Frigid temperatures could not deter the 24th Annual Alan Kulwicki Memorial night at Slinger Speedway. Nearly ninety entries had their eyes on the prize, wanting to earn the coveted trophies for the first weekly Sunday night program at the quarter-mile. The cold track resulted in two new track records, heated contests and photo finishes. Alex Prunty, a current Kulwicki Development Driver, treated fans to autographed photo cards and treats as he showcased the go kart he will be mentoring for some young hopeful racer of the future.
Dennis Prunty was fifth in the qualifying line, setting fast time over nearly thirty super late models. Lowell Bennett, Josh Wallace and Brad Mueller won the heats and Johnny DeAngelis led the final four from the semi to the feature field. Prunty rolled the die to place himself in the sixth row for the 60-lap feature, and one driver used his one-time provisional for this race. The 21-car field was led by Rob Braun and Rich Loch, followed by Gary Lamonte, Travis Dassow, Ryan DeStefano, Mueller, Alex Prunty and defending champion Steve Apel. Loch launched to the lead on the outer groove until his car was spun on lap seven after contact from Dassow, sending both to the rear of the pack. The field chose their lanes for the next green flag and Mueller zoomed ahead to lead the way.
Dennis Prunty worked his way to lead the race by lap twenty, with Apel right behind. Just past the halfway mark a spun car brought out the next caution flag, with Prunty choosing his preferred outer lane with Apel inside. Prunty held the point again, surviving another caution with nineteen laps remaining. The duo repeated their lane choices with the same result. With nine laps remaining Brad Keith’s car crashed hard into the concrete wall, the driver climbing out unhurt, but his car not so lucky. This time Apel had the edge on the next green flag, but Prunty roared back to the lead on the outside, the pair putting on quite a show. The final fourteen cars crossed the finish line with Prunty earning his second win in a row with Apel and Mueller in hot pursuit. Dassow returned to the front for a fourth-place finish and DeStefano completed the top five. Prunty was asked about the challenges from Apel, quipping, “I did that for the fans. I thought I’d let him lead a lap,” continuing, “The car was a little tight. We want to go race with Ty Majeski some day,” referring to Wisconsin’s current most successful racer. Alex Prunty was happy with a seventh-place finish to reflect Kulwicki’s former car number.
Mike Held set a new track qualifying record in the limited late model field and set the feature invert at ten cars. Heats were won by Justin Poenitsch and Ryan Farrell in injured driver Tyler Schley’s car. The 40-lap feature started with Kyle Chwala and Farrell in front, followed by rookie Ryan Gutknecht, Jack Stern, Brian Holtz and Al Stippich. Chwala led the opening laps with Farrell contesting, but contact from Holtz send Farrell hard into the front concrete on lap nine. Farrell climbed out unhurt, but his borrowed ride was not. The field chose their lanes for the next green, and Chwala was passed by Held on lap fifteen. The race was about to see the white flag when a spun car forced a dash to the finish. Held chose the inner land with new challenger Jordon DeVoy on the outside. Held held off DeVoy to the checkered flag, closely followed by Stippich, Chwala and Gutknecht. It was great to see Held take a reverse victory lap on Kulwicki’s memorial night, the only one to do so.
Scott Ascher returned to the Area Sportsman field to set a new track record in qualifying. Paul Wagner and Joe Shelby won the heats and the 30-lap feature invert was set. Newcomer Eric Schuetz and Adam Bleskan began ahead of Ken Au, Paul Wagner, Shelby and Scott Hoeft. Bleskan led until Schuetz took charge the third time around. A spun car forced the first caution just before halfway, with the field choosing lanes for the restart. It was then that Jake Schraufnagel made his move, gaining the lead for one circuit until spinning to the wall the next lap. The field was realigned and Au had the point after the next green flag. With nine laps remaining an incident gathered Shelby, Wagner and Hoeft, with all pitting. Hoeft did not return for the next green flag, which was replaced with the yellow two laps later when Ascher’s car was spun with two others. The survivors chose their lanes with Au ahead again, with Andy Welter the only one choosing the outer groove. Welter thus improved his position from the fourth row to the front and took the point with five laps remaining. Au, Brad Hetzel, Wagner and Shelby completed the top five.
Matt Rose posted quick time over two dozen Slinger Bees. Dale Kiley-Schaefer, Dave Schmidt and newcomer Gerald Lyon won the heats, and Marty Tackes won the semi as the final four transferred to the 25-lap feature. The invert placed Nick Schmidt and Jared Deming in front of Steve Zoromski, Lyon and Jakob Hassler, who also competed in the late model field. Deming held the advantage after the green flag with Schmidt alongside, and Schmidt nosed ahead for two laps before Deming regained the point. Schmidt’s car faltered and fell back as the laps wound down, Deming looking forward to his first win. Nine laps remained when Zoromski’s car stalled in the pit exit ramp to force the sole caution of the race. The realignment and lane choice made all the difference. Deming held the lead with new challengers, defending champion Tom Berens coming from the sixth row to the front at the end.
The white flag waved with Deming ahead on the inside, Berens on the outer groove, crossing the final stripe in a photo finish. Both believed they had won and both parked their cars on the frontstretch. The transponders decided the race. By nine thousandths of a second it was Berens ahead of Deming. A disappointed Deming said, “I thought I had him, but transponders don’t lie. I was just trying to stave him off and hold my line.” Berens claimed, “I knew it was very, very close. I thought I won it. It was great racing with him.” Newcomer Lyon finished third, with Rose and Heather Stark completing the top five.
Spectator races followed as the chilled fans waited for the night’s finale. The Figure 8 race was won by Willy Van Camp just past 10:30 and everyone was able to find their own sources of warmth. It really is the month of May despite the bitter cold.
-By Fay Hendricks
-Photo Credit: Fay Hendricks