By T.J. Buffenbarger
Essexville, MI — (06/30/2001) — As the racing season hits the halfway mark, I have some random thoughts on the action I have seen to date.
* I have been to around 25 races in person so far this season. The amazing fact of all this is I have only been to one race in my home state of Michigan all season. Auto Value Super Sprints at the Kalamzoo Speedway has been my only Wolverine state stop of the season. Jeff Converse from High Vista Video always gives me plenty of crap for not staying home to race, but it is almost easier to go down I-75 and head to Ohio from Bay City. That streak will end though this Saturday when I walk in the gates of the Butler Motor Speedway.
* I have not been able to bring myself to drive out I-96 Speedway yet to see the weeds growing. I just can’t bring myself to do it with all the great memories the Bob, Rod, Todd crew had there. Most of those memories were during the Ohio Sprint Bandit days when the World of Outlaws, All Stars, Interstate Racing Association, USAC Sprints, NAMARS Midgets, and AMA Grand National Motorcycles all made a stop during the season. It was heaven, and now it is already overgrown and becomes even more so as each day passes.
* Even though it’s July, and about six months has passed, I still get a glow in my eye and act like a little kid when describing my experience at the Chili Bowl.
* Has anyone else noticed that the biggest topic on all these Message Boards seems to be the Message Board itself? I find this fascinating. Close runner-ups are: “Is it raining at (insert track here)…”, “Who going to win (insert race here)”, and the occasional slander of a driver, team, or faculty.
* The race I attended two weeks ago at Limaland Motorsports Park with the NRA and BOSS 360 Sprint Cars was stellar! Greg Wilson swapped the lead back and forth with Jeff Wilson countless times, before John Hawk passed both of them on the huggie pole. Wilson then sacked up and played cowboy up on the top to blow by Hawk on the last turn of the last lap to take the win. I would advice anyone to check out a big NRA or NRA/BOSS show at Limaland. The winged 360’s put on some of the best racing in the country, but do not get the play from the media they deserve.
* Greg Wilson was also involved in the best winged feature I have seen at Eldora in many years when he swapped the lead back and forth with Tom Rhodes, Jr. and then held of Tim Allison’s attack on the last lap after Allison had to start a wrecked race car dead donkey on the field. Allison tried so hard to catch Wilson stuffed the car in the fence at the flag stand and still hung on to his position. That race along was worth the trip down to Earl’s place in April.
* I have also noticed that not replacing the dead battery for my laptop has seriously hindered my ability to come up with a good story. When I was a music major I always carried a notebook around with me to write music no matter when the feeling hit me. Many times it would be in the middle of the night scribbling down lines by my nightlight. I found my column writing follows this same pattern, and I was carrying my laptop everywhere. I’m going to order another one soon so I can do more of this.
* I have had more fun going to the races this year with Keith Brewer Racing that I could have ever imagined while hanging out with a race team. They even let me do the occasional job of shining up the car and getting lunch for the team. Mike Linder and the bunch even seem to be taking me through the course of “sprint car tech for dummies”.
* Fremont, Ohio has to be among the top five best sprint car cities in the world. I have yet to drive through on a race weekend without seeing a car on display at a local business. It seems as if in every tavern I have been in on Flea Market weekends sprint car photos adorn the walls. I consider Fremont my hometown away from home.
* Fremont Speedway is also starting to become a good place to go watch the races as well as to go to the races. For many years Fremont was a great place to hang out, especially if you camped, and had a great atmosphere, but the track was terrible. Now with the all the wonderful improvements Jim Ford and his crew have done including new clay on the race track Fremont has made a couple 360 and leaves me with a good feeling not only about the pre and post race experience, but the on track action as well.
* The two new favorite eating spots so far this season are the Whistle Stop in Ansonia, Ohio for their great Thin Crust Pizza with extra cheese, and Whitie’s in Fremont for the biggest breakfast I have ever seen in my entire life. Old favorites remain any Steak’N Shake, Denny’s, or Waffle House open after the races.
