T.J.’s Notebook: I-96, Berlin, Eldora’s big double header

Look for another pit are full of wing and non-wing sprint car teams this spring at Eldora Speedway. - Bob Buffenbarger Photo
Look for another pit are full of wing and non-wing sprint car teams this spring at Eldora Speedway. - Bob Buffenbarger Photo
Eldora Speedway’s pit area should be jam packed again this weekend. – Bob Buffenbarger Photo

By T.J. Buffenbarger

When the World of Outlaws / USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series Mother of All Sprint Car Weekends” at Eldora Speedway was announced this winter it was instantly the most anticipated weekend of my racing season. There are limited opportunities to see something “new” every racing season. Saturday’s event at Eldora not only meets the new criteria, but also falls into the classification of happening.

The biggest winged and non-wing sprint car series have raced on the same weekend before, but never on the same night. Ten or fifteen years ago an event like this would never happen. Thanks to the progressive thinking of leadership from both series along with Roger Slack and company carrying on the tradition of Earl Baltest style of landmark events, the #letsracetwo weekend has the potential to become one of the biggest weekends on the sprint car calendar.

Unlike the 4-Crown the attraction is not drivers staring in multiple divisions, it’s having the best of winged and non-wing sprint car racing on the same program. The crossover drivers will be a storyline, but the on track product with two of the best racing series of the world is the main topic.

If you are a sprint car fan that has never been to Eldora or hasn’t been back in a while, this would be a prime opportunity to see both varieties of sprint car racing. The past three seasons the winged sprint car racing has been remarkably better and the non-wing racing is as good as ever at the Big E. With no other support divisions the biggest dilemma might be finding a spot in the program to hit the concession stand or the restroom.

I always worry about the amount of hype a program receives versus the show’s ability to live up to it. I have very little doubt that this weekend’s Outlaw and USAC double at Eldora will be a home run.

Notes from I-96 and Berlin…

Ryan Ruhl.  (Bob Buffenbarger Photo)
Ryan Ruhl and I are running into each other like this on a regular basis. (Bob Buffenbarger Photo)
  • Friday night’s Engine Pro Sprints on Dirt presented by ARP program at I-96 Speedway was another barn burner with plenty of twists and turns. The final five lap dual between Gregg Dalman and Ryan Ruhl was probably the best SOD race I ever had the experience of calling over the p.a. system. Contact between Dalman and Ruhl actually bent Ruhl’s nerf bar into the pittman arm, somehow not effecting Ruhl’s performance. Check out the final five laps by clicking here courtesy of High Vista Video.
  • Dustin Daggett has amassed a lead at one point that was large enough that the story was already being written. Then at the moment where Ryan Ruhl and Gregg Dalman needed another caution Daggett ended up being involved in that yellow flag incident when Linden Jones spun in front of him. That caution setup a wild final dash to the finish with a race between Ruhl and Dalman that included some wild contact on the front stretch an Daggett charging from the tail of the lead lap to salvage a top five finish.
  • Biggest surprise locally this year has been Andy Teunessen. “The Tuna” has hanging around the lead during the first two SOD races of the year, and not by accident. Teunessen has been up on the wheel the first two weeks of the year and is knocking on the door of his first SOD victory.
  • The trip to Berlin on Saturday was enjoyable as usual. Berlin Raceway’s staff was friendly and accommodating as usual. I’m not sure if racers in West Michigan truly appreciate how lucky they are to have such a wonderful facility to race at every week and the level of sponsor involvement locally the teams attract. It’s always great to race at home, but even better when there is such a wonderful facility to go to.
  • Berlin’s Must See Racing feature took a few unexpected twists and turns, including front row starter Ryan Litt breaking a fuel pump during the pace laps before the feature, moving JoJo Helberg up to the front row, and dominated for his fifth win for car owner and former modified driver Steve Smith. Helberg did not let grass grow under his feet all weekend racing at Attica Raceway Park in Ohio on Friday night, Berlin on Saturday, and back to Haubstadt, Indiana on Sunday for the World of Outlaws program. Between dirt and asphalt Helberg plans to compete around 70 times this season, almost triple his racing schedule in past years.
  • Brian Gerster. (T.J. Buffenbarger Photo)
    Brian Gerster. (T.J. Buffenbarger Photo)

    I have never seen the team of Brian Gerster and Dick Meyers along with their car known as “Sea Biscuit” have a mechanical issue, let along twice, in the same night. This rare occurrence happened on Saturday when a power steering line burst during heat race action. Gerster recovered and was running down Helberg for the lead, getting a timely caution to bunch of the field, and then experiencing drive line/rear end issues during the restart. To his credit rather Gerster as able to safely maneuver his car to the pit area without bringing out a caution.

  • Dirt racers wondering the pit area at Berlin included Jay Steinebach and Bares. Steinebach’s engine is still at the builders, but should be out for the first time this week at Butler or next week at Plymouth. Bares has been busy with his Test Motorsports pit cart business, which has exploded in growth in recent months even drawing international business. Bares has picked up Berlin Raceway as a sponsor for his non-wing efforts to help promote the track’s MTS program in September.