By T.J. Buffenbarger
(May 16, 2022) — The Mace Thomas Classic has ascended to being the biggest sprint car race in the state of Michigan. The Thomas family being involved to honor the legendary car owner has helped boost the event profile. Add in a $8,500 pay day for the winner of the 410 sprint car feature, two classes of sprint cars with the Great Lakes Super Sprints, and a trophy large enough to require some logistics to take home have made this one of a handful of must-see races in the state.
Honoring the former supermodified car owner that Gordon Johncock won a lot of races with including the inaugural Williams Grove National Open. The fans and race teams responded packing I-96 Speedway in what I would estimate as the second largest crowd I’ve seen at an All Star program at the facility while the drivers put on two great sprint car features.
The All Star main event featured Justin Peck, fresh off a second place finish with the World of Outlaws at Lincoln Speedway earlier in the week, picking up his first victory of the year. Peck utilized every inch of the 3/8-mile oval at I-96 in route to the win. Afterwards, Peck and the Buch Motorsports team had the fun challenge of taking home the gigantic Mace Thomas Memorial trophy that was at or nearly six feet tall.
Not to be shown up, the Great Lakes Super Sprints put on what could be a candidate for race of the year in Michigan with Gregg Dalman trolling the bottom of the racetrack to charge from 9th position for the victory. Dalman’s battle with Max Stambaugh was one of the best I’ve ever seen at I-96 with Dalman cruising down low, rocketing off the corners while Stambaugh’s engine could be heard over the entire field as he hammered the cushion the second half of the event. Both drivers should take a bow for the hard, clean racing we witnessed on Friday.
The strong fields in the 410 and 360 divisions on Friday combined with the extra money created a very festive atmosphere that inspired others to get involved in the fun. TC Powersports chipped in extra money for quick time, heat winner, dash winner, and hard charger for the All Stars on Friday.
One thing that has been missing from the Michigan sprint car scene is a major touring event like this that also has good local flavor. The Mace Thomas Memorial is quickly becoming more than just another event on the All Star calendar. Hopefully we see the event continue to grow in 2023.
• Stambaugh bounced back from his second place finish on Friday by winning the feature Saturday at Butler Motor Speedway. I heard lots of positivity from talking with multiple teams on Sunday that were at Butler this week saying the track was smooth again for a second week in a row and the program moved along at a nice pace. Hopefully that momentum continues throughout the season.
• Ryan Ruhl, Danny Sams III, Max Stambaugh, Tylar Rankin, and Dustin Daggett all pulled double duty with the All Stars and GLSS Sprint Cars. Stambaugh had the best overall finish with a 13th in the 410 and 2nd in the 360. Daggett, Sams, and Ruhl made both feature events while Rankin missed the transfer for the All Star main event by one position in the B-Main.
• I-96 Speedway has back-to-back big sprint car races as the upcoming Full Throttle Nationals on June 3-4 will feature the FAST 410 Sprint Car Series, Great Lakes Super Sprints, and the Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series taking on the Great Lakes Traditional Sprints. Ironically Gregg Dalman is the defending Full Throttle Nationals champion as the event has been on hiatus for 16 years.
• Fourth generation driver Darin Naida picked up his first career top 10 finish in a 410 sprint car Saturday night at Fremont Speedway. Naida dodged several incidents on his way to a 9th place finish, continuing his steady improvement during his rookie season in the full-sized sprint car.
• I had a moment to catch up with Joel Hummel in the infield Friday at I-96 Speedway. Last fall Hummel had a freak incident with a giant mud clod coming through the bottom panel of his sprint car an suffered a serious leg muscle injury. Hummel indicated he hopes to be cleared by doctors to drive in time for the Full Throttle Nationals weekend where he will debut a retro paint scheme that resembles the entry his grandfather fielded for Brent “Fluffy’ Williams.
• This weekend Butler Motor Speedway is the only sprint car game in town with their weekly 410 sprint car program.