Ken Mackey captured nine track titles along with more second-place finishes in the point standings than he can remember at Michigan's Butler Speedway. But at the end of the 2005 season, he wasn't even sure he wanted to return to racing in 2006. And if he did, it wouldn't be in his own #25m. But when 2006 came around, there was Mackey, back behind the wheel of the familiar red sprint car. But there were some changes -- Phil Mott came aboard and his Mott Motorsports added new blood to the team. After four-consecutive Butler points titles, there wasn't much left for Mackey to prove at the southern Michigan oval. He kept his 410 engine for the WoO and NST events in Michigan and any Butler events he might want to attend. But the Mott Motorsports team chose to follow the ASCS/Sprints on Dirt series this season, moving to the 360s. Mackey's last venture away from Butler gave him the 2001 GLOSS points title. The 2006 season with SOD was just as successful, with five feature wins and the series title.
Corey Bevard capped off his first points title at Butler with a victory in the season championship feature race. Bevard and Mackey spent countless hours in the pits at Butler over the years, and Mackey coached Bevard during the season, including a call just prior to the start of the final points feature. The call left Bevard laughing: "Just be calm, and drive like you always do -- like s#&t!" Bevard had been so nervous about the title in the week leading up to the final night that he barely slept, and built a backup motor in the days leading up to the weekend. Bevard's victory in the season championship feature was his only of the 2006 season. Sean Robinson finished second in the Butler standings.
Much of the show would of course be centered around the defection of some of the World of Outlaws drivers and the two start-ups that stepped in; one a series that had a name but never had a race, and another that recently began its 2006 season. There would also be regional "cams" poised around the country wherever heads could possibly roll or a chance of leases not being renewed was possible.
Behind the scenes the workings perhaps might remind one of "Survivor." One band of castaways might combine its forces with another to make sure they don't get eliminated from the game. Some big players would get knocked out early, never to be seen in the game again; and of course the teams and players can change without notice. The ending of the show is still up in the air, which leaves the audience in suspense, and unlike most of the reality shows, there could be one winner or two.
APRIL IN INDIANA AND OHIO
Sprint car racing in the Indiana-Ohio area actually kicks off one day prior to the start of April, as Attica Raceway Park has its opener set for Friday, March 31. The track, which is under new management this season, also will play host to the Spring Nationals on April 14-15, an All Star sanctioned event. The track has regular shows slated for April 7, 21 and 28.
Eldora Speedway kicks its season a day after Attica, with the opener for the USAC Sprints on April 1. The World Of Outlaws invade the track on April 7-8 and the All Stars are scheduled for April 22. USAC makes its second Eldora Eldora stop on April 29 during "Border Wars."
Anderson Speedway normally schedules the first sprint car race in Indiana, and that's the case again this season, with the USAC Sprints set for Sunday afternoon April 9. The high-banked 1/4-mile is the first pavement race of the season for USAC, which goes to the 1/2-mile at Winchester on Sunday, April 23.
Indiana openers on the dirt at Gas City and Kokomo are slated for April 14 and April 23, respectively. Gas City has a regular show on April 21, then on April 28 will play host to the USAC Sprints during the first half of the "Border Wars" event, which will finish a day later in Ohio at Eldora.
Fremont Speedway kicks off its season on April 22 and has a regular show on April 29. The All Stars visit the first Saturday in May.
The World of Outlaws have a co-sanctioned event with the All Stars on their schedule at Michigan's Butler Battlegrounds this season on August 2. The All Stars are regular visitors to the track, but the Outlaws haven't visited the track in years. ... Michigan hotshoe Chad Blonde reportedly plans to run for Rookie of the Year with the All Stars. ... I don't buy Powerball tickets very often, but I couldn't help but getting a couple when the jackpot reached an all time high. I revised my 2006 racing schedule accordingly, knowing that I'd have a little more money to play with and more time, since I'd no longer have to work. I still haven't gotten over some people from Nebraska taking the money. How's come I can't ever get a break.
This one is an easy: the World of Outlaws show at Indiana's Kokomo Speedway. This race was literally a photographer's 'dream race' with wheelies galore in the feature. Many flock to the big tracks, but give me a bullring anytime. The quarter mile was producing nine second laps in qualifying, and the excitement never seemed to wane a bit until the checkered flag flew on the feature.
The 'local scene' for me is Michigan's Butler Battlegrounds. The track is the lone one in the state of Michigan that hosted weekly sprint car shows in 2005. Ken Mackey drove to his ninth title in the class, just beating Jeff Rankin in one of the closest points battles in years. The speedway had two All Star races, along with visits by MASS, IRA, SOD, and NRA. Late in the 2005 season it was thought that the speedway might be under new ownership for 2006, but track owner Denny Donaldson announced at the speedway's banquet that's not the case.
When the firetrucks pulled in front of me on my way to Butler Battlegrounds prior to an All Star race this season I feared the worst. Unfortunately, it was worse than I could have imagined. An explosion prior to the event in the pit area took the life of track worked Rudy Corsini. He will be missed.
HOOSIER DIRT TRACKS
I've said that I always walk away from Gas City Speedway with a smile. The only time I didn't in 2005 came when a sudden drenching rainstorm halted my first trip to the track in April. John Wolfe won the 2005 points title at the track. Kokomo Speedway also made huge changes to the track prior to the season, and the results were great. The 1/4-mile bullring has been the site of some of my favorite races over the years, but had seen declining participation and attendance. That all turned around, and this had to be one of the best seasons the speedway has enjoyed in years. Hometown boy Shane Cottle took the championship at Kokomo.
ON THE PAVEMENT
I'm not picky when it comes to surfaces, as long as it's not so dusty that I can't get pictures, then I'm happy. While the majority of my 2005 races were at a dirt track, there were plenty of pavement stops along the way, most of them in Indiana. The closest track to my home in Angola, In. is just six miles away, and that alone makes it a favorite. It's also a great place for pictures, another plus. Angola Motor Speedway played host to the AVSS and HOSS sprint cars series this season along with the Wolverine midgets. I also stopped in and shot pictures a couple other times during regular nights. The track's super late model division contains drivers that I've watched for years. As it turns out, the super late model class has been dropped at the speedway, and I'm glad I was able to get shots of some of the drivers that go back to my boyhood days.
Also made several stops at Baer Field Speedway, another track that is great for pictures, and relatively close to home. My final stop at the track was my favorite, as I took my four year old granddaughter to her first race. There were only stock cars on the track, but it was a good chance for her to visit a speedway and just have some fun. Next year maybe I'll break her into a sprint car race if mom allows.
Other pavement stops were at Anderson and Winchester. My stops at Anderson came early in the season with the USAC Opener in April and the May 25 event which features Little 500 practice and then a full USAC event in the evening. It's a day packed with cars on the track for hours upon hours, and gives a photographer a chance to get shots from just about any angle that he can figure out. It's the only race track that I can say that my favorite spot to take pictures from is actually the grandstands. It takes a lens up to the task, going to the right spot and when the lighting is just right, but the results are great. Winchester was my final race of the season, and came after several seasons away from the high-banked monster. I also made pavement stops in Ohio at Toledo and Mansfield for events that combined sprint cars and super modifieds. My last stop at Mansfield came 1987 when the place was a dirt track. The track has been completely redone since then, and is a first class facility.
Tony Stewart lost a wheel. Dave Blaney's race car flipped over. And Kasey Kahne had a second place finish. Another day in Nextel Cup competition? Wrong answer. A night at Tony's track.
Besides leading the NASCAR Nextel Cup points standings, Stewart fields teams in the World of Outlaws and United States Auto Club (USAC) sprint car series. And at the end of 2004 he bought Ohio's Eldora Speedway from legendary track promoter Earl Baltes.
Stewart invited several Nextel Cup drivers to compete at the Ohio speedway in June for a race in dirt late models, and the idea worked well. Eldora has been known as the "Home of the Sprint" so the next step was to bring in some of the Nextel Cup drivers that made their way to the upper echelon of auto racing after driving the open wheel cars. And in the real thing.
