Over forty super late models from several states came to Slinger, many getting a lot of practice on a warm sunny Monday. The weather on Tuesday barely reached the sixties, and heavy cloud cover released water several times. There was a little delay to dry the track before afternoon qualifying began as two tents filled with people awaiting visits from Matt Kenseth in the pits. Over forty super late models tried to get the most speed they could, for only a dozen would be assured of a feature berth for the 199-lap contest in honor of Dick Trickle. The feature paid $999 for last place and $9,999 for the win, which was boosted by extra cash for every lap led.
RECORDS AND RAIN AT PLYMOUTH DIRT TRACK
We are so familiar with inaccurate wet weather forecasts that we venture out unless it’s actually raining. Others joined us Saturday at Plymouth Dirt Track (PDTR) to see the action, but many stayed home. They missed it all. Sitting in the covered grandstands at the Sheboygan County Fairgrounds, we were treated to quite a show of the PDTR regulars. The race program begins with drivers drawing for starting spots in heat races. Points are awarded for each finishing position, plus extra points for every car passed. The top sixteen in passing points make the main, but a redraw scrambles them so no one can figure out how to get in the front row. Until a few weeks ago, the previous week’s winner was not allowed to start higher than twelfth in the main.
Russ Scheffler returned to set a new race record in the first late model heat, and brother Rick stayed ahead of nephew Mitch McGrath in the second contest. A brief shower was followed by rolling in the track surface before the 25-lap feature. Eric Michaels and Turk Letizia shared the front row, followed by Kyle Odekirk, McGrath, Tim Buhler and Rick Scheffler. Michaels was ahead with Letizia on the outer groove, then Letizia found extra footing to get past on the seventh circuit. Letizia gained distance from the others as the field sped to the checkered flag without delay. Michaels dropped back before dropping out six laps from the finish, the fourth to retire from the race.
Letizia happily crossed the finish line, Odekirk moved up to second, followed by Rick Scheffler, Buhler and McGrath. Leaping onto his roof, Letizia waved with glee at his first win a quite a while. Even better, Letizia set a new race record in the process. “The car was real great,” began the second-generation racer, adding that his father stayed home because of the weather. Borrowing his father’s crew chief, Letizia thanked others and continued, “I had to run through a couple rain storms to get here.” The evening’s feature trophies were set on the ground, and one had a bonus $100 underneath. Letizia picked up the hardware and discovered he had won the bonus. Letizia’s night was complete with a win, new track record and extra cash.
The sprint cars began with heats won by Shane Wenninger, Donny Goeden, Kyle Marten and Ken Jay Fiedler. The B main transferred seven cars due to someone scratching their entry earlier, with Randy Sippel leading the septet. The redraw set Goeden and Wenninger in the front row for the 25-lap feature, followed by Marten, Fiedler, Tim Haddy and Paul Pokorski. The green flag was quickly replaced with a red banner when Kevin Karnitz bounced into the wall and left on the hook of a tow truck. The field realigned again, but another shower began as the 21 survivors continued to roll around the oval. Finally they could not keep ahead of the moisture and the show was called complete before nine o’clock.
Earlier the Grand National heats were won by Jeff Lammers, J. J. Pagel and Barry Maas. Tyler Kulow led the four transferees in the B main, which was followed by a short shower. Their feature field was lined up as the final four-letter weather word ended the program.
The Outlaw Compact field only ran one heat, with Chris Maas ahead of Brody Rivest at the flag. Rivest returned with a different car after his first mount was wrecked in a rollover two weeks ago.
The extended features and driver introductions were tabled until next week to save time. The good news is that the full moon was hidden somewhere above the clouds, and we got a free car wash on the way home.
SLINGER SPEEDWAY SUPERSEAL NATIONALS
The 35th Super Seal Nationals at Slinger Speedway set another record this year. When Joan Wimmer asked if they would like the original trophy her brother Larry Detjens won at the very first Nationals, the response was affirmative. Little did she know her son Chris would be holding it in victory lane hours later. Ron and Joan Wimmer are busy with son Scott running State Park Speedway in Wausau, but they were all here to support Chris Tuesday. Their reward was tremendous. Chris Wimmer won one of the biggest races in his career and joined his legendary uncle on the all-time winners list. Getting there was quite the adventure. With so many runner-up finishes, I told Chris I would get him the ugliest dress I could find, and he laughed later when I said he would no longer be getting that dress. His smile lit up the stage as hordes of people took photos afterwards.
Lowell Bennett’s quick time was eclipsed by John DeAngelis on his first super late attempt at the Nationals, and near the end of the line Andrew Morrissey posted fastest lap. Morrissey was elated afterwards, recalling he hadn’t been to Slinger in five or six years. Dennis Prunty posted a lap one-tenth slower, the final one to make the cut. Bennett was in a qualifying race later after a carburetor issue was found in inspection, and Natalie Decker had problems and never posted one lap. The 20-lap qualifying race ended with 1999 Nationals champion Conrad Morgan ahead of Brian Johnson Jr., Mike Egan and Nathan Haseleu, who won the 2005 Nationals.
