Tri-City Motor Speedway
Spangler and Steele Cash In On Opening Night
05/14/2021 (Auburn MI) After three consecutive Fridays with inclement weather cancelling the start of the 2021 racing season, the thunderous roar of stock car motors were heard once again at Tri-City Motor Speedway. The eleventh season for the 3/8 mile clay oval took place last Friday night with a near record 151 drivers and cars hoping to take home the checkered flag and starting the year off on a positive note. All of the weekly car divisions were in action with the Auto Value Pro Stocks racing for an increased winner’s share of the purse being $1500. Also, it was the first race of the Tri-City Motor Speedway/Merritt Speedway All-Star Performance Late Model Challenge Series supported by the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort paying $5000 to the first car to finish all 40 laps in the main event.
Some of the best Late Model drivers from the Michigan and the Midwest came to take their shot at taking home the big money. Thirty-Seven Soaring Eagle Casino late models checked in with only 24 spots available for the final event. McClure Ohio’s Rusty Schlenk proved to be the car to beat in qualifying as the fastest of the field. The four qualifying races to set the feature line-up were captured by Brandon Thirlby (Buckley, MI), David Mielke (Gladwin, MI), Dave Baker (Grand Rapids, MI), and 2020 track Champion Dona Marcoullier (Houghton Lake, MI). The final four feature race starters came from the Last Chance Qualifier was won by Alex Hupert (Au Gres, MI). Logan Nickerson (Vestaburg, MI) and Mielke brought the field of 24 to the green flag on a track that had lost a lot of the grip that was present during qualifying making it a slick and challenging race surface. Nickerson held the race lead for a few laps before Mielke took control. Nickerson fought back to retake the lead on lap seven but it was short –lived. Eric Spangler (Lake City, MI) from his row two start, motored passed both Nickerson and Mielke in a daring three-wide pass to grab the lead. The opening 38 laps went caution free with Spangler stretching his lead to a full straightaway before the late race caution would regroup and tighten the field for a two lap shoot-out to the finish. However, for everyone else, they had nothing for Spangler as he had a perfect restart and handily took his first TCMS checkered flag and winning the first round of the challenge series. Nickerson held on for second at the finish and was closely followed by 2020 Challenge Series Champion, Travis Stemler (Ionia, MI), Mielke, and Marcoullier. An additional B-Main was run for those drivers that failed to make the main event. Tyler Norton (Midland, MI) finished his night with the win.
Tim Murphy (Holland, OH) and Robert Brillhart (Crystal, MI) had the front row for the start of the Auto Value Pro Stock 20-lap feature. However, neither of those drivers would lead the opening lap. Andrew Steele (Auburn, MI) took a bold move on the very top side of turn two and passed both drivers and lead the opening lap. He was untouched for the remainder of the caution plagued race to easily win the top prize. Kyle Hunt (Bannister, MI) navigated his way from his seventh place starting position to finish as the runner-up. Both Nate Murphy (Coleman, MI) and Loren Short (Clio, MI) overcame their mid field starting positions for third and fourth place. Danielle Robinson (Mount Pleasant, MI) finished fifth. The earlier heat race gold was captured by Steele and Aaron Raby (Carson City, MI).
Auto House of Linwood has jumped on board in 2021 to sponsor the always exciting Factory Stocks. A large field of 33 was checked in to compete for the 20 positions available in the main event. The top five finishers in the three qualifying heats were immediately locked into the A-main. Former Champion Eric Lake (Montrose, MI), Brent Reil (Midland, MI), and Jake Thompson (Birch Run, MI) were the first to finish their respective heat races. 2020 point runner-up Nick Putnam (Kawkawlin, MI) had to win the last chance feature to gain his seat in the main feature. The field of twenty of the nights best driver took the green in the final event with Scott Smith (West Branch, MI) and Thompson setting the pace. Smith was able to hold off the field for the first eight laps before Lake made the winning move. From there, he bested the field for the remaining 11 circuits to take the win. Ryan Nethers (Mount Pleasant, MI), Smith, Eric Watz (North Branch, MI) and Rylee Knoll (Lake, MI) took home top five finishes.
The XLT Engineering Bomber Stocks had 22 cars start the 15-lap main event. Chad Freeman (Alger) took advantage of a good start by moving past former Champion Johnny Staszak and lead the opening eight laps. Jason Jones (Livonia, MI), running the same line as Freeman, got him loose to make the pass for the lead in turn number one. The caution flag was prominently displayed throughout the event which provided the fans with some exciting restarts. On the final restart, Jones led the field into turn one. Freeman didn’t forget about the move Jones had done to take the lead earlier in the event as he pulled a bump and run maneuver to retake the lead out of turn two. As the field reached turn three, Jones, Ethan Robarts (Whittemore, MI), and Staszak made hard contact with each other battling for second place. This would cause the final caution of the event and took all three out of contention for the win. The race did not restart due reaching the allotted time limit giving Freeman the race win. Nick Bullock (Bay City, MI), Damian Watters (Bentley, MI), Paul Streeter (Midland, MI), and Cody LaFleur (Lake City, MI) survived the mishaps to grab top five finishes. Maston Conley (Grand Rapids, MI) Jones, and Freeman were the earlier heat race victors.
Multi-time track Champion AJ Ward (Ionia) is tough to beat wherever the #20w decides to race in Michigan. Typically he starts mid-field for feature races due to the line-up rules IMCA has in place. With opening night being a draw/redraw format of the race starting positions in the Tri-City Cheese and Meats IMCA Modifieds, Ward was able to draw a front row start alongside Chad Bennett (Davison, MI). Ward shot out to the lead immediately and was never truly challenged as he led all twenty laps for another TCMS feature victory. Matt Szecsodi (Clio, MI) finished a distant second followed by rookie Kendall Morrison (Bay City, MI), 19th place starter Collin Thirlby (Traverse City, MI), and Brian Brindley (West Branch, MI). Szecsodi, Ward, and Craig Vance (Midland) had earlier success by winning their heat races.
The Walker Ideal Trophies restricted and unrestricted Mini-Wedge youngsters competed in their events prior to the evening’s race program. Cason Murphy (Coleman, MI) swept both his heat and also won his first ever feature in the restricted motor wedges. It was Morgan Bujarski (Linwood) who bested the boys in the unrestricted class feature. Pierson DeShano (Kawkawlin, MI) took home the unrestricted heat race.
This Friday bring the Great Lakes Super Sprints with their winged and non-winged sprint cars to TCMS. In addition to the two classes of sprints, the Walker’s Ideal Trophies Mini-Wedges, Soaring Eagle Casino Late Models, Auto House Factory Stocks, and the XLT Engineering Bomber Stocks are all a part of the race card. In addition, the Bomber Stocks will be going after a $600 top prize. The first green flag waves at 7:30. Be sure to come early to claim your seat for another show you won’t want to miss! For updated results, points and the 2021 race schedule, please visit the TCMS website at tricityracetrack.com or download the MyRacePass app.
Article Credit: Roger Williams