Whew! What a week it’s been as we had five days of on-track activity in the last 9-days.
We’ll start with Saturday, June 10, as drivers got dialed in for the Merritt Showdown in what was a great night of racing. Eric Spangler, David Mielke, and Cody Bauer all revisited victory lane on June 10. Jordan Erickson was hooked up in his lightning sprint and lapped all but second place in en-route to his win, while Rob Westergard and Jim Miller Jr. showed the way in Pro Stock and Factory Stock features. Cole Schymanski and Luke Morey were victory in the new Mini Wedge division, in what turned out to be two wild and action packed races for the youngsters. Thank you to everyone who came out for that night of racing!
That brings us to our Third Annual Merritt Showdown - with a special nod to Don’s Auto Clinic who was again the presenting sponsor and key partner behind this race, along with Carbon Green Bio Energy and Allstar Performance as well. After a good practice on Tuesday night and the shakedown on Saturday, racers were ready to rock on Wednesday night! We had 36 American Ethanol Late Model Tour competitors on the property and 29 American Ethanol Modified Tour drivers with us on Wednesday night. Additionally, the Boyne Machine Four Cylinders had a strong showing of 34 cars as well, all vying for $1,500-to-win.
Sixteen preliminary events including heat races, last chance events, as well as the UMP Modified Allstar Performance 40-lap feature was completed before the rain put an end to the action. Only two-cautions slowed the Modified A feature, which saw Collin Thirlby check-out in the early going, leading the first 26-laps. Jacob Poel was in hot pursuit, and took over the lead without looking back, leading the rest of the way and claiming the big victory. Chad Bauer had a stout run, coming home second, with defending race winner Joe Rokos third, Jeff Erickson Jr fourth, and David Mielke, who came from last, rounding out the top five. I’ve always said the UMP Mods put on some of the best racing at Merritt, regardless of whether it be a special show sanctioned like this was, or just a regular weekly Merritt event.
Unfortunately, the rain did fall and forced an end to the evenings action just after the conclusion of the Modified feature. After a long talk with tour officials, the decision was made to complete the remaining two races the next evening, Thursday, June 15. 26 UMP Late Model and 28 Four Cylinders returned for the rain-date postponed event. I made the determination to start every car on the property that came back to support this event, which I was happy to do and made for some great and interesting races in both classes.
Inaugural race winner and defending Late Model track champion Eric Spangler started up front, and finished there as well, claiming the $10,000 pay-day and title of Merritt Showdown champion! Spangler wasn’t able to coast his way to victory though, as the defending race winner Dona Marcoullier challenged the 27 for the top spot on several occasions throughout the 50-lap Don’s Auto Clinic event. The 6m would finish second, followed by hard charging Brandon Thirlby third, Ryan VanderVeen fourth, and Rusty Schlenk fifth.
The Four Cylinder feature got off to a slow start, but finished strong as Ryan Hamm was able to collect the win over a very fast double-zero car driven by Willard VanHaitsma. Thank you to all the Four Cylinders that came to Merritt to race, and we look forward to seeing you all back again soon as we continue to have high-paying shows for this great division at Merritt!
This past Saturday probably could’ve been a rained out event, but I am a gambler and stuck with it. We didn’t have rain at the track all afternoon, until about 6pm when it clouded up and sprinkled a little bit - probably the worst time of day for that in terms of getting fans to the track. Because of that, we had a low car-count and fan turnout, with the threatening forecast all week and then on Saturday itself. I announced in the drivers meeting that I may cut a little off the top of the payout, but I did not do that and we paid normal to the drivers who came out and committed to racing with us Saturday. Thank you to the fans that did show up, and the drivers as well who put on what turned out to be a great night of racing and very comfortable weather. Rough weather combined with a long week of racing and the Wednesday postponement didn’t’ help, but we made it through!
Eric Spangler started on the pole and won in the Keyser Manufacturing UMP Late Model feature event. Special nod to Andrew Terrill, who had a very fast #4 on Saturday and almost ran down Spangler at the end of the race. Jacob Flickinger flexed his muscle in the B Modified feature race, leading the first 19-laps of the race, before being passed by Cody Bauer on the final lap. Richie Sutherland had a nice run finishing in third as well.
Mack Erickson got to Allstar Performance victory lane for the first time Saturday night, as he had the 38 dialed in and cruised away with the win. Brady Nickerson was an impressive second over Jordan Erickson. Mike Vandermark won the Pro Stock feature event besting 19 others on the property, while Jim Miller Jr. got another victory in his Factory Stock. And after coming up oh-so-close at Thursday’s Showdown, Willard VanHaitsma closed the deal and won in the Boyne Machine Four Cylinder division over Chad Tomczak and Travis Skaggs.
One thing that I’ve been asked about lately, is why Eric Spangler always starts in the front. Well, the answer to that question somewhat eludes me, but basically boils down to LUCK. The top (usually) three finishers in every UMP Late Model and UMP Modified heat race get together and make a blind draw. In most cases, they draw a chip, while this past week they drew a card - one through nine (or twelve in four heats). This means the 27 car could start on the pole, or as deep as ninth or twelfth, for every single race he starts. Luck is on the side of Spangler as of late, drawing a front row spot in several of the last few races including the last couple at Merritt. This is standard for many sanctioning bodies and has been done at Merritt for some time. We continually are doing things to improve the fan and racer experience and will evaluate alternatives to the drawing and starting lineup process, but I hope that explanation helps some fans with understanding of the process.
Another thing that I wanted to mention, is an item that made me very happy recently. I had the chance to take a walk on Wednesday, and noticed an increase in the number of guests we hosted in wheelchairs. With our brand-new handicap section along the turn one end of the front stretch, folks in wheelchairs now have a really nice view of the race track. On concourse has been paved all the way down both ends including to the new ramp leading to the new section, truly providing an enhanced opportunity to enjoy the races. I have to say thank you to several people who stopped me as I walked through the area, who complimented and raved about the handicap section - making it my favorite thing we’ve done at the track yet.
This week we’re really excited to have the Engine Pro Sprints on Dirt race with us! Also, don’t forget that the YellowHose.com Mini Wedges will now race every weekend at Merritt for the remainder of 2017. See everyone Saturday!