Author’s Note: The Best of 2019 series is based upon a few things for each category, but ultimately boils down to my opinion from the events I attended at each track. If you have a moment that you remember fondly from this summer, feel free to leave a comment! There are numerous other categories I could have gone with as well, so if you have something that doesn't fit in these, feel free to comment as well!
Summer 2019 brought forth the 50th anniversary season of racing at Sands Speedway, and what an anniversary year it was. The unique track produced incredible racing action in all of its divisions. To put the track configuration simply, its a road course with no right turns, much like the old Nazareth Speedway in Pennsylvania. With the downhill run through turns one and two, and the uphill climb in turns three and four, drivers were able to work different ends of the track to gain the upper hand on their fellow competitors.
Best Event: Jim Meske Memorial
One of the great things about racing is that certain events can bring people together for a larger purpose than just watching the on track action. Such an event took place at Sands Speedway this summer with the Sixth Annual Jim Meske Memorial. Fans turned out in droves, with bucket raffles for over 60 items being drawn off. (I got to take home two awesome NASCAR programs from the 2004 season.) The proceeds from the event went to Cancer Care of Marquette County. Even if racing that day ended up to be a dud, which it wasn’t, the event would have been a success. Dud is the furthest word in the dictionary from what went down on the track.
In the Auto Value Super Stock/Experimental Division feature race, which saw the largest car count of any single race all season, racing was wild start to finish. Ray Keskimaki and Parker Cain fought for the lead, a fight that ended in high drama as the two made contact on the back straightaway, sending Keskimaki spinning through the infield. Both would continue, though Cain’s day would end in the pits before the race’s conclusion.
One driver that was fun to watch all day was Ross Olsen Jr., taking the duties of driving the 29 car over for his dad for one weekend only. With laps winding down, Ross Jr. was pushing as hard as he could to catch and pass Ray Keskimaki for the top spot. He pushed so hard exiting turn four that smoke could be seen coming off the right rear tire. Time would run out before Ross Jr. could catch Keskimaki. Behind the top two in third was Gary Stanaway. Earlier in the race, Stanaway and Ross Jr. came together, with Stanaway spinning in turn three. They both put on quite a show driving back up through the field.
The most important things about the event, though, were absolutely remembering an avid supporter of Sands Speedway in Jim Meske and giving to help support those struggling with the awfulness that is cancer. Racing happens all the time, events like the do not.
Best Race (TIE): Stock Four Feature & Mod Four Feature (Kids’ Day)
Two of the best races of the whole year came on the same day in mid-July during Kids’ Day. Oddly enough, they both belonged to the Four Cylinder classes.
First, in the Modified Four Cylinder feature an early race caution would send Todd Maki to the rear of the pack. He would then put on quite the show throughout the remaining laps, carving his way through the field to reach second place. Maki wasn’t the only driver providing entertaining moments in this one, though. Ray Belmore (Below) made one the more impressive saves after contact sent him side ways in turn one.
Time would run out for Todd Maki, who would settle for second place behind Ryan Proctor. Second wasn’t an issue for Maki, though, as he would stop alongside Proctor in victory lane and help him out of the car before pulling him in for a bear hug.
In the Stock Four feature, things would get off to a similar start as the Mod Four feature with a jam session collecting several contenders in turn one. Included in the smash up was Tom Waselesky and Bill Hammond. While clean up was happening, Hammond dashed back to the pits for quick repairs as Waselesky climbed from his car to inspect the damage. Both drivers went on to rejoin the field as the crowd let out a chorus of cheers.
Unfortunately, Waselesky’s race would be over soon. Just after the restart, smoke poured from the back of his car, laying down fluid on the racetrack. The red flag was brought out for a lengthy clean up.
When things got back underway, it would be 13 year old Tyler Hammond in the lead. Tyler pulled away from the field in the remaining laps to grab the win, and become the youngest driver to win in Sands Speedway history. Moments later, dad Bill pulled up next to him in victory lane to celebrate with his winning son.
Best Finish: Late Model Feature (July 14)
Who won the Late Model feature from July 14th? I’m sure to this day, it depends on who you ask as it seems everyone has a different opinion. It was that close.
Exiting turn four, Rob Goodwin was able to jump to the outside of Charlie Bell with a run. As the two drivers drew closer to the line, the closer their bumpers became to lining up dead even. When they crossed the line, they essentially were. Goodwin was named the winner, though different angles tell different stories. (See photos above. A special thanks to Curtis Aho Photography for providing the picture on the left.) Who won this fantastic finish? You be the judge.
Wildest Ride: Brett Wittler Flips
The biggest crash of the year at Sands Speedway belonged to rookie driver Brett Wittler. In the second Auto Value Super Stock/Experimental Division Heat Race, Wittler slid high out of turn two, struggling with an incredibly tight racecar. As the right side tires reached the edge of the racing surface, the car hooked up, sending Wittler into Elliot Sampela. Wittler’s car then turned over, rolling several times before landing on top of Sampela’s car. Thankfully, both drivers climbed out of their cars uninjured.
Coolest Moment: Vintage Modifieds Take to the Track
In my opinion, there are few things cooler than old racecars and the history of racing years gone by. As part of the 50th anniversary season at Sands Speedway, the Vintage Modifieds made an appearance.
Making the trip up from Wisconsin to join Allan Yelle at the track on a sunny Sunday afternoon were Darrin and Jeff Allard. Though plans initially called for other Vintage Mods to make the trip, several incidents at other tracks altered several drivers plans on attending the event. Regardless, one car or one hundred, watching the Vintage Modifieds is always a blast.
Days like this one remind us all about how racing used to be, how it got to where it is, and makes us wonder about where racing will be in the years to come. If Sands Speedway continues to deliver the same kind of action that was produced this year, the years ahead look mighty healthy.
If you have any moments you remember from this summer, feel free to leave them in the comments below!
Other Best of 2019 Articles:
By Todd Rose