Check out the list of winners for the Slinger Nationals and it reads like a who’s who of short track racing. Littered with names like Dick Trickle, Matt Kenseth, Joe Shear, Rich Bickle and Kyle Busch, the Slinger Nationals at Slinger Super Speedway (MI) stands as one of the most prestigious races in the Midwest.
“The amount of history that track has and the amount of talent that has been there through the years I think competes with almost any big short track race,” says Ross Kenseth, “Being from Wisconsin and watching the Nationals as a kid and seeing my dad win it multiple times, I always felt like it was the coolest race and I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.”
For those fortunate enough to add their name to the list of winners, to pull into victory lane Slinger Nationals undoubtedly ranks at the top of short track wins.
“It was definitely the biggest and most special race I have ever won,” says last year’s Slinger Nationals winner Chris Wimmer, “There’s so much history with the Nationals and it is so tough to win, it definitely is the highlight of my racing career.”
Wimmer, who is now the crew chief for Harrison Burton, will not be back to defend his title, leaving a long list of drivers who would like to add a Slinger Nationals win to their resume on Tuesday night.
This year’s entry list includes names like Ross Kenseth, Travis Sauter, Johnny Sauter, as well as Slinger regulars like Dennis Prunty and Steve Apel, and who are all vying for their first Slinger Nationals win.
Both Apel and Prunty race weekly at Slinger and have come close to taking home a Nationals win. Apel crossed the finish line first in 2013, but was disqualified during post-race inspection and last year Prunty appeared to have the field covered before a mechanical failure with just over 20 laps to go ended his night early.
“Two years ago we had the car to win and everything went our way until we got to tech,” says Apel, “It’s something that’s always in the back of your mind when it comes to this time of year. We know we can win the race and we just need to execute it.”
“I think about that [last year] more than I want to,” says Prunty, “Was that my only chance to win Nationals? I know I will never have the field covered like that again, it was too easy, and then the car just shut off and I coast to the infield. I think about it every time I am leading a race. My thoughts going into Nationals are ‘what will go wrong this time’. I have more hope after this week. To my knowledge nothing was wrong with my car, but I decided to pull the rear-end out and check the ring gear bolts and change locker springs. To my surprise the locker was broken in half. I feel better now, thinking was that it? Was that what was going to take me out and I caught it? I guess we’ll see.”
While Apel and Prunty think their regular race schedule at Slinger could give them an advantage, they will need to hold off stiff competition to the tune of Travis and Johnny Sauter, Ross Kenseth and others. Kenseth has recorded a pair of third-place finishes, while this is the first Nationals for both Sauters.
“I’ve had some success there and some bad luck, like last year,” says Kenseth, “It takes a little bit of luck, but ultimately just a good car that you can run the top and the bottom. Everything happens so fast there it’s easy to get into trouble and get tore up.”
“I’ve never raced there before,” says Johnny Sauter, “I went there a million times as a kid to watch the old man race and, to be honest, don’t know why I’ve never raced there. I tested last week and learned a lot and am excited for next week.”
Slinger’s $10,000 pay day, plus bonus lap money to lap leaders also makes the Nationals one of the highest paying races in the Midwest. But ask any driver, and it’s not about the check – well to Prunty it kind of is – it’s about bringing the Larry Detjens trophy home on Tuesday night.
“When you look at the names of previous winners, if you want to be a name people talk about, you need to win he Slinger Nationals,” added Apel.
“It’s never about the money,” says Kenseth, “this race in particular has always been special to me; it’s one of the coolest tracks in the country to race at. Out of the late model races I’ve won, winning the Nationals would easily be number-one on my list.”
“One of the best parts for me would be getting the big check,” says Prunty, “Not necessarily talking about the amount, just talking about the big check in general, the one you take the picture with. I have never won a race with the big check. Now I’m laughing thinking about the Happy Gilmore movie where he has all the big checks in his car.”
“It would rank right at the top,” says Johnny Sauter, “As a kid going to these paces, that’s where you get the nostalgia for it, just being there. It’s not about the money, it’s about being able to say you won that race. It’s definitely at the top of the list, over any other race that you win, I don’t care, across the board, it’s just a big race. And it goes back to being a kid ad watching races there that’s what it means to me.”
This year’s version of the prestigious Slinger Nationals takes place on Tuesday, July 14 at Slinger Super Speedway.
-By Jana Wimmer, Speed51.com Midwest Editor – Twitter: JWimm22
-Photo credit: FastLapPhotos.com