Steve Apel had a big celebration in victory lane after beating Rich Bickle Jr. to win his first Slinger Nationals at Slinger Super Speedway in Slinger, Wisconsin. Less than two hours later, last year’s celebration turned into sadness as he failed post-race tech with an illegal tapered spacer plate on his car.
He was the first driver to be disqualified from the Slinger Nationals since Gary St. Amant failed post-race tech in 1995, which handed the win to Butch Miller.
But that night didn’t slow Apel’s momentum. He would continue to race the rest of the 2013 season and win his first track championship.
After winning three features in a row and finishing third last Sunday night, Apel is ready to redeem himself at the 35th Annual Super-Seal Slinger Nationals on Tuesday, July 15th.
“I try to put it behind me and use it as a learning curve as to what happened (last year). That will never happen again; I will tell you that,” Apel said about his disqualification. “The thing about making mistakes is learning from them. As a team, we have made a lot of mistakes over the past few years, but yet we always improve ourselves and this year we have a good team put together and put myself in a good situation to have a good run.
“We have a brand new car and our goal was to get up to where we were last year leading up to the Slinger Nationals. We haven’t gotten many fast times, but the competition has stepped up. Our goal going into Nationals is to win races. We won’t point race until the last two nights. From where we were last year to where we are this year, I feel a little more confident because of this new car and everything we do is making it better.”
The emotions that were felt in the pits long after the checkered flag waved last year was solemn feeling among the handful of friends, team members and media that surrounded Bickle as the official word came down that Apel was disqualified.
Apel was man enough to walk over and personally pass the winner’s trophy and check to Bickle, who first refused to accept it, but did after Apel insisted.
“That was one of those deals where after tech I was up in the trailer extremely disappointed in what happened. I looked over and saw that sign that said $10,000 to win and Steve Apel and I figured the right thing to do was to give it to him,” Apel recalled. “I got disqualified and felt this was the easiest thing to do to get over it. That was the last thing I wanted to do was to go into the race shop and look at it. We wanted to move on and not have it hold us back.”
Bickle took hold of the trophy. The two embraced with Bickle whispering in his ear.
“He told me a lot of stuff, especially about life and making mistakes along with some things that don’t need to be talked about,” Apel said. “I thanked him for what he said that night because it was a tough time for me. After that, our goal changed to win the track championship and that is what we did.
“He (Bickle) didn’t want to win it that way. He wanted to win it on the track and not through tech. I wish he was coming back to race again this year, but I hope he comes to watch.”
Along with winning the championship, Apel got married and now he and his wife Liz own a home and have a dog.
“It was a big year for us. I am really happy with how things are going in the last year and a half.”
He is now focused on the 35th edition of the great short track event in Wisconsin on July 15th.
“Matt Kenseth will be strong so will Brad “JJ” Mueller, Dennis Prunty, Rob Braun, Lowell Bennett, all of the guys that are consistently in the top five,” Apel predicted. “You know they will be there in the end if they get through the race in one piece.”
What would it mean to win the Slinger Nationals this year?
“It would be a huge bounce back and to beat Matt at the same time, to say that I beat him and win the Nationals would be big.”
This year, Apel has been giving his feature winner’s trophies to young fans that come out to Slinger on Sunday nights. If he wins the Slinger Nationals, will he keep his trophy?
If you are not in Wisconsin on Tuesday, July 15th and unable to attend the Super-Seal Slinger Nationals, you can still witness one of the biggest short track events of the year. 51 TV, through speed51.com, will have the 199-lap race for pay-per-view purchase. For just $19.99 you can watch the video broadcast of the event with at least five cameras. Click here to order (become a basic member to initialize the order) - http://speed51.com/51livetv-events/
By Kevin Ramsell - Midwest Editor for Speed51.com