Nextel drivers Kahne, Stewart, and Blaney
Kahne tasted victory lane during the 2003 season at Eldora before making his move to the Nextel Cup. And getting Kasey involved was easier because Stewart and Kahne are friends off the track. The two flew in by helicopter from a Nextel Cup race to Eldora earlier this season. "I came here and watched a race with Tony," Kahne said. "That was pretty cool." And then at Indianapolis the two drivers with sprint car racing backgrounds battled for the win in the All State 400, with Stewart winning and Kahne crossing the yard of bricks in second. "That was a huge race," Kahne said. "We really enjoyed that."
One day after his second-place finish at Indianapolis, Kahne left for Iowa to compete in a sprint car at Southern Iowa Speedway, the Front Row Challenge. And guess who just happened to walk in? Sunday's first-place finisher.
"There's Kasey sitting in his 410 (winged sprint car)," Stewart said. "I'm walking into a track in Iowa where Danny (Lasoski) is running his sprint car. "It's cool that he finished second at the brickyard and the next day is in a sprint car," Stewart added. Kahne wasn't nearly as successful in Iowa. He finished seventh in his heat race, not a high enough position to qualify for the feature. He moved on to the 'B' Main, where he was fifth, one spot shy of advancing to the main event. Kahne was given a promoter's provisional and finished 16th in the 25-car field. The effort allowed him to share Hard Charger awards with Jeremy Campbell, who took the "front row challenge" and attempted to come from last for a fifty-thousand dollar bonus. He was able to move to 15th at the finish.
Stewart's night as a car owner went much better, as he was able to stand in victory lane two days in a row when Lasoski won the race. Stewart's ace passed Oklahoma driver Daryn Pittman before the half way point and gave his boss more to savor.
Stewart at speed.
Kahne and Stewart were hoping for better success at Eldora in their next try at sprint car racing. "I've been looking forward to this for a long time," Stewart said as he was interviewed in front of a crowd full of orange Home Depot and red Dodge hats, cheering wildly anytime one of the three's name was mentioned.
Blaney is from Ohio, and was always an Eldora fan favorite, and a logical choice for the Sprint Sizzler. He started the program by turning the fastest lap in qualifications and then went on to finish first in his heat race.
Stewart and Kahne started side-by-side in their heat race during the Eldora preliminaries, with neither driver coming away with the win. Mike Miller, a regular with the National Racing Alliance group that sanctioned the race, stormed to a big early lead and claimed the 8-lap race with Stewart in second and Kahne finishing fourth.
The finishes were enough to easily put all three Nextel Cup drivers in the feature: Stewart was on the pole, Blaney outside of the second row, and Kahne in the third row. "Smoke" took the early lead, with Blaney moving to second by lap three and two laps later closing to within a few car lengths. But then misfortune struck on lap 10 as the hub on Stewart's front wheel broke, sending it flying. The two Nextel Cup drivers made contact, sending Blaney's racer flipping down the speedway.
Neither driver was hurt, but the damage to both cars was enough to end their race. Not any Nextel Cup points at stake here. And no time to repair a car in a 25-lap event. With the top cars out of the race, the lead went to the top car in the running order that wasn't involved. That just so happened to be the other star of the show -- Kahne. For a few laps it looked as if a Nextel Cup driver was still going to get to stand in victory lane at the Ohio oval that has seen all the greats in sprint car racing. But then an Ohio driver changed all that with a quick swoop underneath, and there would be no feature wins by a Nextel Cup driver on this night.
Kahne takes time to sign autographs for fans.
This story is courtesy of the Coldwater (Mi.) Daily Reporter. More racing stories like this can be found on the newspaper's e-edition, where PDFs of all pages are viewable on your computer for a small subscription fee. Visit the newpaper's website at a www.thedailyreporter.com for more information.
Over ninety sprint cars in the pits. What more could a sprint car fan ask for? Butler Battlegrounds held the Michigan Sprint Car Championships on June 4, with a jam-packed pit area. The sprint cars were in two divisions, with the 410 cars sanctioned by the IRA series and the 360 cars featuring both the NRA and SOD series in their "Northern Challenge." The IRA feature was a good one, as R.J. Skelton led early, then many-time IRA champion Joe Roe passed for the lead, only to spin and give the point back to Skelton.
While many of the frontrunners were working best in the high groove, eight-time Butler champion Ken Mackey is nicknamed the "Bottomfeeder" or "Catfish" for his stay on the bottom style. In the late stages of the race the track came to Mackey and he was able to steal the win from the IRA regulars. It was the second time in three seasons that Mackey had drove to a Butler IRA win. It was Mackey's second win this season at Butler; he also captured the season- opener. The only other Butler regular to come away with a top-10 finish against the IRA drivers was Doug Zimmerman. Cameron Dodson made a great move through the field after finishing in front in his heat race, then being disqualified for a front wing violation. He made the feature through the 'B' Main then came from the tail of the field to finish fourth. Butler is the only track in the state of Michigan with sprint cars on the regular schedule during 2005. I made every show during the month of May at the track, including a stop by the World of Outlaw late models, which were making their first visit to the speedway. The All Stars also raced at the track in May, with the win going to Dean Jacobs in the Pullins No. 29. Ronnie Beale also landed a May win at Butler, his first win at the track.
The night before Butler's big race, it was off the Baer Field, a 1/2-mile pavement track in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. One of the neat things about Baer Field is that it sets next to a large airport. Several times during the event a jet would fly over as it was taking off. In between shooting the winged cars of the AVSS series, I'd quickly reset my camera and snap off a couple closeups of the jets. Dodson, who leads the AVSS standings in the early going, drove to the feature win. I also made a pavement stop in May to Angola Motor Speedway, which is six miles from home. The track didn't hold races in 2004, as it was undergoing renovation. It now has new grandstands and scoring tower. Angola is a "late model" track, so after pictures of the track changes and all five divisions in hot laps and qualifying, it was off to Butler, which is about a 1/2-hour away. At one time during the 90s I held the track photographer job at both places at the same time, and learned the "fast and quick back way" and had nights where I actually shot feature winners of all three divisions at both tracks. Another pavement stop during May was Anderson Speedway for the Wednesday before the Little 500. I've said it before, this is one of my favorite racing days, as they begin practice for the Little 500 at 11 a.m. and go all day long, then take a break and the USAC Sprints take to the speedway for a program that night. Eric Gordon went on to win his fifth-consecutive Little 500 later in the week, while Tracy Hines landed Wednesday's USAC win. Anderson is a neat place, with stands all the way around the high banked 1/4-mile. It's also the only place that I can say my favorite spots to take photos from is actually the grandstands. It takes a big lens (300 mm), but it's possible to get some really neat "head on" shots of the non-wing cars.
