By T.J. Buffenbarger
The traditional start to the sprint car racing season in Michigan takes place Saturday at Crystal Motor Speedway when the Lane Automotive Sprints on Dirt visits Crystal Motor Speedway for the first of three appearances in 2019. Even the years when a track will schedule a sprint car race before SOD’s traditional Crystal opener there is something that gives the SOD opener at Crystal the feel of the traditional opener for the state.
Crystal has a long sprint car racing history including hosting the first SOD race. Promoter Ron Flinn makes sure everyone feels at home, even though the sprint car traveling circus are guests in a facility that draws over 100 teams for weekly competition every Saturday night throughout the summer. Even with the large car counts in recent years Flinn and his staff have come to the realization his sprint car audience does travel from some distance and tries to get the fans and teams on the road at a reasonable hour.
One of the unique aspects of Crystal is its proximity to a lot of vacation properties in Central Michigan. Many sprint car fans that have houses on the lake are known to boat all day and come to the races at night. Some even time the opening and closing on of their vacation spots with the first and last sprint car race of the year at Crystal.
I can’t even recall the first time I went to Crystal for a season opening race in Michigan. It’s just something I’ve done my entire life. During the years I don’t get to the Crystal opener I get a sensation of feeling “out of place” when that event is taking place. This year I’ll feel out of place due to having some family commitments, so mudclodbob will have reporting duties for the SOD opener at Crystal on Saturday.
Here are a few notes leading into the weekend around the state of Michigan.
- Crystal opened their 2019 season last week with 136 cars in the pit area including 32 late models on a very juicy racing surface. One of the reasons I enjoy the spring and fall SOD shows at Crystal is the track typically holds quite a bit of moisture at those times of year and can develop a bit of a curb. This is the only SOD show of the three paired with Crystal’s late models.
- Ryan Ruhl recently had a podium finish at Attica Raceway Park two weeks ago driving the Steve Smith 71H car. Smith and Ruhl have worked on the program to achieve the feel in the car Ruhl desires. Last year Ruhl and Smith ran well, but maybe not to the expectations many of us had for this combination based on Ruhl’s talent and Smith’s equipment. Rather than toss blame around everyone went to work and figured out how what needed to be done to give Ruhl the feel he wanted in the race car. That hard work seems to be paying off with Ruhl looking stout early in the season. This all is being accomplished as Ruhl’s crew chief on the 16 car, Terry Stewart, has stepped away from the team to spend more time at home. Look for Ruhl to make some starts in his own car when the Smith team is idle.
- Jay Steinebach’s race team will make its first appearance as a two car effort with Robert Bulloch returning to the driver’s seat of a sprint car after spending last season pursuing road racing efforts. The two car effort is only for select races as Steinebach goes between his 410 and 360 sprint car at various events around the state.
- Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee Jason Blonde will add more dirt races to his schedule this season. Blonde will drive for Kirkendall Motorsport for a significant number of SOD events that do not conflict with his pavement schedule. Blonde’s dirt effort with Kirkendall starts on Saturday at Crystal.
- The Michigan based Auto Value Super Sprints will contest their first wingless program Friday at Toledo Speedway in Toledo, Ohio. Interest is higher than I expected for the initial non-wing affair, but the names are very different from years past. Eric Gordon, Kody Swanson, and Aaron Pierce headline the early entry list. Taylor Ferns will make her return to the drivers’ seat at Toledo in the sprint car division after testing recently at Winchester Speedway.
Butler Motor Speedway pushed their schedule back one week with practice taking place on Saturday and the season opener scheduled for May 4th. Butler is undergoing another track makeover with changes being made to the corners for a more gradual decrease in banking from top to bottom.