Wausau, WI -- Time and again, Neil Knoblock faced challenges for supremacy at State Park Speedway Friday night. Every single time, Knoblock had an answer, and the result was a memorable victory for a veteran on his home track.
Knoblock scored his first-ever Big 8 Series victory and his first feature win at State Park in seven years, winning the 58-lap feature highlighting the first night of the 2019 Larry Detjens Memorial Weekend. The win was also the 70th career feature win at the track for a driver who has driven car no. 70 for so many of those victories over four decades of racing.
Knoblock led all but one of the 58 laps and fended off a number of challengers in the 21-car field, including on no less than five restarts late. After several close shaves on some of those restarts, he drove away on what proved to be the last one with five laps to go to win.
"I don't know how long that race was, but it felt like a 300-lapper," said a jubilant Knoblock in Brickner Family Auto Group Victory Lane, who dedicated the win to his father.
"This car, we're just making it work. We got 15, 20 laps of practice on it earlier today, that's all we've drove it this year, it's just been sitting on the shelf...this car's pretty cool. Man, I can't believe we won the Big 8 race."
A former track champion in limited late model cars at the track with many of his career feature wins there, Knoblock has mainly raced super late model cars in recent years but brought out his late model for the first time since Oktoberfest at La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway last year.
Knoblock started on the outside pole next to Illinois Big 8 traveler Jim Olson. Olson led through three attempts to complete the first lap, but Knoblock inched ahead on the outside on the next lap and cleared Olson two laps later.
Lurking behind early was Thayran Rezin of Tomah, a Central Wisconsin Racing Association feature winner earlier this year racing with the Big 8 cars for the first time this year. Rezin ran second with Jeremy Lepak and Dale Nottestad close behind for the first 15 laps until Nottestad passed Rezin for second on lap 16 and Lepak also got by a lap later. Nick Egan also followed them by soon after, and the quartet would compose the top four for the duration of the race.
The longest green flag spell came after a restart just past the midway point, with Knoblock towing the field for 22 laps with Nottestad his closest pursuer at first until Lepak passed Nottestad on the outside with 15 to go. It appeared Knoblock would be in the clear to the finish until Olson spun in turns 3 and 4 with six laps to go, bunching the field back up again.
A second restart with six to go was followed by one lap of green racing before Olson, Tom Gille and Big 8 points leader Michael Bilderback were collected in 3 and 4, with Gille and Bilderback both into the outside wall and finished for the night. Two more restarts followed yet, but Knoblock with the front row to himself continued to take care of business and pulled away on the last one to win by five car lengths. Lepak came across the line second but his car did not pass post-race inspection, resulting in Nottestad finishing second, Minnesota's Chad Walen third and Egan fourth.
The race had six official cautions plus five other aborted restarts due to incidents before a lap was completed.
The most impactful incident came on lap 10 when fast qualifier Bilderback, on the move early, spun on the frontstretch, and the cloud of smoke resulted in at least six other cars getting bunched up behind. Bilderback, Justin Neisius, Devyn Stocker and Dillon Mackesy received the most damage, though three of the four remained on the lead lap and Neisius came back for a fifth-place finish. Bilderback had to go to the pits and returned to the track five laps down, though, his run at a third Big 8 win at the track severely hampered even as he gained back a number of laps through later cautions.
Defending race winner Jon Reynolds Jr. started 16th in the field and moved all the way up to fifth at one point late. He was lined up sixth on a restart with five to go but lost power, resulting in another caution and his starting at the back. Reynolds rallied back to finish 11th.
Among the local drivers, Mackesy fought through considerable front end sheet metal damage to finish 10th. Rayce Haase ran as high as fifth late in the race but was another caught up in an accident on a restart, spinning out of turn 2 with six laps to go and backing into a mound surrounding a light pole. Haase finished 17th.
Big 8 Late Models
Fast Qualifier: Michael Bilderback, South Beloit, Ill., 14.424 sec.