The consy allowed Jeff Holtz and Jerry Eckhardt to compete in the 30-lap semi, during which Brad Keith’s wheel rolled off his car. The four semi transferees were third-generation Braison Bennett, Rob Braun, James Swan and Ryan DeStefano. Provisional starting spots were given to Tim Lampman, Michigan’s Ross Kenseth, Floridian Dalton Zehr and Paige Decker. The two dozen starters were introduced to the huge audience before buckling in, and everyone chose their favorites to win. This was a six-tire event with a break after 99 laps, so tire conservation would be crucial. Morrissey rolled the die and placed himself in the sixth row. In front of him were Dennis Prunty, Casey Johnson, Michael Bilderback, Travis Dassow, Matt Kenseth, defending track champion Steve Apel and Floridian Steve Dorer, Chris Wimmer and John DeAngelis.
Johnson got the jump at the green flag with Prunty staying on his outside to nose ahead after a dozen circuits. A spun car gave the field lane choice before resuming, and Prunty chose the outer lane. Johnson was barely ahead for one lap before Prunty took charge and stayed there. Every lap was worth extra money, with people adding contributions to boost the bonus purse to at least $3,845 by race time. Prunty distanced himself from the field and began lapping the back markers, but Dorer’s flat tire brought out the caution just after fifty laps were complete. Again choosing the outer groove, Prunty again established his dominance and amassed a lot of extra cash before the break. Prunty led Wimmer, Johnson, Kenseth and Morgan into the pits and ten minutes later the field returned to the high banks.
The next 100 laps sped by in a hurry, Prunty looking to capture his first Nationals crown to match his brother David. Suddenly that all changed when Prunty’s ignition box failed and his car coasted silently to the infield. Wimmer found himself in lapped traffic when he saw Prunty park, and was able to keep his nerves in check for the last 22 laps. Johnson kept Kenseth at bay until the last few orbits, keeping Kenseth from winning his seventh Nationals crown. The others still on the lead lap were Morgan up from the seventh row, Zehr from the eleventh row, Apel, Morrissey, Dorer, Bennett and Haseleu from the eighth row.
A sweaty and very happy Wimmer took a victory lap with the checkered flag before erupting from his car to fireworks overhead. “This is unbelievable,” Wimmer proclaimed, adding, “When I saw him (Prunty) drop out I just couldn’t believe it.” Kenseth claimed, “I was just trying to save my tire and get to the 22 (Prunty),” but ran out of time. Johnson explained, “I kind of lost my brakes at the end,” and knew Kenseth would get past him before the end.
The limited late models began with Gregg Pawelski earning fast time and relegated to the sixth starting spot at feature time. No heats were run before the 35-lap contest, which began with Alex Prunty and Jack Stern ahead of Danny Church, Zach Riddle and Ricky Heinan. Riddle’s grandparents, John and Sandy Ziegler, were in the audience along with several other notable drivers from the past and present. Ziegler won the 1986 edition of The Nationals, and four-time champion Rich Bickle Jr. came back after hanging up his helmet after his final win a year ago. Al Schill and Jeff Storm were among the spectators visiting their friends in the pits afterwards.
The late model feature received the green flag and Prunty led the opening circuits, surviving a restart after a car spun on the fourth orbit. With four laps remaining Pawelski spun while in fifth place, regrouping the field again. The next lap ended in disaster when Church challenged on the outside of Prunty, and Prunty’s steering broke in the fourth turn. The pair pushed up towards the wall, leaving the bottom open to Riddle, who dove into the gap. Three cars cannot go into a corner well, as they soon discovered entering the first turn, and Church’s car was hard into the wall with Prunty. The top two ended up in the pits as the field was realigned for the final three laps.
Stephen Scheel had worked his way to the front from the fourth row and got the jump at the green flag, challenged by Riddle to the checkers. Behind them were Wayne Freimund from a fifth-row start, Al Stippich and Tyler Schley from tenth to fifth at the end. Scheel exclaimed, “It feels wonderful to win on a night like tonight,” adding, “I was hoping to get through traffic on my way to the front,” later telling me his spotter warned him the leaders might get into trouble in front of him. The spotter was right, and Scheel can boast this win at the Nationals as a result.
The American Super Trucks were topped by Camden Murphy as sportsman racer Ryan Gutknecht joined the field. The 30-lap feature invert set Murphy behind Jerry Wood, Kevin Knuese, Blake Brown, Kurt Kleven, John Beale and Gutknecht. Knuese got the jump at the green flag and began lapping mounts after a dozen laps. With six laps remaining something broke on Gutknecht’s mount, sending it sideways along the frontstretch to force the sole caution of the race. Then the rain began, and the field rolled around the oval until it was decided the contest would end safely at this point. Knuese was not that disappointed, exclaiming, “It is a thrill. It’s been a long time.” Brown, Beale, Wood and Kleven followed.
Before eleven o’clock the traffic jam trying to get out of the parking lot was nearly as bad as the people swarming into the pits. The afterglow of victory was mixed with the agony of defeat and tales of many adventures followed afterwards. The Nationals seems to have come full circle with Wimmer’s 2014 Detjens trophy going home with the 1980 hardware won by the late Larry Detjens. We have been blessed to have seen it all through the decades.
– Stories and photos by Fay Hendricks