JIMMY HAWLEY TO RETURN TO SPRINT CAR RANKS AFTER 5-YEAR ABSENCES; DEBUT SET FOR SATURDAY AT MERCER IN THE RUDZIK #49
By Mike Leone
April 10, 2008 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(West Middlesex, PA)…One of western Pennsylvania’s all-time Sprint Car greats is set to make his return to racing this Saturday night, April 12 at Mercer Raceway Park. Jimmy Hawley, 42, of West Middlesex, Pa. has accepted the ride in the Jeff & Bonnie Rudzik-owned, Rudzik Excavating #49 Sprint Car.
“This is one of the biggest announcements in recent years for local Sprint Car racing,” stated Mike Leone. “Jimmy Hawley has always been a fan favorite and is a class act on and off the speedway. Every year rumors circulate about his return and to see him in this quality ride will be a boost for racing. Fans will get a real treat seeing him resume his battles with the likes of Bob Felmlee, Ed Lynch, Jr., Rod George, Mike Lutz, Arnie Kent, Brian Ellenberger, Rob Eyler, Scott Bonnell, and others.”
Hawley actually got his first taste of racing since June 21, 2003 on Wednesday night at Mercer Raceway Park during the track’s first practice session. “I didn’t know what to expect,” Hawley acknowledged. “I was nervous when I walked in right up until we pushed off. With every successive lap, I got more and more confident. What’s going to be different is actually passing cars and the biggest adjustment is racing with a lot of people I’m not accustomed to, but it’s good to back.”
The 2008 season will see Hawley run primarily at Mercer with various appearances at Lernerville Speedway and regional specials. There will be no chasing point championships for Hawley, who expects to miss shows here and there especially with his kids’ involvement in sports. Hawley’s two goals are to have fun and be competitive.
“I’m not going to sacrifice my family or business,” stated Hawley. “That’s why I quit in the first place. When it becomes a job and not fun anymore, I will quit and the Rudziks agreed. First and foremost I have to thank my wife and kids for letting me do this. They are so supportive and the kids are all excited. They were watching my old racing tapes and that got me fired up again.”
Hawley has won over 100 Sprint Car features alone in his career with an unofficial total of 106 from OpenWheelTimes.com. His career best season was 1999 when he won 20 races including three track championships at Lernerville, Mercer, and Tri-City Speedways. He owns one career All Star win on June 16, 1994 at Hickory Speedway in New Castle, Pa.; won an IRA-sanctioned event at Attica Raceway Park in Ohio on April 7, 2001; and won the $5,000 Chuck Marsh Memorial on September 15, 2001 at Mercer. Hawley has 34 career wins at Mercer of which 30 have come since the track reopened in 1994, which is still the top mark despite not competing for the past five seasons. He’s drove for numerous car owners such as Butch Osman, Dick Schuller, Amy Shoup, P.J. Kerr, John Toth, Junior Holbrook, Dr. John Crawford III, Billy Shearer, Eric Smith, and Pete Grove.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I want to still see if I can do it,” expressed Hawley. “I’ve run into racing people over the years, which has made me itchy to come back. I’ve been blown away the last couple days from the response to me coming back. It’s been overwhelming and I’m honored because I don’t feel I’m any different than anyone else.”
One of the biggest changes Hawley feels since he’s been out of action is getting adjusted to the right rear Hoosier Tire. Last year, Sprint Car tracks and sanctioning bodies agreed to run a national Hoosier spec tire and that program will continue in 2008.
“The spec tire is different,” revealed Hawley. “I’m going to have to learn more about it and how it reacts to changes we make. We made some adjustments on Wednesday that didn’t have the effect they would have had in the past.”
Gary Edwards, who drove for the Rudziks and won features at Mercer in both 2004 and 2006, will be an important part of the team. “I’ve known Gary for a long time and I’m thrilled to have him help setup the car,” stated Hawley. “He can visually watch and give great input from a driver’s perspective as to what’s going on with the car. He’s going to be a big help, especially the first part of the year.”
Hawley will utilize Maxim Chassis. Much of Hawley’s success came in J&J cars, but his last ride in 2003 was in Maxim for Pete Grove.
All Star Sprint Car standout and former World of Outlaw racer, Dale Blaney, who owns 93 career wins, will run the team’s second car, the #94, in selected events when he’s not running his primary ride, the George Fisher #2. Blaney was also at Mercer on Wednesday practicing and was set to drive the car last Friday night at Lernerville Speedway before the rain out.
Jeff Rudzik got his start as a car owner at the end of the 2003 season when he purchased P.J. Kerr’s equipment. He has had Gary McCollum, Gary Edwards, Jack Sodeman, Jr., Lee Jacobs, Jody Keegan, and Tom Quarterson in his 360 and 410 cubic inch engine #49 and #94 Sprints. His cars have gone to victory lane seven times led by Sodeman with three wins, Edwards with two, and his most recent victory on September 15 of last season at Sharon with Quarterson.
Jeff and Bonnie Rudzik reside in Struthers, Ohio and operate Rudzik Excavating. They can be reached at 330-755-1540 or at email@example.com.
Mike Leone is the public relations director at Mercer Raceway Park, a Co-Director of the FASTRAK Northeast Racing Series, and is a columnist for the Allied News. He can be reached at 724-964-9300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.