Great Lakes Edition: All Star Weekend Preview

(Action photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

(August 23, 2023) — The biggest weekend of sprint car racing in the state of Michigan is upon us as the only appearance of the All Star Circuit of Champions takes place this weekend Friday night at Tri-City Motor Speedway in Auburn, Michigan before heading south to Butler Motor Speedway in Quincy, Michigan for the Mace Thomas Classic honoring the legendary car owner for drivers such as Gordon Johncock, who won the Williams Grove National Open in Thomas’ car, featuring a $8,500 to win top prize.

There are some of the storylines going into the weekend.

Sunshine picks up where he left off, winning with the All Stars…

Tyler Courtney picked right up where he left off last weekend scoring an $8,000 to win victory at Outlaw Speedway after being out of the driver’s seat since July 14th due to an injury suffered in a crash at at Eldora Speedway during the Knight Before the Kings Royal.

Courtney is the leading threat to win at every All Star show and despite the layoff will be the favorite to win going into both nights in Michigan.

“Home games” for traveling teams at Butler…

Zeb Wise (Serena Dalhamer photo)

Butler will be the closest race for Zeb Wise during the 2023 All Star campaign. Wise will be just 33 and a half miles from his hometown of Angola, Indiana and should bring out a large contingent of hometown fans.

It will be interesting to see the Rudeen Racing engine choice throughout the weekend as they have been using a Ford engine during select races since the High Limit Sprint Car Series event in August at Kokomo Speedway. Wise took that Ford engine to victory lane with the All Stars Sunday at Selinsgrove Speedway.

Ironically one of the most revered drivers in Butler history, Hank Lower, is also from Angola.

Lane Racing car owners Brett Lane is based out of Armada, Michigan and will look to have a strong showing just 107 miles away at Tri-City and 151 miles over to Butler. Lane was a visitor when he drove a 305 sprint car during his driving career, and will look for driver Chris Windom to have a strong showing this weekend in the mitten.

Kerry Madsen and Vermeer Motorsports getting faster with each outing…

Kerry Madsen (Serena Dalhamer photo)

Don’t sleep on Kerry Madsen to shake things up throughout the weekend with the All Stars as things are starting to click with himself and crew chief Clinton Boyles with Vermeer Motorsports.

Madsen has not finished outside the top 10 since the opening night of the Knoxville 360 Nationals and scored two top five finishes in three races last weekend in Central Pennsylvania.
Madsen seems to be knocking on the door of winning some races with the All Stars and build upon Madsen’s two feature victories so far this calendar year.

Race for the owner points is the one to watch this weekend….

Due to injuries and driver changes those point standings are all over the map. The one you need to pay attention to this weekend is the car owner/team point standings.

Rudeen Racing holds a 10-point lead over Clauson-Marshall Racing going into Tri-City on Friday while Vermeer Motorsports is 136 points back in third place.

While Courtney has been fast since his return, Zeb Wise has shown good speed as well and won the most recent All Star feature at Selinsgrove Speedway.

Experienced local drivers hope for strong showings against the All Stars

Tylar Rankin. (Jim Fisher photo)

There are several local teams that are performing well this season that are looking to make an big impact during the All Stars visit to Michigan this weekend.

Tylar Rankin had this weekend circled on the calendar since schedules were released this winter. Rankin considers Butler his home racetrack, grew up around that facility, and has the best opportunity of his relatively young career driving for Greg Wheeler. Rankin and Wheeler have switched their focus mid-season to only the 410 sprint car division and have traveled to compete with IRA and other series.

Max Stambaugh with the Smith Racing team has had success at Butler. Stambaugh’s owner Steve Smith is based out of Michigan and wants to have a good showing in his home states against top competitions. Stambaugh has been successful in the past at Butler with five feature wins during the 2022 season and a victory in 2022. While the pair have focused exclusively on 360 sprint car racing this year, Smith and Stambaugh tuned up for the 410 program last week at Butler and plan on competing both nights.

Jason Blonde will be a Saturday only participant with the All Stars due to racing on blacktop at Birch Run Raceway Friday, which is only a 30 minute drive from Tri-City (perhaps a double dip for spectators?). Blonde is a Butler fan favorite and his recent return to the high banked 3/8-mile oval on a regular basis has been popular. Blonde isn’t there just for show as he’s been a frequent visitor to victory lane over the past three years.

Jason Blonde (#10) and Max Stambaugh (#71H) at Tri-City Motor Speedway. (Jim Denhamer photo)

Dustin Daggett has only made two-winged 410 sprint car starts this season but is the only driver in the local contingent with a feature victory with the All Stars in 2004. Daggett had a sweep of the winged and non-wing features at Tri-City back in 2019 and finally got the monkey off his back with a feature win at Butler in 2021.

