Slinger Speedway hosted the first Bruce Mueller Memorial Race Sunday in honor of the late engine builder who helped so many racers through the years. It began with fellow power plant veteran Carl Wegner, who donated a couple thousand dollars to the late model and super late model purse for the 100-lap race. Others soon joined in to bring the bonus to $7,000 for the night. Sunday’s race was the track championship finale for the super late models, with next week hosting the TUNDRA traveling series for their super late model finale at Slinger. Many new faces filled the pits for the Labor Day weekend show, and fans crowded in for the experience and fireworks later. What they will remember most may be the fireworks on the track.
Conrad Morgan bested Dennis Prunty’s time in super late model qualifying, and heat race winners were Randy Schuler, Lowell Bennett, and defending champion Steve Apel. Bennett had just earned another track title by two points his home track Thursday, and Apel had a healthy point lead over Prunty coming into Sunday. The 30-lap semi was hard-fought as Nick Wagner led the final four transferees to the feature. Morgan rolled the die to start behind Michael Bilderback, Ryan DeStefano, Tim Lampman, Apel, Rob Braun and Johnny DeAngelis. Bilderback charged ahead at the start and soon left the rest behind. Just after two dozen laps were complete Rich Loch was spun to cause the first caution. Using the gentleman’s option, DeStefano claimed responsibility for the mishap and went to the rear of the field while Loch returned to his position.
Bilderback chose the outside lane at the restart, with Apel getting ahead on the inner groove six laps later. The duel between the pair continued, with Bilderback able to get ahead on the high side and Apel regaining the point when a spun car forced another yellow flag just after lap forty. The restart turned out badly when three cars got together, but the next attempt was successful. Apel resumed the lead past the halfway point, but Dennis Prunty was able to gain ground on the inside to take the point with 45 laps remaining. Then it happened. DeAngelis blew a tire and careened into the frontstretch wall, sliding down the track in flames. Quickly climbing out to the applause of the audience, DeAngelis was okay, telling the audience he was hard on the brakes but couldn’t stop in time.
With 38 laps remaining, Prunty chose his favored high line with Morgan challenging inside, but the pair ended up in the third turn wall. Prunty blamed it on the flagman for starting the race when they weren’t exactly side by side. Morgan surprised all when claiming responsibility for the incident, saying he thought he was clear of Prunty at the time, but was not. Both were unable to continue, giving the point to Apel at the next green flag. One more spun car forced the final caution flag with 34 laps left, and the rest of the race quickly concluded. Thirteen survivors crossed the final stripe with Apel winning and earning his second consecutive championship. Shadowed to the end by Travis Dassow, Bilderback stayed ahead of Lowell Bennett and Braun at the checkered flag.
Apel celebrated his moment with a reverse victory lap before spinning donuts on the frontstretch. “We definitely didn’t have the fastest car,” began Apel, adding, “Sometimes you get lucky. This is for the group behind me. They put in a lot of hours on the car.” Reminded by announcer Todd Behling that he also got married earlier this year, Apel laughed and said, “It’s been a great year.” Joining Apel on the stage, Bruce Mueller’s widow and daughter thanked all for honoring their beloved man.
Kyle Chwala cemented the Area Sportsman title weeks ago, but didn’t let up as he posted quick time again. Minnesota racer Michael Gilomen and Andy Welter won the heat races, joined by several other visitors. The 30-lap feature found Chwala behind Welter, Terry Wangsness, Kody Hubred, Bill Prietzel, Jason Thoma and Steven Sauer. At the end of the first lap Wangsness was the leader, with Prietzel just getting past when a pair got together to bring out the first caution flag. Prietzel again held the point for three more laps until the second-place car of Hubred spun. After the next green flag it was Thoma in the lead, leaving dense traffic behind. Chwala was able to find an opening with four laps remaining, and led the pack to the finish line. Prietzel, Thoma, Sauer, and Chad Smith completed the top five.
The limited late model field also found several new faces joining Sunday’s action. The championship battle between Danny Church and Alex Prunty continued, with Prunty edging Church out of fast time honors by five thousandths of a second. Brittiny Helmers posted her very first heat win, with Jerry Mueller and Ryan Zielski the other heat winners. Wayne Freimund led the final four transferees from the semi to the 40-lap feature. The roll of the die started Prunty behind Ricky Heinan, Gregg Pawelski, Dave McCardle in a borrowed car, Illinois racer Alex Papini, and Tim Sargent. Pawelski roared ahead at the start and Papini was in front on the third lap.
Prunty was able to get past Papini by lap sixteen and was met by the yellow flag for a spun car. The pace picked up with the duel continuing between the top pair, but one more caution changed everything with twelve laps remaining. Prunty chose the outer lane, Papini on the inside, and the pair fought for position at the restart when Church got past them both. Church held off Papini for his fifth win of the season as Prunty faded back to sixth on the outside lane. At the finish line Church and Papini were followed by Sargent, Pawelski and Ryan Zielski. Church was asked about the final restart, commenting, “I couldn’t believe that. I don’t know what he was thinking when Alex Prunty picked the outside.” With the championship almost sealed, Church claimed, “It feels great. Hopefully next week all we have to do is show up and get the championship.”
Dale Kiley-Schaefer topped over two dozen Slinger Bees in qualifying and heat wins went to Zach Braun, Isaac Daniel and Nick Schmidt. Braun also won the semi that transferred four more cars to the 25-lap feature. Matt Rose, Rick Schaefer, Marty Tackes, Carl Benn and Brandon Tackes started the main in front of Kiley-Schaefer, with Braun leading the opening laps. One spin on the fourth orbit was the only slowdown of the contest and Benn surged into the lead on lap nine. Posting another win in the borrowed mount, Benn was closely followed by Jake Schraufnagel, Brandon Tackes, Kiley-Schaefer and Rose at the finish line.
The fireworks show found some of the crowd leaving before the end of the night. They missed the spectator eliminations that ended in a photo finish as well as the Figure 8 leader crashing in the crossover with three laps remaining. Scott Goetzke won the Figure 8 contest, closing the show shortly after 11:30. By then we had seen some 115 entries and many memorable moments. Next week’s afternoon show closes out the season, for it is now September. Champions in six more divisions will be decided as the TUNDRA Super Late Model tour closes their season at Slinger.
(Editors Note: Fay Hendricks is a long-time racing columnist and periodically will share her racing stories on Speed 51.com)
Photo Credit: Fay Hendricks