, $1000 and $500 to the top three in Modifieds. $1000, $600 and $400 for the Street Stocks and $500, $300 and $200 for the Hobby Stocks.
The speedway will be holding Test and Tune days the next two weekends, March 26 & 27 and April 2 & 3 in advance of the April 9 opener. Test and Tune day’s pits will open at 11:00 am. Track activity will run from noon to 4:00 pm. Pits are $10 per person and $25 per car. Grandstands are free.