LEVITTOWN, PA — Langhorne Speedway in Langhorne, Pa. and Trenton Speedway in Trenton, N.J. both played prominent roles in the history of the United States Auto Club (USAC) before Langhorne closed in 1971 and Trenton staged its last race in 1980. Many of the top drivers of the previous generation raced at both tracks, and in doing so etched their names in racing history.
Although those two tracks are no longer in existence, an accomplished driver from that area, Mike Haggenbottom of Levittown, Pa., will begin his second season of competition in USAC’s premier division, Silver Crown champ cars, March 22-23.
“I live three miles from where Langhorne Speedway used to be, and about eight miles from where Trenton was,” said Haggenbottom from his race car shop in Levittown, which is in Bucks County, Pa., within the Philadelphia metro area. “I was just a baby when Langhorne was running its last races, but I went to Trenton Speedway a few times growing up.”
Although Haggenbottom never raced at either of those storied tracks, he has competed at many others throughout his diverse career. He started in quarter midgets at the age of 5. He also ran go-karts and then proceeded to dirt modifieds, micro sprints, winged and non-wing sprint cars, asphalt modifieds and even ARCA stock cars before he drove in his first USAC Silver Crown race in 2018.
He started eight of the 10 USAC Silver Crown events last year and finished a very respectable eleventh in the championship even though six of the eight tracks he competed on were ones he’d never driven at previously. The series, which is contested on an even mix of paved and dirt tracks to test teams and drivers’ versatility, averaged 27 cars per race last season.
“I ran an ARCA stock car at Springfield and Du Quoin, but all the other tracks were new to me last year,” explained Haggenbottom, who finished third in the Rookie of the Year standings. “I never even tested a USAC Silver Crown car before last year.”
His run in last August’s 100-mile Ted Horn 100 at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds in Du Quoin, Ill., was impressive, as he finished 11th after starting 25th, earning the KSE Racing Products Hard-Charger award for that event. He won a qualifying race at Du Quoin too.
The experience Haggenbottom gained last year should help him a great deal this season. There are 12 events on the 2019 USAC Silver Crown schedule, but this time around only two will be brand new to him: Memphis International Raceway in Millington, Tenn., which will host the season opener March 22-23, and the third race on the schedule, Toledo Speedway in Toledo, Ohio April 27. “Technically I didn’t run at Lucas Oil Raceway last year either; I did a ‘start-and-park’ there because we just had a dirt car there,” he added of that asphalt oval in Brownsburg, Ind.
All 12 races will be streamed live by FloRacing.com, and live timing and scoring will be available through the series’ website at usacracing.com and on the Race Monitor app.
Competing in the series requires a great deal of highway driving for the Haggenbottom crew. Although it’s a national championship, seven of the 12 events will be held in Illinois or USAC’s home state, Indiana.
There are three events this year that Haggenbottom is especially looking forward to: the Illinois State Fairgrounds Aug. 17 and Du Quoin Sept. 1, since he had his best finishes at those tracks last year, and the series’ return to Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa. on June 14. “We’re going to have a new motor for our dirt car this year, and they’re just fun tracks to drive,” he said.
“Williams Grove is going to be like a home track for us; I’ve run there about a dozen times,” noted Haggenbottom, the 2001 URC sprint car champion. Surprisingly, the first race he ever ran at Williams Grove was a USAC sprint car race in 1996 when Billy Pauch of Frenchtown, N.J. defeated USAC’s best. “I don’t think I’ve run any 410 sprint cars there; just 360s,” added Haggenbottom, who is a five-time Tri-State Race Savers 305 sprint car champion from 2012 through 2016.
What made Haggenbottom decide to tackle USAC’s premier division?
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, and at this point in my career it was time to try,” said Haggenbottom, who is 49 and makes his living as the owner of a landscaping company based in Levittown. “Our goal this year is to try to make all the races and try to get top-10 finishes. We’re still learning the pavement set-ups; that’s all new to us still, but we like the challenge,” he said.
The effort is a family affair. Haggenbottom enters the 2019 season with a stable of three cars owned by his brother, John, who lives in Bristol, Pa.
He’ll race a Maxim chassis on the dirt tracks. He has two cars to race on the asphalt tracks: a Stealth and a Beast. The asphalt cars’ engines are prepared by PME (Pro Motor Engines) of Mooresville, N.C. The dirt car’s engine is prepared by Rider Racing Engines based in Mechanics- burg, Pa. He uses the No. 24, and the cars are white with red and blue trim.
The team’s sponsors include Belmont Garage of Langhorne, Pa., which is owned by veteran stock car racer Andy Belmont. Bill Gallagher of Valley Forge. Inc. of King of Prussia, Pa., a long-time URC sprint car team owner, lends his support too. Robison Racing Products of Dublin, Pa.; Speed Equipment Corp. (SEC) of Bensalem, Pa.; Kashady Automation of Bensalem, Pa., and Mershon Concrete of Bordentown, N.J. are also team sponsors. Other decals seen on the car advertise ASi Racewear of Patchogue, N.Y.; Hooker Harness of Freeport, Ill., WDB Landscaping of Morrisville, Pa., and PME Engines.
“I couldn’t do this without my wife, Tracey, either,” Haggenbottom said. “She supports my racing and long weekends away.
“On average we have about 10 people who go with us to each event,” he added. “You can do a sprint car operation with three or four people, but for a champ car you need a lot more. The hotel bills were one of the things we didn’t fully consider before we started running this series.”
What was the biggest thing he learned while competing in USAC Silver Crown last year?
“That these tracks are really far from Levittown, Pa.,” he said with a grin.
“The more serious answer is you can’t go all out in these races,” he continued. “Strategy is important because they’re long races and you have to save your tires and fuel.”
Surprisingly, when asked what cars he’s driven in the past are most like driving a USAC Silver Crown car, his answer was dirt modifieds instead of sprint cars.
“It’s because of the weight,” he explained. “Crown cars are around 1,700 pounds. Dirt modifieds are about 2,600 pounds, but they drive similar due to the fuel loads both cars carry.”
He knew going into the series that the competition would be tough.
“The level of competition in USAC Silver Crown is incredibly high,” he said. “It attracts so many people with diverse backgrounds in sprint cars, midgets, modifieds; you name it. All of the drivers are very good.”
Haggenbottom added that last year, the championship-winning team was the one that made the rookie feel most welcome.
“We got a lot of help from the DePalma Motorsports crew; Bob Hampshire and his right-hand man, Clark Lamme, and Kody Swanson pretty much babysat us and helped us out,” Haggenbottom said. (Swanson became the winningest driver in USAC Silver Crown history last year.) “They helped us with lots of little things, like we didn’t know which tracks were the ones where you have to unload the car in the infield, and which ones were the ones where you can work out of your transporter. They were nice to us, even though we didn’t really know them well before last year. I knew Bob Hampshire because he was a sprint car guy, and we went to him before last season to see if he had any cars for sale, and that’s how that relationship started.”
With a season under his belt and an increased inventory of cars and parts, Haggenbottom is ready for the 2019 season to get underway.
“We’ll give it our best,” he said.