T.J.’s Takeaways from the Mace Thomas Classic

By T.J. Buffenbarger

QUINCY, Mi (August 26, 2023) — There is a lot to unpack after the return of the All Star Circuit of Champions to Butler Motor Speedway. From point swings, my bad takes from early in the week, and the amazing energy that carried through Saturday’s event there are no lack of things to discuss.

Here are my takeaways from Saturday at Butler.

• Say what you will about the All Stars unusual season due to injuries and teams changing drivers, but the 2023 owners championship is extremely compelling. Zeb Wise’s car slid backwards down the front stretch at Butler Motor Speedway, taking him out of the lead, it was one of the biggest moments in the 2023 All Star Circuit of Champions season.

After Zeb Wise and Rudeen Racing took advantage Tyler Courtney and Clauson-Marshall Racing having power steering issues and dropping back to 10th place Friday at Tri-City Motor Speedway to give Rudeen a 30-point lead going into Butler on Saturday.

Wise was primed to extend that advantage on Saturday leading the feature until tangling with car he was attempting to lap while leading and ended up with a DNF. Courtney won the feature and Clauson-Marshall Racing now has an eight-point advantage in the standings.

If this weekend is any indication, this battle for the owner’s championship is far from over. Major weekends at Attica Raceway Park and Port Royal Speedway are looming with other top contenders without a dog in the fight for any kind of All Star title could mix things up even more as the season comes down to the home stretch.

The good news for Wise is that he is extremely good at Attica Raceway Park, one of his favorites on the tour. While the sting of losing a race in the fashion he did at Butler on Saturday in front of his home crowd is heartbreaking, there are opportunities for redemption right around the corner.

The most impressive thing about the owner’s championship battle is the fight both teams have in them vying for this title under unusual circumstances. Both teams lost their primary drivers due to injury during the season and had to rely on other drivers to keep them in contention for the owner’s title.

Now the two drivers many considered to be the favorites to win the drivers title going into the 2023 season are still fighting for a title, just not the one we expected to be talking about.

• Earlier in the week I pointed out that most of the sprint car features this year at Butler were won from the front row and felt this as a likely result for Saturday.

Tyler Courtney, Kerry Madsen, Chris Windom, and Zeth Sabo blew that take out of the water.

Courtney worked his way up quickly from fifth starting position to win the race. Madsen charged from 10th to 2nd, Windom 13h to third, and Sabo 6th from 11th starting position.

That’s as much movement as I’ve ever seen from an All Star program at Butler. Count this as one of the moments I’m happy to be incorrect.

• Saturday was Tim Wilber’s chance to show off the incredible amount of work his family and staff at Butler Motor Speedway have accomplished since acquiring the facility right before the 2022 season. Turns out the fans came in large numbers to see what the buzz was about at Butler.

Typically, I would be on edge to show up around 5:00 p.m. to one of the big local races such as the All Stars at Butler. Today it worked in my favor as I parked towards the entrance to the parking lot and strolled up the parking lot to the front gate, soaking up the atmosphere that I could only describe as a sprint car racing version of a college football tailgate.

Once the crowd filled it was one of the largest, if not the largest I’ve ever seen at the high banked 3/8-mile oval. During qualifying I could hear the fans over the cars every time someone would set quick time or when a popular driver would net a positive result.

That energy carried through the entire program. I could feel everyone from the drivers to Blake Anderson announcing, and everyone else feeding off the positive energy. The result was a very entertaining main event with a roller coaster of storylines.

Even with a late start due to some extra track prep due to Wilber wanting to ensure the best show was being put forth in front of the capacity crowd and a brutal first heat race with two big flips the sprint car feature was still done around 11:00 and would have been closer to 10:00 had those two things no occurred. I don’t blame Wilber for waiting the extra time to get the track just right to make the best first impression possible on throng of people drawn to his facility on Saturday.

I could not be happier for track promoter Wilber and his entire family and staff at Butler. They took a huge risk purchasing an aging facility that had a great history and crowd base but needed a lot of work. Wilber and his entire crew took on the daunting task with incredible enthusiasm, and Saturday night was the first chance to showcase that effort to the wider sprint car world.

The Mace Thomas Classic appears to have found a permanent home and has the potential to be built up into a major event on the All Star Circuit of Champions schedule. With the fan energy I witnessed, on track product, and the already big payday at $8,500 to win the Thomas classic has become the biggest sprint car event in Michigan.

The best part is Wilber’s tenure at Butler is still right next to the starting line, and I’m excited to see how things progress over the next several years with Wilbur at the helm.