Anyone that has been a sprint car fans in my area spent the early part of the season in a guessing game with the weather. Friday nights seemed to be the ones hurt the worst. On one Friday, there were events scheduled in Indiana, Michigan or Ohio that I could attend. Anywhere within a two and a half drive was fair game. Looking at the weather map, it seemed certain that the Indiana stop at Gas City was sure to get washed out. The Michigan guys called early, and thinking Attica Raceway Park was the best bet to beat the weather, off I headed on the Ohio Turnpike. I drove through areas that had obviously been drenched, but never saw a raindrop on the way down. After singing in and talking briefly to Janet Holbrook and telling her I hadn't seen a drop of rain in my 2/1/2 hour drive, I headed for the pits to check out the field. Thunder was rumbling in the distance, but I was sure the rain would go around. It didn't. After one lap around the pit area the rain struck, leaving me running for cover. Now anyone that knows me is well aware that I hate phones. I'd rather have a foot amputated than talk on the phone. But my wife recently bought me a cell phone, and I have to admit it's neat to be able to call on the run. Not knowing if Gas City was really rained out, and having to head for the state of Indiana anyway, I headed out of Attica towards Gas City. I pushed the green button on my cell phone, and since my wife had been nice enough to enter Gas City's number into the phone for this rookie, I began a new quest to see a sprint car race that night. Afterall, what are nights off work for? I quickly ran into a problem. What does no service mean? Since I'd talked to my wife from the infield of Attica a couple weeks before, it didn't make sense to me. Didn't she pay the bill? I just kept heading that direction, and finally after numerous tries and an hour on the road, suddenly the phone worked and someone at Gas City answered. Yes, the races are rained out. Seconds after putting the phone down, my wife called, saying that if I was headed for Gas City I shouldn't, because she'd just found out they were rained out and she'd been trying to call for an hour. Thanks, I told her, but you don't think I'd be dumb enough to drive all over looking for a sprint car race on a night with the weather like this! For pictures from these events and more check out the Sprint Car Pictorial web site at www.fscpictorial.com
There's always something special about the first race of the season. For the second year in a row, my racing season began with a race at Pennsylvania's Selinsgrove Speedway. In both cases, I have to say it was darn cold, but it didn't seem to matter as long as the sprint cars were racing. Both years it has been almost by accident that Selinsgrove was the opening race, and it can all be blamed on the weather. With a 500 mile trek from my doorstep in northern Indiana to the Central Pennsylvania area, I've found it's wise to play the weather. If it doesn't look like it's going to cooperate, I stay home. The last two years the weather has been horrible on the weekend I hoped to head east, and I postponed my trip. The racing fever hit me so bad at the beginning of March that I thought I was ready to drive through a blizzard to get to a sprint car race. But two days before I was set to go a three hour trek through a snow storm to cover a local prep sports team in the Final Four of a high school tournament left a bad taste in my mouth. And a night later I drove through whiteout conditions on my way home from work. Enough of that, I stayed home. And, of course the racing went on. After a week of irritating everyone around me, the weather looked better the following weekend, and at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday night I climbed aboard the vehicle of fellow photographer Tom Willavize, Jr. We arrived in Selinsgrove nine hours later, and walked into a motel packed with youth of the high school age, all participants in a state swimming meet. Having just covered state tournaments in volleyball, basketball and wrestling it was almost comical. On his first trek to any of the Pa. tracks, Tom was eager to see a speedway, and after a few hours of sleep, we walked into the speedway while they were prepping it for the racing later that night. A few hours later, the sun was gone and temperatures were in the 30s, but the sprint cars began to fire.
Selinsgrove Speedway is one of the tougher places in Central Pennsylvania to get good pictures. The track has a guard rail on the inside, and there is also a chain link fence back from that. Most photographers stay between turns three and four here, and use tall step ladders to shoot over the top of the inside guardrail, which obscures the bottom of 1/3 of the photo if you don't. I was perplexed in 1991 when I first walked into the turn at Selinsgrove, and walked away with less than desirable photos that day. But since that first visit I learned to always carry a ladder when I visit the track, and there is also a spot entering turn three when the cars are high on the speedway and don't hug the inside guardrail.
Fred Rahmer had won both of the races the previous weekend, and my predictions for all that weekend was more of the same. Rahmer jumped out early in the feature and looked as if he was on the way to his third victory in three races in Central Pennsylvania. But Rahmer wouldn't see the checker flag, as the defending Selinsgrove 410 track champion dropped out early. Todd Shaffer made his way to the front, and then in the late stages Greg Hodnett drove by to claim his first victory in the Al Hamilton #77.
WILLIAMS GROVE AND RAIN
After the snow I'd been in a week earlier, a little rain didn't seem to be like much of a problem. But it was enough to stop the next day's program at Williams Grove. Making his first Pa. trip, the Grove was the place that Tom was looking forward to seeing the most and getting some pictures. Standing in turn two at Williams Grove has always been one of my favorite places in auto racing. It's a place where I could take pictures, while at the same time my wife can sit behind me in a lawn chair. If you're just getting acquainted to taking racing photos, the Grove is also a great place to test the waters, as anyone buying a ticket can walk into the spectator area in the infield and try their luck. It is also a relatively "safe" place to take pictures. Tom and I had to make a stop at the speedway and walked in for a look and then headed for the Pa. Turnpike and the nine hour trek homeward. It's always disappointing to lose a race to the weather, but after getting our 2005 racing season underway and with several hundred photos on the cards of our cameras, we headed home with smiles on our faces. Check out pictures from the Pa. weekend at Fisher's Sprint Car Pictorial.
During my first racing weekend of 2004, I was walking between two cars in the pit area at Pennsylvania's Silver Spring Speedway when suddenly one of the Super Sportsman cars fired its motor, and I about jumped out of my skin. It had been several months since I'd been to an open wheel race, and I was used to sprint cars being fired with a push truck. I'm also always on the defensive when I'm in the pit area, as some time hanging out there has taught me that the time when they fire sprint cars in the pits can sometimes be more dangerous then when I'm actually out on the track taking photos of them. After the initial scare, one of my first thoughts was, "hey, if these guys can do that, why in the world can't a sprint car do it?"
Now I'm the first to admit, I'm no mechanic. For years I've taken photos of sprint cars, and been near the action, but when it comes to the nuts and bolts of a sprint car, I'm lost. But I have to ask, what is the big deal about putting starters on sprint cars? Is it really that expensive? Is it that dangerous? The World of Outlaws recently announced that in 2006 starters will be part of their rules. I have heard plenty of negative comments regarding this, and very few positive. Many of the comments take into play the tradition involved. Heck, the races I've been at where the cars were self starting (Super Sportsman, Silver Crown, Focus Midgets) I never even noticed the difference other than my scare at Silver Spring. Nothing against push truck drivers, but I don't care about how they get 'em started. Thanks for everything they do, but I think it's what comes once the green flag flies that sprint car fans pay their money to see. Just start 'em and lets race. If it's quicker and the cost isn't completely out of reason, then put the starters on the cars and speed things up for the fan.
It isn't often that a sprint car driver takes a points championship as a rookie. Cameron Dodson claimed that honor with the Mid-American Sprint Series this season. Dodson won the MASS opener and used consistent top fives to clinch the title. Including races outside the series, Dodson claimed 10 feature wins, one on the asphalt with the AVSS group at Indiana's Baer Field. On the same night at Baer Field, Dodson turned the fastest lap in the history of the speedway. The AVSS winged pavement pounders made several stops at Baer Field in 2004, where Jason Blonde was often the dominant car. Blonde and Bill Tyler finished this season as co-champs of the group. Another winged pavement group, the Hoosier Outlaw Sprint Series (HOSS), saw Greg Wheeler take the points title.
There were familiar faces as points champions in Ohio at Attica and Fremont. Mark Keegan has stood atop the Attica standings on several occasions, and returned to top in 2004. Keegan was the track's very first sprint car champion and took his last title in 2001. Keegan was sixth in the 2003 Attica standings and fourth in 2002. Ivy took his third Fremont Speedway title. He won in 2001 and 2002, and was second in the standings in 2003. For the second season in a row, a 305 driver claimed the title at both speedways. Brian Smith is the 2004 champ, Caleb Griffith won both championships a year ago. Chad Kemenah, a driver that began his racing career in that area, was crowned champion of the All Stars for the third-consecutive season.
NOTES AND STUFF
Michigan driver Gary Fedewa announced his retirement at the end of the 2004 season. Fedewa won sprint car championships on dirt and pavement with SOD and AVSS. He was among those SOD dirt drivers that were at Michigan's Dixie Speedway in 1989 when the group ran on pavement for the first time. In the early 90s, SOD ran on both surfaces, and Fedewa was strong on each. The pavement portion of the series eventually split, and today is what's known as the Auto Value Super Sprints (AVSS), and Fedewa closed out his career as a pavement specialist .... Although relatively unknown outside of Michigan, Jeff Rankin proved that he is a stand on the gas racer with another second place in the standings at Butler Battlegrounds. Rankin changed rides for 2004, joining the Zabonick Concrete team. Known as "Longhair" in the Butler pits, Rankin gave the team its first feature win in May and was in victory lane again at the end of the season. .... I can be happy in knowing that the 2004 racing season really isn't over. The "Rumble in Fort Wayne" is on December 29 and 30. This year the event will be a USAC sanctioned non-points event. Sixty-two USAC Midget races were conducted in the old Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne. Rich Vogler dominated many of the events I remember in the building, and he holds the record for most wins, with 10. The event is now held in the Expo Center, which is on the same grounds.