Other Butler winners expected to race this weekend include Josh Turner, who won a FAST sprint car feature in 2022, along with Thomas Schinderle who has a feature win to his credit this year at Butler.

One Friday only participant to keep an eye on is Dan McCarron. Tri-City is the type of track McCarron excels at, and he could end up being a “sneaky good” pick to run well Friday.

Young, local drivers looking to make their mark…

The two-day weekend is a showcase for the young, up and coming talent in sprint car racing is starting to blossom in the state of Michigan.

Adrian’s Darin Naida, still in high school, has a pair of feature wins at Butler to his credit this season. Throughout the summer Naida has been traveling around the Midwest to gain experience racing with the World of Outlaws and the Interstate Racing Association. Naida has been strong a Butler and rallied last week at Butler after spinning out early in the feature to finish fourth.

Darin Naida with the family of Chuck Wilson in victory lane at Butler Motor Speedway. (T.J. Buffenbarger photo)

Jett Mann has steadily improved this season and has a feature win at Butler this season. Jett also has traveled from Western Pennsylvania over to Wisconsin to get more seat time throughout the year.

Other young stars for people to keep an eye on are Keith Sheffer II, who has been logging more time in a winged sprint car this season in his family car and as teammate to his future father-in-law, Jason Blonde, in the Rhino Racing entry.

Second generation driver Boston Mead has steadily improved throughout the season and has a feature win at Butler this season. Mead will be a Saturday only participant but has made some big strides forward with his program this season.

Trey Mcgranahan is leading the points at Butler Motor Speedway but is questionable for Saturday due to some recent mechanical failures and the need to save parts for their effort to win the track championship at Butler as Saturday is not a point race for the local teams.  **NOTE Mcgranahan indicated Thursday night the team has found sponsorship to participate Saturday with the All Stars.

Hickle showing speed with Michigan based Home Pro Roofing team…

While J.J. Hickle is from Washington State, he is now the driver of the Home Pro Roofing entry owned by Shannon Eifert that I affectionately refer to as the “Shingle Special” Hickle was a force last weekend with the Great Lakes Super Sprints and weekly 410 sprint car competition with a second place at I-96 Speedway on Friday backed up by dominating Saturday at Butler winning both the 360 and 410 features.

J.J. Hickle celebrating in victory lane at Butler Motor Speedway. (Jim Denhamer photo)

The Home Pro team has some of the best, if not the best equipment in the state and World of Outlaws veteran crew member Jacob Weaver with his first shot at running the show as crew chief. Hickle and Waver seemed to gel during the 360 and 410 Knoxville Nationals and have built upon that along with a feature win earlier in the season at I-96 with GLSS to be a contender to win all weekend.

First time to the Tri-Cities Market…

Friday the All Stars will make their furthest trip north in the Mitten to Tri-City Raceway Park in Auburn, Michigan. When asphalt Tri-City was better known as, “the Trick Track” and home track to ASA legend Mike Eddy. Now where a unusual, paved oval once stood is a racy 3/8-mile oval (on the small side) that has produced highly entertaining racing during the two in person visits.

Having a sprint car race the caliber of the All Stars in that market has been a dream of mine since being a Bay City resident for a year back in 2000. Situated between Bay City, Saginaw, and Midland along with being a stone’s throw from Flint, I’ve always felt this could be the perfect summer market for sprint car racing.

After one gets off a day on the water in the Bay City area evening activities are somewhat limited. Tri-City has a strong weekly program and I’ve felt some major sprint car races in this region could make a big splash. Friday is the first chance to see if my hunch is correct.

Track position matters at Butler…

During my first visit to Butler in July for the Chuck Wilson Memorial I was pleased to see the smoothest and widest racing surface I have seen at the high banked 3/8-mile oval and continued facility improvements. Promoter Tim Wilber and his family continue to chip away with facility improvements and improving the racing surface.

With all that work, one thing that remains is that track position at Butler is vitally important. In the 13 winged 410 sprint car features held this season all but three of them have been won off the front row with Jason Blonde charge from 6th starting spot being the further anyone has won a sprint car race of any kind this year at Butler.

This could be good news if someone like a Jason Blonde, J.J. Hickle in the Michigan based “Shingle Special”, or Max Stambaugh could work their way to a front row starting spot.

One aspect that could blow this theory up is Butler hasn’t seen this deep of a sprint car field in a considerable amount of time, and not since the track was widened and smoothed out by current management. I’m very curious to see how the track races on Saturday with the caliber of field that is expected to be on hand Saturday.