Weekend Notes from Gas City, New 96, and Spartan

By TJ Buffenbarger

I have finally returned to the air-conditioned comfort of the Slideways Central office on Monday night after three nights of racing last weekend at Gas City I-69 Speedway, New 96 Speedway, and Spartan Speedway respectively. Make sure to check out all of the race reports posted for each of these events over in the Open Wheel wire. With that let’s open up my notebook from the entire weekend.

Friday Night: Gas City I-69 Speedway Summer Celebration

  • With a heat index well over 100 degrees, Phil Canaday and his track crew at the Gas City I-69 Speedway prepared a dust free surface that the drivers could race every inch of from hot laps to the feature. It made sitting through the tremendous heat worthwhile. So to Jiggs Thomason and the rest of the Gas City I-69 Speedway crew, you guys ROCK!
  • Needless to say it was great to get back in the hotel room after this night. Every time the Slideways crew exited any building with air conditioning, we felt as if we were walking into a blast furnace. And what would a TJ road trip be without some sort of a small disaster. This time we pulled into the parking lot when some of our friends noticed we had a headlight out on Dad’s car. When I went out to examine it the entire headlight assembly was gone!

    In case you are not up to speed last year in Indy during Indiana Five Crown our car was broken into and the robber littered the ground with my college books, and walked off with my college notes and our lawn chairs. Left the CD-Player, phone, CD’s, but took the lawn chairs.

    Then there is the now infamous Merritt trip I still get comments on that column at every racetrack I have attended this season. Not exactly what I want to be remembered for, but I’m glad people are reading.

  • The silly season in Indiana has begun with Kent Christian being released from the Roudebush #9 car. Aaron Mosely god the nod in the car Friday night for the $2,500 to win show. While running in a transfer spot in the B-Main Mosely broke with just one lap to go. Up until then Mosely looked strong in the car. Not sure yet on who will appear in the rotation this week for the Roudebush gang.
  • Friday was also Cory Kruseman’s last Midwest event for the 1999 season due to chasing the SCRA points with the Harlan Willis team. The Kruser’s qualifying laps around the ¼ mile oval opened up a lot of eyes with a flat out, ASCOT style, wheel lifting run that set quick time being the next to last car on the speedway.
  • Also had a chance to talk with Tom Chalk at his parts trailer at Gas City. Chalk and myself had heard a rumor of Joe Gaerte promoting a two-day All Star show at Gas City. When we asked promoter Jiggs Thomason about it he denied the rumor. Gas City would need some more seats, and apparently from hearing about the Kokomo ASCoC show a few more butts in the stands to watch it. It’s a shame the Indiana crowd doesn’t support the All Stars more because it is really good racing.
  • After the wheel banging battle for the win between Rose and Kruseman, Rose was the first driver to come over in the pits and congratulate Kruseman on his victory. Hearing both of them swap stories about the last ten laps of that feature was very cool the witness. Both were laughing and smiling at a race they will probably remember for some time. Rose commenting, “Are you going home yet”? Kruseman had a flight out at 7:00 a.m. Indiana time to make Saturday night’s race at the PAS.
  • A.J. Smith was seen wondering the pits and helping out George Wilkins dial in the Wee 3 car. Smith’s sprint car is still a little worse for wear after Indiana Sprintweek, but could fix the car for sure if someone would buy his great VW Powered midget. Car is still for sale, and can run up front with most of the big boys. A.J managed to make a feature during Summer Sizzle with the “Little VW that could”. If you want information just e-mail me and I’ll get you in touch with AJ.

    Smith also informed us that one of Wilkins’ Sponsors, Royce, Inc., has become a partner with John Godfrey at Stealth Chassis. The plan is help John focus on the design end of the business while having people run the every day business so the company can continue to grow. Stealth builds quite a few of the midgets, sprints, and silver crown cars across the Midwest.

