T.J.’s Takeaways from a Wild Night of Racing at I-96

The safety crew tends to Levi Poortenga's car after backing into the fence at I-96 Speedway. (T.J. Buffenbarger photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

After a wild night at I-96 Speedway here are a few takeaways from the all open wheel program on Friday night featuring the Great Lakes Super Sprints and Great Lakes Traditional Sprints.

• Friday evening, I was sitting in my driveway debating if I should head West to I-96 Speedway or south to Hartford Motor Speedway based on the weather. After a clear forecast all day, rain was bearing down from the west. At that moment I felt Hartford would be washed out and ventured to I-96.

About an hour later I thought I made a mistake as rain closed in at I-96, but by some miracle both events were completed after short rain delays.

At one point I was in my car while the rain fell at I-96 Speedway, watching the All Star Circuit of Champions feature from Attica Raceway Park, fulling intending on driving out as soon as the race was called.

I’m not sure how all the rain I saw on radar missed both racetracks, but I was sure glad it did.

• One of the great joys I occasionally get to experience is covering someone’s first feature victory. That happened on Friday when Evan Mosley won the Great Lakes Traditional Sprint feature at I-96 Speedway.

Mosley, the son of Aaron Mosley (Who I had the pleasure of covering during his sprint car career), looked like a duck taking to water around I-96’s fast 3/8-mile layout.

Aaron mentioned that the trip north was a good opportunity to get Evan on a bigger racetrack than he’s used to seeing on a regular basis at Putnamville, Bloomington, and other Indiana quarter mile ovals the Mosley family frequents. Aaron had competed on the half mile layout previously and didn’t realize they had shortened it to a 3/8-mile until arriving.

The fun part about first time winners is seeing the reaction of the first-time winner. That feeling is new, and no matter how someone dreams it might feel it never quite turns out to be the same. There are elements of happiness, surprise, and relief present on the drivers face, and I could see Mosley going through all those emotions back in the pit area after his victory.

The Mosley’s were still debating as our our interview on where to go Saturday. The original plan was to head south to Putnamville or Haubstadt but depending on what the weather looks like there they were considering staying here for the GLTS race at Crystal.

• I had mentioned earlier in the year after a SOD/GLTS double header on how impressed I was with Keith Sheffer Jr. After this past Friday’s performance, I feel he is the best young prospect currently driving sprint cars on a regular basis in the State of Michigan.

Sheffer had a runner up performance with the Great Lakes Traditional Sprints and backed that up with a podium run in the third position with the Great Lakes Super Sprints. Sheffer’s performance also put a dent in Steve Irwin’s point lead with GLTS where Sheffer currently occupies the second spot.

Sheffer seems to be smooth behind the wheel. Once he gains more confidence in lapped traffic a winged sprint car victory will not be far behind to match his non-wing victory earlier in the season. Hopefully this young man from Jerome, Michigan will be a threat on the Great Lakes Sprint Car scene for years to come.

• Growing up going to sprint car races in Michigan throughout the 80’s tracks often had Professional Track Services (PTS) contracted for a safety team at a lot of facilities the Sprints on Dirt competed at. Through the 90’s tracks often had teams with outfitted pickup trucks with safety gear as common practice at sprint car races.

That’s what made what I witnessed on Friday night alarming when Levi Poortenga backed into the wall coming off turn four hard enough that it flatted the tail tank on his car, sending methanol running out around the car. Poortenga’s rescuers were largely in t-shirts and jeans with one person wearing the bottom half of a two-piece fire suit. Thankfully the car did not catch fire.

The late Dick Beebe would be rolling over in his grave after all the years he advocated for various safety items at Michigan racetracks. In a time where GLSS is taking some great strides forward it is sad to see properly outfitted safety crews at a three-division open wheel program take a step backwards.

To their credit GLSS has taken some strides forward with safety having an outfitted ambulance-like vehicle at all their races with proper EMS staff that are passionate about their job and the racing. After seeing incidents like what happened to Paul McMahan at Knoxville or Zeb Wise recently at BAPS Motor Speedway not having a safety team with proper fire protection on seems like an unnecessary risk and hopefully isn’t something we see often in the future.

That situation also furthered my thought that I could never been the head of a series or promoter of a racetrack because if I had anything less than Knoxville/Eldora quality fencing, safety crews, and other safety track related items I couldn’t do the job with a clear conscience.

Hopefully after multiple wild flips and hard hits during the program everyone by tomorrow morning is relatively okay and ready to carry on. I can’t help but think though with all the wild action on Friday, I felt like we dodged a bullet on Friday.