Gerald “Jerry” Clark

Gerald Clark

by Bryan Householder

This year’s Past Miscellaneous Inductee into the York County Racing Club Hall of Fame has spent many years as an avid fan of the sport. During many of those years he also helped forge the direction the sport headed in the local area

Gerald “Jerry” Clark attended his first auto race at the Port Royal Fairgrounds in 1948. The race was for the “Big Cars” which would be later known as Sprint Cars, and Jerry probably watched either multi-time National Champion Ted Horn, or future Indy 500 winner Bill Holland race to victory that day.

While that race started Jerry’s love of the sport, it would be a number of years before he would become actively involved. As a farmer in Juniata County, Jerry was never far from the fairgrounds in Port Royal, and that fairgrounds was controlled by the Fair Board. In 1952 Jerry joined the Juniata County Fair Board, but he still wasn’t involved in the racing action on the track.

At that time Penn-Central leased the track for weekly racing programs. So, while Jerry now had some say over the fair in Port Royal, he still didn’t have a whole lot to do with the races on the track. That, however, was going to change.

It was in 1962 that the Fair Board took over operation of the weekly races at the Port Royal Fairgrounds, and three members of the Fair Board took charge of presenting the racing programs. Local feed mill operator Charles Goodman was president of the Fair Board, and farmer Jerry Clark was the vice president. Along with another local farmer named Bob Kauffman (you might know of his son Keith Kauffman), Goodman and Clark took over operation of the races.

Jerry became actively involved in the running of the speedway, and over the years got more duties. He eventually became the president of the Fair Board, and took charge of the speedway operation. From the start of the 1962 racing season, until he stepped away in the late 1980’s. Jerry Clark was very involved with the promotion of the Port Royal Speedway. For many of those years, he was the man making the major decisions that kept the speedway in operation. In all those years, he never missed a race at Port Royal.

While his decisions were not always popular with everyone in the area, they were all well thought out, and executed with the best interests of the Port Royal Speedway in mind. Jerry took a lot of pride in running the track, and always tried to do his best. He tried to treat everyone fair in all the decisions made at the speedway.

Over the years there were many decisions to be made, and several stand out in the minds of longtime Port Royal fans. One was the decision to break away from the other tracks in the mid 1970’s. At that time Jack Gunn decided that costs were becoming too high at his KARS circuit, and instituted a ruled change for engines at his three tracks. In 1975 Gunn’s tracks, Williams Grove, Selinsgrove and Hagerstown, along with the Tom Livelsberger promoted Lincoln Speedway elected to go with a 312 cubic inch engine limit on the Sprint Cars.

Jerry Clark at Port Royal was the lone stand out. He didn’t feel the 312 limit was the way to go, and for several years, Port Royal was the only track to allow unlimited engines. While at the time many didn’t feel Clark made the right decision, in the end, all the other tracks came back to his way of thinking, and by the end of the 1970’s the entire local circuit was back to running unlimited engines in the Spring Cars.

At first the rule seemed to hurt Port Royal, as the Sprint Car counts dropped for weekly races. And, while it just happened to work out that way, the Port’s Late Model class took up some of the slack during those years. Again it was a Clark decision that led to the increased popularity of the Late Models.

Seems the always volatile Ed Spender had gotten into trouble at Selinsgrove and was banned from that speedway. He had earlier been banned from Port Royal, but made a phone call to Clark during this time frame asking to be re-instated as a driver at the Port. After some thought, Clark allowed Spencer to return to the Port, and the always popular driver brought his fans with him.

The move to Port also came at a time when Spencer’s son was about to begin his career. Future NASCAR star Jimmy Spencer began his racing career in the Late Models at Port Royal, and in fact won his very first race at the old fairgrounds. All because of the decision Clark had made.

While Jerry Clark made many decisions and rulings at the Port Royal Speedway over the years there were also many little things that promoters go through that often never find the light of day. One funny little story was revealed during the research for this story.

Seems one night at Port Royal, just before feature time, a frantic call came to the speedway office. The “emergency” call was placed by one of driver Lynn Paxton’s children, who wanted to get a message to their father right away. Clark took the call, but the trouble was that the Sprint Cars, including Paxton were already on the track lining up for their feature event. It wasn’t until after the feature that night that Paxton learned that the family pet had given birth just as the feature was starting.

Gerald Clark

Gerald Clark

Jerry Clark devoted nearly 30 years to the operation of the Port Royal Speedway, with the support of his wife Daisy, and sons Donald, Dennis, Keith and Craig. While Craig was the only son who got involved in the operation of the speedway, all the family were race fans, and supported Jerry in his duties at the track.

Today Jerry Clark is nearing his 85th birthday, but if you go to Port Royal for the races, chances are good that he’ll be sitting on the porch of his brick rancher as you go by on Route 75 just before getting to the town of Port Royal. Give a wave, and I’m sure he’ll wave back.

Clark also follows his budding racing careers of his great grandchildren Tyler and Bryson. Both race go-karts, and Tyler was the track champion at Greenwood Valley last year.

For all he’s done for the sport in our area, the York County Racing Club is proud to name Jerry Clark as this year’s Past Miscellaneous Inductee into the Hall of Fame.