Larry “Smokey” Snellbaker
One of the most exciting Sprint Car drivers and a man who really enjoyed racing during his long and prosperous career, Larry “Smokey” Snellbaker (March 6, 1938 – October 5, 2011) of Dover, Pennsylvania, started racing relatively late in life but he made up for that by competing well into the time when most other race drivers had became interested spectators.
Known as “The Silver Fox” due to his thoughtful driving style and the thick mane of silver hair that was part of his persona for many years, Snellbaker didn’t begin racing until 1965 but he quickly became a top-notch driver and race winner.
Snellbaker – who worked as a factory test driver for AMF snowmobiles and later as a driver for Preston Trucking for 25 years – first took to the race track in the old cut-down early 1930s coupes that were known as “Bugs.” He then got his first Sprint Car ride as a result of racing slot cars with John Imberbrink, whose father Jack owned the York Cash Register No. 43.
Rides in the Bud Hoffman Ford No. 53 and the Kenny Beck No. 14 followed and in late 1970 he began his tenure in Roy Morral’s No. 880 which he used to win three (1971-1973) titles at Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway and two (1971-1972) at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway.
In 1974-1975, Snellbaker drove Gary Wasson’s red and white No. 5 to the 1975 championships at Hagerstown and at Central Pennsylvania’s Penn National, Selinsgrove and Williams Grove Speedways (where he had 41 career victories). He won 29 races in Wasson’s car in 1975, was the champion of the Keystone Auto Racing on Speedways (KARS) circuit and he also won an American Racing Driver’s Club Midget race that season at Selinsgrove.
In 1976, Snellbaker raced with fellow EMPA Hall of Famer Jack Gunn’s (Jack Gunnel) operation and then in 1977 he signed-on with father and son car owners Charlie “Pappy” and Mike Lloyd and slipped into the cockpit of their radical maroon-candy-striped and white No. 56 that was known as the “Pocket Rocket.”
With this lightweight car, Snellbaker won 12 feature races in 1979 and 11 in 1980, in-cluding: the 1979 Williams Grove National Open 100 on the half-mile dirt track in Mechanics-burg, Pennsylvania; the 1979 Syracuse Super Nationals at Super DIRT Week on the one-mile dirt New York State Fairgrounds; World of Outlaws main events at Hagerstown (1979) and Penn National (1980); the 1977 & 1980 Williams Grove championships; and, the 1979 KARS title.
Snellbaker also put the No. 56 into victory lane in 1981 at a United States Auto Club wingless race at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas, and at a winged All-Star Circuit of Champions race in Erie, Pennsylvania.
But maybe his most unusual ride was on June 21, 1981, when he drove the Lloyd No. 54 USAC Silver Crown Championship Dirt Car – one of eight in the 29-car field – in a USAC Championship race at the 2.5-mile asphalt Pocono (Pa.) International Raceway where he finished 13th in the Van Scoy Diamond Mine 500 with his “upright machine” against the more-modern rear-engined Indy cars. However, his best effort in nine Silver Crown races in the Lloyd No. 54 was when he started and finished third in a 100-lapper on June 6, 1981, at the half-mile Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway.
In 1983, Snellbaker returned to the Morral machine and scored his 152nd Sprint Car win on September 3 at Port Royal. Then, in 1986, he switched to Super Sportsman – which is basically a self-starting winged Sprint Car – and won 35 more races in 15 years (1986-2001).
As recently as the summer of 2010, Larry “Smokey” Snellbaker – who also drove for EMPA Hall of Fame members Al Hamilton and Bob Weikert, and Maynard Boop – was still a competitive racer as he took a popular turn in both a Super Sportsman and a Legends Car.