Ken Mackey had a big enough lead in the points standings in the winged sprint division at Michigan's Butler Battlegrounds that he was able to take the next to last week of the season off, where he traveled to Hartford Speedway Park and wrapped up his second consecutive track title. On Saturday, Mackey returned to Butler Battlegrounds and drove to third in the Season Championship feature event for the class, and following the race celebrated his eighth Butler title.
In the pits after wrapping up his second track title in as many weeks, the Manitou Beach driver took a moment to let it all soak in. "I dedicate this one to my dad (Dean)," Mackey said. "He's been gone 11 years now. But sometimes I think he's up there in the grandstands watching, and I want to make him happy."
"I still drive hard, no matter what," Mackey said. "It took the pressure off (having the points locked up). But sometimes I drive better with the pressure on. "We wound up going to the tail," Mackey said. "So going from 20th to third wasn't bad." Two laps after restarting at the tail Mackey had moved to eighth. He was sixth by the half way point of the race and moved into fourth with eight laps remaining. Mackey went past Coldwater's Troy Chehowski for the third on lap 21, but ran out of time to chase down leader Chuck Wilson. "Too many cars to pass," Mackey said. Mackey took his first Butler title in 1989 and has won Butler's points crown three years in a row. Sponsorship comes from Alum-a-lite, Benic Enterprises, Mike Ball Racing, The Car Company, McCally Toll, Hurst Racing and Penske Racing Shocks. "Penske shocks were a good deal for us this year," Mackey said. "The car felt like it was floating on air." Mackey has seven feature wins during the 2004 season, five at Hartford and two at Butler.
I'm far from an expert on building web pages, but am often asked where to get started. Some of this may help, and hopefully it won't lead anyone too far astray.
I'm no HTML wizard. Although I can look at the "source" of a page and tell what most things mean, and make changes if I'm forced to, for me anyway, building web pages is more about the program you have to accomplish the task. I use Adobe Page Maker and Mircosoft Frontpage. Both programs can be bought in a computer store and aren't that expensive. There are things I like about both programs. I learned with the Adobe program and find it easier to use, but there are things you can do with Frontpage, such as automatic thumbnails of pictures, that I wouldn't want to work without.
Today's internet has all kinds of cool web sites, with great designs. Keep in mind, many are done by people paid to do that task, and with the equipment to do it. If you're doing everything yourself, unless you're mighty good at a lot of different tasks, your web site just isn't going to look as neat. But, keep in mind, everyone has to start somewhere. You can't make it to the finish if you never start. I would like to add, though, there are infomercials on TV that would lead you to think all you have to do is get on the internet and you'll soon be a millionaire. I've had a web site up for nearly five years and I'm still working my day job.
OK, where to start. I took a course on building web pages at the local high school. It was enough to get my feet wet, but most of what I learned was from setting in front of the computer screen, fiddling around until things worked the way I wanted. I would advise purchasing some kind of program and installing it into your computer, such as the two mentioned previously.
Having your own www. would be nice, but let's face it, very few got started that way. I didn't. I used a site called 50Megs which provided free web space. There are lots of drawbacks to this, but hey, it's free. Some of the drawbacks are space limitations, making it hard to put lots of photos on the site; the site went down several times, and it was all out of my control; and most have pop ups or some kind of advertising. One of the first things that happened to me when I started my first web site was a computer crash, where everything I'd already done was lost. I have to admit, the second one I built looked better, but I learned a valuable lesson to always back up my work on disk.
If you're thinking of posting photos on the internet, sizing pictures correctly is all part of the process and makes a big difference in the upload time of a web site. You need to know exactly the size your picture should be on the page. With most web programs, you can grab the corner of the picture and drag it to make it smaller, fitting the hole you have on the web page. This works, but keep in mind, if you take a large picture and make it smaller, it still uploads at the same time as the huge picture. You need to size it correctly, sometimes trial and error until you get it right. For a good start, visit
www.fscpictorial.com and check the photos on the Ultimate Drivers List, most are sized at 300x400 pixels. The small photos on the front of the site are 100x135 pixels. I save all my photos for the web in .jpg format. There are lots of other small things that you can do. What background do you want on your site? If you bought a web page building program, chances are there are lots of backgrounds on that CD to chose from. Lots of them are really neat, but to me, the best ones are the simple ones. Keep in mind, if you have text on the site you need to be able to read it. That's hard with the wrong colors or mix of colors. On Page Mill you can simply click on a color for the background or import the background photo. Want to make your own? Just open a new document in Photoshop, size it at around 100x735 pixel and paint it whatever color or mix you like. I save my backgrounds as .gif. Another thing you can do is make your own banners and graphics. It's much like building web pages, it's all about the computer program you have. When I bought my first page, sort of out of accident I also got a program called Micrographix Draw. There are other inexpensive programs like it, where you can type in the name you want, and then choose the font and other aspects to come up with what you want. I paste it into a photo program and save it at the size desired.
One of the early tasks that I sometimes found tough was simply uploading the stuff to internet. It depends a lot on the site you've chosen. If you're doing the free thing, it depends on what they have. For a while, that meant uploading one item at a time, which when you're doing lots of photos can be a real drawback. One of the good things about using Frontpage is that in many cases you simply make the proper click on the web page builder and it all goes at once. Most other programs have this feature.
The step from a free service to a www. depends a lot on what you want to do. You need to pay an annual fee to register and also a monthly fee for the space on a web server somewhere. I currently use One-On-One Internet, and for around $20 a month you can probably do most things you'd want to do with many services. I have never had a web site failure since moving to One-On-One. A search on the internet will provide many different companies willing to help you out.
The toughest task isn't building a site. It isn't getting it on the internet. And although getting people to even recognize your site is out there can be frustrating, it isn't even the toughest part of maintaining a web site. The tough part is sticking with it. Have a realistic goal of how much time is involved. Many sites start off with a bang, then disappear into oblivion or sit there in the same withered shape for ages. And how many times have you seen a web site come away with a flashy intro only to be forever under construction. Also, think about content. Who cares if it looks neat if there's nothing for people to see once you've got them to the site.
I was one of those persons that didn't know how to turn the computer on not that long ago. My father is a big racing fan, and I keep telling him that he needs to buy a computer so that he can get his racing news right away. But he's still afraid to get near one of those "complicated" computers. I tell him starting his car wouldn't be easy if he didn't know to stick the key and turn it. You just have to learn it. Hey, if I can do it, so can you. Check out FSC Pictorial at www.fscpictorial.com
After a while, when you get to see enough racing, you can get the feeling that you've somehow seen it all. Of course, that's never the case. There's always something new. And it's not always pretty.
Other than a few of my teenage years, when chasing girls seemed more important than chasing races, just about every Saturday night on record (and lots of other nights as well) can be traced to a racetrack somewhere. I picked up a camera in the late 80s and a few years later became a "track photographer" for the first time. There are lots of funny stories from some of those days, but I'm not sure any can equal the tale I'm about to tell. Now I'm not going to name the track, I wouldn't want to hurt any feelings. I'll just say, it's not any of the present day tracks running sprint cars. That was the crazy part of me taking the job there anyway - they didn't race sprint cars. Well anyway, weird things were always happening. I found a spot outside of the track that I liked taking pictures and proceeded to take warm ups shots one day. All of the sudden I looked up, and circling the track were several buzzards. I didn't know exactly what this all meant, but to me it was a sure sign that more craziness was on the way.
It didn't take long for things to start happening. After taking photos I walked back to the stands only to see the announcer fly by and out the gate. His family also helped in the tower, and on the way out I grabbed the son following behind. "What's going on?" I can't remember exactly what he said, maybe something about not getting paid. He didn't stand still for long, and jumped in the car parked next to the gate and the family drove off. I saw the flagman, who also happened to work with the announcer and I at another speedway at the same time. I didn't know what to say. "I'm following them," he said. Sure enough, he flagged a couple races, turned around and waved goodbye to the crowd, packed up his flags and walked out the gate. First no announcer, now we don't have a flagman. Could be serious. The call went out for anyone in the stands that had announced flagged before. Some old auctioneer or something took over the mike. But no experienced flagmen came running.
