National Lampoons, “Northern Michigan Vacation”

By TJ Buffenbarger

About three years ago my Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin’s pulled up roots from Mid-Michigan and moved up to the far northwest city of Kalkaska, Michigan. Kalkaska is about 25 miles east of Traverse City, which is right on Lake Michigan. I usually go up and see them in the winter or early spring, but never really had the opportunity with all the commitments I have in the summer to go up there. Tractor Pulls at the New 96 Speedway, a previously planned encounter that was canceled a few months ago, and my golf game in need of a seeing a really nice course sent me to the north woods for some family companionship and laying out on a beach to work on my tan.

The plan was to head to the land of Glen’s Market’s, Paste’s (It’s a pizza pocket kind of thing, not the little dots strippers wear on their chest), and fudge on Friday for a little golf and relaxation, Saturday was race day with the Auto Value Super Sprints at the Merritt Speedway, and Sunday I was going to make a nice side trip on my way home to work on my tan on the beach in Traverse City. I had never been to the golf course, Merritt, or that particular beach, so I was looking forward to the adventure.

I took off on early on Friday afternoon to beat the rush on US 127 heading North with my new Ricky Skaggs cranked up. Nothing gets people’s attention more than Bluegrass blaring on the stereo full bore going through town. I will quite often torture friends with quite often going through a big city, even sometimes shouting out a nice “yee-haw” for everyone. LOL! Needless to say this might be the reason I was riding alone on this trip.

Everything was going smooth until I was driving outside Grayling, Michigan when my car just died. No warning, the car quits running. I got out of comfort of my air conditioned car and then realized that my goal of getting out of the heat at home was not accomplished as the temperature was just a couple degrees cooler and the humidity was higher near my destination. A few calls on the cell phone later I had my cousin Jeremy heading out to rescue me. Once he arrived to my rescue I called the wrecker service, and they said it would be about 90 minuets before they could get the car. Just then we could hear and see a major thunderstorm heading right our way, and decided to just leave the car for the wrecker and head back to Kalkaska.

Once in Kalkaska Jeremy convinced me the storm was going North, and we could still make our tee time. I first thought this wouldn’t be a good idea with the kind of luck I’ve had of late, but decided after the kind of spring I’ve had I could take my chances:-) The guess was right as we got in nine holes at the beautiful golf course in Kalkaska. It was the best course I had ever set foot on, and also shot the best round I’ve ever played in my short golf career. For a couple hours I was able to take my mind off the car, or took out the frustration on the golf ball and hit some tremendous drives. I had a blast and will be up to play again very soon on a Friday after work.

Friday night I sat down to get ready to post results, and my modem chord bit the dust. So along with getting my car in Grayling, I would be making a side trip to Traverse City for a new modem cord. Somehow I wasn’t surprised this happened, so I just hoped for a brighter day on Saturday in what I think is the most beautiful part of the State of Michigan. So I decided to crash in the hot tub for a while so I could wind down and get a good night’s sleep to go racing the next day.

Saturday morning came with excitement in the air because the Slideways crew was attending another track we have never visited before, Merritt Speedway near Lake City, Michigan. I also found out it was the MAP sensor that had gone bad on my car, and Couter’s Garage in Grayling set me right up and didn’t charge me an arm and a leg. Big thank you to them and the people at the Circuit City in Traverse City for getting my modem problem handled. They had all the parts I needed to be back online again.

The Auto Value Super Sprints at were racing at Merritt for one of their two northern trips of the season. Many of the Michigan sprint car drivers, fans, and officials had told me all the wonderful things about the facility that made me want to check it out. As I arrived everything sure did live up to it’s potential. Merritt has the cleanest rest rooms and best food I’ve ever had at a race track. Both of those go a long way with me. Other attractions included a playground for the children, a mascot handing out candy, and a kids fan club. All of this was very impressive. Only things we could see being a problem were no isles in the grandstand, and the “cable” (singular) in the catch fence.

