Kaukauna, Wis. -- Former TUNDRA Series Champion Dennis Prunty wrestled the lead away from Jordan Thiel on a lap 27 restart and then held back defending race winner Steve Apel to claim victory in Kroll’s West Round One at Wisconsin International Raceway Sunday afternoon.
The event was postponed to Sunday afternoon when persistent rain showers hit after qualifying and the Super Late Model last-chance race Saturday night.
It was the fourth win in the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series Powered by Wisconsin Potatoes for the 2012 titlist, and his first series victory away from Dells Raceway Park.
The win continues a hot streak for Prunty who captured the first two features at Slinger Speedway in 2018. After taking a look back, he and his team realized that the fast start to this season actually began much earlier.
“We realized the other day I actually won the last two at Slinger too, so this is five in a row right now. We just want to keep it going,” Prunty said.
There was potential, however, for Prunty to have his streak snapped by a familiar foe. Defending Round One winner Steve Apel worked his way to Second by lap 28 by following in the tire tracks of Prunty on the restart. The duo broke away from the rest of the pack and began a cat-and-mouse battle that would last the final 22 circuits. Apel closed the gap continuously and once took a look to the inside of Prunty. Prunty was able to turn him away and maintain an advantage.
“He was really killing me in turns one and two,” Prunty said. “I just had to stop looking in my mirror.”
There was good reason for Prunty to be nervous as Apel has become a favorite each time he hits the half-mile at WIR. It was the first time he and his Slinger rival battled toe-to-toe away from their normal arena.
“I’m getting kind of sick of following the 42 around,” Apel joked. “Overall it was a good day. We fell back early in the race and got back up to the front. I felt I was getting him into the corner, but he was motoring me out.”
It took just past the halfway point of the 50-lap feature for Prunty and Apel to contend for the lead. Prior to that, Jordan Thiel was enjoying a Sunday cruise.
Thiel zipped past fellow front-row starter Mike Lichtfeld to secure a healthy lead in the opening laps. After an incident involving Wyatt Brooks, Jesse Oudenhoven, and Alex Stumpf brought out the yellow, Prunty moved to Second and began to challenge Thiel.
Prunty got to the inside of Thiel near the halfway point of the feature, but he was turned aside. By shutting the door on Prunty’s move, Thiel scored the Central Door Solutions Opening the Door to Victory Halfway Bonus. Unfortunately for Thiel, Prunty was afforded another opportunity after a caution fell when John Beale and Jordan DeVoy tangled on lap 27.
Thiel selected the outside line for the restart. The selection is common at WIR as the outside-line driver typically builds a head of steam and charges off turn two. However, Prunty skated up the track on the restart and ran Thiel out of room. He then charged past and secured the lead.
“I feel bad on that restart – it’s so hard to stay low here – I got inside (Thiel) earlier and almost slipped into him, then in one in two I got into him a little bit,” Prunty said.
Prunty’s move into the lead allowed Apel to follow to Second and left Thiel to deal with Mike Lichtfeld for the final podium spot. Thiel eventually got stuck on the outside and fell back out of the Top Five behind Lichtfeld, Colin Reffner and Fast Qualifier Casey Johnson.
Johnson, who started 11th in the field, went on the attack after finding some free space to maneuver. He jumped past Reffner on lap 30 and set his sights on Lichtfeld. Over the final 20 laps, as Apel challenged Prunty, Johnson frantically tried to find his way past Lichtfeld. He could not do so. Behind them Reffner and Bobby Kendall engaged in a heated battle for Fifth.
Lichtfeld held off Johnson for a career-best WIR finish of Third. He said the day was like a win for him after suffering DNFs in his other appearances. Johnson settled for Fourth, and Reffner held of Kendall to finish Fifth for the second straight year.
Two rookies enjoyed banner days – Gabe Sommers scored a Top Ten in his TUNDRA debut in Seventh and Chad Butz climbed from starting outside the Top 20 to finish Tenth.
Trute Now Five for Five in Sportsman
Dave Trute’s love for WIR continues to grow. On Sunday Trute collected the overall win by going two for two in the twin 15-lap features for the TUNDRA Sportsman Tour. He collected wins in the twin 20s last year and scored victory in the first event two seasons ago.
Trute ascended to the front of the field quickly in the first race as he jumped past polesitter and former WIR Super Stock Champion Dylan Wenzel. Wenzel looked to hold close, but unfortunately succumbed to mechanical issues that had plagued him all weekend long.
Behind Trute another driver was capturing the attention of the field. Evan Beattie and his brother Ethan decided to bring their IMCA dirt Sport Mods to test themselves against the TUNDRA Sportsman racers. Evan – while nearly three-wheeling around the half-mile – was able to hold off Andy Casavant for Second in the first 15 lapper.
Once again, Trute made quick moves in the second feature. This time he had to battle Casavant for several circuits before taking the lead away. Casavant tried to close the gap, but Trute was too stout. Casavant would go on to claim Second in the overall standings while Evan Beattie was Third by virtue of a Second and Fourth Place finish in the twin 15s.
New Track Record and Victory for Meyerhofer in Late Models
The debut of the Late Model Triple Crown got off to a quick start in qualifying when Mike Meyerhofer set a new WIR track record with a lap of 20.054 seconds. He then went on to pick up the overall win in Sunday’s feature action.
Much like the Sportsman, the Late Models ran twin features with an overall winner to be crowned. A field full of feature winners and past Champions kicked off the day with a blistering first 20-lap feature that saw plenty of door-to-door action and frantic battles for the lead.
Bryan Monday seized an early lead in the first 20. He soon was challenged by Braison Bennett who found a way to the outside line. Bennett and Monday went back-and-forth for the next five laps as Bennett found a way to slip away on the outside. Jesse Bernhagen then stole second from Monday just a few laps later. Monday held off Travis Rodewald and Meyerhofer to secure Third.
Meyerhofer and Rodewald led the field to green in the second 20 lapper after an inversion of the first feature’s finishing order. Rodewald made a bold maneuver just three laps into the race as he switched from the outside to the inside. Meyerhofer was able to keep the door closed and secured the top spot. He then sailed to victory in the second 20.
With the win Meyerhofer topped Jesse Bernhagen in the overall standings via a tie-breaker. Both had a final score of five, but Meyerhofer got the nod for picking up a victory. Bennett fell back to Sixth in the second feature but was able to come home Third overall.
The Late Model Triple Crown will continue in Round Three at State Park Speedway on July 7.
The TUNDRA Super Late Model Series Powered by Wisconsin Potatoes returns to Marshfield Motor Speedway for the first time since 2014 with a massive event. The Bev Aschenbrenner Memorial Presented by Riverview Construction on Saturday, June 9 will feature TUNDRA Super Late Models, the TUNDRA Sportsman Tour, Midwest Truck Series and Upper Midwest Vintage.
-TUNDRA Series Press Release
-Photo credit: Dennis Prunty Twitter