In hindsight, I made a mistake at my next decision. But rather than let someone off the street climb on the flagstand, I volunteered. Afterall, I'd seen it all. Right? Well, maybe not. There were a couple of problems. First of all, in an effort to stall while trying to find a flagman, they had watered the track heavily. The drivers had been buckled in waiting to take the track and were wondering what in the world was going on. They were ready to race, but the track wasn't. It's then you understand it's a little different when you're holding the flags, and the decisions are yours to make. It's all a blur now, but somehow I got through the heat races. I was still trying to do my duties as photographer, jumping down off the flagstand and running to take a picture of each heat winner. There was no way this was going to work.
"Get me off of here and get someone that knows what they're doing or I'm following the others," I said over the radio. I grabbed my camera walked out into the infield, and didn't know whether to laugh hysterically or cry. And of course, there was more fun in store. The night ended with a classic bang: The track owner took over as flagman and when he gave the leader the white flag in the feature, he missed him on the checker lap and the race went an extra lap. To add to the confusion, the leader slowed after he took what he thought was the checker and was passed. Both cars stopped in victory lane, wanting me to take pictures of them. Now imagine trying to handle that with a straight face.
I stuck it out at the speedway until one day there was a sprint car race on the calendar that I just had to attend that was on the same day I was supposed to be on duty at the track. I just had to go. I still kick myself today ..... man, I should have left earlier and been at the sprint car races all along.
Silver Spring was part of the opening racing weekend of the 2004 season for me. During that weekend in late March, there were also stops at Selinsgrove for the 358s and 410s on the track's opening weekend and at Williams Grove for the Pa. 305s along with the 410s of the Posse. The spring has been a bit of a whirlwind since, combining a crazy work schedule with as many races as the company will let me pull off. Weather also played a factor, losing a USAC weekend at Eldora and Anderson, plus the second day of the Spring Nationals at Attica, which was frustrating after working the previous night under perfect conditions. But who can complain, IT'S RACING SEASON. I've been lucky enough to catch two days with the World of Outlaws at Eldora and also got to attend the make up date for the USAC Sprints at Anderson.
For me, it's 500 miles from my doorstep to the infield entrance at Williams Grove Speedway. The first excursion into the Keystone State came in 1984, watching Doug Wolfgang smoke the field at Port Royal and Williams Grove. During one of those Pa. trips I'd planned a night at Lincoln, but the race was rained out. We were in a motel near Mechanicsburg and I heard that the races were still on at Silver Spring. It remains as one of my favorite -- and certainly most surprising -- moments of all the times I been in the Central Pa. area. Since then, I've fell in love with this place. The racing is probably more competitive than anyplace else. Drivers were quick to note that they'd won features one week and had not even been able to make the feature the next week. The most important aspect to me when I attend any race is pictures. Although I love sitting and watching the races, there are few moments during a race that I'm not standing in the corner with camera in hand. And Silver Spring is a great place for pictures. The drivers are friendly. The neatest experience of the whole weekend was talking with legendary driver Smokey Snellbaker in the pits and posing him for a shot with the car and then watching him drive to the feature win.
Road trips wouldn't be complete without being stuck in traffic at least once. Leaving early Friday morning for a 6:00 p.m. race at Selinsgrove, I found myself chugging into Harrisburg around 4. We were staying on the north side of the city, and the shortest way seemed to be on I-83. I guess, on second hand, it probably wasn't too bright to drive into downtown Harrisburg during rush hour on Friday afternoon. Dumb me. Finally arriving at the motel, I kissed my wife and headed out the door to Selinsgrove, arriving just as warmups were set to start. After not seeing a race since last October, and then sitting in the traffic jam, the sound of the engines and the alcohol fumes in the pits served to calm my nerves.
From a photography aspect, the Selinsgrove event was a bit of a test. Those of you that have read this column in the past know that in late May of last season the jump to digital photography was made with a Nikon D100. Many photographers combine Norman flash equipment to accomplish night photos. I used the existing Norman equipment that I had with the new camera, with good success. But the Norman does have some drawbacks, for me the biggest one is simply its size and combined with the battery pack required, makes you feel like you're lugging around 50 pounds. Over the winter months I purchased a Nikon SB-50DX, a flash made specifically for the digital cameras. It worked great for basketball, volleyball and many of the indoor sports that fill my winter months. It is a flash that mounts on the top of the camera, much lighter, but yet not as powerful. Taking photos of sprint cars at speed after the sun goes down can be a challenge without the right combination, and although I've still got more to learn, the new flash did everything I wanted to do. For photographers not used to visiting Selinsgrove, make sure you take a ladder. There's also a spot at the end of the backstretch if you don't have one. Darren Eash won the feature that night; I enjoyed the show and returned on Saturday to watch T.J. Stutts drive to the 358 win.
The Pa. weekend closed with a great afternoon at Williams Grove. My travels are often meant to get photos of as many different drivers as possible for the Ultimate Drivers List on Sprint Car Pictorial, and the 305s were also on the schedule at the Grove, making for a good day of racing. Greg Hodnett continued his early season dominance at Williams Grove, getting by Blaine Heimbach for the win. Joey Hershey won in the Pa. 305s.
I didn't get to see No. 500; seems I'm always a day late or a dollar short. But I was there for No. 501 as Steve KInser passed Danny Lasoski at the end of the race to win at Eldora. He also claimed the preliminary night victory. As a teenager my father took me to Eldora for the first time. Walking in and looking at the place for the first time was an experience, and watching the drivers of the World of Outlaws going into the turn without lifting still is a thrill. For most racing fans, going to Eldora is much different from the weekly track. It's the same for photographers. Several years ago I took my first sprint car photos at Williams Grove Speedway, and although most of them were "slow" shots, I thought I had pretty good success for a rookie. The next three races I went to Eldora and was lucky to walk out of the place with five good pictures. It's another place where a ladder is required to do a majority of the shooting, and the speeds can be a challenge, especially shooting at night with a flash.
Anderson Speedway is the ultimate Indiana pavement bullring. It's a 1/4-mile, high banked track that's tight to pass on, but is never short of action. If you're a racing photographer and you leave Anderson without some kind of wild photo, its time to find something else to do with your time. The April event this year included a wall banger by Rick Baker in the USAC Sprints and a wild end-over-end in the Ford Focus Midgets feature. Jay Drake drove one of the Tony Stewart cars to the sprint win, while Ryan Litt won the midget feature. This track plays host to one of the most unique races in sprint car racing, the Little 500. Held on the Saturday night before the Indy 500, it's a race that all sprint car fans should experience at least once; with a three-abreast start on a 1/4 mile track, pit stops, and 500 laps. The Wednesday prior to the Little 500 is a photographer's dream day, as they begin warm ups for the Little 500 in the morning, and have sprint cars on the track all day long, and then have a full USAC Sprint show in the evening.
I have to admit, that in my teenage years there were times when chasing girls seemed more important than racing. Even so, during that time I was able to catch some of the very first races of the World of Outlaws series, and with that my list of heroes began to grow. I'll never forget a move that Brad Doty used to perfection for a pass at Butler in those early days of the series. Driving the Bowers Coal No. 28, Doty drove high into turn one at Butler and then shot low and ducked under his competitor in turn two. Words can't do the move justice, as Butler was an oiled-surfaced track at the time. It was very fast and tacky, but yet one grooved with a wall on the inside and very tough to pass on unless the driver ahead made a mistake. And Doty made it look soooooooo easy.
Another driver that drew my attention in later years was Jack Hewitt. Anyone that has enjoyed the photos I've taken over the years can thank my parents, Gale and Gloria Fisher, who were huge sprint car fans. My father still follows sprint car racing, mostly the AVSS series. But my mother passed away a few years ago. When she died, she was buried with several pictures of Jack Hewitt in her casket. That's how much she loved Jack Hewitt. Needless to say, Hewitt brings out special feelings in me as well.
