Great Lakes Edition: Hope and Enthusiasm Prevalent Leading Into Opening Night at Butler

(Jim Fisher photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

(May 5, 2022) — Saturday night Butler Motor Speedway will open their gates for racing for the 70th season with newfound excitement courtesy of an ownership change during the off season. Tim Wilber’s Christmas surprise was revealed officially to the racing world that his family had purchased the 3/8-mile oval in Coldwater, Michigan. Since that day there seems to be a level of positive energy building up to opening night I have not seen since Denny Donaldson took over the facility back in the early 90’s.

Butler serves a very important role in the sprint car ecosystem for the state of Michigan. Championship drivers such as Brian Tyler, Jason Blonde, and a host of other drivers took some of their first competitive laps at Butler. It is a facility where a young driver can get laps in a sprint car. Butler has also served as the home to teams that may not have the budget to take on a traveling circuit, giving them a weekly home to fulfill their dream of being a sprint car driver.

When I saw some of the efforts that the Wilber family was putting in during the early part of the spring to refurbish parts of the grandstands with new boards, concession stand improvements, and producing a smooth racetrack for practice day a week ago it is easy to become excited. I also think it’s prudent to temper expectations early on this year as Wilber did not have a full off season to work with and will be learning the craft of running a race track this year. The Wilber family seems to be the perfect fit to take on this task though with their years of racing at Butler and knowing what the challenge ahead looks like.

The geographical location of Butler also makes it important to other areas as well. Sometimes a younger or lower budget Ohio team has taken to Butler for a boost of confidence or to get some additional laps that helps them down the road in their home state.

I’ve often said that when in a difficult situation hope is one of the best things you can sell, and the Wilbur family is doing just that through their social media channels showing off their work and creating a more prominent presence for Butler on those platforms.

New ownership isn’t the only reason to be excited about Butler’s upcoming season. Old and new faces will be making appearance in the sprint car division. Jason Blonde just announced he will be competing at Butler during off nights from pavement sprint car duties while Tommy Beazley will be moving into the division this year from the modified division his family has been heavily involved in for generations.

Appearance by Great Lakes Super Sprints, Great Lakes Traditional Sprints, and the FAST 410 Sprint Cars will help back up the only weekly 410 sprint car program in the state of Michigan.

At times I’ve been one of Butler’s more vocal critics. The reason being that I know how important Butler is to sprint car racing in the state. I always left with a feeling that the facility oozed of potential that was never grasped. Things under Wilbur’s leadership will not be perfect in the short term. There is a lot of work still to do, but the effort I’ve seen put forth has impressed me and I feel confident in making at least one appearance during the 2022 season.


• Matt Frisbee, family member of former sprint car driver Bill Frisbee, took some laps in Brock Zearfoss’ car during the Bristol Bash with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series last weekend. Frisbee is working on Zearfoss’ crew this year and is a former micro sprint racer.

• Darin Naida made his first 410 sprint car feature Saturday at Fremont Speedway, and completed all of the laps as the fourth generation driver continues his steady improvement against some of Ohio’s best weekly racers.
• Randerson Racing threw down the gauntlet last weekend with driver Danny Sams III by sweeping the GLSS 360 and weekly 410 sprint car programs Saturday at Wayne County Speedway. This is another sign of the great depth of the GLSS series this year and adds Sams as a potential contender during some of the bigger 410 sprint car programs in the state taking place later this year.

• In a bit of news that could be filed under “coming full circle”, Joe Irwin is back with the Great Lakes Traditional Sprints handling some of the operations outside of race day. With the Barry Marlow expanding rapidly with another 360 sprint car series, the lightning sprints, and ice racing in the winter this is a much needed addition to give the non-wing series a bit of a boost.