New Mini Wedge racing class growing with younger generation at Crystal Motor Speedway


By Ryan Schlehuber "Scoop" • Last Updated 12:04 pm on Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Six-year-old Eli Fellows of Crystal makes his way around the track in his Mini Wedge race car during a practice run at Crystal Motor Speedway in Crystal Sunday. The official opening day of Mini Wedge racing, a new class added to the race track last year, is May 20. (Daily News | Ryan Schlehuber)

 

CRYSTAL — As 6-year-old Eli Fellows zipped, glided and sped around the short, dusty track in his Mini Wedge race car, his confidence in racing grew with every lap he completed Sunday.

The young racer from Crystal, along with a half dozen other young racers between ages 6 and 14, enjoyed a day of practice at Crystal Motor Speedway, which is home to a new class — and a new generation — of racing.

Six-year-old Mini Wedge racer June Dora of Sheridan sits with her father, Matt Dora, during a meeting with race coordinators Brennan Bowen and Crystal Motor Speedway owner Ron Flinn Sunday. Mini Wedge racers range from ages 6 to 14 years old.

The Mini Wedge class racing, now in its second season at the track and sponsored by The Daily News this season, opens May 20 and will be held at the track every other weekend into September.

Since it was introduced last year, the class has picked up popularity, both in its fan base and its racers, including Fellows, who is the grandson of Crystal Motor Speedway owner Ron Flinn.

“When Eli first got into it, he was excited but hesitant. He didn’t have the confidence at first,” explained Eli’s mother, Kim, who, with her husband, Craig, have worked at the track together for the past 12 years. “We try to explain that it’s OK to bump into someone, and that you might just ding your car or someone else’s but just don’t deliberately hit someone. But he’s still a little hesitant.”

At Sunday’s practice, however, Kim saw something different about him.

“Today, this is the first time he’s racing with some confidence. That’s what I was hoping for. I hope Eli learns more confidence in himself with this. He can be quiet and shy at times but with kids his age, he opens up.”

Seven-year old Mini Wedge racer Zayden Buskirk of Crystal gives a thumbs up to notify he’s ready to begin his Mini Wedge practice run at Crystal Motor Speedway Sunday.

The Mini Wedge cars are much like go-karts but with a little more speed (they can go up to 25 miles per hour) and a lot more show, and each one is equipped with safety features such as roll cages.

For Flinn, the Mini Wedge class is the most unique feature he’s seen in his 40 years of owning the track.

“I’ve never been involved with something like this before. It’s very, very unique, and, of course, I’m fortunate to love what I’m doing, and this just enhances it,” Flinn said. “My fondest hope would be this would be a lifelong thing for Eli and something that keeps him out of trouble.”

Flinn said the fans have been quite receptive to the Mini Wedge class and it seems to have drawn more fans to the stands.

“I really think the fans reacted very well to it,” he said. “It’s kind of mind-boggling that 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds are out there racing. But it’s the concept of getting fans, parents, grandparents saying, ‘Well, my kid or grandkid can do that and have so much fun, too,’ so it’s been very well receptive.”

Jimmy Hale, who is one of a few fabricators who builds Mini Wedges in the area, knows this class can only help the sport but also educate children who get involved in racing.

“For the fans and racers, it’s pretty exciting to know this sport isn’t going to die anytime soon. It’s continuing to grow with this new generation of racers getting involved,” he said. “As for the kids, I started when I was 25 years old. With these kids starting so young, I mean, when they’re 16 or 17, they’re going to be so much more skilled and way more of an advanced racer than I was at 25.”

Seven-year-old Mini Wedge racer Mikah Kurkowski of Sidney discusses his recent practice run with his father, John Kurkowski, at Crystal Motor Speedway Sunday.

Hale said youngsters starting out can, at first, be a little tough, but it doesn’t take long for them to progress.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for kids to learn the sport and about competition. It’s also something parents can use to get kids to keep up their grades in school and learn to behave, something I wish I had as a kid,” Hale laughed.

Hale’s wife, Christine, is the race track’s photographer. She’s been involved with racing since she was 5 years old. And now their two daughters, Lilyan, 9, and Jazzlyn, 7, both race in the Mini Wedges.

“It’s really neat. You get to watch these kids start at a younger age and see them progress as the year goes on.”

Lilyann has been getting ready for the new season by racing at indoor tracks at Owosso and Kalamazoo.

“I have something to do on the weekends. It’s fun,” Lilyann said. “I like racing with my friends, too.”

Lilyann raced in a red car last year, the same color as her father’s car, however, this year, she has a purple car, which, she said, she loves.

“I actually got in one of them and tested it out,” Christine said. “It is very fun.”

On May 20, the Mini Wedge class will race along with the track’s regular schedule of late models, pro stocks, IMCA mods, street stocks and Flinn stocks.

That night will also be Veterans Night, in which all military veterans get in free with their veteran I.D. cards.

Gates open at 4:30 p.m. with hot laps beginning at 6 p.m. The feature races will begin around 7:30 p.m.

For more information, call (989) 235-5200 or go online at www.crystalmotorspeedway.com.

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