Slinger Speedway completed its final Sunday night program with a new winner, fastest qualifying lap of the year and this season’s super late model crown. The super late model season-long drama came to an end with Steve Apel only five points ahead of Dennis Prunty before qualifying. Prunty was quicker in time and won his heat. Apel missed the prelimary race while the crew thrashed to replace the clutch. This put Prunty only three points behind Apel before feature time. Prunty was the Slinger champion three years ago and Apel won the last two titles, the pair evenly matched all year.
Brad Mueller, who also competes in a dirt late model, topped the super late qualifiers with the fastest lap of the year. Heats were won by Nick Wagner, Dale and Dennis Prunty, and Jeff Holtz headed the final four from the semi. In the latter contest, the crowd cheered as Jerry Eckhardt edged out Randy Schuler for the final transfer position coming to the final stripe. Later in the show Eckhardt was surprised by track co-promoters Todd Thelen and Rodney Erickson, who presented the veteran with a framed photo of his 50 years in racing. The roll of the die set the feature invert at nine cars. Tension mounted as Dennis Prunty started in the third row and Apel began in row five for the hundred-lap finale.
Tim Lampman led from the pole, but only eleven laps were complete when suddenly Dennis Prunty’s car went straight to the wall. With a broken wheel that did more damage underneath his car, Prunty’s title hopes ended here. The others chose their lanes for the restart and Mueller surged into the lead at the green flag, but was met with another yellow banner when a pair crashed at the wall and scrambled several others in the aftermath. The next green flag stayed out for a dozen circuits until a spun car forced another slowdown. Brad Keith surged to the point after the restart, but eight laps later Conrad Morgan’s car suddenly slowed in a cloud of smoke.
Mueller had worked his way to the front by this time, taking the point on the restart and beginning to lap the back markers. The odd night continued when Lampman’s car was in the wall just past sixty laps. Mueller chose the outer lane and Apel took the inside for the next green. Mueller and Apel sped ahead of the rest as the laps wound down. Only fifteen circuits remained when a car spun and the field regrouped for the final time. Again Mueller started outside Apel and held the lead as the pair dueled for dominance. Apel got ahead with six laps remaining but Mueller kept charging on the high side and led the final four laps. Nine of the eleven survivors were on the lead lap at the end, with Keith, Rob Braun and Dale Prunty completing the top five.
Mueller was clearly tired afterwards, telling the audience, “At about lap 75 or 76 we had no power steering, so it was pretty intense. The car was really, really good,” adding, “We don’t come here every week. It’s really hard to beat these guys.” Apel did not have the perfect car either, claiming, “The car was really loose the whole race. I just kept hanging on, and hop we put on a good show.” After the frantic beginning to his night, Apel thanked his crew, stating, “I can’t thank the guys enough.” Apel claimed his third consecutive championship and first with his own team after departing Team 16. The new father posed for photos with his infant son in front of the huge holiday crowd, including some committee members of the Alan Kulwicki Driver Development program. Apel is one of the seven finalists in this program, with Wisconsin’s Ty Majeski having an outstanding year and leading the points. Another late Wisconsin legend, Dick Trickle, was remembered by friends Tom Reffner and Marv Marzofka as they came to Slinger to raise funds for the Trickle park. The former race legends are to be lauded for their tireless efforts as they tour the state.
Mike Held kept his limited late model title hopes alive by posting quick time. Tyler Schley and Steven Schulz won the heat races and the feature field reversed the top ten cars in time. Brian Holtz and Eddie May started ahead of Joe Bongiorno, Schulz, Tyler James and Corey Funk for the 40-lap feature. Holtz was surpassed by Schulz on the second lap and the first caution flag flew for a spun car on the eighth orbit. Al Stippich chose his lane wisely and led the pack after the green flag. After a bit of jostling from others with fourteen laps remaining, Stippich was replaced by point leader Alex Prunty, who started in the fourth row. A pair of caution flags followed right away and Prunty chose the inner lane with Jordan DeVoy on the outside. DeVoy had been so close so many times before claiming his first late model victory Sunday, celebrating with donuts on the frontstretch. Stippich recovered for a second-place finish ahead of Prunty, with Jack Stern and Held completing the top five.
Andy Welter topped the Area Sportsman field in time and heat winners were Scott Hoeft and Kody Hubred, returning in a different mount. Joe Shelby and Paul Wagner started ahead of Adam Bleskan, Hubred, point leader Nick Egan and Welter for a 30-lap feature. Wagner replaced Shelby on the second lap, and the nonstop contest quickly came to the final circuits. With seven laps remaining Jacob Schraufnagel took the point from his fourth-row start, the Slinger Bees veteran piloting the former championship car to his second win in a row. Fellow Bees driver Jakob Hassler doubled his fun in a sportsman Sunday, the only lapped car in the field at the end. Schraufnagel declared afterwards, “That was a ton of fun.”
Dale Kiley-Schaefer topped the Slinger Bees in qualifying. Ryan Ostenson ran his first race Sunday and posted a heat win along with Paul Reagles and point leader Tom Berens. The semi had a scary moment when rookie Brandon Mennicke flipped onto his roof, but was fine afterward. Jayden Buckley led the final four transferees to the 25-lap feature. The nine-car inversion started Steve Zoromski and David Schmidt ahead of Brandon Tackes, Berens, Matt Rose and E. J. Waldron. Schmidt took charge at the green flag, greeted with the yellow flag after five laps. Berens made the most of the restart and led the next lap, surviving two more restarts before the finish. Only seven laps from the end Hassler’s wheel rolled across the frontstretch, but he escaped the wall. The final restart found Nick Schmidt challenging from his fourth-row start, the pair battling side by side to the final corner. It was one final surge that propelled Schmidt, winning by a fraction of a second.
Many kids club members awaited as names were drawn for the radio-controlled cars modeled after several of the track’s heroes. They, as well as Eckhardt, were somewhat stunned and happy afterwards. The final fireworks show of the season wowed the crowd and part of the packed arena left before the finale. Several spectators brought their cars onto the track for eliminations before the Figure 8 contest closed the show. At the end Scott Goetzke got past Rick Bruskiewicz to post the last win of the night. It was still around eighty degrees at 11:30 as we joined the gathering in the pits. The track hosted a food tent to thank the racers, while tales of the events were recounted all around. Next week the season comes to a close with an afternoon show to close the rest of the championships. We don’t know where the summer went.
-By Fay Hendricks. Photo credit: Fay Hendricks