By T.J. Buffenbarger
(April 26, 2022) — It was nice getting out to the racetrack in person for the first time this year over at Crystal Motor Speedway for the season opening event for the Great Lakes Super Sprints. After being delayed having to change cars due to a mechanical issue (thankfully before I left home).
With over 160 cars in the pit area for the six-division show (late models had the night off, mini wedges could not race due to the condition of their infield track from rain throughout the week) I arrived at Crystal to see a packed house. The size of the crowd was partially due to the near 80 degree weather still present when I rolled into the parking lot. Thankfully someone near the ticket booth must have left early, so I pulled right in and walked up to catch the second half of the program a handful of stock car races before the B-Main rolled onto the speedway. Even with the massive number of cars on hand Crystal officials hurried through races and ended up getting sprint car fans on the road before midnight even with several cars getting upside down throughout the evening. The carnage was not due to track conditions though, as even with rain and snow Crystal provided their standard smooth racing surface that went from extremely heavy through the heat races to slicking off for the features.
Walking the pit area Saturday night after my arrival I expected the tire shortage that is impacting all short track racing to be the hottest topic along with the GLSS/NRA merging news, but the topic brought up most by teams was the price of diesel fuel. With the current average in the state of Michigan at $4.90 a gallon, which is up nearly $1.90 from 2021, teams are just as concerned about getting to the track as much as they are about the tires.
It was nice seeing large fields of cars Friday at Attica Raceway Park and Crystal events for GLSS and the National Racing Alliance. On the heels of the announcement that both series would come together in 2023 and working together as much as possible this year while maintaining separate presences, the results of that news was being felt as several cars that may have been persuaded to not go to Attica or Crystal were present. Hopefully that is a sign of what to expect for years to come.
• The weekend events at Attica Raceway Park and Crystal Motor Speedway were the first look at several drivers in new rides for the 2022 season.
Max Stambaugh took over driving duties for the 2022 GLSS championship winning team, Smith Motorsports. After backing into the fence during their debut last Friday with the All Star Circuit of Champions last weekend at Attica and missing the feature on last Saturday, Stambaugh scored two third place finishes this weekend with NRA Friday and GLSS Saturday.
Defending GLSS driving champion Ryan Ruhl made his first start for 2022 aboard Ken Mackey’s #25 car. Ruhl indicated that Mackey dialed him to take over the driving duties after parting ways with Smith. While chasing GLSS for 2022 Ruhl indicated the team could make some starts in 410 sprint car competition as well, with Mackey excited about some of the improvements at Butler. The Ruhl/Mackey combination ended up with a solid fourth place finish, moving up from sixth starting spot in their first effort together.
Ruhl had some of his best performances with Terry Stewart spinning wrenches on his family-owned effort, and now had Mackey doing the same with his extensive driving experience. I expect this to be a combination to keep an eye on for the 2022 season.
Tylar Rankin took his first laps as the full-time driver in Greg Wheeler’s #16C ride for 2022 at Attica and Crystal. The team showed speed in the feature charging from # to 12th place at Attica. That speed carried over to Saturday with Rankin winning his heat ace. Unfortunately, Rankin ended up sideways on the opening lap of Saturday’s feature from fifth starting spot in a multiple car accident that ended up being the only stoppage in the main event.
Danny Sams III has become a regular fixture on the GLSS tour over the past several seasons. For the Crystal opener Sams’ seat was in a different entry with Home Pro Roofing sponsorship present on the car. After dropping out at Attica with a 21st place finish, Sams drove the Home Pro entry to an 8th place finish on Saturday.
• Chase Dunham bounced back impressively after missing the show Friday at Attica Raceway Park with his runner up performance on Saturday after leading early in the 25-lap main event and nearly catching Westbrook in the closing laps. Dunham plans on chasing the National Racing Alliance along with some USCS starts throughout 2022. Dunham indicated with GLSS and NRA working together a few more trips north could be in store for the young driver from Leipsic, Ohio.
• I noted the depth of the competition in GLSS for 2022 in my takeaways from Saturday’s program. One thing of note about that competition is how many non-driving car owners are present in the series this season. Taking out some of the visiting drivers such as Saturday’s winner Dylan Westbrook, and there are six to seven car owners with hired drivers competing with top notch equipment this year, a luxury for most local/regional type series around the country like GLSS.
• One surprise entry to the NRA program Friday at Attica Raceway Park was Nate Dussel. Dussel typically competes in the 410 sprint car division at Attica, Fremont, and surrounding tracks. Dussel indicated he will make 6-8 starts in the 360 division this year including the Full Throttle Nationals at I-96 Speedway June 3-4. The Full Throttle Nationals seems to be gaining a lot of momentum with a lot of chatter about this major sprint car event.
• Teams competed with heavy hearts on Saturday after learning of Mark Strpko’s passing on Thursday. Strpko’s influence was felt throughout sprint car racing and other divisions throughout Michigan by competing and building racing engines. Often causing editors I worked with that took my race reports asking, “Is that how he’s name is supposed to be spelled?” Stprko did a lot of great things behind the scenes that a lot of people don’t know about to help race teams.
Jay Steinebach, who has been a customer of Strpko’s at times during his career, competed with Mark’s wing in tribute. Unfortunately, that tribute ended up inverted in turn three, taking down the pole with the turn three caution light, something that Strpko would have found amusing once we found out Steinebach was okay. GLSS also performed a missing man parade lap in tribute to Strpko before the main event.
• Speaking of Steinebach, he informed us that his plans for 2022 include hitting and missing various 360 and 410 races in the Mid to West Michigan area for 2022 and not chasing any points this season.
• Butler Motor Speedway will have their test and tune this Saturday before opening their 2022 season on May 7th. There is as much buzz as I’ve seen since the early 2000’s about a Butler opener. With Terry Wilber and his family taking over the reigns they appear to be working hard to do as many improvements as possible to the facility, the focus being replacing some of the older bleacher boards on Butler’s steep, scenic grandstand.
• Andy Tuenessen made his first start with GLSS since 2018, making the feature and scoring a 15th place finish.