  • Wilkins will be back on the track soon with his #37 Competition Welding car. Wilkins picked up some help from Chuck Snyder, and went out testing at IRP on Thursday night with Brad Armstrong and a couple of other cars. Look for Wilkins possibly as early as the USAC Stoops/Freighlinter race at Winchester.
  • A.J. Anderson was back at Gas City after his wild crash at Kokomo during Indiana Sprintweek. Anderson’s family trashed on the car to get it ready for the weekend. Make sure to go and visit the Anderson pit so they can give you a tour of their trailer after the races. It proves once again the rig doesn’t make the car go fast.
  • Ande Possman amused us before the feature on Fright night by his hyperactive type energy. Possman is knocking on the door for his first Gas City win, and said he was going to finish in front of three time (probably soon to be four time) track champion Mike Mann. After dropping back early on, Possman’s tire came in and he went straight to the front. Ande was happy with his run, but wanted a caution to get closer to the leaders.
  • Terry “The Poolman” Pletch almost pulled off another win Friday night at Gas City. Pletch was running right through the middle of the racetrack again, and at one point appeared he take the lead from Rose and Kruseman. Ultimately Pletch was destined to run third this night, but once again had the crowd on their feet anticipating the not so upset win.
  • Dustin Smith’s mother stopped by the tower to inform us her son went in for more tests at Methodist Hospital after his wicked crash at the Lincoln Park Speedway. The tests revealed Smith is shaken, but not stirred after his nasty crash where his arm restraints broke and one of his arms was outside the car. Thankfully Dustin escaped with just a bruised wrist.

    I’ve said it all year drivers, PLEASE keep checking out your safety equipment. You might be able to take a shortcut and buy a tire, or might think it looks cool to race without gloves or a neck brace, but this is not an area to take any shortcuts with.

Saturday night at the New 96 Speedway

The second night of my weekend adventure was just another Saturday night at the big half mile in Lake O’ Michigan. A nasty combination of heat, storms, and the Ionia Free Fair made the event look more like a bunch of guys racing in front of someone’s birthday party. The night ended up being one of the wildest and quickest nights of racing all year, with plenty of time to run gas out of the generator at the “Cosmo Conway Post Race Experience”.

  • I was wondering for much of the time if we would have a full field of cars due to the carnage at the Hartford Speedway the night before. The concrete palace swallowed up Brett Mann and Greg Wheeler in “that dash” in a nasty looking crash. Mann’s wife Kelly jumped on and said they ran out of time to prep the backup car and couldn’t make it. Wheeler also might be finished for the rest of the season.
  • Mark Stemen showed up with the motor that had been leased to Bob Dooley after his main engine broke a camshaft on Friday night at Hartford. Stemen didn’t want to have to do it, but Dooley was more than happy to give Mark the motor for the night. The deal paid off as Stemen won the 25-Lap feature and took the point lead at the New 96 Speedway. Stemen has been on a hot streak winning four out of his last five features after switching to his former Todd Wohlford Eagle Chassis, and had a little luck on his side as the borrowed motor trailed a stream of oil in victory lane. Stemen indicated he loves his Eagle and plans on buying a brand new one for next season.
  • A reunion of sorts was in store on Saturday night when Bill Tyler stepped into the Duffy owned Helen’s Candyland sponsored sprint car. This was the car Tyler drove for many years around Michigan and at certain USAC events. When talking to Bill in the drivers meeting he indicated it was the same motor they had used in the car ten years ago! Tyler gave it quite a ride as he led the opening laps of the feature, but dropped out when the motor started to overheat. We’re just glad Bill remembers what it’s like to get dirty, and looked pretty good for not running dirt at all this season.
  • Only two repeat sprint car winners still this season. Bob Adamson and Kenny Jacobs have been the only drivers to double up wins here at Lake O.
  • We don’t flip sprint cars, we flip golf carts and street stocks! This time it was female driver Donna DePew taking a nasty series of barrel rolls down the front stretch in her street stock. Donna was transported, but released from the hospital with a clean bill of health. DePew’s season though is now over.
  • When I’m at 96, it’s a must to write about the, “Cosmo Joe Conway’s Post Race Experience”. To get you up to speed after I’m finishing posting the 96 story on Saturday night, it’s time to head down to the 11C trailer for some post race beverages and bench racing that seems to get better as the night progresses. Mason Robertson’s trailer hosted the experience with the normal cast of characters for our post race B.S. session. It’s still the best bench racing going I’ve been involved with after the races, as all of the racers are just regular guys who are out to have fun on the track.