Just eight days before he sustained his last injury and decided to give up driving, Hewitt was hand at Butler Motor Speedway with his two-seater during the All Star show. I was lucky enough to be the media representative to ride with Hewitt during his early trip on the speedway. Sitting in the car, getting buckled in for a ride with your hero was a pretty neat experience. And to be on the track you grew up with, and one that you'd saw Hewitt take victories on. I knew if my mother could have been watching, she'd certainly have been smiling.
I'd been in the pit area for years, I knew the routine of the belts and helmet, and it all came easily. What I wasn't ready for was the waiting. Now I know what it feels like to be a driver sitting in the warmup chute when the race before goes on forever. Finally we pushed off and the motor came to life and there was no more waiting. I'd watched sprint car in warmups, and most of the time they took several laps to warm up the motor. Hewitt hadn't been on the track yet, and I figured he'd do the same. After one lap, we came out of turn four and I reached out with my right thumb to the Butler crowd as we went by. At the very same moment, Hewitt stomped the gas and I was in for the ride of my life.
I can't say that I was ready for the acceleration of a sprint car. But then again, how can you ever be. Words can't describe it. The first thought that raced through my mind was, "oh my God, what have I gotten myself into." After about a half lap I returned to my senses and knew that the ride would be short, and I'd better enjoy it while I could. I gained new respect for drivers on starts, as I climbed out of the car wondering how they don't crash into each other every time they step on the gas. And after that ride, all sprint car drivers seemed like heroes to me.
LOOKING TO 2004
I often joke that it's always racing season for me. The truth is, I haven't seen a sprint car race since October and I won't see one in 2004 until at least mid-March. But I'm always in the process of some project with my racing photos and also spend many nights photographing local prep sports events that also keep me occupied. One of my latest projects is converting all my photos for my web site www.fscpictorial.com to jpeg for the site. During February I topped the 20,000 mark for photos that I have sized and ready for use. Hopefully before we get far into the 2004 racing season I'll complete the task. The hope is to do "Driver Spotlight" photo pages for many more drivers in the future, with photos from throughout their careers. The web site also now has more than double the space for photos than 2003. Hopefully some other photographers will also jump in and help with the "Ultimate Drivers List" page, which topped photos of 500 different drivers for the second season. Hopefully, the start of the 2004 season will be kinder than 2003 was. I'd planned to open last season with a weekend in Central Pennsylvania, but was turned back by the weather and the only race I saw in the Keystone State was at Lernerville. Plans are to make a Pa. trek the third week of March to open my season, hopefully hitting places like Selinsgrove, Lincoln, Williams Grove and maybe Silver Spring.
There are lots of questions as the 2004 racing season begins. There are times when I feel like sprint car racing isn't doing as well as it once did. But there are many more times where I can see that things are going fine. There are numerous series that a sprint car fan can watch. Where I live in the extreme Northeast corner of Indiana, within a three hour drive I can see the Outlaws at Eldora, or the northern Ohio regulars at Fremont and Attica. Or I can see the winged pavement cars of the AVSS series when they're nearby, or pavement guys of USAC at Anderson. Gas City and the Hoosier non-wing scene and the USAC dirt sprints aren't far away, and Butler races sprints every Saturday night just 30 minutes from home. And there are many other places in the U.S. that a sprint car fan doesn't have to travel far to see a good sprint car race. Really, we've got it pretty good.
Someone might get far fetched idea that most auto racing photographers make a living at do it. Truth is, I go broke doing it (but I do have some fun). I've got a real job, and with the exception of two months a year the pace is crazy. Those two months, when work slows considerably, just so happen to begin and end at the very best time that a sprint car fan could probably hope for, from mid-June to mid-August. As you can imagine, the day in June when the fun begins in long anticipated.
That day? This year it arrived on Friday the 13th. Now I have to admit I'm a little superstitious, but not superstitious enough to forgo any plans that include going to the sprint car races. And it being the first day and weekend of my new found freedom, I had especially big plans. A year earlier I'd shot some afternoon pavement photos at one track and went to another for dirt track sprints that night. It worked so well, I thought I'd watch the 2003 schedules for a chance to do the same. That chance came on June 13. Although the speedways weren't the same as I'd done before, I noticed that the ISMA Supers and AVSS sprints were at Toledo, and that Attica was also racing. The 410 and 305s were on the schedule there, making it feasible to get photos of four different open wheel divisions all in the same night. I had to try it. And to top the weekend off, I planned to hit Butler on Saturday and then take in the USAC Midgets and non-wing sprints at Kokomo Speedway on Sunday. Seven different open wheel divisions, and three different states. Sounds like open wheel heaven.
Now I said that I was a little superstitious. Truth is, after all of the rain we'd seen, I figured as luck would have it, the whole thing would just get washed out. But on Friday, to my delight the weatherman called for just a 10 percent chance of rain. I hadn't been to Toledo in years, but headed off on the Ohio Turnpike to begin my quest. Since most speedways get some exposure from the photos through the internet or from a publication, they are often kind enough to allow photogs admittance to the grounds without charge. Many photographers frequently visit the same tracks, and are met with a smile and kind hello when they arrive. Tracks that aren't visited often require a different approach, trying to send for credentials ahead of time. In some occasions its hard to know where to even send the request. And you never really know until you arrive at the gate whether or not your request has been accepted, or in some cases even looked at. For whatever reason, my name wasn't on the list when I arrived at Toledo. Some times you win, some times you don't. And anyway, I could hear the ISMA Supers roaring around the 1/2-mile in the background. And it was Friday the 13th, what did I expect to happen? I grabbed my camera and headed around the track to the backstretch to enter the infield. The track at Toledo has two openings. Bouncing with anticipation to get on the inside of the track and begin taking photos of the supers, I went to the far opening and waited next to a track worker while the current hot lap session ended. Once the group headed for the pits, I began my way across the track only to be stopped by the track worker. I'd picked the wrong hole. While I turned around to go to the other gate, the next hot lap session pulled on the track. With a smile painted firmly on my face, I waited patiently as that group finished and then breathed a sigh of relief once I was able to make the trek into the speedway.
The afternoon session at Toledo made making hot laps at Attica for daylight pictures the plan. Toledo is a great place for pictures, and things went well, with both series taking turns at the track. Knowing that I needed to hurry to make Attica hot laps, after taking quick photos of each group it was time to keep moving. Heading on I-75, I knew that I-280 was a shortcut back to the Turnpike to head towards Attica. What I didn't know about was the construction. At 35 miles per hour or less I creeped along, watching time slip away. I was thankful when I finally reached the Turnpike, only to see a line of cars stretching to somewhere near the Alaska border. What next? An earthquake. A tornado maybe.
I finally got my ticket and continued to my exit without a hitch. Until I reached the toll booth anyway. How could it be possible that the person in front of me lost their ticket. All the lines next to me were full. All I could do was sit and wait as they went through whatever procedure it is that they do when that happens. I reminded myself that if all went as planned, I'd have photos of four divisions and that Friday the 13th jinxes were all just a dumb superstition.
As Attica drew closer, I watched the clock, knowing that if I was going to make warmups it would be close. If nothing else happens, I thought, this is still going to all work out. Heading to Attica from the Turnpike, and one of the signs that you're getting close to the raceway is the railroad tracks. When I got to the tracks, there was a long line of cars waiting to cross and a train stopped on the tracks for an unknown reason. And it was the scheduled time for racing to begin at Attica. I turned my truck around, found the next backroad, and made my way to Attica to the roar of warmups for the 410 sprints. Man, so close. Oh well, maybe it's the first session. I hurriedly signed in (and without any credential problems) and made my way to the entrance to go to the infield just 20 seconds after what I found out was the last 410 session. Oh well, I'll get pictures of the 410s later in the heat races I thought, and headed out to take photos of the 305s. Halfway to the spot in turn two where I like to take photos, rain drops began to fall. There were a few funny looking clouds around, mostly in the distance. But there was a 10 percent chance of rain. How could it be?