First Heat: 1. Tom Gille, Winnebago, Ill.; 2. Bilderback; 3. Jeremy Lepak, Ringle; 4. Michael Ostdiek, Lakeville, Minn.; 5. R.J. Braun, Wales; 6. Jerry Mueller, Richfield; 7. Jared Duda, St. Michael, Minn.
Second Heat: 1. Neil Knoblock, Wausau; 2. Brody Willett, Alburnett, Iowa; 3. Chad Walen, Prior Lake, Minn.; 4. Jon Reynolds Jr., Loves Park, Ill.; 5. Rayce Haase, Wausau; 6. Justin Neisius, Eagan, Minn.; 7. Tyler Kingery, Prior Lake, Minn.
Third Heat: 1. Dillon Mackesy, Athens; 2. Jim Olson, Woodstock, Ill.; 3. Thayran Rezin, Tomah; 4. Nick Egan, Slinger; 5. Dale Nottestad, Cambridge; 6. Devyn Stocker, Farmington, Minn.; 7. Luke Westenberg, Jefferson
Feature: 1. Knoblock; 2. Nottestad; 3. Walen; 4. Egan; 5. Neisius; 6. Ostdiek; 7. Stocker; 8. Mueller; 9. Willett; 10. Mackesy; 11. Reynolds; 12. Westenberg; 13. Duda; 14. Olson; 15. Braun; 16. Rezin; 17. Haase; 18. Gille; 19. Bilderback; 20. Kingery; DQ: Lepak
Jimmer Lietz, Ferge and Hartwig all prevail on Detjens Friday
The Big 8 race hardly had a monopoly on popular wins by local veteran drivers on the first night of the 2019 Larry Detjens Memorial Weekend.
The Snap-on Mini Mods also saw one of State Park Speedway's leading racing families back in Brickner Family Auto Group Victory Lane, as Jim Lietz won the 25-lap feature for his first feature win of the season and the third in his career.
Veterans in the mini mods class for many years, son Jim Lietz and father John Lietz were lined up on the front row on a restart on lap 4, and it was the driver known as 'Jimmer' taking the point and building a big lead while top contenders Garret Strachota and George Seliger were stuck in traffic early on. By the time the two moved into second and third, respectively, on lap 10, the Mosinee High School teacher had a full straightaway lead, and he held on even with Strachota closing within four car lengths at the finish.
"I can't tell you how amazing it is," said Lietz after the race in an interview with track announcer Curt Keene. "As much as my wife lets me work on the car, which is more than any wife should, we don't have the new tires, we don't have the set up...we come out here because we love running, my dad and Dale (Louze) and Jordan my crew chief."
It also was a good night for points contenders Strachota and Seliger, who finished 2-3 at the finish. It was not a good end to the night for Greg Blount, who began the evening setting a new mini mods track record in Fred Mueller Qualifying but crashed into the turn one tire barrier with just three laps completed in the feature and did not return.
A night that saw him earlier leave the track on a tow hook turned much brighter for Kole Ferge later, as the defending Rockstar Energy Drinks Mini Stocks champion came back to win the feature for his division-leading third feature win of the season.
Ferge got inside Ashley Schoone for the lead on lap 13 of the 25-lap race and cruised the rest of the way, leading by nearly a full straightaway at the finish. His performance was all the more impressive after his car lost a wheel in the heat race, resulting in his car being hauled back to the pits for repairs.
Schoone finished second with Evan Pingel coming in third. Tyler Custer of Stratford led the first five laps and finished seventh after good battles with Schoone and Ferge for position before slipping back late.
The E.H. Wolf and Sons Bandoleros also made their second appearance at State Park this year, and Alex Hartwig of Portage set a blistering pace in winning his first Bandolero feature of the season.