    This week we talked about setting Joe’s Manley Graphics J&J up for the slick track and various hand signals exchaned Joe and crew chief for the night Todd Wohlford. Wohlford spun a bearing in his heat race, so he spent the rest of the night as Cosmo’s crew chief. Wohlford did manage to get Cosmo on the front row for the feature, but the soft tire gave out early enough that Joe was thinking about how much gas he had for the generator by halfway through the feature.

    After we shoveled everyone out around us, broke the gathering off around 2:00 a.m. Plans are already starting for the final week of the season with talk of renting motorhomes, campfires, and seeing the sun come up (again) being considered. Also a TJ Slideways pre race party for the next to the last week of the season might be in order. Keep an eye out here for details.

    The Cosmo experience might be coming to an end though. Joe is moving to Detroit as the corporate people in the plastic industry are calling. So Cosmo Joe might be taking a year off. Needless to say we’ll give him quite a sendoff on here.

Sunday Pavement Racin’ at Spartan Speedway

  • My phone has been ringing a lot less since Jack Calabrase decided to take over the pavement super sprints. Jack made it about three months longer than I expected him to get involved in a racing series this time. Jack has already managed to get some major contingency sponsors on board for the 1999 season. We’ll have a sit down interview with Jack after Knoxville where he will discuss where he wants to take the group in the future.
  • Spartan Speedway on a Sunday for an Open Wheel special is kind of a tradition in this area for racers. What was not traditional is watching the water truck going around the track between hot lap sessions! Apparently when Spartan was resurfaced this season, the pavement did not have the right amount of polymer applied into the asphalt. I joked with AVSS officials they were doing it to make me feel more at home. Track temperatures early in the afternoon read well over 140 degrees, and the water helps as the track was much racier than we have seen it in years past.
  • In our last AVSS notes we mentioned Dorman Snyder was driving for Harry Stickney. Dorman’s wife informed us the Stickney’s are only a sponsor on the car, but are a major part of the team. We’re sorry for the error.
  • Not only can Rick Toncray take home the big money on the racetrack, Toncray can get your money on the golf course as well. Toncray is the owner of the Olivet Country Club in Olivet, Michigan, and picked up his first career sprint car win at Angola Speedway last weekend. I’ve played Toncray’s golf course quite a bit, and it’s a very nice facility. Congratulations on the first win Rick!
  • I finally saw an AVSS race where neither of the front row starters won the feature. Gary Fedewa started in row two. The smaller track provided for some neat, sideways action from Hank Lower that was fun to watch in the feature.
  • Jeff Bloom celebrated his 50th Birthday at Spartan on Sunday. Bloom went on to finish fifth in the feature.
  • Many veteran track observers informed me that Tom Fedewa’s new track record for the sprint cars set on Sunday is still three to four tenths of a second slower than the Super Modified record at the ¼ mile oval. This fact is astounding considering the supers have not made an appearance at Spartan in nearly 20 years.
  • I also observed that over 1/3 of the feature field at Spartan on Saturday night must carry AARP cards, and would be eligible for the Masters Classic at Knoxville. Most of other drivers that don’t fit that age bracket probably grew up watching more of the older drivers’ race, or were not even born when they started.
  • Promoter “Poor” Paul Zimmerman thanked 72 year old Benny Rapp for coming so he would not be the oldest person in attendance on Sunday night. Rapp went on to finish 12th in the main event.

That does it for my notes from the past weekend. Have to give it up to Al Ropke, I wish I could have been there to see that! I’ll have to do some research to find out the last time an All Star race was won by a driver who pulled in on an open trailer.

Vince Osman/Kokomo Klassic this week! If you can make it, don’t miss this one on your way out to Nationals. After that it’s off to the most fun race you’ll ever go to, the Back to the Front Challenge. Will someone take home $50,000 big ones by winning from the tail Monday night? Then it’s time for that Amoco Knoxville Nationals thing. Enough said. If Dad and I haven’t had enough, look for us at Kokomo on the way home again this year. Until then I will see you down the road, probably in Newton, Iowa!