By T.J. Buffenbarger
Quincy, MI — What kind of alternate universe have I landed in?
That thought crossed my mind Saturday while walking out of Butler Motor Speedway at around 10:15 p.m. I had made two trips to Eldora and have yet to see a feature and was walking out of Butler at the earliest post-feature time in my life. I expected to hear the twilight zone music playing in the background as I traversed the parking lot towards Mudclodbob’s car.
Saturday started out exactly as planned. Highlights from a stellar World of Outlaws feature at Eldora Speedway on Friday had me excited to see the same kind of action on Saturday. When Mudclodbob and I left Charlotte, Michigan the radar looked encouraging with rain skirting the speedway.
As we drew closer to the “Big E”, Mother Nature made the “Big R” more prevalent. After signing in, grabbing a pizza burger, and talking with Dain Naida crew member Dan McCarron we the rain went from normal to downpour and we began formulating plan B. While watching haulers pull out of a muddy Eldora infield is always entertaining, there was sprint car racing to be had to the north at Butler Motor Speedway. I have been rained out at Eldora frequently during my 30+ years of race chasing, but never twice in the same year when I actually made the trip to the race track. Just another sign of how twisted springtime in 2011 has been.
Butler is always my backup plan for virtually any Saturday night. Located on the way back to mudclodbob’s home or my own while traversing I-69; Butler is the only weekly home for sprint car racing in the state of Michigan. Sprint car teams often only seen at Butler mixed in with teams that come and go throughout the season. By the time most seasons are complete I make a couple of trips down Clarendon road dodging Amish buggies, narrow bridges, and traffic from back woods country bars to get my sprint car fix.
Once out of Ohio cell phone purgatory I made a quick call to Butler and confirmed it was not raining there yet. Updates from James McDonald from ApexOnePhoto, making his first ever visit to Butler, kept us abreast on sprint car heat race results. The third heat race was taking the checkered flag as we pulled into the parking lot. After signing in for a second time that day our wrist looked more like those of a bar hopper covered in wrist bands. Not even taking time to remove my Eldora credentials I went right to the pit area to get a grasp on who was competing to tweet some updates.
What I found was very positive. The show moved along at a nice pace and ended at a decent hour despite multiple caution flags during the sprint car feature. The field itself was comprised of several new faces joining the normal fair of Butler regulars and Engine Pro ASCS Sprints on Dirt presented by ARP invaders that has were visiting on their off night. Goggles were not required to see the feature as the new clay on Butler’s racing surface has settled in and was remarkably smooth compared to recent Butler conditions. Considering the equipment (or lack thereof) they possess for track preparation I felt the crew did a remarkable job.
Even Chad Blonde’s luck of drawing the pole and making the feature somewhat into the anti-race for the lead couldn’t dampen my spirits. Bob Garrett and the rest of his crew obviously are steering Butler in the right direction. Garrett and his crew have a lot of work still ahead of them the vibe and experience at Butler on this visit was the most positive I had witnessed since Denny Donaldson’s first promoter tenure.
On the ride home I reminded Mudclodbob that even though I’m batting .750 with my weather forecasting abilities and we still managed to turn lemons into lemonade to salvage a good night. As much fun as these two race tracks in one night because of rain trips are hopefully Mother Nature decides to start playing nice as the season wears on.
I don’t know what alternative universe I landed in, but if the rain clears up I might stay here for a while.
• Chad Blonde pretty much walked the dog on the way to winning Saturday’s feature at Butler. Multiple time track champion and Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee Ken Mackey kept Blonde honest through the first half of the race, but once slower traffic came into play Blonde opened up a sizeable advantage.
Blonde’s car owner Sean Robinson indicated that Eldora was considered as Saturday’s destination, but having more sense than Mudclodbob or myself decided to play it safe with the weather and head to Butler. Look for Blonde and Robinson to venture away from Butler a little during the season.
• What has been the best moment of my race watching season this season? By far it was seeing Tom Davies win the B-Main Saturday night at Butler. Diehard fans will remember seeing Davies as far back as the days of Avilla and Warsaw with low dollar equipment just having fun being a part of the show. At one point Davies was the only person I knew east of Pennsylvania that owned a Super Sportsman car (he would run at Silver Springs Speedway on occasion). Most of the time Davies equipment has allowed him to make some laps in the back and he would politely pull out of the way or into the infield when lapped. Davies equipment, although not as new as many others, is vastly improved and was parlayed into the first time I had ever seen him win a race. Seeing the actual win, the victory photo in the infield immediately following, and Davies reaction to winning the race in the pit area afterwards was worth the late minute trip from Eldora.
