Great Racing, No Crowd

By T.J. Buffenbarger, Randy Ellen Photo

August 12th, 2010 was circled on my calendar the moment the USAC Silver Crown Series schedule came out revealing a Thursday night show at nearby Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan. Silver Crown dates are few and far between, and one near home has never occurred since the series broke off from the National Championship trail. As an added attraction the Silver Crown cars would race for 150 laps around the slightly smaller than a ½-mile layout (7/16th of a mile is the official measurement) at Berlin.

Leading into the race I was concerned. Due to the event being put on by people other than those that run the Berlin’s weekly program none of the billboards that normally promote the track around town featured the event. Someone I know did hear a radio add, a television ad was apparently purchased.

It didn’t work.

Unfortunately the grandstands at Berlin were virtually empty. A smattering of people did show up to appreciate what I feel are the coolest open wheel race cars on the planet, and on this night they put on the best race that virtually nobody witnessed.

Lost in the shadows…

Even while polling friends that were at home a considerable distance from Berlin most were tuned into the Knoxville Nationals. USAC wanted the Thursday before the NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway. This has worked in the past for Berlin, but did not draw people on this day. One has to wonder if they hoped to lure in a NASCAR guest to help boost attendance, but on a hot day and the Nationals taking place in Iowa there were no NASCAR takers in Marne.

The Great Lakes 150 also took place after one of the biggest super late model races in Michigan, the Kalamazoo Klash. Like it or not the super late models are still king on the west side of Michigan. No matter how twisted the rules get, people complain, fans show up for the big races. The Klash added with MIS this weekend likely put a strain on fans budgets.

Will the Great Lakes 150 happen again? That’s up to the people that rented the race track to put on the event. Hopefully with some more promotion it will happen again, but I’m not keeping my hopes up.


• Tanner and Kody Swanson accomplished the first brother sweet of first and second in USAC Silver Crown Series history at Berlin. The California youngsters both looked stout with just a handful of Silver Crown starts.

• With the unusual 150 lap distance for the Silver Crown cars on a track smaller than they are accustomed to competing on, pit stops became a premium for several teams. Early contender Jacob Wilson, A.J. Fike, Bobby East, and several other teams made one or more pit stops during the event. East’s pit stop was especially eye opening after coming out in front of the field in turn four (where Berlin’s pit exit is located) during a restart.

East eventually got a lap back under green flag conditions, but was too late to cut back through the field to contend. Of all the drivers that made stops, A.J. Fike placed the highest finishing in seventh position.

• Travelin’ Troy DeCaire made his second start in the USAC Silver Crown series at Berlin. DeCaire only had one other crew member with him during the extremely hot and muggy day. DeCaire rain most of the event sniffing around the top ten until mechanical issues dropped him back to 14th.

• Shane Hmiel, who has been a terror on the pavement since coming to USAC, struggled at Berlin finishing 13th. Hmiel’s teammate Jerry Coons, Jr., who also struggled at times with the handling on his R.W. Motorsports machine, soldered to a 9th place finish.

• USAC Regional Midget Series point leader Dalton Armstrong had one of the faster cars in Regional midget competition, but ended up in the wall in turn four. Armstrong’s team was pushing the car back up into the push lane just as the field was getting the green flag for the restart. The incident tightened up the point battle for the regional midget championship to just 22 points between Armstrong and Wlech going into the finale September 25th at Berlin.

• It was an honor to help announcing the Great Lakes 150 and the USAC Regional Midget Car event at Berlin Raceway. Announcing a USAC Silver Crown race is something I always dreamed of. Huge thanks to Kevin Striegle for making that possible. I also want to thank Bob Gangwer from Wing Side Up and ISMA for the offer to help call the September 25th ISMA Supermodifed Show at Berlin with him, but I have ASCS SOD duty at I-96 Speedway for their season finale.

Best quotes of the night from Berlin…

“We could do the four hour drive to Indy on our sleep…and we probably will.” – Dean Mills

“Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.” – Brian Tyler’s self deprecating humor after a question about being fast in practice.

“Three laps at Terre Haute is more physical than 150 laps (at Berlin).” – Anonymous Driver

“Hey T.J., I feel lost, can you throw some dirt in my face.” – Jim Balder, fan in the stands that normally goes to dirt races in the area.

“Plenty of good seats available.” – Yours truly

Other Michigan Notes…
• Ryan Grubaugh’s new Roush Yates Ford/XXX Chassis combination appears to be one of the stoutest in the Engine Pro ASCS Sprints on Dirt presented by ARP series. The only disadvantage so far the team has found is a lack of spare parts to borrow or buy at the race track, which is why the team had to scratch at Kokomo two weeks ago after a u-joint failure. Grubaugh carries his point lead to South Buxton.

• Ken Mackey returned to ASCS SOD action at Butler, where he is an eight time track champion. Mackey finished fourth and took honors at the highest finishing regular competitor at Butler in the feature event.

• Saturday’s event at Cherry Raceway for the Michigan Traditional Sprints should be a wild. The two previous events held there this season by the ASCS Sprints on Dirt saw track conditions that ranged from wide and dry, wet and smooth, to holes large enough to swallow an entire sprint car.

• Tommy Fedewa drove a third TNT entry at Owosso Speedway in AVSS competition to victory last Saturday. It was Fedewa’s first winged sprint car start of the season after competing all year in the new Spartan Speedway wingless sprint car division.

• The Spartan sprints are back in action this week with Jim Heeney holding a two point lead over Taylor Ferns. Ferns won the feature two weeks ago at Spartan, her second of the season. With two races left with the Spartan Sprint cars Heeney, Ferns, and Doug Dietch are all still in contention for the point title. Mudclodbob is going to Spa