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Lorshbaugh longtime observer of Speedway scene

October 24, 1998|By MIKE SIRBAUGH / Staff Correspondent

Historians often classify a generation as a 30-year time period. One generation ago, Hagerstown's Ross Lorshbaugh made some major changes in his life, resulting in his presence at the Hagerstown Speedway every week as a fan - and nothing else.

Lorshbaugh was born and raised across the road from the track in the Conococheague area. His father, Carl William Lorshbaugh, worked at the track doing general labor, putting up advertisements and such.

Ross can't remember a time when he was not going to the track and either helping his father or just enjoying the races.

"I've been going there my entire life. I remember when it would get so cold, we would run into the bathrooms to get warm," Lorshbaugh said. "At that time, the bathrooms were under the grandstands.

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"Back then, the track would run right up until the first snow fell. Even then, Hagerstown was, as it is now, one of the better ones you could ever go to."

When he reached his early twenties, he and Dale Moore, both operators of Atlantic Richfield gas stations, decided to get into the racing scene themselves.

"I always liked the races; it kind of grew on me," Lorshbaugh said. "And I always wanted to race. But it wasn't long before I learned that I liked working on the car more than driving it."

So Moore became the driver and Lorshbaugh the mechanic. They raced in a class that was called the semi-lates, the first full-bodied cars at Hagerstown.

Their first car was a Chrysler - complete with fins, dark blue paint and a bat on the door with the number inside. In the end, it was nicknamed the "Batmobile." When they got a second car, they named it the Judge and Jury. They raced all around the area at Lincoln and Winchester, but their home track was Hagerstown.

This partnership continued for seven or eight years until 1969, when Lorshbaugh had a decision to make - marry his sweetheart, Mary Lou, or race.

"I didn't have enough money to do both," Lorshbaugh said. "So I figured there was only one thing to do. This February will be 30 years with Mary Lou."

It was also 30 years ago that Lorshbaugh decided to get out of his gas station business on Dual Highway and find a more stable job. He began a career as a mechanic with Interstate Brands, better known as Wonder Bread. That relationship has also stood for a generation.

And even though he was also heavily involved in the local softball scene for 30 years, "I always found time for the races."

Long-term relationships are a way of life for Lorshbaugh, so it is no wonder that, at 52, he is still a fixture at the Hagerstown Speedway. He enjoys NASCAR but he's not really a NASCAR fan. He prefers the local dirt track scene for excitement.

When Hagerstown had an open date last weekend, he and some friends went to the 5/8-mile track at the West Virginia Motor Speedway. He also frequents Winchester (Va.) Speedway, but Hagerstown remains his first and greatest racing love.

Lorshbaugh has seen the changes over the years, and he credits owner and promoter Frank Plessinger for many improvements to the Speedway.

"I guess you could say my favorite driver in the early days was Milt Miller, from the Bedford area. He ran a Chrysler in the modifieds, No. 49 called 'The Hemi Mummer.'

"Back then, a lot of the drivers were the fathers of today's drivers. I remember Denny's (Bonebrake) dad, and Rodney Franklin's dad and Nathan Durboraw's brother.

"But the cars today are much, much faster. And the Speedway went to the upper echelon when Plessinger took it over. Now, it's much more complex than it used to be. He's brought in a lot of the big name drivers with the big shows."

So the next time you go to the Hagerstown Speedway, it's a pretty safe bet that Ross Lorshbaugh will be there. But don't look for him in the stands; he can't still that long. You'll find him standing between two of the grandstand sections, getting the best view he can and talking racing.

"I'm here every week," Lorshbaugh said. "I just like to see a good race."

On the schedule

Qualifying begins today for the 24th Annual Turbo-Blue Hub City National 150, which will be run Sunday. It is a 150-lap event for late models and will feature top local drivers and other big late model names.

Today's action culminates with the 12th Annual Hoosier Mid-Atlantic Race of Champions. Some of the country's best drivers, all champions at their local tracks, will be competing.

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