Evart, Reed City drivers share the track with NASCAR pros at Merritt Speedway

Four area racers competed against professional racing veterans at the inaugural Summer Showdown

MERRITT — For most, racing is a hobby and for some, racing is a profession. But regardless of whether you race for sport or for a living, one aspect rings true: racing is a passion.

Both sides of the racing spectrum shared the same track on June 10 as Michigan racers faced off against NASCAR pros and professional racing veterans at Merritt Speedway’s inaugural Summer Showdown in Lake City.

Michigan’s best dirt track drivers had the chance to showcase their talents against the likes of former NASCAR veterans Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader, and current NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Austin Dillon and Justin Allgaier. Matt Kenseth also made a special appearance, but did not race.

In the mix were four area drivers — Ryan Steig and Ricky Droke, both of Reed City; Jim Waldfogel and Brook Brasington, both of Evart.

“This is a great event,” Allgaier said. “We love coming out to these kind of dirt tracks, which we don’t get to check out very often. There was a great field of cars, and it was great to see how many racers and fans came out.”

Merritt Speedway’s 3/8-mile track played host to five separate racing categories, classified by car styles, including: American Ethanol Late Models, All-Star Performance Michigan Dirt Cup Modifieds, Lightning Sprints, pro stocks and four-cylinders. The car categories differ in body style, engine size, tire size and other determining factors.

Merritt put out a $3,000 championship purse for the late model feature and a $2,000 prize for the modified feature.

Waldfogel and Brasington competed in late models, while Steig raced with the modifieds and Droke in the sprints.

Steig qualified for the modified feature after placing fourth in his heat. Prior to the race, Steig indicated he was more concerned about the Michigan drivers, rather than the pros. During his heat, Steig held second place behind Wallace for a majority of the laps before falling to fourth as Wallace won.

“I knew I was going to eat those words,” Steig said jokingly. “It’s funny that I would get beat by a pro. Driving wise, I felt pretty good, still getting used to the car. We were off a little bit, but we will get better going forward.”

Steig, who is coming off a 10-year hiatus from the sport this season, finished 13th in the 40-lap modified feature.

Brasington qualified for the late model feature, finishing ninth overall in the field after the 50-lap race.

“Everything felt all right,” Brasington said. “The top guys at Merritt are some of the best guys you will see in the state, and they were showing it out there on the track.”

Droke, who drove the No. 3 sprint car, had a solid showing in his feature. After starting at the bottom of the pack, Droke fought his way up the field, finishing third overall. He took home a third-place purse of $300.

“The track was actually perfect for our setup and we took advantage of it,” Droke said of his pre-race adjustments. “I’m pretty excited of where I finished. Right now, we are not going to touch the car at all, we are going to keep it as it is because it ran so well out there. But what I am looking forward to is hopefully a couple feature wins down the road for us.”

“There were definitely a lot of local guys here who wanted our attention, but furthermore they wanted to win the race,” Allgaier said. “Local racetracks are the lifeblood of what we do, so to see all the Michigan drivers come out and compete is very cool.”

Track owner Mike Blackmer said the top prize for next year’s Summer Showdown will be at least $10,000 due to Wednesday’s success.

“The turnout was great,” said Waldfogel, who was not able to finish his heat due to engine problems. “When they put out big first-place prizes, they can pull in guys from all over. If they do it right, this event could grow every year.”