Berlin Raceway set to open 53rd season

MARNE, MI - Berlin Raceway's 53rd season is set to begin Saturday, April 26, as the weekly local divisions of Coors Light Late Model, Engine Pro Super Stock and Hitches By George Sportsman stock cars take the track in points races. Gates open ...

MARNE, MI - Berlin Raceway's 53rd season is set to begin Saturday, April 26, as the weekly local divisions of Coors Light Late Model, Engine Pro Super Stock and Hitches By George Sportsman stock cars take the track in points races.

Gates open Saturday at 11 a.m., with practice and qualifying in the afternoon and the first race action beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are $11 in advance or $12 on the day of the race. Children 12 and under are half price. Spartan Brand six-pack coolers will be given away to the first 1,000 fans through the gates beginning at 3 p.m.

The 23-race season includes several traveling series events as well as the guest appearances of big-name drivers. On May 10, the Tribute to Johnny Benson Night/Todd Senneker Memorial Race, NASCAR Winston Cup driver Johnny Benson of Grand Rapids will return to his home track for the first time since winning his first Winston Cup race (last November at Rockingham). Joining Benson on May 10 will be NASCAR Winston Cup veteran and short track legend Dick Trickle.

On Tuesday, June 10, NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Tony Stewart travels to Berlin along with Benson to compete in the $10,000-to-win Meijer/Tony's Pizza 100 (which serves as a fundraiser for the Marne Lions Club). And on June 28, Benson returns for a final appearance in 2003 to compete in a Coors Light Late Model points race in conjunction with the Auto Value Super Sprint race.

The traveling shows scheduled for the 2003 Berlin season include the ARCA RE/MAX series on May 24, the Sunoco Super Series on June 14, Auto Value Super Sprints on June 28 and August 30, Vintage Racing Organization on July 26 and ASA on August 2.

The season concludes on Saturday, September 27, with the annual Chester Mysliwiec Open Invitational 100 Memorial Race. More than $90,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded for the Mysliwiec Memorial race, including $10,000 to the winner and $30,000 in cash and prizes awarded by Engine Pro and Late Model Digest.

This season's schedule gets back to the basics of local Saturday night short track racing by emphasizing the highly-competitive weekly points races while offering fewer but stronger specialty events. Only the June 10 special event falls on a weekday. While the special events highlight the schedule, it is the weekly racing divisions that make Berlin Raceway one of the premiere short tracks in nation, said track president Scott Lane.

"We heard from the fans that we had too many $21 races and we listened," Lane said. "We dropped the prices of some of the specialty events and eliminated some as well. We're going back to the basics this year. We don't want to lose sight of the fact that the racing at Berlin is very competitive and the quality is the best in the Midwest. We're going to showcase our weekly shows and continue to bring in some specialty races while keeping tickets affordable."

Racing Format Modifications to the racing format are also in store for the 2003 racing season. Back in the event line-up for 2003 are Late Model heat races, while the Late Model Consolation Race and Last Chance Race have been combined. In an effort to place more emphasis on races than on qualifying time trials, the points value of heat races for all divisions has increased while the points value of time trials has decreased. Finally, five bonus points are awarded for Hard Charger (the driver who gains the most positions from start to finish in the feature) if he or she started in the top 16 of the feature. Driver Contingency Program The driver contingency program, designed to reward drivers for performance-based criteria throughout the season, has doubled in value in its second year of existence. The contingency program will award more than $46,000 in product, prizes and gift certificates to drivers in 2003. The marquis sponsor of the contingency program is Engine Pro, which is gaining support from all of their suppliers to give engine rebuilding parts and certificates to winners of each division each night as well as at the driver awards banquet, for a total sponsorship of more than $25,000.

Who To Watch in 2003 Berlin's top division, Coors Light Late Model, promises to provide excitement from wire to wire. The championship battle is wide open as two-time defending champion Fred Campbell has stated his intentions to race just part-time at Berlin while he tries his luck in other racing series. The remaining nine drivers from last year's top 10 points finishers return, including (in order of 2002 points): six-time track champion Randy Sweet, Leroy Magoon, Tom Thomas, Tim Yonker, Joe Bush, Brian Campbell, Tim DeVos, Lee Anderson and John Grega. A miniscule 72 points separated positions 2 through 6 in last year's points, and the modifications to the points structure should see an even more exciting Late Model points battle as more emphasis is placed on races rather than qualifying.

Other Coors Light Late Model contenders include three-time Late Model champion Bob Holley, who returns to the points battle after a one-year absence from Berlin, and last year's top rookie finishers Billy Shotko (11th) and Jake Meyerink (12th). Seven rookies join the division and will contend for Rookie of the Year honors, including 2002 Super Stock runner-up Jeff Hennip and 2002 Sportsman third-place finisher Chris Anthony.

In the Engine Pro Super Stock division, officials expect the highest car count in recent history for the division. Eight of the top 10 points finishers from 2002 return, including champion Ray Clay, third-place finisher Bob Bliss (a former Sportsman and Thundercar champion) and eighth-place finisher Ross Meeuwsen, who won five feature races last season. New to the division are nine rookies, including four drivers moving up from the Sportsman division and five drivers new to Berlin Raceway.

Berlin's entry-level series, the Hitches By George Sportsman division, consists of five of last year's top 10 finishers (champion Mike Root, runner-up Dave Lake, fourth-place Lee VanDyk, fifth place Scott Root and 10th place Bruce Chase) and 19 rookies registered - 17 of whom plan to run for the Rookie of the Year title. More than 50 cars are registered in the Sportsman division.

A complete entry list of registered drivers is on Berlin Raceway's web site at www.berlinraceway.com.

Facility Improvements
The newest facility improvement to Berlin Raceway is the addition of a second private party deck, named the Wolverine Building Group Deck, located behind the wall between turns 1 and 2. The WBG Deck is a two-tier, 2500 square foot wooden structure with on-site barbeque facilities for private groups of up to 100 people. The second deck was added to satisfy demand for more exclusive areas for groups, and the popularity is already evident: the original Turn 1 Deck is sold out for 2003, while the new WBG deck has been rented for all races except the season finale on Sept. 27.

The addition of the new deck brings the total improvements to the facility to $1.3 million since 2001, when the West Michigan Whitecaps purchased Berlin Raceway.

Tickets for all races can be purchased at the Berlin Raceway Ticket Office, open 10-6 Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. until the end of the race on racedays; by phone to the Berlin Raceway ticket office (616-677-5000); through TicketMaster by phone (616-456-3333), on the Internet (www.berlinraceway.com or www.ticketmaster.com); or at the Fifth Third Ballpark Ticket Office.

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Series Stock car
Drivers Tony Stewart , Dick Trickle , Johnny Benson