By T.J. Buffenbarger
(May 4, 2021) — One of my favorite racing weekends from the 2019 season was the first appearance of the American Sprint Car Series National Tour at I-96 Speedway. The 2019 return of the ASCS weekend at I-96 was circled on my calendar to cover because of the proximity and to see a series that had only made one previous appearance in Michigan would be received by the race fans.
That 2019 event turned out to be a success. Following the end of Saturday’s program ASCS and I-96 Speedway officials were exchanging high fives and making plans to have dinner Thursday evening before the 2020 edition. Local teams fared well enough against the ASCS travelers to create some buzz, fans appreciated the two-sprint car division program on Saturday with no support divisions, and the fan turnout was strong enough to warrant the event to come back next year.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the progress of this race weekend. Thankfully, the momentum was not stopped though as the 2021 edition is even bigger. Having the ASCS National Tour also gives local teams a nice platform to showcase their talents against national touring competition.
One of the best things to come out of 2020 was the emergence of how well received events with the Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series co-sanctioning with the Great Lates Traditional Sprints were. I-96 found lightning in a bottle with BOSS and GLTS on the card including a successful fall event that will return to the track in October.
This year BOSS will take part in the ASCS weekend both nights, creating an ultimate sprint car weekend for sprint car fans. This will be one of the most exciting sprint car weekends of the season featuring the aggressive racing of the ASCS tour where the slide jobs are closer to the style seen in national midget car racing than typically seen in winged sprint cars and the GLTS regulars matched up against a strong lineup of BOSS touring teams.
I am a strong advocate of fans supporting programs like the ASCS weekend in the state of Michigan because all too often sprint cars are buried on a program with 4-5 classes of stock cars. I-96 promoter Jeff Dice is gambling on offering up two nights of nothing but sprint car racing hoping fans will respond.
Sam Hafertepe Jr. is now focusing on 410 sprint car racing and will not return to defend his sweep of the ASCS portion of the 2019 event. In his place fans will get to see Quilcene, Washington’s J.J. Hickle, who has raised his profile considerably over the past couple of seasons by traveling more and winning races throughout the country. Hickle currently leads the ASCS National Tour points over Blake Hahn, who had a strong showing during the 2019 edition of the I-96 ASCS event.
The ASCS weekend also is a homecoming of sorts for Canadian drivers Dylan Westbrook and Alex Hill as this will be the closest they will come to their Ontario hometowns during an ASCS event this season.
Ryan Ruhl will be leading the charge with the powerful Steve Smith owned team. Ruhl achieved a second and fourth place finish in the 2019 event in his own car. Phil Gressman and Dustin Daggett will be among the teams up front looking to challenge the ASCS invaders on their home turf.
The BOSS sprint car teams will travel north to take on GLTS led by Steve Irwin, who has won the past two weeks of unsanctioned non-wing sprint car races at I-96.
Hopefully, the fan turnout and quality of the racing rivals or surpasses the 2019 edition of the event. The success of the 2019 event led to heartbreak when COVID forced officials to forego the 2020 weekend. Now fans should be hungry for the biggest sprint car race to take place in Michigan in over a year and a half.
• Feedback from competitors and spectators that attended the Sprints on Dirt opener last Saturday at Butler Motor Speedway was largely positive. Drivers had lots of positive feedback on the track alterations track officials made to the racing surface, cutting down the banking in the corners. The track was also described as extremely smooth. The sprint car feature also ended before midnight despite the start of the night being delayed.
I hope the positive momentum continues for Butler and SOD. While GLSS and GLTS continue to grow as the premier sprint car sanctioning bodies in the state, Butler and SOD play an important role as the only winged 410 sprint car racing in the State. Butler also provides a nice platform for new drivers and teams to enter the sport, and having Butler running well is vital to the sprint car scene in the state of Michigan.
• Fans at Butler needed a program to keep up with the ride changes for the 2021 season.
Quentin Blonde will take the wheel of one of the Bilton Racing entries at Butler and SOD for the 2021 season. Blonde indicated his family-owned equipment was not ready and the BIlton team reached out. Blonde joins young Ohio standout Justin Adams on the BIlton team for the 2021 season.
Zac Broughman, son of former sprint car driver Mark Broughman, is behind the wheel of the Kirkendall family #27K for the 2021 season. The plan was for Broughman to run the Kirkendall car in 2020, but due to COVID only made it out 10 times in 2020. This year the Broughman/Kirkendall combination plans on a more aggressive schedule with Chuck Wilson joining the Kirkendall trio of Ryan, Ron, and Troy spinning the wrenches.
• Irwin backed up his win ins his own car Friday at I-96 with a second place finish at Butler behind the wheel of the Gall racing #81 car at Butler on Saturday. Irwin is unsure how many starts he will make for the Gall teams, as the plan for now is to run a mix of SOD and FAST programs in Michigan for the 2021 season.