By TJ Buffenbarger
- The weather was the top story all weekend at the first annual Michigan Fast Track Challenge at the New 96 Speedway with rain and near record temperatures and humidity for all three days. Friday started off with a heavy thunderstorm shower in the early afternoon. The crew at the speedway prepared the speedway in time for the event to start. Then after the second heat race the skies opened again saturating the track. Again the crew prepared the track for racing, and the rest of the event was ran at a fast pace to finish before more incoming weather.
Saturday was again unseasonable warm for Michigan, and blew up a storm out of the south that caught everyone off guard while the United Expressline B-Main. After the checkered flag a storm with heavy rain and hail forced officials to postpone the feature event until Sunday afternoon.
- 1998 All Star Champion and current points leader Kenny Jacobs had a small crew for the Michigan weekend with himself and Aaron Hammer working on the car. The lack of help didn’t seem to hurt Jacobs as he won Friday night’s event. In hot laps on Saturday Jacobs broke a U-Joint during his first lap. The Jacobs Motorsports team was able to get the car back out for the end of time trials for one lap.
- Because of the very bad timing of the rain on Saturday, the grandstand was opened up to all that wanted to watch the feature races and the pits to anyone over 16 years of age. A very good crowd showed up on Sunday afternoon to see Frankie Kerr win the rain-delayed event.
- Jason Statler also broke a U-Joint Friday in hot laps. Statler’s crew did not make time trials and had to start at the rear of the fourth heat. After not finishing high enough in the heat race to make the feature, Statler made a tremendous drive from the back of the United Expressline B-Main and missed a transfer spot by one position.
- The first annual Nice Shot Charity Golf Outing was a success as the drivers, officials, and fans from the event were able to raise money for the Freedom Acres school for mentally, physically, and emotionally handicapped children in the Ionia County Area. The golfers were also treated to a Roast Pork dinner after the event.
- During the rain delay on Friday Frankie Kerr was commenting on the number of pack trucks being used to run in the racetrack. Rick Meyers, the track preparation person at the New 96 Speedway, mentioned there was a pack truck sitting right next to him. So Kerr took the old pickup truck around the track to the delight of the fans that cheered as the former All Star champion bounced the truck off the wall similar to his sprint car.
- The weekend was relatively smooth on the track with no major incidents during the two programs. The only flip of the weekend occurred on the golf course during the Nice Shot Charity Golf Outing when All Star President Bert Emick and official Bill “Barney” Lyle were racing near the 13th hole and made contact that rolled over Emick’s golf cart. Witnesses said Lyle tagged Emick’s left rear corner, and Emick caught the cart path and overturned. Emick escaped the incident with a sore shoulder and cuts on his elbow while Emick’s passenger, rookie driver Brian Ellenberger, escaped injury in the incident.
- TW Metals provided bonus money for teams on Friday night, and also helped sponsor the golf outing on Friday night. TW’s racing division is an associate sponsor of the All Stars and also supports various Open Wheel events and teams all over the country.
- Butch Schroeder was on hand Saturday making his first start in the Rick Daugherty owned Peterbuilt of Northwest Ohio sponsored sprint car. Schroeder finished 12th in Sunday’s feature event.
- Saturday afternoon the fans were treated to an autograph session feature West Coast drivers Kasey Kahne, Jason Statler, and Jimmy Carter.
- Kahne has become one of the most popular drivers of the Michigan crowd after his tremendous performance coming through the B-Main and coming one turn short of winning the feature in the All Stars spring event at the Lake Odessa oval. After originally planning to go the Knoxville, the Kahne Motorsports crew came up to Michigan for the two-day event. After struggling a bit the on Friday night, Kasey had the fans talking again with his drive to fourth place after starting tenth using the middle of the race track.
- Lance DeWease came to 96 for the first time with the Hartz Furniture team. The teams mentioned they just wanted to do something different for the weekend as the reasoning for skipping the weekend in Pennsylvania to race in Michigan. DeWease finished 10th on Friday and 7th on Sunday.
- The New 96 Speedway gets the fans involved during down time for watering the race track by shooting tee-shirts into the stands with a slingshot, and throwing giveaways off the top of the tower. Saturday night former All Star competition director Rick Nichols was seen getting into the giveaway action by throwing bags of chips, beach balls, and various other giveaways off the top of the press tower.
- 49 different teams took part in the two day event, with 38 cars racing on Friday night and 34 on Saturday. Past winners of All Star events at the New 96 Speedway that raced during the weekend included Kenny Jacobs, Dean Jacobs, Rodney Duncan, Frankie Kerr, and Joey Saldana.