By T.J. Buffenbarger
(August 14, 2019) — While the Knoxville Nationals hangover is still present around the TJSlideways.com headquarters it must disappear quickly as one of the bigger sprint car events of the 2019 season is taking place this weekend. The Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions presented by Mobil 1 series will make their one and only appearance in the Great Lakes State on Friday at I-96 Speedway in Lake Odessa before heading down the road to nearby Plymouth Speedway in Plymouth, Indiana on Saturday.
I always stress to our readers that if they want programs like American Sprint Car Series National Tour, World of Outlaws, and the All Stars the fans need to support it. We have great local series for winged and non-winged racing in Michigan. I liken it to having a really great hamburger, but once in a while you want a steak. This event features two portions of the best meat in the area with the upstart Great Lakes Super Sprints joining the All Stars for an awesome sprint car double header.
The All Stars are bringing the beef with several of the front runners from Nationals week. All Star point leader and Knoxville Nationals pole sitter Aaron Reutzel leads the invaders coming into I-96 on Friday. Reutzel also had a series leading six victories in 2019 with the All Stars and # wins overall this season. Reutzel leads the all time leading drive in victories with the All Star Circuit of Champions, Dale Blaney, by only eight points going into Friday’s event.
Reutzel is joined by rising young stars like Cory Eliason from California who has been formidable this season in the Rudeen Racing entry and Brock Zearfoss from Pennsyvlania, who gave David Gravel all he wanted and more racing for the lead on his preliminary night before mechanical issues befell Zearfoss that took him out of that event. Familiar names such as Paul McMahan and Greg Wilson are also expected. Michigan often lends itself to drawing a handful of surprise as well.
Ryan Ruhl will lead the local contingent driving for Lane Racing on Friday at I-96. Ruhl was strong during the ASCS National Tour appearance at I-96 scoring a pair of top five finishes including a podium finish during the Friday night portion. Ruhl will be also doing double duty on Friday with Smith Racing during the GLSS portion of the program.
With the Auto Value Super Sprints staring out of town on Saturday at Baer Field Speedway with wings this becomes one of the least busy weekends of sprint car racing in Michigan this month. Butler Motor Speedway on Saturday is the only other event in the state other than the All Star/GLSS double header on Friday.
Typically the week after Nationals would involve a trip to Berlin Raceway to see the Must See Racing sprint cars. This year that event took place during the Nationals finale, so I was unable to attend. It was good to see a strong car count with 25 entries for the Berlin program. Berlin has not been Jimmy McCune’s best track with the sprint car for a myriad of reasons, particularly bad luck. McCune vanquished that with a strong performance on Saturday picking up that feature win. I had joked earlier in the day when Brian Gerster and the RAM Racing 50M team decided to run Berlin that I should start writing the story, but in reality I should be doing that when McCune shows up anywhere with his dominance in the winged pavement sprint car scene in recent years.
Ryan Ruhl had a successful first outing with Steve Smith’s team in 360 sprint car competition. Focused on 410’s the past two seasons Smith has joined the 360 ranks again so they can compete in both classes. The last 360 outing I could recall for Smith racing was with Dustin Daggett behind the wheel for a runner up finish at Eldora Speedway during a fall event several years ago. Unfortunately Smith’s 410 engines are out of commission for this week’s All Star Circuit of Champions program, but Ruhl was picked up by Lane Racing for Friday’s program at I-96. Lane will field entries at Attica and I-96 on Friday due to the close proximity of sponsor Beer Barrel Bourbon in Michigan. Ruhl has Saturday off from sprint car racing for his bachelor party.
The passing of legendary racing driver and personality Wayne Landon just before I left for Knoxville was sad for the entire racing community in the Great Lakes area. While Landon was an accomplished race car driver, his eccentric personality was what I remember him the most for. Even after retiring from driving Landon was a fixture at area race tracks. I would always seem him running around at I-96 Speedway and sitting up in the stands near where I would walk up the to the tower to announce or do some reporting duties. Landon’s family will have a celebration of life at the Fish Hatchery Park in Hastings, Michigan on Sunday September 8th from1:00-6:00 p.m.