The rain wasn't heavy, but stopped warmups. I grabbed my camera bag and walked back to the other end of the track to go back to exit the infield. Sure enough, as a I did, the 305 cars were pushed off. I made the trek back to my spot in turn two, happy to just see cars on the track as they worked the moisture in. They completed warmups and I was happy knowing that if nothing else, I'd gotten pictures of three of the four divisions I'd planned. And with rain in the air, the track wasted no time in getting the 410s on the track for their heat races. A couple of heat races went into the books and I felt somewhat satisfied that despite any troubles, I'd accomplished what I'd set out to do. I should have guessed that the fun wasn't done yet. Midway through one of the heat races the flag man suddenly threw the red and checker flags at the same time. I stood there stunned for a second, not sure exactly what in the world he was doing. Seconds later the crowd made a dash out of the grandstands. It's impossible to hear the public address system in the infield, I didn't have a clue what was up. I ran over to one of the push truck drivers in the infield, which carry radios. "Tornado," they shouted.
I made my fastest ever departure from the Attica infield, still a little unsure what was going on. If nothing else, I knew I had to get my camera gear to a spot where it would be dry and headed out the gate to my vehicle. Two policemen were standing at the gate and I stopped and asked what the situation was. Their response was that there was a funnel cloud sighted to the southeast and that if they were me they'd be leaving this area as fast as I could. I didn't need to be told twice. As fast as I could I made out of the place, hoping to make my way back to the Turnpike before the storm struck in full force. Five miles later, sure enough, I drove right into the storm. The first sign that I might be in real trouble was a spot of high water that was in a stretch of road where it shouldn't be flooding. The second were the clouds that hung just over the edge of the ground and looked to be swirling to me. Jumping in a ditch seemed like an idea momentarily, but with a two hour drive to get home and not knowing what weather lied ahead, the urge was to drive on. The road made a turn, fortunately taking me away from the brunt of the storm, but with lightning flashing all around and hitting a transformer the exact moment I drove by it, knocking out the lights to the house on the opposite side of the road. A few miles later I drove out of the storm and made my way towards home and by the time I'd reached the Toledo area the rain had stopped completely. Knowing the racing was still going on it occurred to me that I could head back to the races at Toledo and catch some more races before the rain hit there. Then reality struck and I pushed the gas pedal and kept heading for my Indiana home. The rain hit Toledo not long after I would have arrived.
LOOK BACK AT THE REST OF 2003
Most of 2003 went better than Friday the 13th. The rest of that weekend saw me at Butler and at Kokomo for the Bob Darland Memorial. June was kind of non-wing month for me, as there were two events from Kokomo, along with the Buckeye Nationals events at Attica and Fremont; the Non-Wing Challenge at Butler and my first ever visit to Indiana's Montpelier Speedway. There were also All Star events at Butler, Eldora and Attica.
Like June, I was able to squeeze 12 races into the month of July, beginning with the Ohio Speedweek race at Fremont. Two days later I was at Gas City for the only winged sprint race on the track's 2003 schedule, the GLOSS Summer Nationals. Chad Blonde, a driver that I watched take his first-ever laps in a sprint car at Butler, won the feature there, the first GLOSS win of his career. The rest of July saw Indiana Sprintweek races at Gas City and Kokomo as highlights, along with the Kings Royal at Eldora, the Doty Classic at Attica and the Michigan IRA weekend with races at Hartford and Butler.
For several years the month of August always meant a trip to the Knoxville Nationals. To me, there's nothing in the world like the Knoxville Nationals. It's the pinnacle of this sport. But a bad experience at another Iowa speedway during my 2002 trip made me vow that I wouldn't return to the state in 2003. Right up until the last couple weeks prior to the event I wondered if I'd change my mind. I didn't. But the pain was made easier by the SCRA, which came to the midwest for the Non-Wing World Championship. I was able to make the show at Terre Haute, a place that I could fall in love with if I only lived a couple hours closer, and then able to take in my first-ever race in Illinois at Farmer City Raceway. The photos from the events are some of my favorites from the 2003 season.
I opened the month of August with a show at Fremont. In my last column I talked about my move from a negative camera to the digital age. For me, it was sort of a dream come true. The best in the world of sprint car racing are often the best because they have the top equipment. For years, I felt like I'd worked with junk - but still went fast - so to speak. Finally, I had a Gaerte Engine under the hood. And on this day, a friend of mine was kind enough to loan me a lens, one of those that is so big you have to hoist over your shoulder to carry. Combine it with one of the top spots for me to take photos, outside of turn two at Fremont, and it was a night that will go down as quite likely my personal favorite for a long time.
August also meant the Historical Big One week at Eldora, taking in all four nights of the event. The month ended with a regular show at Butler and an event at Angola Speedway that was cut short by rain. Due to work commitments, September was a six-race month, beginning with the GLOSS/SOD season championships at Hartford, followed by the Fall Classic and Michigan Dirt Championships at Butler. I was also able to catch the Mopar Million at Eldora in September, along with an AVSS pavement race at Indiana's Baer Field. I closed my outdoor season with the Gas City Fall Finals on the first weekend of October and later closed 2003 with an indoor event in Ft. Wayne, where the UMARA midgets and a host of other divisions were in action.
Auto racing, in some way, shape or form has always played a part in my life. They say my mother carried me into my first race as a baby at Michigan's Mottville Speedway in the summer of 1959. I've spent most of my summer nights at a racetrack somewhere ever since then. I grew up in the corner of Northeast Indiana, but every Saturday night the family (mom & dad, two brothers, two sisters) would make the 25-mile trek to Michigan's Butler Motor Speedway. Names likes Larry Zimmerman and Jack Sharp may not mean much to today's open wheel bunch, but to me they were larger than life heroes to a young race fan than could never get enough. I loved the sport, and could name every driver at Butler by his car number and home town.
During that time, another driver was making his way up through the ranks at Butler, one that would have a huge impact on my "racing life." My father (Gale) went to high school in the small town of Flint, Indiana. One of his classmates (and a second-cousin) was Hank Lower. The "coupes" of the Zimmerman-Sharp era evolved with the rest of the country and became full blown sprint cars. While the heroes of the 60s left the sport, the whole family was there in the stands in the 70s, cheering Lower on as he drove to three consecutive Butler titles. The World of Outlaws came unto the scene, and not much later several other regional organizations followed. One of them was the Sprints on Dirt series, racing in Michigan, Northeast Indiana and Northwest Ohio. The family (well, not my sisters) followed as Lower traveled with the SOD series and won championships there. One brother (Steve) later became a key member of the Lower crew for several seasons. One of the regular stops for the SOD series was the now closed Avilla Raceway. The track also played host to some other big events, and one in particular can possibly be blamed for the true sprint car fanatic that I am today. The race was the 1984 Avilla Fall Classic, a race that to this day hasn't been topped in my mind. While the family had spent many a night cheering Lower on, another favorite was Jack Hewitt, who was driving the Briscoe #5 at the time. Hewitt had driven to a Butler victory from the back of the pack earlier in the year, and looked to be on his way to victory in this race (with me cheering loudly) when his motor began to smoke more and more. Haudenschild, back in his repaired racer after flipping over the guardrail earlier, began closing as the laps began to wound down. He caught Hewitt on the white flag lap and the two went to the checker inches apart. Hewitt's margin of victory was so slim that the person video taping the event was called upon to determine the win. I can also be heard cheering (loudly, I might add) in the background on the video tape.
I WAS HOOKED.
I began making regular trips to other tracks, including making several 3-hour drives to Eldora Speedway. Everyone has somewhere different that is their first stop upon entering the speedway. In those days, mine was the photo stand, and this is where the idea of 'Fisher's Sprint Car Pictorial' was born. Never able to get enough sprint car racing, I took the photos from my travels and put them on video tape with rock music in the background.
