Crystal Motor Speedway Under New Ownership; What's Changing, What's Staying the Same
Ron Flinn Steps Away From Promoting for First Time in Decades
Crystal, MI (Tuesday, January 17, 2023) - The 2023 silly season in Michigan is not so much about race car drivers and who they’re driving for, but more so race tracks and who is owning them. At the start of the new year, it was announced that Thunderbird Raceway was purchased back from Michael Blackmer by former owner Tom Sprague and that first-time promoters Jeff and Heidi Morell would handle the track’s day-to-day operations. That headlining news was followed this week by the blockbuster announcement that Crystal Motor Speedway has been sold and will operate under new management for the first time in over 30 years.
In a surprise Facebook post on Sunday afternoon, it was publicly announced that Crystal Motor Speedway had changed hands and was officially sold. The post read in part, “RON MADE IT OFFICIAL TONIGHT - CRYSTAL MOTOR SPEEDWAY HAS BEEN SOLD…The Flinn family is very grateful for the support you have shown through the years.”
In a series of posts, it was revealed that the speedway was purchased in a joint effort. The new owners are Jacob Lebaron and Steve Vernon, both of Ithica, MI. The fate of the Speedway was very much a concern for racers and fans alike, however, a later post by Crystal Motor Speedway indicated that the facility would continue to host racing in 2023, saying that Brian LeBaron of Sumner, MI will be the Promoter and General Manager in 2023. LeBaron says fans should be excited for what’s to come in 2023.
“Ron ran such a ship-shape facility, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. We’re going to keep things almost exactly like they were before,” said LeBaron, who indicated they will add their own flare down the road.
“We have some plans to do some slight updates to get with the times,” remarked LeBaron. “We’re averaging around 120-130 cars. Most generally we see 150 cars a night. I don’t think we would be very good at business if we tried to change things when you’re already leading the way in fan count and car count.”
Thanks to a schedule release by the Great Lakes Super Sprints (GLSS) over the weekend as well, fans already have a sense that some of their favorite events should be returning in 2023. GLSS will make three appearances at the Speedway in 2023, with stops in April, May, and September. While a full schedule hasn’t been released for Crystal Motor Speedway yet, Lebaron says fans should see one soon.
“I am working on the schedule actively now. April 15th will be Test and Tune, and opening night with be April 29th,” said LeBaron.
As for the rest of the schedule, Lebaron says fans will see the same great races and racing they’ve come to know and love over the years. However, LeBaron says he’d like to see some additions to the schedule that nearly everyone can get excited about; including a National Touring Late Model show.
“It’ll be nearly identical to Ron’s schedule,” explained LeBaron. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but with a few additions. We’re thinking about running some Wednesday shows for the IMCA guys who are trying to run for State and National points. We’re also considering running some UMP Late Model shows on non-primary days,” said LeBaron.
“One teaser I can give you is we’ve been in contact with Sam Driggers at UMP, and we might possibly have a [DIRTcar Summer Nationals] Hell Tour date coming to Crystal,” announced LeBaron. He says those conversations were interrupted though as Driggers prepares for the DIRTcar UMP Winter Nationals.
With all this talk about racing UMP Late Models at Crystal Motor Speedway in 2023, just one question remained - what about the tire rule?
“We have decided, as of this weekend, it would probably be best for us to stay on American Racers, LeBaron explained. “I really wanted to see the UMP cars come to Crystal, and I had a tremendous outpouring of support; I think I took 31 calls from UMP guys - they really want to race the track, but they’re die-hards and they want to race the sanction,” said LeBaron, who explained that tire availability also played into the decision.
“I just think in our first year as track promoters, we don’t want to tick anybody off that has been supporting us for years. American Racer told me they have all the tires in the warehouse for the season, currently. Hoosier [Racing Tire] told me there will be a tire shortage this summer,” he said.
As for other potential changes in the works, LeBaron says the racers will be rewarded this upcoming season with some change in the pay structure. He says specifically, Street Stocks will now run 20 laps, and race for $100 to start. He says the winning payout will increase as well, but they haven’t decided on a final figure. Late Models will also race for more dough in 2023.
“We’re increasing the start money and the win money in the Late Models also,” LeBaron said. “We’ll be $300 to start and we will be $1500 or $1800 to win. We’re trying to get with the drivers to see if they’d rather have more to win, or more in the paydown, but we’re committed to that much of an increase, we’re just not sure where we’re going to put it yet,” he said.
Fans will also get improvements to their experience this upcoming season. LeBaron says the work has already begun to increase comfort and safety.
“I ordered 1,468 bleacher boards yesterday,” LeBaron said proudly. “We’re replacing every board in the bleachers. We’re improving the concessions and the bathrooms, we’re also focusing on the surface of the track. I’ve been in contact with a lot of track gurus from around the world. I want to see four-wide racing at Crystal again. I know it’s potentially able to happen, we just gotta get our ducks in a row and make it happen,” he said.
As for Ron Flinn, it would appear his time of promoting and ownership in Michigan has come to a close. After years of battling health concerns, it had been rumored that Crystal was for sale for the past couple of seasons. Sue Lincoln, Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame Scorer, and longtime employee for Flinn, says his tenure in the business has spanned nearly 50 years. In a post, she says is one of the longest-tenured promoters in Michigan.
“Ron Flinn is the second longest promoter in Michigan with 45 years (as of 2022),” the post read. “[Flinn] has promoted Crystal for 32-ish years, Ionia County Speedway (now known as I-96 Speedway), and Ionia Fairgrounds Speedway in the late 70's-early 80's,” she continued.
Support for Flinn and his wife poured out after the announcement, with dozens of comments on multiple posts wishing him well, and hundreds of shares announcing his departure.
"Like I keep saying, Ron has created an unbelievable legacy [at Crystal Motor Speedway], our goal is to keep that going the way it is,” remarked LeBaron. “I keep seeing, and it’s so true, that we have some really big shoes to fill, and we are striving to do so. It’s really important to find that happy medium with what Ron has done in the past, and move forward with current times. We have some big things coming,” LeBaron closed.
We here at Horsepower Happenings also wish Ron all the best in the next chapter of his life and look forward to what the future holds at Crystal Motor Speedway. For more Great Lakes Region motorsports news, be sure to like and follow Horsepower Happenings on Facebook and Instagram. Plus, don’t forget to bookmark www.HorsepowerHappenings.com for the latest news, industry insight, and new podcast episode every Monday night at 9pm.
Story - Zach Hiser, Horsepower Happenings
Photos (In Order of Appearance) - It's Dirt Track Racing, Unknown, Jim DenHamer, Johnny B Imagery, Unknown, Great Lakes Super Sprints