Originally intended to be a one-off, midweek event for 410 sprint cars at Grandview Speedway in Bechtelsville, Pa., the Thunder on Hill series has been entertaining race fans for more than three decades.
The initial sprint car race was the idea of longtime racer Dave Kelly. It came to life through a partnership between Bob Miller, a rising executive with Pepsi who had dabbled in auto racing since developing a passion for the sport as a child, and Bruce Rogers, owner and promoter of Grandview Speedway.
“Dave was actually the best man in our wedding when Donna and I got married, and he was very good friends with the Rogerses,” Miller recalled. “At that point, Reading had closed, and Dave was off racing 410 sprint cars. He had talked to Bruce and Teresa (Rogers) about doing a 410 show at Grandview, and there was some reluctancy.
“Then, Dave said to me, ‘Would you be interested?’ I’d never put money into a race in my life, and I was just at a point in my career where I was moving from the Reading area to Philadelphia to take another position with Pepsi, and here we were meeting with the Rogerses. The first time we met at the Bally Hotel on Route 100, just down from the race track. We started talking about this and it was quite nerve wracking to be honest with you, but the more we talked about it, the more it made sense.”
The inaugural event was run on Wednesday evening, Aug. 8, 1990, at the one-third-mile dirt track with central Pennsylvania sprint car veteran Steve Smith claiming the victory.
“Initially, it was going to be let’s just do one race,” Miller noted. “Whoever thought it would take some twists and turns to do a little bit more than 410s, bring in other series and specialty shows. At that point, it kind of grew on its own.”
This year’s Thunder on the Hill schedule includes seven dates and the roster of visiting series includes the USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Series, the USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget Series, the All Star Circuit of Champions sprint cars and a round of Central Pennsylvania Sprint Speed Week.
Looking back at the long and storied history of Thunder of the Hill, Miller is able to pinpoint a few events that stand out.
“From a race perspective, there was a USAC sprint car show when we had Darren Clayton, Levi Jones and Bryan Clauson in a three-car battle for the lead for the last 15 laps of the race. That was an exciting one as far as the race goes,” Miller said. “There is a whole list of others for different reasons. There was a show where the DIRT modifieds were on the track and there was a power outage. We had a rainstorm come in, and you could see the lightning and hear the thunder in the background. It’s like six or seven laps to go and it wasn’t raining, but you could see the lightning.
“Then, there was this lightning bolt and a crack — no rain, but the place went dark, and the cars were still going around the race track. That was one you remember — waiting to see what happens. You didn’t hear any crashing cars at that point, so that was good.
“There’s also the night Craig Von Dohren won the Super DIRT Series event, a hundred-lapper, starting dead last, running a small bock,” Miller continued. “He barely qualified and had to run the consolation. He caught the leaders with three or four to go and won, so that was pretty special. There have been so many races like that. Then you are complimented by having a Christopher Bell come in and win, a Kyle Larson come in and win. That’s just icing on the cake for me.”
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