T.J.’s Takeaways from the Season Finale at Butler Motor Speedway

Trey McGranahan with his family and supporters after securing the 2023 Butler Motor Speedway track championship. (T.J. Buffenbarger photo)
Trey McGranahan with his family and supporters after securing the 2023 Butler Motor Speedway track championship. (T.J. Buffenbarger photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

After a wild night of racing to close out out the 2023 season at Butler Motor Speedway there is a lot to unpack in this edition of the takeaways.

• The most talked about topic after Saturday’s 25-lap season finale was the contact between Tylar Rankin and Corbin Gurley racing for the lead that sent Gurley for a wild flip through the trees off turn two at Butler.

Unfortunately, that incident took away what was shaping up to a tremendous finish from a couple of up-and-coming drivers in the region.

Before the incident the race for the lead had been an entertaining chase that was the opposite of most winged sprint car races where Gurley as the leader was able to extend his lead through slower traffic as Rankin was finding himself picked by lapped cars, but Rankin was better in clean air and could gain quickly on Gurley.

It also took away from the storyline that should have been about how Gurley has shown steady improvement over the past couple of years in the sprint car and seems to get faster with each outing I see him. For Rankin it should have been about the speed he’s shown with Greg Wheeler’s team and how I feel they are close to being ready to take the next step towards racing on the road more frequently in 2023

Instead the narrative is about Gurley’s hair-raising flip through over the dirt embankment off the backstretch at Butler and into the trees being one of the wildest flips I’ve seen at Butler with Jason Setser’s horrifying crash at a NAMARS midget race back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s being the only one I’ve seen eclipsing it. Thankfully Gurley was able to climb from his damaged car quickly under his own power and was remarkably well in the pit area after the incident.

I give Rankin some credit for showing the proper decorum in victory lane calmly coming around the car and immediately speaking of the incident on the p.a. interview. There are a lot of drivers that would have got up on top of the wing and celebrated that victory, and I credit Rankin for keeping things low key. After interviewing Rankin for the notebook column I’m writing tomorrow, I believe his sincerity that was not the outcome he was looking for out of that slide job.

The slide job itself was something we have seen frequently across the country this year that has sparked a lot of debate about how people are racing each other in the sport. Much like the other incidents I’m not a huge fan of how this went down. I don’t think there is one thing we can attribute to the increase of these incidents. It’s combination of the cars getting safer and faster that allow drivers to make riskier moves, pressure to perform put on the drivers by those around them or themselves, and younger drivers doing the same things they see others doing at higher levels in the sport.

Hopefully the next time I get to see both of these drivers battling for a win the narrative is completely different.

• The battle for the 2023 championship at Butler Motor Speedway became compelling with the ups and downs of Trey McGranahan and Logan Easterday over the final weeks of the 2023 season.

Avon, Indiana’s McGranahan appeared to have solid control of the point lead until Labor Day Weekend when McGranahan experienced engine issues that resulted in a DNF and allowed Easterday to take over the point lead.

McGranahan scrambled to put another deal together after the team he was driving for was sidelined due to the engine issue. Brian Petersen, who drives a sprint car and works at Griff’s Engines, came to the rescue in a big way as he paired up with McGranahan to win the following week’s feature at Butler and one week later secure the point championship for McGranahan. That level of resiliency in the closing stages of the season was impressive to me.

On the other end of the spectrum if you are fan of doing more with less, Easterday is your kind of racer. Taking a gigantic leap from being the 4-Cylinder Stock Car champion at Kokomo Speedway in 2019 to racing sprint cars on a shoestring budget.

Easterday and his 360 sprint car managed to take the 410 sprint car championship at Butler down to the closing laps of the last feature of the 2023 season. Unfortunately for Easterday it was the second time he has finished at the runner up in points at Butler, and ironically lost the title both times to a car carrying the #4.

It’s clear that both drivers have potential to move on from Butler and do bigger and better things. For McGranahan that path is not exactly clear yet, but with the gigantic support system he has of family and friends that turn out in droves to see him race, I think he will find somewhere to further his career. As for Easterday, he seems to be picking up more support each year, and I would expect that to continue into 2024. It will be fun to watch both drivers progress in the years to come.

• To many people’s surprises, the season championship at Butler Motor Speedway was on my agenda to cover ever since Butler’s schedule was released during the off season. It was the perfect opportunity to potentially wrap up the storyline of the great job Tim Wilber, his family, and his staff have done breathing new life into Butler.

I realize that this topic has been frequent in my takeaways over the past two seasons, but I keep bringing it up because the turnaround at Buter is so remarkable that I can’t recall ever seeing anything like it with a racing facility that was not shut down.

Each time I make the trip south to Butler I end up finding things that are new or improved. This time it was how much the crash cleanup has improved over the past year along with how sharp and helpful all the other Wilbur family members are around the facility. Terry is probably related to half of the staff there, and all of them seem to be as sharp or shaper than he is.

I’m having more fun going to Butler than at any point in my racing career, and I’m already thinking about events we plan on covering there for TJSlideways.com in 2024. In years past covering Butler events would be last resort, but now they are moving to the forefront. The excitement each time I come back keeps building and building, and I can’t wait to see if that momentum can continue to roll into and through the 2024 season.