* Eldora’s two day USAC show was one of the most fun weekends the Bob, Rod, Todd crew has done in quite some time as a group. Everything from before, during, and after the races was just awesome. Some of the most memorable on track action included the four wide heat race on Friday night where Tyler Walker scared hell out of us before we realized he was really in control and at one point saw J.J. Yeley go to the top of the four wide all the way to the bottom of the four wide to take the lead., the stellar midget feature on Saturday night, and Dave Darland prove he was back as a contender on the dirt. Off track memories consisted of clowning around at the Whistle Stop, hearing Tyler Walker describe to us in detail of his first wingless sprint car ride on dirt while doing with hand motions as if he was steering the car right there in the restaurant, and returning to that was restaurant less than 8 hours later to have Terry “the Pool Man” Pletch join us for some great bench racing.
* It still bothers me to hear fans boo Tony Elliott and Mark Keegan. Yes, Elliott wins A LOT of races around here. The reason is though that team races probably more than any other non-wing sprint car team, and they know exactly what to do to their racecar when the money is on the line. Keegan does so many nice things for people at and away from the track away from most peoples eyes and does not demand recognition for it. Keegan is a stand up guy and a class act in my book, and far from anyone that deserves catcalls from the stands no matter how often he visits victory lane.
* Ever since Dave Argabright’s story on Gas City ran in Open Wheel Magazine it has been standing room only for the weekly sprint car shows. I can only imagine what the throng will be like during the Kings Royal weekend. I imagine many will take in Gas City on the way to Eldora for the big race. I cannot wait to see the new lights and the infield without the mounds.
* The Auto Value Super Sprint/ISMA Double Header might be the second best pavement show I have ever seen second only to last year’s Sammy Sessions Memorial at the Winchester Speedway. This AVSS/ISMA double dip is already booked for 2001, and it is a must see event.
* The ISMA Supermodified people sure got bent over Gary Fedewa out qualifying them at that Toledo event. I am still surprised myself, as the supers have always seemed to hold an edge over the uprights. I think squaring off the top ten in each feature for a 30 lap, no holds barred, grudge match at Toledo for some big money would be a riot. There was supposed to be a dash between the fastest super and fastest sprint car at Toledo, but ISMA was once again too tight to allow it.
* I also wish ISMA would lighten up and let the uprights run with them. To me I grew up on Supermodified specials at Kalamazoo that had supers mixed with uprights. This is way more interesting than just the supers by themselves. I think after this round the AVSS guys might be willing to tell the ISMA folks to “just bring it” if a head to head event was staged.
* I also wonder how the AVSS guys took to Charlie Schultz winning Cayuga. Traditionally they do take well to outsiders winning events (Rodney Duncan, Jason McCord, Various Ohio 360’s, I could go on…). I bet the tech inspection was VERY interesting that night. Kudos to Charlie and I hope he shows up at more AVSS races this season.
* I get to be a judge in this year’s Knoxville Nationals Queen’s Contest. It’s a rough gig, but somebody has to do it….
* Television does not justice for the Silver Bullet cars are Indianapolis Raceway Park. Mike Bliss destroying the field probably made for a snore on television, it was amazing to see how the big cars can race around that joint. One of the coolest things I have ever done happened at IRP this year when my press pass landed me a parking pass on the drag strip at IRP. Yes, the same drag strip John Force and company rocket down during the U.S. Nationals.
* It’s time for me to vote in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum National Sprint Car Poll again this week. Once again it will probably take me 3-4 days to make out my top 15. The first three or four are pretty easy to list, but everyone beyond that takes days of deliberation. The most difficult of all the picks though will be for the wild card for best performance during this cycle. I have seen so many impressive drives by incredibly exciting people that it might take me until the end of the weekend to pick a winner.
* Glad to get these off my chest. Maybe this will start me running on doing things of this nature more often. If I find time from sifting through driver, series, and track p.r., I just might be able to do this more often.