Michigan Sprint Car scene 2003-11-26

The Holidays are Almost Here What a crazy off season we have among us. Wild stories about race tracks, race drivers, and race teams are flying around in typical off season fashion. What seemed to be a pretty quiet start to the fall, has ...

The Holidays are Almost Here

What a crazy off season we have among us. Wild stories about race tracks, race drivers, and race teams are flying around in typical off season fashion. What seemed to be a pretty quiet start to the fall, has recently turned ugly in some areas. Michigan is no exception. From the winner of the biggest paying sprint car race ever being released from his ride, to new sanctioning bodies starting up, this is sure to be one of the wildest off seasons we have ever seen.

The biggest story from the snow covered Wolverine State would be the demise of the Great Lakes Outlaw Super Sprints (GLOSS). Series founder Jerry Slade posted on his message board a couple days ago that he was stepping aside. I am not really sure what to make of the situation, other than race dates, and support from teams are essential to a successful race series. I am not sure if some people really understand what goes into promoting a traveling sprint car group. Nearly every group in the country is run by a "part time president". Meaning that they have real jobs outside of racing, and they run the group in their spare time. I have had the opportunity to be part of a race team, and then become a promoter. I know from experience, I spent alot more time working for the club, than I ever did working on a race car during the week. The biggest difference being that if we missed the set-up one weekend, we only had to answer to ourselves. However, make a judgment call at the track while acting as competition director, then you have people to answer to. I will admit, after a couple years, I did not take the complaints like I did when I first started. That is when I knew it was time to step away.

When it came to GLOSS, they had a tough product to sell. When the 410 SOD group came to an end at the end of the 1996 season, alot of race teams and tracks had some decisions to make. Most of the SOD regulars went either 410 dirt, or pavement racing. The SOD name moved to 360's, and would have a dirt only schedule from that time forward. The 410's in the area would be split in half with the birth of the Auto Value Super Sprints (AVSS). The AVSS pavement group, and the SOD 360 group would continue to grow over the next several years, while the dirt 410's seemed to decline in numbers. SOD was averaging nearly 30 cars at each event, while the 410's were usually around 20. This made it tough to sell a product which had fewer cars, but cost more money. In 1996 when John Naida made the decision to take the SOD name 360 racing, his idea was a 410 pavement group, and a 360 dirt group. Looks like that is where we stand today.

On the flipside to all of this, a new 410 winged group is being formed in the area. Rumor has it they are going to be racing in the Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin area. The Mid-America Sprint Car Series is set to kick off in 2004. Scott Benic and Joe Darmofal are to be the founders of this group. This will be interesting to watch. SOD is very well established in Michigan, and I do not see them losing any race dates to the new group. SOD is still rather inexpensive, has good car counts, and an established fan base. Steve Sinclair and the Interstate Racing Association (IRA) out of Wisconsin will also be tough to beat. The IRA is the ONLY self supporting winged 410 group in the country. They average just over 42 cars per show! You can take the IRA to a track with no locals in the area, and they will still give you a quality 30 car field. Ohio seems to be dominated by weekly shows, the All Stars, and the National Racing Alliance (NRA). That will be a tough sell for a new group as well. That leaves Indiana and Illinois. Indiana is wingless country. There are only so many winged shows that will work there. I do see some doors open in Illinois though, but limited in numbers. Time will tell. We also need to remember that no official announcements have been made, so this is all still speculation.

So where does that leave us here in Michigan? Lets see, the very successful AVSS on pavement, and SOD on the dirt tracks. The All Stars with a couple dates, and the World of Outlaws with a couple dates. There is alot of sprint car racing to be done in 2004. We have the same problem with sanctioning bodies that we have with race tracks, just to many of them. Every year we have tracks closing down for one simple reason, we have to many. Now we also have sprint car groups closing for that same reason. Michigan has more race tracks than any other state in the country. There is alot of racing going on every weekend, and only so many fans to sit in the seats. It seems that everytime it looks like things will settle down, someone will come along a build a new track, or try to open one that has been closed for several years. This same theory holds true for other types of cars as well. Modifieds for instance. We have IMCA, UMP and Michigan Modified rules. Three different sets of rules, for the same type of car. Racers want to race. But if they have to spend money on a different set of tires, or other changes to meet different rules, some would rather stay home.

Ok enough about sanctioning bodies, I am sure more will surface in good time. I received an interesting phone call last week. It seems that the rumors about Butler Motor Speedway are just that, rumors. Joe Dorer gave me a call from North Carolina to fill me in on the latest that the speedway has to offer. As it stands right now, Mr. Dorer is, and will be running the race track. He assured me that he will be back in the spring, or the race track will not open. He is working hard at finding a good source of clay to put down to try to avoid the rocks that have been common the last couple years. Other improvements underway include work on the grandstands, pit area, and camping area at the race track. When I asked him about the rumors that Denny Donaldson was taking over, and he was already putting new clay on the speedway, Mr. Dorer stated that it was being done without his permission.

Lets all hope that things get worked out soon. There is alot of history at Butler Motor Speedway, and I for one would like to see the speedplant continue to host sprint car racing for several years to come. There are alot of race cars that tow to the track every week for one simple reason, they love to race, and the fans love to see them race at the "Battlegrounds".

Owosso Speedway seems to have some news buzzing around. My inside "source" from Owosso tells me that a couple business owners from Holt, MI went to a city council meeting last week to talk about the speedway. I grew up 15 minutes from Owosso, so it is my home track. I good business person that actually enjoys racing is needed there. There are alot of inside people at the track that seem to control the workings every week, and it has pushed alot of race teams to other race tracks. New owners and a fresh start will be needed to salvage another one of the historic tracks.

One final note for this week will have to go to Kasey Kahne. I have been watching him race the fendered cars, and keeping track of his progress. With his improvements each and every week, I knew a win was coming, I just did not think so soon. Congratulations to him and everyone involved in his career. Was anyone else able to witness Kasey here in Michigan at places like Butler, Hartford or Ionia in a winged sprint car? I remember one night at I-96 Speedway (Now Ionia Raceway Park) where Kasey started on the pole for an All Star race. I do not remember what year it was, but I am thinking Kasey was still a teenager. After something went wrong in his heat (I think he flipped in turn four on the opening lap), he won the B-main and started alongside Kenny Jacobs on the front row of the A-main. Kasey led every lap, except one. The "Mouse" passed him in turns three and four on the final lap. I have never heard Michigan sprint car fans "boo" a sprint car driver in victory lane until that night. Jacobs took it all in stride, and even chuckled at the situation a little bit. During the post race interview, Jacobs said he saw the opening, and he took it. He also said that he had to take the wins when he could, cause he knew before long Kasey would be the one making the passes on the last lap for the wins.

That is it for this week. Everyone have a great Thanksgiving day, and drive safe. Next time we will bring up some Christmas ideas for the sprint car junkie. Then after the first of the year, we will start to preview some different race tracks, and there plans for sprint cars in 2004. Feel free to drop me a line at duane@drtmotorsports.com with any thoughts you may have. So far this seems strange, and I have not had any negative e-mail since I started this column. One thing we do need to keep in mind, is we need to work together as fans, teams, and tracks to make sure our sport continues to grow. As with anything else, there are "Anti-racers" that would love to see motorsports a thing of the past. Make sure you get out this next summer and support our sport.


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Series Sprint
Drivers Kasey Kahne , Kenny Jacobs