By T.J. Buffenbarger
(August 5, 2021) — Seeing Ken Mackey in victory lane at Butler Motor Speedway is not a new occurrence. Mackey is one of the most decorated drivers in the track’s long, storied history. Last Saturday Mackey put himself in rare air among Michigan race car drivers.
Mackey’s victory in the sprint car feature last Saturday gave the 57-year-old sprint car veteran wins at Butler in the 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s, 2010’s, and now the 2020’s. Mackey from Brooklyn, Michigan currently leads the Butler Motor Speedway point standings and aims to add championships in all those decades to match the wins in five different decades.
What might be more remarkable than Mackey’s longevity is his victory came after an almost three-year layoff due to some health issues. Two of those years Mackey put Chris Andrews in the car, which in some ways helped build Mackey’s confidence.
“We have good cars and Andrews showed that because he was really quick at Attica Raceway Park consistently running in the top five every week and we even won some features,” said Mackey. “I know our stuff is good, but I’m not that caliber of driver anymore. I can’t even compete at Attica because those guys are up on the wheel for 30 laps and that’s tough, but I know the car is capable of it.”
That confidence helped Mackey last Saturday night holding off a last lap charge by former Great Lakes Traditional Sprints and Sprints on Dirt champion Steve Irwin.
“I was up front running my pace, then Steve Irwin got inside me inside on the last lap and I had to pick up the pace,” said Mackey. “Steve Raced me clean, just giving me enough room to get by on the outside. That goes a long way with me.”
Mackey’s return to the seat has been enjoyable for him so far getting to race with drivers he has competed against for years along with a lot of the new faces on the Great Lakes sprint car scene.
It’s been fun to get out there and race with the guys I used to race with,” said Mackey. “Gregg Dalman, Dustin Daggett, and all of the guys I raced 360’s with when I was driving for Phil Mott and the guys I race with at Butler. “
Mackey has both 360 and 410 sprint cars assembled. After having some handling issues with the 360 cars on opening night, Mackey decided to focus on Butler and the Sprints on Dirt series in an attempt to accomplish getting feature victories and another championship. After some mechanical issues at Butler while running up front, Mackey accomplished half of that goal last Saturday.
Despite some aches and pains at 57 years of age, the decision to step out of the driver’s seat permanently will be based on how competitive Mackey feels he is on the Michigan scene.
“I told my brother I wanted to win features in five decades and championships in five decades. I want to be competitive and run up front. If I’m at the point where I’m getting lapped, I’m going to get out and put someone else in the car. Right now, we have a good car, it’s a better car than I am a driver. I don’t want to be out there getting lapped or in the way. As long as I’m still competitive we will decide what to do for next year.”
Based on last Saturday’s performance, it still might be another year or two until Mackey hangs up his helmet.
• Micro sprint standout and fourth generation race car driver Darin Naida will make his first full size sprint car start Friday at Tri-City Motor Speedway. Naida will drive Max Stambaugh’s family owned #5M car at Tri-City. Earlier in the season Naida won a Great Lakes Lightning Sprint feature at Tri-City and already has 15 feature victories in Micro Sprint competition this season.
• Friday night in Michigan features an open wheel racing “unicorn” with all three Great Lakes divisions (Winged 360 sprint cars, non-wing sprint cars, and lightning sprints) in action at Tri-City Motor Speedway in Auburn, Michigan. Often stacked up with a multitude of other racing divisions, open wheel fans should be treated to a great program. The last all open wheel show I attended at Tri-City during Labor Day of 2019 was highly entertaining with Dustin Daggett sweeping both features on the slick, racy surface at Tri-City.
Currently Max Stambaugh holds a 21 point lead over Ryan Ruhl for the GLSS point title. Dustin Daggett sits in third 84 markers back from Stambaugh as the top three have separated themselves from the rest of the pack to contend for the 2021 point championship.
Steve Irwin leads the Great Lakes Traditional Sprints standings by 74 markers over Keith Sheffer Jr. Irwin’s three wins this season lead the series, but Sheffer is keeping Irwin honest at the top of the standings, applying enough pressure where Irwin will not want to make any mistakes down the stretch.