Better late than never.
After a seven-month "flood delay," the 2011 Susquehanna 500 mini Indy race, held each year at Brandon Park, finally was under way on Saturday.
Race teams competed in 20-lap heats on a 0.65 mile, tire-lined course laid out on park roads. Drivers race 3.5 horsepower Indy-style go-carts sponsored by local businesses and individuals whose registration fees benefit the chapter. The race features two divisions - stock, in which 21 cars competed, and modified, in which five cars competed.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
A car sponsored by Glenn O. Hawbaker comes out of the hairpin turn during the modified class of the Susquehanna 500 mini Indy race Saturday afternoon in Brandon Park.
The event is the Northcentral Pennsylvania Chapter of the Red Cross's biggest fundraiser, but last year proved to be a double whammy for the chapter.
Not only did the chapter have to deal with a disaster of epic proportions in the aftermath of the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee, the timing of the flooding caused the annual race, held each September, to be postponed.
Because of the postponement, this weekend's race is a makeup date for last year's race, which would have been the 15th year for the race, according to Kathy Stine, executive director of the local Red Cross chapter.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Flood-postponed 2011 Susquehanna 500 mini Indy Race
WHEN: Racing resumes at about 9:20 a.m. today
WHERE: Brandon Park, Williamsport
"It was a flood delay," Stine said. "It was just too hectic with everybody involved in the flood. The teams agreed to hold (the race) in the spring."
The regular 2012 race will be held Sept. 22-23 at the park, Stine added.
Some teams were anxious to get back to racing, which offered plenty of thrills - and more than a few "spills" - for spectators and participants alike.
Robert and Christine Morrison, of Williamsport, said they were attending the race for the first time.
Christine said she had no idea how exciting the race was.
"It's a fun event," she said. "The kids love it, and it's free, so that's real cool."
Morrison said she enjoyed the wide range of food vendors on hand, including the Plunketts Creek Township Volunteer Fire Co., which held a chicken barbecue.
Most of all, she appreciate the event's support of the Red Cross, an organization that helped her following the 1996 flood.
"They are awesome people," she said. "They helped us for a long time - as long as we needed."
Carol Keller was on hand to support her brother Chris Neidig and nephew Kenny Wilcox, who race for the state Department of Transportation team.
Keller said the race is something that can appeal to everyone.
"It's a nice event for the family - children, adults, grandparents," she said.
"It's a fun time for everybody," said Kenneth Staibley, who attended the race with Sandy Bowers.
"Racing is grass roots," he said. "I've been involved in racing for 30 years
Joseph Hutchinson, who along with Steve Schon co-chairs the event's steering committee, said holding the race is a large undertaking that requires coordination with the city, county and emergency medical services.
What really helps make the race a success are the many volunteers who put countless hours into planning and hosting the event, Hutchinson said.
"They sweep the roads, set up the fencing and tires along the course," he said. "It is such a big effort, it couldn't even begin to come to pass without those people."
Among the volunteers are the Red Cross; the Sports Car Club of America, which provided volunteer officiating for the race; Pennsylvania College of Technology, which provided tech services for racing teams; the Montgomery Borough Emergency Management Agency, which provided communication equipment; community service participants; and the Williamsport Wildcats football team.
The race is expected to raise almost $25,000 for the chapter, which covers Lycoming, Clinton and Tioga counties, Hutchinson said.
The money is raised through team registration fees. Teams are sponsored by local businesses, schools, agencies and individuals, he said.
In addition to helping the Red Cross raise money, the race is appealing simply because it is fun to watch and participate in, Hutchinson said.
"It's a thrill seeing two or three cars going into a corner where only one will fit," he said, smiling.
Two hot spots on the course, a sharp right-angle bend over uneven pavement coming out of a straightaway running parallel to the pit area, and a hairpin turn on the opposite side of the course where it ran along Brandon Place, saw many of the spills.
"There've been a lot of wrecks right here," said Cory Bassler, who stood aiming a video camera at the hairpin turn.
Bassler said he was supporting his friend Joseph King of the King's Racing team, which he said won the modified division of the most recent race.
Volunteers posted along the race course assisted drivers whose cars became disabled or caught up in the tire barricade.
Nathan Baer, a volunteer assisting drivers at the hairpin turn, said he witnessed two rollovers at that part of the track, plus numerous mishaps of varying degree.
"It's been busy all day," Baer said.
Saturday's racing involved the running of qualifying laps to determine a team's track placement in their heat. That was followed by two 20-lap heats of stock racing and one 20-lap heat of modified racing.
Racing resumes at about 9:20 a.m. today. After lunch, championship races in the stock and modified divisions will be held. Also to be held are the consolation and hardship races.
While some teams compete in the event looking to take home the championship trophy, Heath Hendershot, of the Big Shot racing team, a co-team of the Redemption racing team, races to pay homage to his late mother Susan Cipriani. Cipriani died in 2008 after a six-year battle with cancer.
"She was my hero," Hendershot said.
The car's insignia is a cancer ribbon.
The team "Big Shot" is Hendershot's nickname.
He researched the different types of cancers, then invited friends and acquaintances to place adhesive cancer ribbon stickers on the car.
The stickers are of various colors, each of which denotes a specific type of cancer, Hendershot said. The names of the people being honored were written on each sticker.
"I wanted to honor my mom (with the car) and thought, 'Why not open it up to the public?' Cancer affects so many people," Hendershot said. "I let everybody know if they had somebody they wanted to honor, they could sign a ribbon and put it on the car."
As of Saturday afternoon, the car was adorned with 33 ribbon stickers.
Hendershot said he, too, is a fan of the Red Cross.
"I just appreciate what they do for our community," he said. "I don't know if people understand what they do until they go through hard times."
While Hendershot's motives for racing were noncompetitive, his teammate, Dave "Crazy" Stoner, focused on the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.
"I'm either going to win or crash trying," Stoner said.