Syracuse, Smokey Snellbaker, and the oldest race in the DirtVision Vault

Smokey Snellbaker
Smokey Snellbaker (No. 56, left) races against Dave Wickham (No. 80, Right) during the 1979 Super Nationals at the Syracuse Mile Dirt Track.

For my second story of these racing re-watch articles, I wanted to challenge myself a little bit.

I wanted it to be an old sprint car race, but I hadn’t narrowed it down quite yet on which one to choose. I checked out the DirtVision Vault – an online collection of classic races that fans can view for free – and looked to see what the oldest race available was.

Syracuse, Smokey Snellbaker, and the oldest race in the DirtVision Vault

It pulled up the 1979 Super Nationals from the Syracuse Mile dirt track – a track that had recently crossed my eyes on social media.

A mile-long dirt track. Talk about being unique.

I was so psyched to see just what that long of a track had in store for sprint car racing. I was definitely alive and alert during the 2015 season – the last year that the Mile was in operation – but I had never seen a race there, much less had heard of it.

The uniqueness didn’t stop with the layout of the track, though.

The 1979 Super Nationals finale race was home to both sprint cars and what they called super modifieds.

The sprint cars looked at least a bit replicative of today’s machines, but the wing was a bit higher from the chassis, as well as it being skinnier in width.

The modifieds, however, dawned wide wings on the top of cars that more resembled a station wagon than anything you would see on a dirt track in the modern day.

Seeing them race against each other was like watching an IMSA race with multiple classes going at it.

The broadcast was set up in an odd way.

It cut from racing action to a few interviews throughout the race, and the camera work, understandably, wasn’t up to the scale of today’s technology.

One constant remained throughout the race, however.

Smokey Snellbaker was bad fast.

I have no idea what spot Snellbaker started in, but I watched him go from P6 to battling for second within two laps before a caution came out.

Lynn Paxton had gotten out to nearly a straight-away lead, and it can’t be understated how much of a lead that was, with the track being a mile long.

The caution put the seemingly two best cars right next to each other on the restart and Snellbaker took advantage.

Both cars pulled away from the pack before entering the first turn, and Snellbaker was still blowing the wheels off of Paxton.

A few laps went by and one of the announcers thought Paxton had moved back in the field, but from what I could tell he dropped to third exiting turn 2 and got his spot back before coming back around by the flag stand and broadcast booth.

Regardless, Paxton held his second-place position, finishing there behind Snellbaker, who was the absolute class of the field.

Smokey Snellbaker finished his career with two total World of Outlaws wins. He has since passed away, but was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2002.

I’m not quite sure if I watched one of his pair of Outlaws victories in that Syracuse broadcast. I’m not 100% sure on what I watched, and maybe I’ll do a follow-up article and talk to a few people.

What I do know is that was a cool race to watch, and the way drivers had to approach turns on a track of that scale looked crazy.

I’m glad I got to watch something that varies so much from the norm, and hopefully I learn more from it.

For more of our Racing Re-Watch stories, readers can visit our center hub here.

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