Hartwig got to the front quickly, needing just three laps to move from the 10th starting position to the top spot. After passing Keagen Benz for the lead on a lap 3 restart, Hartwig led the rest of the way, mowing through lapped cars and finishing nearly 2 1/2 seconds ahead of runner-up Laney Osborne.
Defending division champion Jevin Guralski, who won the first Bandolero feature this season and four of five features last year, suffered damage early in the feature and was sidelined after five laps, finishing 13th. There also was a scary moment in the first heat race when Anna Malouf lost a tire while leading with two laps left and went hard into the frontstretch wall. Malouf got out of her car shaken but uninjured, and her team actually got her back on the track for the feature before being sidelined just before the start due to an oil leak.
The Larry Detjens Memorial continues Saturday with the second day of racing highlighted by a 125-lap feature for the ARCA Midwest Tour, plus regular State Park pure stocks, mini mods, mini stocks and Bandoleros. Fred Mueller Qualifying starts at 4:30 p.m. with racing beginning at 6 p.m.
Snap-on Mini Mods
Fast Qualifier: Greg Blount, 15.484 sec.
First Heat: 1. Evan Call, Elderon; 2. Dale Louze, Mosinee; 3. Jim Lietz, Mosinee; 4. Noah Gajewski, Marathon; 5. John Lietz, Mosinee
Second Heat: 1. Gary Garand, Weston; 2. Blount; 3. George Seliger, Wausau; 4. Garret Strachota, Wausau; 5. Kevin Tessmer, Wausau; 6. Joe Kuehn, Wausau
Feature: 1. Jim Lietz; 2. Strachota; 3. Seliger; 4. Kuehn; 5. John Lietz; 6. Gajewski; 7. Garand; 8. Louze; 9. Tessmer; 10. Blount; 11. Call
Rockstar Energy Mini Stocks
Fast Qualifier: Chad Ferge, Wausau, 16.606 sec.
First Heat: 1. Tyler Custer, Stratford; 2. Amanda Rowe, Mosinee; 3. Zach Onson, Gleason; 4. Kendra Baumann, Wausau; 5. Brad Lecher, Wausau; 6. Ryan Brock, Wisconsin Rapids; 7. Bobby Sheldon, Rhinelander
Second Heat: 1. Ashley Schoone, Tomahawk; 2. Tom Lecher, Wausau; 3. Evan Pingel, Ringle; 4. C. Ferge; 5. Kyle Check, Shantytown; 6. Kole Ferge, Schofield
Feature: 1. K. Ferge; 2. Schoone; 3. Pingel; 4. T. Lecher; 5. Check; 6. C. Ferge; 7. Custer; 8. Rowe; 9. Brock; 10. Baumann; 11. B. Lecher; 12. Onson; 13. Sheldon
E.H. Wolf & Sons Bandoleros
Fast Qualifier: Alex Hartwig, Portage, 16.053 sec.
First Heat: 1. Weston Marthaler, Glenwood, Minn.; 2. Tyler Muller, Sun Prairie; 3. Paxton Benz, Wausau; 4. Kooper Guralski, Wausau; 5. Cooper Bodendorfer, Muskego
Second Heat: 1. Michael Guderski, Markesan; 2. Cohen Henze, Juda; 3. Keagen Benz, Wausau; 4. Anna Malouf, Rhinelander; 5. Tucker Bodendorfer, Muskego
Third Heat: 1. Laney Osborne, Janesville; 2. Robbie Rucks, Deerfield; 3. Hartwig; 4. Jevin Guralski, Wausau; 5. Ayrton Brockhouse, Shakopee, Minn.
Feature: 1. Hartwig; 2. Osborne; 3. Brockhouse; 4. Guderski; 5. Rucks; 6. T. Bodendorfer; 7. K. Benz; 8. P. Benz; 9. Henze; 10. K. Guralski; 11. Marthaler; 12. C. Bodendorfer; 13. J. Guralski; 14. Muller; 15. Malouf
-State Park Speedway Press Release
-Photo Credit: State Park Speedway Facebook