Flat Rock, MI (Thursday, December 17, 2020) - As we enter into the holidays, we try in some way to grasp what we have all been through in 2020. Yes, the pandemic threw everyone in our sport for a loop and made us all work harder at figuring out how to open our race tracks safely and still provide a summer of fun for our fans. In the end, some great racing occurred throughout our region, and I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on some of the memorable moments, in no particular order.
Early in the season, when most pavement tracks were shut down, the action was on the dirt. Travis Stemler had a strong start to 2020, and carried that success through the summer months. Stemler had a run of six consecutive feature wins, and in the process built a sizeable point lead in the inaugural Allstar Performance Late Model Challenge Series. Stemler would go on to win the Series Championship and the attached $10,000 prize.
In another huge moment on the dirt, Dona Marcoullier pulled off something that hadn’t been seen in over 10 years, a Michigan driver picking up a win in a Summer Nationals Hell Tour event. Marcoullier accomplished that feat with an incredible late-race charge to pass Frank Heckenast, Jr. late in the event at Tri City Motor Speedway in August. Another driver who stood out on the dirt in 2020 was Ryan Vanderveen. Vanderveen opened the season winning each feature event at Thunderbird and Winston Speedways for the first month, and it looked like he was primed for the season sweep. But an anonymous fan put up a “bounty” for anyone who could take Vanderveen down. In the $2500 to win BettenBaker Challenge at Winston, it was Marcoullier who was able to pick up the win and collect the bounty.
In the sprint car scene, the Great Lakes Super Sprints ran nearly a dozen shows for their fifth season of action. An intense points battle between Jared Horstman and Ryan Ruhl ended with Horstman collecting his second Series Championship of his career in line with a season tying (Ruhl) best three feature wins. 2020 also marked the first full season for the Great Lakes Traditional Sprints and the Great Lakes Lightning Sprints, crowning inaugural Champions Mike Galadja (GLTS) and Brendon Cascadden (GLLS).
Once pavement racing was able to somewhat begin, a Michigan Motorsports Hall of Famer gave notice at Galesburg Speedway, that it wasn’t quite the time to write him off. Andy Bozell dominated the Smitty Memorial 100 back in June, lapping the entire field except for 2nd place, collecting a huge $5,000 payday. Finishing in second on that day was none other than Andy’s son, Phil, who some say could have ended up a lap down as well if the elder Bozell had chosen to do so.
With limited pavement racing, the action moved to late summer and early fall season-ending events. Berlin Raceway was able to open for four events to close out 2020 at the Marne, MI facility. Evan Shotko was not only impressive, but maybe somewhat surprising in sweeping the first two Super Late Model events. Owosso Speedway was able to get some racing in throughout the summer and closed the season with an excellent Owosso Fall Nationals event in September. Blake Childers and Kyle Hayden picked up big wins in the Outlaw Super Late Models and the Modifieds, respectively.
The story in our region on pavement in 2020 had to be the performance of Carson Hocevar. The 17-year-old kicked off his run of huge wins at Lebanon I-44 Speedway in Missouri at the Show Me State Showdown in May. From there, Hocevar added the Redbud 400 at Anderson, The Money in the Bank 150 at Berlin, the Glass City 200 at Toledo, and the prestigious Winchester 400 to his list of premier event wins in 2020. Hocevar’s dominating season appeared to be continuing into the All American 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway on November 1st, until a mid-race incident between he and Derek Thorn sent Hocevar home early. That bad luck continued right into the Snowball Derby, where the Portage, Michigan native failed to qualify for the show.
To close out the season, it was fitting that one driver finally accomplished something he had been striving for, and probably should have by now. Steve Needles drove to the win at Toledo in the Outlaw Super Late Model portion of the Glass City 200, in what was not only a huge win for Needles, but was also a very popular win with the fans.
Reflecting back, in a year like no other that any of us have experienced in our lifetimes, there was some racing to be had and some great memories made. We can now hope that 2021 allows us to get back to the race tracks that couldn’t open, and expand on what we were able to witness this past season. One can only HOPE!
For more stories from around the region, be sure to log onto www.horsepowerhappenings.com. Listen to on-demand episodes of the Horsepower Happenings Podcast, with new episodes every Monday night at 9:00 pm.
Story - Rich Frantz, Horsepower Happenings
Photo - John Lund