T.J.’s Takeaways from the Opening Night of the Great Lakes Shootout

By T.J. Buffenbarger

(May 15, 2020) — The slow return to normal in the motorsports world continued on Friday at Jackson Motorplex in Jackson, Minnesota with another major sprint car race without fans present. Here are my takeaways from the social distant program on Friday.

• It did not take long for Brad Sweet and the Kasey Kahne Racing team to bounce back from the layoff. Then again when your “off” week ninth place finish at Knoxville Raceway in extraordinary circumstance it shows how strong one’s race team is.

Sweet drove a brilliant race on Friday biding his time in traffic to pass Donny Schatz and Sheldon Haudenschild at just the right moment and keeping his pace as such so he didn’t catch slower traffic in the closing laps as the track took rubber. From the outside looking in it looks like business as usual for the 2019 World of Outlaws champion.

• I would not sleep on Ian Madsen and the KCP Racing team the rest of 2020. While Madsen has not picked up a victory yet in the three starts since the COVID-19 outbreak, including a heartbreaking loss last Friday at Knoxville Raceway. Madsen and KCP obviously has speed and appear to be adjusting to Tyler Swank turning the wrenches. To show this kind of success early is encouraging.

• Kasey Kahne having a solid run in a field of 58 cars scoring a top five finish. Second start since sitting out over a year after a crash at Williams Grove Speedway last season. To have that strong of a run with that depth of talent in the field is a credit to Kasey’s race team, which propelled James McFadden to a stellar season after Kahne stepped out of the seat.

Sometimes people forget how talented Kahne was coming through the open wheel ranks before his stock car career, and its evident that Kahne hasn’t forgotten how to wheel a sprint car. While he still claims his starts will be rare having this COVID layoff with all the drivers appeared to have leveled the playing field a bit for Kahne coming back form his own infrequent starts due to his stock car career and crash last season.

• Saving the best for last, the biggest start from Friday’s preliminary feature was the surprise performance from “Tony Knight” from “Lime Springs, Iowa”. The gig was quickly up when Mr. Knight won his heat race and people started scouring the internet for information on Knight, only to come up with the fact that Lime Springs has a population of 505 people and there was no record of Knight anywhere.

This is not the first time I’ve run across someone using an alias to race, we just don’t see it happen often anymore. Back in the day when USAC drivers would use fake names to run outlaw sprint car events to not jeopardize their standing with the organization it was more common.

Social media added to the fun speculating who Knight might be, even springing up a couple of parody Twitter accounts.

The most surprising thing to me is with the COVID situation and restrictions certain employers are putting on travel that more drivers have not resorted to this. if I went to a race in person out of state my day job I would be not allowed in the office for a couple of weeks.

For others that might end up in the same situation in the near future, have a decent plan if you run well and have to appear in front of a camera for a redraw to at least mask your appearance more than “Tony Knight”.