Dylan Cisney Is the World’s Fastest Mayor

Cameron Neveu

Dylan Cisney might just be the world’s fastest mayor. When he’s not tackling the big issues for his small town of Port Royal, Pennsylvania, he’s competing flat out for wins aboard his 900-horsepower sprint car.

To an outsider, the thought of a public official spending their weekend on a dirt track may seem a bit out of the ordinary. But visit Port Royal once, and you’ll see that the central Pennsylvania borough nestled in the foothills of the Tuscarora Mountains is a rather extraordinary place.

Port Royal Pennsylvania Dirt Track Spring Car Racing high angle
Cameron Neveu

The quiet town’s population of about 1000 people lives within a total area of less than one square mile. Much of that mile is occupied by the Juniata County Fairgrounds and its half-mile dirt oval. Port Royal Speedway is, indeed, the epicenter of the town, as houses and local businesses line much of the property’s perimeter.

Nicknamed “The Speed Palace,” the track is widely regarded as one of the nation’s best facilities and has regularly hosted weekend racing since 1938. Racing fans flock from far and wide to watch race cars bolt down the backstretch, past houses, driveways, and mailboxes.

Port Royal Pennsylvania Dirt Track Spring Car Racing wide
Dylan Cisney races past his childhood home.Cameron Neveu

Cisney, 32, was born and raised in Port Royal, spending the first five years of his life in one of those houses. “We lived in the tan one in the center of the backstretch. My bedroom was on the second story,” he says. “I can remember walking across the street with my dad. We’d go watch the sprint car feature for the night. I could lay in my bed and look out my window and watch the rest of the show.”

At seven, Cisney started racing go karts just like his father, who set speed records in laydown karts at the Pocono Raceway back in the day. “Dad eventually retired and became a crew chief on all my stuff.”

From karts, the young racer moved to 600cc Xcel Modifieds and then to a beginner division of sprint cars. It was in this sportsman-level series that Cisney earned his first win at his home track. “It was neat to race on the track that you watched growing up,” he says. “From there, we were hooked. The goal was 410s.”

Port Royal Pennsylvania Dirt Track Spring Car Racing driver portrait
Cameron Neveu

The number 410 is likely familiar to any sprint car fanatic. Back in the day, dirt and paved bullrings dotting the countryside were disparate in their engine rules. The hot shoes in Pennsylvania may opt for a big-block V-8, while Midwesterners in Iowa may bore out a 350-cubic inch small-block. The variations made it difficult for locals to run with touring sprint car series, like the World of Outlaws, when they came to town. It also required traveling Outlaw teams to pack heavy, with multiple engines, or be outrun.

Ahead of the 1985 season, World of Outlaws founder Ted Johnson implemented a maximum displacement rule to help unify sprint car engine builders and keep costs down. “It started out as a basic 400 steel block in the 1970s, and then when you oversized it, you started getting 406, 408,” says renowned engine builder Joe Gaerte. “Then, they basically rounded it up so you could have a couple rebuilds.”

Now, aluminum blocks carry the 410 torch, and the unifying rule that Johnson debuted nearly 40 years ago still stands. The 410-powered sprint car divisions are the apex cars for dirt racing. There is nothing faster or more competitive.

Port Royal Pennsylvania Dirt Track Spring Car Racing driver eyes
Cameron Neveu

Before Cisney could ascend to the top tier, he had to cut his teeth on the lower ranks. He attended college at University of Northwestern Ohio, a school that specializes in auto racing education, and earned a degree in high-performance motorsports. While in Ohio, Cisney fell in with a group of racers who campaigned 360-cubic-inch small block-powered sprint cars. He did a bit of driving in the Midwest but would ultimately return to Port Royal on the weekends to compete at the track’s biggest races.

By 2013, he had worked his way to the pinnacle of dirt racing: 410s. In June of that year, he won his first race behind the big engine at his home track.

In 2022, his life took a unique turn. As a lifetime local, Cisney was on the forefront of negotiations between the town’s residents, its seven council members, and the fairgrounds over zoning issues and camping. When the mayor at that time resigned in the middle of his term, Port Royal’s council members approached the local racer to fill out his term.

“It kind of all just happened,” he says matter-of-factly. “I wasn’t big into politics because, like anything else, you have to invest a lot of time and knowledge.” Cisney was on schedule to race 75 times that year.

“I figured, ‘If you don’t jump in head-first and get involved, you might never get the opportunity again.’” And so he did. Then, in 2023, he ran for reelection and won. “I’m not scared about getting out and seeing people and talking about issues and making sure it can get resolved.” Why would he be intimidated? After all, he spends his weekends cresting 100 miles per hour, mere inches away from the retaining wall.

He adds: “Communication is the big thing that lacks in today’s politics. That, and common sense.”

Port Royal Pennsylvania Dirt Track Spring Car Racing paddock
Cameron Neveu

Cisney’s perspective as a local who grew up racing is also invaluable. Port Royal Speedway generates a reported $26M for the local economy. Balancing this revenue generator with the needs of its neighbors is not a problem unique to the town. Though, having a racer on the inside certainly is rare. “I’m at a nice middle ground,” he says. “You have to be fair to both sides.”

Cisney has already claimed a win at his hometown haunt this year. “The wall is usually the fast way around,” he says. “You’re right up there on the ragged edge, with your right rear skimming the edge.” The mayor from Port Royal sure gives a whole new, and more positive, meaning to the political term ‘mudslinging.’

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Comments

    The world might be a better place if big cities had similar size classes and wing rules. Oh, and mini-dwarfs, too.
    A good old fashioned Rollie Beale tech inspection could clean up a host of corruption.

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