Summer means racing: Sands Speedway opens season series on Sunday afternoon

Brett Wittler sits in the driver’s seat of his Rookie Super Stock racer at Sands Speedway, which kicks off its season on Sunday afternoon. (Photo courtesy Kim LeTourneau)

“We feel that there’s so many great causes out there. We want to bring the community into our track.” — Kim LeTourneau, Sands Speedway publicist,

about the track’s theme days devoted to charitable causes


SANDS — It appears as if summer is finally upon us.

Warmer air temperatures hint at the arrival of the summer solstice in a few weeks, but temps on the asphalt at the quarter-mile Sands Speedway will soon be heating up as well.

The sound of revving engines and smell of burning rubber will soon fill the air around the speedway, which has racing slated on 10 Sundays starting this weekend through late August as the track celebrates its 50th anniversary.

This is the 4-cylinder modified car of Sands Speedway racer Tom Wazaleski. (Photo courtesy Kim LeTourneau)

Four vehicle classes will run once again, with the potential for a fifth on the horizon. Returning this season will be four-cylinder pure stock, four-cylinder modified, super stock and late model divisions.

The fifth potential division will be a V8 sportsman class, should the speedway be able to attract enough drivers for it.

Currently, the V8 sportsman class has three Mustangs entered. They’re still looking for at least one more car before they can run the class as an individual feature event.

For now, the V8s will race with another class until organizers find out how much interest there is, according to Sands Speedway public relations director Kim LeTourneau.

“We don’t know how many will come out,” she said. “So far we have three Mustangs. We won’t know how many more we’ll have until opening day.”

This is the 4-cylinder modified car of Sands Speedway racer Al Wendrick. (Photo courtesy Kim LeTourneau)

LeTourneau said until they get four or more cars entered in the sportsman class, they’ll likely run with the super stocks for now.

One of the most notable changes this season will be the move from Saturdays to Sundays. This move was done not only due to competition with other area events, but to help accommodate families who participate in a different form of the sport nearby — go-kart racing at the Marquette County Fairgrounds.

“Marquette holds so many special events we’re competing with on Saturdays,” LeTourneau said. “The go-karts also race on Saturday. We wanted to make the change to allow for driver development. Some of our own racers at Sands also have a child who races at the go-kart track.

“You need youth. When youth is tied up across the street, they’re not learning, being mentored or participating. Racing on Sundays allow us to cross each other for staff, the sport and attendance. My girls love the go-kart track, but the only time we could ever go there was during an off-week at Sands.

“This helps with cross-promotion and racing experience.”

Along with the change in days comes a change in times as well. Racing will take place earlier in the afternoon.

In the past, time trials started in the mid-afternoon with the green flag on heat races and feature events dropping just before evening set in.

But in 2019, time trials will start at 1 p.m. with racing beginning at 2 p.m.

Sands’ relationship with the three other Upper Peninsula short tracks has never been better either. This year, Sands, Norway, Kinross and Escanaba all share similar rules packages and are all working together to cross-promote their events.

This allows for drivers and fans alike to travel to other tracks on a particular weekend, boosting entry and attendance numbers.

“Commitment to short-track racing in the U.P. has never been better,” LeTourneau said. “We all hold the same philosophy. We help each other grow. We’re trying to make the cars as close as we can to competitively race.

“We’re not there yet, but our goal is to open the rules up for more cars. We want to make the relationship (between tracks) more symbiotic. Norway races Friday, Kinross and Esky Saturday, and Sands on Sunday. That gives drivers and fans choices for a traveling weekend.”

One event each track will host together is the KENS (Kinross, Escanaba, Norway, Sands) Crossover Special Invitational in an asphalt-vs.-dirt challenge. Four-cylinder vehicles from each track will be able to conjoin at Sands Speedway on July 14 for the asphalt portion of the event, before Escanaba hosts the dirt portion on Sept. 14.

On Aug. 18, Sands will host the second segment of the new Central Upper Peninsula (CUP) Racing Series. Norway hosts the first segment of the series two days prior.

Each track will operate the under the same tire and other rules for the CUP Series, and drivers will be able to compete in lower classes over the weekend event as well.

On Sands’ regular-season schedule, there will be several theme days for various causes. These include Veterans Day, Drive for Diabetes Day and Kids Day. There will also be the Jim Meske Memorial for Cancer Care race on Aug. 4, as well as the season championship on Aug. 25, which will be Autism Awareness Day.

“We feel that there’s so many great causes out there,” LeTourneau said. “We want to bring the community into our track. That makes us better partners in the community.”

LeTourneau also put an emphasis on Kids Day, noting that there will be fun for all who attend.

“We’ll have big-wheel races at the track, ice cream from Jilbert Dairy and games and prizes for every kid,” she said. “There will also be a bike giveaway.”

Another fun community event at the track this year will be the return of the King of the Hill Spectator Fast Lap Challenge on June 30. Fans can bring their regular old vehicles onto the track to run a fast lap, free of charge. The person with the fastest lap wins a trophy.

“Any kind of car,” LeTourneau said. “A Mustang, a Camaro, a beat-up Taurus, we even had a school bus one time. The faster the better, but the funnier the better too.”

Sands Speedway opens its 50th season this Sunday, and will officially celebrate the anniversary mark with Thunder Valley Legends 50-year Tribute events on July 28. The event will feature a fan appreciation day, a pit party and vintage modified vehicles.

General admission is $10. Seniors ages 60 and up are admitted for $7, teens ages 13-17 are $5 and a pit pass is $20. Children 12 and under are admitted for free.

For more information and a full season schedule, visit www.sandsspeedway.com or the Sands Speedway Facebook page.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.