As I picked up my schedule for the night’s events, I could see why the food had to be so good. They had plenty of time to sell it because the sprints were going t o be run behind the Late Models, Pro-Trucks, and Street Stocks all night except for the Stock A-Main. I quickly changed my order from a Pepsi to a large Mt. Dew figuring I was in for a long night. I never expected 40 odd Late Models, about 23 Trucks, and 40+ Street Stocks to join the 23 sprinters that made the tow up north.

Even with all the divisions, the track did manage to start on time. The first races on the docket were the Late Model and Pro-Truck dashes. Pretty normal at most Michigan tracks that run stock cars. Then the first of the four 13-lap street stock heats came out. 13 laps of any kind of heat race is way too long, and after sitting throughout he first one I retreated to the pits to stretch my legs and talk to Jason Blonde’s crew to lay groundwork for a future column. Jason has been on fire this season winning all but one Auto Value Super Sprint dirt race to date, and blistered the track about a half a second faster than any other driver in time trials.. Look for my story on Jason to be completed in a few weeks as my first driver feature.

An hour and fourty-five minuets later the first sprint car heat race took to the track. The three heats were action packed, with the best drive coming from Ken Mackey in a borrowed car after his own mount broke in hot laps. Mackey drove from the tail to win the heat, and pick up a front row position for the Re-Max Dash. The track was very racey, and Mike Daggett was pulling big wheel stands all night, and it was not un-common to see lots of other cars bicycle and pull the front wheels off the ground. The surface was unlike anything else we have ever seen. It’s nice clay watered with Brine Water, and run very tight so the track stays smooth. The result is a track that keeps a nice cushion all night, but you constantly hear a tire scrubbing sound from the sprint cars.

After more stock car bliss that included a very long Street Stock B-Main, and a 20-Lap Late Model Semi produced a tremendous line at the concession stand, rain was approaching the race track. Track management did the wise thing and pushed the sprint feature up for the main events. A good call since this was a special. The main had some pretty wild action as Mike Daggett and Jason Blonde traded the lead back and forth due to a very slow car that acted as a moving chicane most of the night. This driver didn’t see the black flag for five laps, and eventually took out Davey Brown, who had a very strong run going. The officials should have thrown the caution to get the driver stopped for a consultation to tell them to hold their line, or taken him right off the race track. Merritt Speedway officials didn’t seemed impressed.

After 28 laps the feature was called by officials so they could get their stock car races in. When we asked the promoter why the feature was cut short, he said he was tired of screwing around with the sprints and wanted to get in his stock car features before it rained. Apparently it’s okay to dork around with 13 lap street stock heats and 20 lap Late Model B-Main’s, but we can’t run a 30 lap sprint feature if they have a couple of crashes according to him. They might as well have run all the street stocks in a 200 lap, two hour enduro and it would have taken the same amount of time as the heats and that B-Main. Needless to say I didn’t feel good about the way the show was handled and don’t plan on returning to Merritt for a long time.

I do have some kudos to give out to Dick Beebe and Jerry Slade for keeping the sprint car guys on their toes and ready to go when it was there to race. Many times a division can get caught off guard, but Dick and Jerry kept their part of the show moving. Beebe was a big help with his scooter, as the track only supplied two push trucks for the event, and one was only using the regular bumper on his truck. Good job guys on keeping a slow evening moving along when it was their time to do so.

Figuring nothing else could possibly happen, I was ready to take my car to the beach on Sunday. Only one problem it was pouring down rain by 10:00 a.m. At this point I just caught up with the family some more and headed home about 2:00 p.m. dodging cars that had hydroplaned off the road because of the heavy rain. I got home and just crashed on the couch and laughed about the entire thing. The weekend was far from what I expected it to be, but thankfully with the good times with the family I’ll have a positive outlook on the entire thing. I made it home okay, so I figure I can build on that for the rest of the week.

Things to look for this week are new track indexes that I’ve been dreaming up for about a year now. Finally almost have the template done. A lot of thinking has gone into this, but the building has been going on for about a month. What you see now with the re-indexing and new front page was just a preview of what it’s all about. We were going to start our track profiles with Merritt, but we’re going to hold off on that one for a while. We’ll start with Hartford or New 96 this week and the Non-Wing World Series and will go from there. Have a great week, and I’m off to eat the leftover paste and fudge.