The photo stands lost their best customer when Santa brought a camera in December of 1986. The camera and lens, in a stroke of sheer dumb luck, was perfect for shooting sprint cars. After a brief test from the stands at a winter indoor event at the Ft. Wayne Coliseum I could hardly wait for the real thing, and was willing to drive 500 miles to get the chance. Williams Grove opens early, and I drove as far as Pittsburgh before having the event weathered out. We drove from Indiana back to Central Pa. the next weekend to catch the 1987 Grove Opener. Many of the photos from that day, including Doug Wolfgang in the Weikert #29, remain treasures in a collection that has grown throughout the years. Standing in turn two at Williams Grove is still my favorite spot in all of motorsports.
A LOOK BACK AT 2003
My 2003 racing season was supposed to start with a weekend in Central Pennsylvania, including a stop at Williams Grove, but was it was one of several events there this season that was canceled by either snow or rain. A last minute change of plans due to weather considerations had my wife and I making a stop in Pittsburgh. Lernerville had its opener set for Friday, and if the weather looked good we'd continue. The weather didn't cooperate for the rest of the weekend, but I was treated to a great night of racing at Lernerville before heading back home. Ed Lynch, Jr. won the first of several features at the track on the way to the 2003 points title.
Weather also played a big factor in my next plans, USAC at Eldora and Anderson. Eldora was canceled but Anderson opened the USAC season with a Sunday afternoon race that is one of the coldest races in my memory. It was truly one of those events where I can't believe they even raced. Aaron Pierce pulled off a surprise win, driving Mike Blake's car in front of a frozen few. Eldora and the World of Outlaws were on the agenda next, but just for a short stay. Hoping to complete a "double" and get photos from two tracks, I made the hour trek to Gas City Speedway for their season-opener. With an hour difference in the time change from one state to the other, I was able to take photos of hot laps and qualifying at Eldora and then catch much of the show at Gas City. Sounds crazy, but it was kind of the best of both worlds: the winged warriors of the WoO on the fast 1/2-mile at Eldora, and then the non-winged regulars at one of the top bullrings in Indiana. Donny Schatz and Sammy Swindell were Eldora winners that weekend, while Michael Burthay began his run to the 2003 Gas City title with a feature checker at the Hoosier track.
The weekend was topped off a night later with another season-opener, this one at Fremont Speedway. There's just something special about Fremont. Years ago, while visiting a relative in nearby Tiffin, they happened to mention that "the funny little cars with the things on top" that I like were racing at Fremont that weekend. I made my first trip to the track and have been coming back for over 20 years. Byron Reed, who would later take point titles at Fremont and Attica, would win the 410 feature that night. Andy Shammo won the 305 feature.
The final weekend of April found me at Michigan's Crystal Raceway for the 2003 SOD opener and at Indiana's Baer Field for the openers for the AVSS and HOSS pavement series. It was sort of a "homecoming" weekend, as I've known racers from both series for several years, and it was nice to renew old friendships. Ohio driver Darren Long won at Crystal, while Jason Blonde won the AVSS race. Blonde would win features on both dirt and asphalt before the season was over, as he won several AVSS races and also won in a 360 at Ionia Raceway Park late in 2003. Work commitments slowed my racing season considerably in May, as I was able to make just three races in the first three weeks, and two of those were very close to home at Butler. Ken Mackey, who later claimed his eighth Butler track title, and Mark Aldrich, were the Butler winners. The other race I was able to get in the books was the King of Indiana (KISS) race at Gas City, which was won by J.J. Yeley.
After going three weeks with just three races, I was able to catch my next two races within a three day span. The first was a Wednesday race at Indiana's Anderson Speedway for practice for the Little 500 and USAC sprints. The day is one I look forward to year after year, as warmups start and 10 in the morning and go all day long and the night is capped off with the USAC sprints. While setting through all day hot laps might not be what most fans would like to endure, for a photographer it's a day in heaven. There's plenty of time to get photos of every direction imaginable, and with the tight confines of the 1/4-mile at Anderson, with hour after hour of warmups, there is bound to be some wild action. Brian Tyler would win the USAC feature and Eric Gordon would later capture the Little 500. Two days later it was off to Hartford, Michigan for the opener of the Great Lakes Outlaw Sprint Series (GLOSS). It wasn't my plan when the night started, but it wound up being the last night (after 17 years) that I used film to take racing pictures. After getting some good warmup shots, my night took a turn for the worse when the film advance on my Pentax camera refused to work.
For several years I'd used a negative scanner to get my pictures to the internet. The process worked well, but was very time consuming. In knew that it was time to invest in a digital camera to streamline the process. The "digital age" of photography for me began a week later in the perfect setting: the World of Outlaws at Eldora. Upon entering the pit area, I walked straight to the Kinser pit. I thought it only fitting that the first racing picture taken with the new camera should be the "King of the Outlaws." Kinser would also be the feature winner that night.
For me, because of obligations with my job, the racing season really doesn't go into full swing until the second week of June. In my next column we'll continue to look back at 2003.
The other speedway that runs non-wing sprints in the area is Kokomo Speedway. For those that haven't seen the Indiana speedplant, it's a flat 1/4-mile that also produces some great racing. In the mid 80s, the World of Outlaws made stops just south of Kokomo at the mile dirt of the Indiana State Fairgrounds and also at Kokomo. The speeds on the mile were something to see, but for close racing, Kokomo was the place. Kokomo has a different angle towards its track championship. The speedway counts wins, whether heat race or feature, towards its championship. This year Jon Stanbrough took 17 wins overall for the title. Burthay was next with four wins. Stanbrough was also ninth in the USAC sprint standings.
Everyone knows of the exploits of J.J. Yeley this season, who took his second USAC Sprint title. His first sprint car title came in 2001, where he won the title by just 19 points over Jay Drake. Yeley beat Drake by over 350 points this season. In his record-breaking season, 15 of his victories came in the sprint car ranks. Following Yeley and Drake this season in the standings were Tracy Hines, Bud Kaeding and Boston Reid. Reid is a young driver, known more in the past for expertise with a wing in the Great Lakes Outlaw Sprint Series (GLOSS), where Reid can claim the honors of being the first driver to take a feature win in that group. This year's GLOSS title went to Danny Smith, over Bill Waite, Ben Rutan and 2002 champ Paul May.
Ken Mackey, the 2001 GLOSS champ, won track titles at both of Michigan's only weekly sprint cars tracks, Hartford Speedway Park and Butler Motor Speedway. Mackey has seven championships at Butler, more than any other driver. Last season he led the standings at both speedways, but the tracks scheduled a late season race on the same night, and Mackey went to Butler, giving up the Hartford title in the process of claiming the Butler championship. Both tracks played host to the Sprints on Dirt (SOD) 360s this season, where young and upcoming sprint car star Dustin Daggett drove to the title. Dain Naida, the 2001 SOD champ was second and 2002 champion Ronnie Beale was third in the standings. Naida regrouped after a tough start to his season at Fremont Speedway, where he wound up on his side in the track's opener for 410 sprints.
The championship at Fremont in the 410s this season went to Byron Reed, who also claimed the points at Attica Raceway Park. John Ivy, the 2002 Fremont champ, was second in the standings at both of the Ohio tracks. In the 305 sprints, Caleb Griffith won the points titles at both tracks in his first year in a sprint car. His plans are reportedly to move to the 410s in 2004. Bill Kraylek was second at Attica and third at Fremont, while Roger Shammo was the runner up at Fremont and third at Attica. Bryan Scott had won three-straight 305 titles at Fremont and two at Attica prior to the 2003 season.
The Winged Sprints on Asphalt (WSoA) crown went to Danny Brown this season, while other winged pavement titles went to Denny England in the Hoosier Outlaw Sprint Series (HOSS) and Tom Fedawa in the Auto Value Super Sprints (AVSS). Fedawa is the son of many-time champ Gary Fedawa. The family has AVSS points titles in four of the last five years. Gary won in 1999, 2000 and 2001. Tim Cox broke the string in 2002, but Tom returned the championship to the Fedawa family this season.
That's a look at some the champions from the Indiana, Michigan, Ohio area that are frequent stops on my travels. In future columns I'll take a closer look at some of the stops in my 2003 racing season, and also try to introduce myself and talk a little about the web site www.fscpictorial.com which combines two loves: sprint car racing and photography.
Ohio/Pa Sprint Car Racing