T.J.’s Notebook: Refreshed After a Real Off Season

IRA sprint cars. (Dave Olson phot)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

(February 16, 2021) — This past winter and fall felt different around my house. It was devoid of trade shows, banquets, and travel by all but a handful of American race car drivers to Australia and New Zealand.

It was an actual off season.

I have said for years the off season is busier than the racing season itself. Even cutting back on the number of social events I attend during the off season to stay involved in school and family activities outside of the sport the website is typically buzzing with activity about schedules, ride changes (which there were a lot of this year) and other news.

Since 1996 I have lived the routine of getting up early or staying up late the night before going through results, news, and photos. Since November I scaled back a bit. With the lack of American influence in Australia and New Zealand and banquets non-existent I stepped back for a while to take the first real break I have had from doing this in 25 seasons.

Writing this article and starting to play out the 2021 season I feel refreshed. Along with my new day job (the one that pays the mortgage) and my break from the racing routine this is the most excitement I have felt for an upcoming racing season in quite some time.

The break made me realize that absence does make the heart grow fonder. I’m ready to tell stories, record podcasts, eat dirt, and enjoy racing again.

Tuesday started on a somber note with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announcing Bob Jenkins would be reducing his role at the track due to brain cancer diagnosis. Jenkins was the voice for motorsports for many of us that reached middle age as lifelong race fans. From Thursday Night Thunder, NASCAR, Indy Cars, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway we grew up with Bob being the voice we heard during many of the biggest racing moments on television, radio, and the public address system.

I was able to visit with Jenkins a handful of times and he is as nice of a person as you would imagine based on his on-camera demeanor. We wish Bob and his family the best during his battle with Cancer and will be pulling for you to win the fight.

Based on this news it would be a good day to listen to Jenkins’ Dinner with Racers interview from earlier in the year.


  • With Florida Speedweeks in the rear-view mirror racing season begins a slow ramp up through late February and early March as the weather starts to improve. Normally this would be considered the time of year where schedules are finalized with a handful of stragglers putting out their 2021 calendar. With COVID still having a major impact across the country I expect another busy of year of schedule auditing and changes every week.

    Last year was a nightmare keeping up on all the last-minute changes in scheduling due to the ongoing pandemic. The cancellation of most of the off-season trade shows and social events helped us get caught up giving us some time to plan for 2021 with the lessons learned during the 2020 season. Thankfully that work is completed to the point where columns and podcasts will start popping up on the website.

    As of this post 87 different racing series and 70 racetracks are available on our Allstar Performance Open Wheel Calendar.

  • One of the scheduling conflicts that stands out is the Must See Racing sprint car series holding a two-day program at Kalamazoo Speedway on the same weekend as the Pay Less Little 500 at Anderson Speedway. Traditionally the winged pavement sprint car series in Michigan have kept Memorial Day weekend open for teams to complete at Anderson. Must See and Anderson have been partners in the past with events and television. It will be interesting to see if the Kalamazoo program pulls entries that would normally appear at Anderson.
  • I was surprised, but not disappointed, to see the World of Outlaws were limiting the entries for the event at Bristol Motor Speedway. During the first two events the Outlaws held at Bristol the car counts for the Saturday finale was 47 in 2000 and 32 cars in 2001. With MOWA, IRA, SOD, OVSCA, Attica, Fremont, Mercer, Port Royal, Farmington, Williams Grove, Lincoln, and Lernerville all running 410 sprint cars that weekend I don’t think an exorbitant number of sprint car entries would be on hand, but with the Super DIRTCar Series on hand that weekend combined with COVID regulations in place limiting entries is the proper decision.
  • Former Midget Car driver Austin Prock announced he would not return to John Force Racing for the 2021 NHRA season. Prock had worked his way into a Top Fuel Dragster in 2019 before JFR took the 2020 season off from NHRA competition.
  • The Bumper to Bumper Interstate Racing Association will return to the state of Michigan on June 11th at Hartford Motor Speedway. This will be the first appearance by IRA in the Great Lakes State since 2010 when Dustin Daggett picked up the feature victory at Hartford. IRA president Steve Sinclair indicated he hopes to gain the support of 10-12 local entries to support the traveling IRA show. Hopefully the local teams take advantage of the opportunity to showcase themselves with the IRA sprint cars.
  • We want to send well wishes out to sprint car driver Kevin Feeney. Feeney is a big fan on the website and has been experiencing some medical challenges of late. Feeney still needs to rest to continue his recovery, so please refrain from phone calls or messages. If you are interested in sending a get well soon note you can do so by his son Kyle.