BY JEFF FALK
JONESTOWN – Bertha. Sally. Betty Lou.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when men would assign ladies’ names to inanimate objects – their boats, their jackhammers, their cars. Thirty-six years ago, Earmer Fulk built a race track and named it ‘Linda’s’.
But the woman that Fulk named the track for was no lady. She was his daughter, Linda Batz.
Owner and operator of Linda’s Speedway in Union Township, Batz is the unofficial first lady of racing in Lebanon County. Her first name is as synonymous with local dirt-track racing as the surnames of Gerhart, Tobias and Lotier.
Local dirt-track racing may not be as popular as it was in its heydays of the 1980s. But because of Linda’s Speedway – one of two racing ovals still contesting regular competitive programs in Lebanon County – the sport is very much’ running hot’ locally.
“I just really enjoy what I’m doing,” said Batz, who manages the track with her son Mike Batz. “It’s been a part of my life forever. I’m hoping the future of the track is my son taking over. I wanted to keep my dad’s legacy alive. When racing is in your blood, you need to do something.
“He built a race track, and named it after me,” Batz continued. “I’m the youngest of seven children. He just decided, ‘Linda’s Speedway’.”
Linda’s Speedway is a dirty quarter-mile of thrills, spills and chills. It runs its four-division program every Friday evening at 7 p.m. and, along with a contingent of about seven local racers, attracts competitors from as far away as New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as from the coal regions and Reading.
“I would say local racing is doing well,” said Batz. “We’re close to Williams Grove and the Poconos, but we’re on a much smaller scale. But it’s still good racing. Locally, it’s amazing how many people don’t know about us. But we get a lot of support from the community, especially the Jonestown community.”
“Oh my gosh, I grew up with racing,” said Mike Boyer, an Annville resident and a regular Linda’s contestant in the 270-division. “It used to be Linda’s on Friday. Wherever on Saturday. And Penn National on Sunday.
The race season at Linda’s runs from April to October. On the average, her program draws about 300 fans to the grandstand.
“Yeah, I come here every Friday night, when it’s not cancelled,” said Linda Shenk, a 53-year-old Jonestown resident and a local racing die-hard. “I especially like the 270s. I’ve been coming here for about ten years, and my son really likes it too. We root for the Skias race team.”
“We try to keep things affordable,” said Batz. “It’s only six dollars to get into the grandstand. We have a nice fan base. At the beginning of the year, our following is real low, and then we’re fine until football starts.”
“The goal is to win every time,” said Boyer. “It’s not necessarily going to happen every time, but that’s the goal for me. I’m not out there just riding around.”
Generally, each of Linda Speedway’s divisions draws from a dozen to 30 racers. Winners pocket $200 to $350.
“It’s a lot of hours for very little finances,” said Batz. “That’s true for the drivers as well. They invest a lot of money into their race cars, more as a hobby than a profession.
“We run on Fridays because there’s other tracks that run on other days,” said Batz. “There are others that run on Friday, but we’re far enough apart. We’re the perfect size for the divisions we run. We don’t try to run anything too big or too small. We try to get to know everybody’s name here. And I think that matters a lot to people.”
“Even when you’re on the highway and you see a closed trailer, you’re wondering who (which racing team) it is,” said the 35-year-old Boyer, who’s been racing for 17 years. “And when you smell alcohol it makes you think of racing. Once it’s in you, it’s in you. Racing gets in your blood.
“I’ve got a full-time job,” added Boyer. “I race as a hobby. I’d love to do racing full-time. But at this level, it’s just for fun. I would’ve loved to be in a full-sized sprint car, but I don’t even know how much longer I’m going to race. It’s hard on your body.”
“Yeah, I would consider myself a race fan,” said Shenk. “I’ve been going to races since I was young, about ten years old. I think pretty much everyone who’s here is a dedicated race fan. I guess if I wasn’t here I’d be home working on different crafts.”
“My son is the announcer and he gets to inter-mingle with the fans,” said Batz. “I’m back here in the infield with the drivers. When the drivers talk to me they talk about what went on at work during the week, what’s going on with their family, what’s going on at work.
“You always want to have a nice field of cars,” continued Batz. “But you can’t be unhappy for the ones who aren’t here. The people who are here are here supporting me.”
“It’s exciting,” said Shenk. “I know a lot of the race teams here. When there’s a collision it can be scary, especially if you know someone involved.”