New track records, a few rollovers and some new winners began the month of July at Plymouth Dirt Track (PDTR) Saturday night. Side by side battles kept everyone on the edge of their seats all night as some notched their first wins of the season. Beginning with a deficit, late model racer Billy Rezutek arrived with no crew, and arrived at the track with a flat tire on his trailer. Others were missing due to various reasons, but the action was still intense. As always, progressive racing allots passing points in the heats, with the top sixteen progressing to the main. After feature fields are filled there is a redraw so nobody can figure out the system. The previous week’s winners are no longer forced to start no higher than twelfth place, which drivers really appreciate this season.
The sprint cars began the program with Kurt Davis and Jim Melis setting new race records with their heat wins, and Shane Wenninger stealing the win away from Randy Sippel at the line. The B main had just begun when Dannon Tessmer’s mount rolled over, the driver receiving applause as he climbed out. Kyle Marten topped the six transferees to the back of the 22-car feature. The 25-lap main inversion set Tim Haddy and Doug Wondra in the front row. Sippel, Tim Melis, Donny Goeden, Jim Melis and Davis followed as the green flag waved. Haddy’s mount balked at the start as the others scrambled to get past him safely. Pitting and returning, Haddy’s problems were not over and retired for the night.
Wondra got ahead at the start, but Jim Melis worked past him on the fourth lap. Two laps later a spun car brought out the first caution flag. Melis led the double file pack behind him, and four more orbits were complete when Goeden had nosed ahead of Melis. Just then Jason Johnson’s mount spun after coming from tenth to third, sending him to the rear and cancelling Goeden’s pass. Melis was ready at the next green flag and saw the next yellow three laps later when his brother Tim’s mount erupted in a cloud of smoke. The restart ended when Justin Miller rolled over and Randy Walter retired after his second incident brought another slowdown a few laps later.
The restart ended badly when Davis stopped while trying to exit, the aftermath ending with Danny Schlafer rolling over. Coming from fourteenth to seventh, Schlafer’s progress ended with seven laps remaining. The race clock had expired by this time, the survivors receiving the green, white and checkered flags in rapid order. Melis was challenged by Goeden to the line, followed by Shane Wenninger from eighth place, Marten from the ninth row to fourth place and Al Schlafer up from the fifth row. Notching his first win of this season, Melis was happy to return to victory circle. “That was tough,” exclaimed Melis, adding, “I’m just glad we got there first.” Explaining his season’s challenges so far, Melis said, “It’s starting to work for us.”
The late model heats were won by T. J. Dolhun and Mitch McGrath, who tied the race record in the process. The feature field parked in front of the grandstands and drivers were introduced to the cheering crowd before climbing into their machines for an extended 30-lap feature. Turk Letizia and Brad Mueller ended up in front of McGrath, Dolhun, Tim Buhler and Jim Schmidt. Mueller led the first lap but Letizia roared back the next time around. McGrath picked the outer lane and charged past them after six circuits were complete, with a stopped car forcing the sole caution just before the halfway point.
McGrath left the rest of the pack behind at the restart. Letizia’s mount slipped a few times on the high side, leaving an opening for Buhler to get into the second spot. Soon cars were being lapped by the leaders as the rest of the race went to the checkers. McGrath notched his third win at PDTR, followed by Buhler, Letizia, Dolhun and Mueller in lapped traffic. “It was rough out there,” explained McGrath on track conditions. Asked about his missing uncles Russ and Rick Scheffler, McGrath quipped, “They needed to slow down a little bit and take a vacation.”
The Grand National heats were won by Steven Weber, Brad Lubach and Dan Sorce, whose car sustained major damage after the finish and scratched for the rest of the night. Sorce’s absence gave the first alternate a starting spot at the end of the 20-car feature field. Sorce’s son Will Sorce joined the field in the car formerly driven by Nick Strobbe Jr., while Strobbe switched to his former car and number. After sorting out his setup, Strobbe found the perfect combination to set a new track record winning the B main. The final four transferred to the extended-lap feature, with Jimmie Evans added the first alternate at feature time. Drivers parked in front of the crowd for introductions before their extended race of thirty circuits this week. The other fields will have their chance later.
Tim Simon and Don Sorce Jr. started in the front row, followed by Melissa Singer, Barry Maas, Kevin Lubach, Weber and Lubach. Sorce had already won three consecutive races and led the opening laps, but Maas surprised everyone by working his way to the front and getting past as they encountered lapped traffic just after a dozen laps were complete. Sorce tried everything he had in his arsenal, but Maas stayed strong, surviving a restart at the midway point and finishing in a car puffing smoke.
They crossed the stripe in that order, with Brad and Kevin Lubach following, and Matt Yancey ahead of Strobbe at the finish line. Maas returned to PDTR after years of retirement, having raced just about every kind of car there is in his career. This was the first win in a Grand National for Maas, who said, “It’s been a while. I thought we’d try something different.” Asked about the contest with Sorce, Maas exclaimed, “That’s a huge accomplishment to me, to pass a guy like that,” adding that they would look into what was causing the smoke later.
Chris Maas won his Outlaw Compact heat in the final corner and Scott Schlafke won the other heat. The 15-lap feature field inversion set Schlafke and champion Travis Arenz in front of Maas and triple winner Brody Rivest. The green flag was quickly followed by the red flag when Rivest evidently caught a rut and rolled in the corner, landing upside down. Rivest, who is quite tall, took some time to clamber out to the cheers of the crowd, making the mandatory visit to the ambulance. Schlafke led the first lap, Arenz taking over next and surviving a restart at the midway mark. With five laps remaining Arenz and Schlafke got together in the fourth turn, both careening sideways and nearly upending themselves.
The pair managed somehow to save themselves from disaster as Jonathan Otte moved into the lead from his fifth-place start. Arenz recovered and took the point back the next time around, followed by Otte, Kasey Gross, Justin Erickson and Schlafke. Taking a reverse victory lap before going to the winner’s circle, Arenz savored his first win of the season. His car may soon go to a new owner, since Arenz has begun racing a sport mod at another track this year. As for the collision with Schlafke, Arenz admitted, “I thought I was going over.” Arenz later told me that really scared him, and said the track was pretty rough tonight.
The super modified field had a bad beginning when two of the five dropped out before the heat began, and Johnny Fahl had a good night with a clean sweep for the night. He was followed by Dennis Klumb, Butchie Hafeman and Erv Helms in the feature. Shortly after 10:30 the program was complete in shirtsleeve weather, the cool air just beginning. Next week marks midseason already, and we think the full moon will join us then.
(Editors Note: Fay Hendricks is a long-time racing columnist and periodically will share her racing stories on Speed 51.) Photo Credit: Fay Hendricks.