• Veteran driver Kevin Atkins, aka Bimbo’s brother (Atkins loves us calling him that), is been back in action on the pavement and dirt this season driving for Jerry Powell. Unfortunately Atkins night was finished after the heat races due a serious engine issue that left a very large dent in the bottom of the oil pan. Atkins is slated to make an attempt to qualify for the Little 500 in one of Powell’s Beast pavement cars.
• Another driver entered for this year’s Little 500 roaming Butler’s pit area was Jeff Rankin. “Longhair” will continue unusually related line of Butler Motor Speedway drivers that have competed at the Little 500 by attempting to put one of Marvin Carman’s entries into the program between starts with the Auto Value Super Sprints. Rankin says he is having the time of his life racing with Carman on the pavement first as a crew member and now as a driver.
• Gregg Dalman continued to show that his 360 can match most of the 410’s at Butler with a charge up from 11th to third in the main event with a glowing/sparking/appeared to be one step away from being on fire brake rotor more suitable to cooking post race food than stopping the race car.
• Ohio standout Jared Horstman confirmed that he will be present more often in Michigan during the 2011 season. Horstman will pick up ASCS SOD and Butler races whenever the National Racing Alliance is not competing. At the rate Mother Nature is wiping out races at Limaland and for the NRA Horstman could be able to compete for both championships.
• Andy Chehowski continued his family’s tradition of going sprint car racing by making his first start last week at Butler. Andy’s father Troy informed us his son is in his mid-20’s with 12 years of karting experience. Once Andy gets some laps look for father and son to compete at Butler and at select ASCS SOD events.
• Tony Bures is working on getting an ASCS Sprints on Dirt motor together to add some races to his schedule this year. No timetable though on when Bures new 360 engine will be ready.
• Ryan Ruhl had a disappointing night after his car would not run. Even after going through the entire fuel system including the tank Ruhl’s team was unable to get the car to run properly.
• Mackey also eluded he will make some starts with the ASCS Sprints on Dirt series during the 2011 season.
Other notes from around the country…
• The TJSlideways.com might have to add a weekly Knoxville Raceway program to our 2011 tour. With Kevin Swindell throwing his hat in the ring to race for points this year along with Terry McCarl, Danny Lasoski, Don Droud, Jr, and numerous other top notch drivers the competition in the 410 division should be intense.
Fans were treated to a great feature on Saturday with a Dusty Zomer just nipping Danny Lasoski at the finish line after Lasoski’s driveline broke.
• Just when I thought the trip from Eldora to Butler that Mudclodbob and I were in the process of doing was impressive news started to break about Donny Schatz flying his plane Eldora to Knoxville, Iowa to race his boss’s personal #14 Office Depot sponsored sprint car at Knoxville Raceway. TSR P.R. and all around good guy Bill Klingbeil enlightened us that the plans were discussed earlier in the day and put into motion when word of the Eldora rain out became official. Schatz’s hard work though was not rewarded as he flipped in the A-Main. Schatz’s teammate Jessica Zemken had a better result with an eighth place finish.
• With Sharon Speedway dropping 410 sprint cars Mercer Raceway Park has benefited with large car counts during their first two weeks of racing with strong car counts requiring B-Main’s for the 410 sprint cars. This week the All Star Circuit of Champions visit Mercer on Saturday with a Sunday rain date on the calendar if needed.
• How about Danny Smith? If winning two in a row last weekend Smith went to two different race tracks this weekend and collected two more victories. Fans at Lernerville Speedway and Mercer Raceway Park got to enjoy wins three and four on the season for Smith.
• Just to show how twisted the weather is, Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, California and Eldora Speedway located in New Weston, Ohio were rained out.
• At one point I was the young guy covering sprint and midget car races. Now we have employed with the World of Outlaws like Kyle Ludders that just graduated college this past weekend while the Outlaws raced once and were water logged on Saturday at Eldora. Ludders blogs about his World of Outlaws experience as a greenhorn on http://gumpontherun.blogspot.com. Everyone at TJSlideways.com sends out our congratulations on graduating.