Slinger Speedway opened its 68th year of racing Sunday afternoon. New faces joined some 90 entries, but things did not turn out well for some seasoned veterans. Jerry Eckhardt is celebrating fifty years of racing, but never made it to super late model qualifying after his engine expired during a hot lap session. Other engines erupted during the day, leaving telltale trails to their haulers and reducing the year’s supply of oil dry compound by many pounds. Others would have top finishes marred by misfortune later. New track records were set in three of the four qualifying fields, and a different tire made things interesting as the events transpired.
The Area Sportsman field only had a dozen entries, but began with a new qualifying record and ended with a photo finish. Bill Prietzel will be inducted into the Southeast Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame later this year, beginning his run with a new track record in qualifying. Jay Kalbus and Andy Welter won the heats, and the feature invert placed Prietzel in the fifth row. Kalbus and Joe Shelby began ahead of Adam Bleskan and Scott Hoeft for the 30-lap feature, with Hoeft jumping into the lead when the green flag waved. Before twenty laps were complete Hoeft’s car spun to bring out the caution flag.
The field chose their lanes for the double-wide restart and Prietzel took the point. Another incident between Welter and Kalbus brought out the yellow flag with seven laps remaining. Prietzel found Jason Thoma challenging for the top spot and the pair put on a side-by-side show to the checkered flag. Thoma got ahead in the first turn, Prietzel had the edge off the last corner. They raced to the line with Thoma inches ahead at the crucial moment. “I like to race Bill (Prietzel),” began Thoma, adding “He’s a good contender. I hope it was fun for you guys, because it was fun for me. I had to run the outside because I knew he wouldn’t give me the inside.” Adam Peschek, Shelby and Nick Egan completed the top five.
Two-time and defending Super Late Model champion Steve Apel was first out of the chute, waiting for over two dozen others before earning fast time honors. After beginning with Team 16 in the Slinger Bees and progressing through the ranks, Apel is fielding his own team for the first time as well as expecting his first child this year. Heat races were won by Josh Wallace, Lowell Bennett and Travis Dassow, with Wallace leading the four transferees from the 30-lap semi. Seven-time track champion Bennett will be inducted into the Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame this year, but today used his one-time provisional to join the feature field. Joining Bennett in the back of the pack was six-time champion and Hall of Fame inductee Conrad Morgan, both of whom forged into the top five as the race progressed.
The 75-lap contest began with Tim Lampman and Dennis Prunty in front of Chris Blawat, Rob Braun, Ryan De Stefano and Gary Lamonte. The field roared to life at the green flag and Prunty took the point right away. Tight racing was evident through the field, and a spin slowed the pace after sixteen circuits. Choosing the outer groove, Prunty found Braun challenging at the restart. Before thirty laps were complete Lampman’s car was trailed by flames as his engine erupted, catching others on the slippery surface. After the cleanup Braun again challenged inside Prunty, getting ahead briefly before Prunty got past again. Morgan had worked his way to the front pack, but spun on lap 40 along with Brad Keith. This time it was due to fluid from Apel’s car when the oil line broke, and no one was sent to the back of the field for causing the caution. There was oil all around the track, forcing the field to park while the crew cleaned up their arena.
Prunty again staved off Braun, but was met by another yellow banner two laps later for a spun car. Bennett had worked his way into second place when his car faltered three laps later, getting hit by others in the aftermath. The crowd applauded as he emerged from his car, but needed help on the way to the ambulance. Evidently his left foot was injured, and son Braison would take him to the hospital for X-rays. The survivors completed the next thirty circuits without incident. Prunty was followed by Braun, Morgan, Mike Egan, Brad Mueller, Wallace, John DeAngelis, and visitor Stephen Campbell, with Nick Wagner many laps down. Prunty stated, “I knew it would be tight with ten laps to go. I had flashbacks of Nashville and thought, “I’ve got to go,” referring to a late-race loss. Braun said, “That last yellow I didn’t have enough for him. I could have bumped him, but that’s not how I do things.” Morgan quipped, “If it was another 100 laps, I’d have won it.”
The Limited Late Model field began without defending champion Danny Church, who moved into the super late models. Alex Prunty topped twenty others with a new track record in time. Heats winners were jack Stern, Al Stippich and Casey Johnson in Chris Ratajczyk’s car. The feature invert placed Johnson on the pole, Ryan Zielski outside, Brian Holtz and Mike Held next. Johnson took the point but after five laps Zielski spun to bring out the caution and Held was sent to the rear of the field with him. Choosing a lane for the restart helped Prunty, the pair racing in tandem until Prunty had the advantage on the tenth orbit. The 40-lap contest was past halfway when another car spun and was joined by the offender in the back row.
With eleven laps remaining a solo spin was followed by another with nine circuits left, Prunty surviving challenges from Johnson every restart. Prunty was happy to see the checkered flag as Johnson hounded him to the finish line, the pair followed by Jordon DeVoy, Held, Jerry Mueller and Wayne Friemund to round out the top five. Prunty’s interview was cancelled due to time, but later told your scribe he felt he had aged a lot after such a challenging contest.
The Slinger Bees began with Jacob Schraufnagel setting a new track record over a swarm of nearly thirty. Newcomer E. J. Waldron, Rick Schaefer and Tom Berens won the heat races, and Waldron led the top four transferees from the semi. The 25-lap feature began with Zach Braun and Berens in front of the pack, Berens jumping ahead at the green flag to lead every lap. The nonstop race ended with several lapped cars and a few missing at the checkered flag. Berens was followed by Nick Schmidt, Dale Kiley-Schaefer, Schraufnagel, defending champion Brandon Tackes and Heather Stark.
The day would not be complete without the wild and crazy Figure 8 race. Joe Mueller got the lead by the halfway point, but was edged by seven-time and defending champion Scott Goetze at the finish line. It was not yet 6:30 when fans flocked to the pits to visit their heroes. Some in shorts, others in winter wear, we all got a bit of sunburn and windburn as the weekly race season has officially arrived.
-Fay Hendricks Press Release. Photo Credit: Fay Hendricks