By T.J. Buffenbarger
When a person goes to races as long as I have in my short lifetime only a few weekends really stand out amongst the others. I have a feeling down the road this past Labor Day weekend will be one of those as I took in four different tracks in four nights. During those four events I saw Late Models (I’m not proud), AVSS, USAC Midgets, All Star Sprints, and 305 sprints.
Friday, Ionia Raceway Park.
It was someplace to go. Hillard Miller won the feature event, and it was fun watching Jeep VanWormer prove to me someone can touch the cushion once in a while at Ionia in a Late Model. The surface was awesome, and we can’t wait for the non-wing sprint car special Thursday night of the Dealers Choice.
Saturday, Berlin Raceway
20 midgets and 33 sprint cars joined by two fender classes jammed the pits of the Berlin Raceway. The USAC Midgets were making their first appearance since 1965, and even though the car count was light all the heavy pavement hitters were on hand.
Dave Steele had a very rough night. Steele’s Dino Tomassi owned midget spun a crank in hot laps and sidelined the mighty Mopar midget. Then during the sprint car feature Steele had motor problems in Lynn Reid’s Kokomo Honda Beast car.
Chris Hettinger, Jimmy McCune, Dave Darland, and Dave Steele pulled double duty on Saturday at Berlin. McCune did the best of the double dippers overall with a 10th in the sprint cars and 11th in the midgets.
This was also the first time I had a chance to check out the one-way radios in the midgets. After seeing this in midgets and the ISMA Supermodifieds, I believe every group could benefit from one-way radios from the officials to the cars. The radios help speed up the show, and do not promote blocking that crew-based radio systems bring.
The highly entertaining AVSS points chase heated up as Bill Tyler and Tim Cox swapped the lead back and forth each time they hit the racetrack. Tyler set quick time to take the lead from Cox, but after the heat races Cox found himself back on top of the points. Then when Cox suffered a flat tire in the feature it allowed Tyler to take a one point lead over Cox! “I was pretty surprised (he set quick time). We struggled hot lapping, and made just a couple of little changes. I guess we went the right way”, Tyler said after setting quick time. “This is always a fun place, I really like this track (Berlin).”
“You can hang the car out in qualifying a little and pick up a couple of tenths, and in our group a couple of tenths could mean the difference of someone being first or tenth.”
Bill definitely has points on his mind. “You try to race the race, but the points are always in the back of your mind”, Tyler stated on if he was thinking about points. “It’s fun to win (championships), it’s a big deal, but you try not to let the points interfere with the racing”.
“I like to win, I’d rather win a bunch of races than the points. But the points are there, and it’s hard not to think about them”
Overall both features were highly entertaining, and it was great catching up with all the USAC Midget and AVSS drivers.
Sunday: Attica Raceway Park
My trip to Attica Raceway Park was not a political statement, but for many race fans it was. Attica’s All Star round was their answer to being ousted at the Sharon Nationals by the rival Gumout Series.
We spoke to many fans at Attica that were from the Sharon area such as Kenny Rogers and his wife Barb. They made it very clear why there made the trip with the camper to Attica rather than sleep in their own bed after races at Sharon.
“We came to support the All Stars. Sharon is a great facility, and I love the improvements, but we really enjoy the All Stars and I do not like how they were kicked out of Sharon” Rogers stated. Rogers also noted he had about 30 or so of his Western Pennsylvania friends in tow.
Even with water in short supply, Gene Frankart had the Holbrook promoted oval in great shape all night long. The feature did take rubber from lap 20 on, but the racing was tremendous all night long. It was also the first time in many years I did not pull out the goggles to enjoy Attica action. Take a bow Janet and Gene!
The tremendous sprint car double dip at Attica featuring 410’s and 305’s with two excellent open wheel features was finished by 10:30 p.m. EDT.
It is also fun to watch Greg Wilson win any kind of race. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekly 360 show at Limaland, or a $10,000 win at Attica, Wilson gets excited about winning. Wilson shows great emotion without copycat doughnuts and fence climbing, just pure, raw emotion that is very sincerer. Bryan Scott was also glad to see us pull in the gates. During the past three (and maybe four, I’m still researching it) years we have seen Bryan finish no worse than third in the 305 sprints. Scott held off a great run by Roger Shammo for the Attica victory.
Monday: Fremont Speedway’s 305 Invitational
After seeing the sunrise from the back of the Linder garage on Monday morning, grabbing four hours of sleep, doing a radio appearance, it was time to head off to Fremont for the 305 showdown.
If you went home Monday because this was a 305 race, you missed one of the best races I have witnessed during the 2002 season. Rain before hot laps produced track conditions heavy enough to make me drool as mud flew as high as the lights in hot laps until the feature.
Roger Shammo is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet at any race track, and it was great to see him pick up the victory. On the way home I realized though there is hardly a bad guy in the 305 division at Fremont. I could create a laundry list of great people we have met in this division. We have to congradulate Shammo on not caving into the pressure of Bryan Scott to take the win.
The biggest disappointment was the heartbreak we felt for Craig Mintz. Craig had the race won before flipping hard between turns three and four. It was Mintz’s first time on his lid in a sprint car, and he did it in rather spectacular style. Look out for this youngster in years to come in 305’s, 410’s, and maybe beyond!
Other youngsters that even made me feel old were young Calib Griffith at the tender at of “14 or so” is wheeling a 305 sprinter. Calib has a feature win and was very impressive during the invite and in other places we have seen him in 2002.
One young driver that impressed us that you may not have heard of is Daniel Smith. Daniel was in his seventh 305 start and won a heat race. The Smith operation is a fairly low dollar deal, but what they do have seems to run well. The youngster was very friendly during our visit, and it was great to meet him after his heat race win. The side panels were bare on the #19 car, but probably will not remain so if Daniel keeps running that well!
I have to also thank all the 305 drivers that purchased rides to raffle off this past weekend for Jack Hewitt. The raffle was a huge hit and raised over $1,000 over the weekend of Jack. I bought a ticket to help chip in and ended up winning one of the rides. So Sunday Mudclodbob will saddle up for his two seat experience courtesy of Ryan Lowe’s racing team! Many people asked why I didn’t go for another ride, and it’s because I want to give a little something back to my Dad who introduced me to this wonderful sport.
I hate to cut it short, but it’s been a short week with tons of behind the scenes work here at Slideways central. The racing was so good I wanted to write something! We’ll be at Fremont all weekend, so make sure to stop by and say hi!