By T.J. Buffenbarger
(May 13, 2019) — The season opening event for the Great Lakes Super Sprints at I-96 Speedway was already setup to be a nice racing program. Polling teams the before the original date GLSS would have a good field of cars with a car count to support a small B-Main. If you factor the drivers such as Phil Gressman, Dustin Daggett, Chase Ridenour, Danny Sams (who had a nice charge from the B-Main to score a top-10 finish) Gregg Dalman and all of the other teams that plan on running most or all of the GLSS events.
I was counting on a good field of cars with nice depth of competition that would supply a modest B-Main. Throw in Michigan drivers Jay Steinebach and Dan McCarron that have added 360 engines to their stable and planned on dropping in on Friday and the event had my attention.
When the GLSS opener was pushed back a week due to a rain out and rain started to impact other races around the country some added depth was added to what was going to already be a nice field of cars.
With the ASCS National Tour events at Lakeside, Kansas and I-30 Speedway in Little Rock, Arkansas raining out earlier it set things in motion for a pair of unexpected visitors on Friday.
Tony Stewart was originally going to race at Lakeside that Thursday along with making a personal appearance. When both races cancelled I started getting some rather unusual, anonymous requests later in the week.
“I was honestly going to run Lakeside, Kansas Thursday and it’s been literally underwater,” said Stewart. “Then I had an appearance in Kansas I was going to be at and it got cancelled, so I told Jimmy (Carr) I had an open weekend.”
Stewart’s appearance coincided with Ayrton Olson’s first winged 360 sprint car appearance after running 410 races at a variety of tracks.
“Olson that helps out a lot on this car too,” said Stewart. “I know Jimmy wanted to get him out. So we got to just piggy back and come along with them.”
While Stewart was impressive Friday at I-96, the event was not a tune up for the ASCS program as Stewart is committed to running with the All Star Circuit of Champions for three nights in Wisconsin next weekend.
The rain outs at Lakeside and I-30 gave the I-96 crowd a preview of Robbie Price before the two day ASCS National Program this week. Price from Cobble Hill, British Columbia confirmed the mission was to get laps in before next weekend. Price was impressive in his heat race holding off multiple challenges by Tony Stewart for the win followed by a seventh place finish in the main event.
The most impressive visitor other than Stewart was familiar face to Michigan race fans from Ontario, Dylan Westbrook. Westbrook and Stewart traded the lead multiple times before the caution flags during the second half of the feature became his undoing.
“With all those reds my left rear tire started going down, my bleeder stuck a bit,” said Westbrook. “Once I got rolling again the tire pressure got up it was good. If that hadn’t happened, we would have had a good shot. We were gaining on him a little bit in traffic, but it was a good night for us.”
Just like Price, Westbrook used Friday’s event as a tune up for next weekend’s ASCS National Tour weekend. If Friday was any indication Westbrook might be the most likely candidate outside of the ASCS touring drivers to pick up a win at I-96 next weekend.
Unfortunately I-96 was not as kind to fellow Ontario resident and Ohsweken Speedway regular Dan Nanticoke who pounded a marker tire in the infield and flipping in turn four, ending his night early. Nanticoke has plenty of company as we counted seven different incidents with drivers involving the infield tractor tires.
The previous week the National Racing Alliance and GLSS were going head to head with NRA slated to open their season at Limaland Motorsports Park. When both of those events were rained out the GLSS event fell to an open weekend which allowed Jared Horstman and Kobe Allison to come up. Max Stambaugh and Ricky Peterson didn’t have any 410 sprint car commitments for that week which allowed them to make the trip north. Friday’s GLSS event provided Horstman a final tune up for running the Friday portion of the ASCS program before heading south to compete with NRA on Saturday.
While the travelers did crowd the spotlight on Saturday don’t discount the Michigan teams. Steinebach looked strong winning his heat race and leading several laps early in the main event. With both 360 and 410 engines at his disposal Steinebach is still going to weigh his options on where he’ll race full time this year, seeing how the year goes point wise between GLSS and SOD.
Another driver that might not be on Michigan fans radar to keep track of in GLSS competition is Zane DeVault. DeVault started the season strong last year before a non-racing injury kept him on the sidelines for a majority of 2018. DeVault looked sneaky fast on Friday driving for Greg Wheeler along with partners from his operation last season. With the added depth and experience I believe this will be a breakout year for DeVault.
Throw in Phil Gressman rebounding from hitting a marker tire on the first lap of his heat race to charge through the feature to finish 9th, Ryan Ruhl’s top ten finish in what he described as equipment that was starting to get tired, the return of Trevor Berry, and a lot of other storylines that should be fun to tell as season progresses.
- The Lane Automotive Sprints on Dirt event Saturday at Butler Motor Speedway getting washed out was unfortunate as it appeared several of Friday’s visitors were poised to race at Butler on Saturday. Stewart and McCarron made the 333 mile tow from I-96 to Sharon Speedway on Saturday for the FAST 410 series event. SOD and Butler officials rescheduling the event for Saturday of Memorial Day weekend sets up a nice two day stint across I-94 for their teams.
- The Lane Automotive Michigan Traditional Sprints have their season opening event as the under card with the ASCS National Tour on Saturday. If Friday was any indication the MTS program should be stellar on I-96’s fast 3/8 mile layout.
- Joel Hummel returned to sprint car racing after a long layoff with his family’s famed blue and yellow #54 sprint car. Brian Tyler and a host of other drivers cut their teeth driving for the Hummel’s over the years. Joel unfortunately had an issue in his heat race that saw his front wheel roll into a farm field a considerable distance from the racing surface, ending his night early. Combine this with Kent Gardner’s return to the driver’s seat at Crystal and the Michigan Sprint Car scene has a retro element added to the season.