Season championships coupled with a near full moon proved to be an odd combination at Plymouth Dirt Track Saturday night. Whatever could go wrong with a race car seemed to happen in front of our eyes as title hopes came down to the final races. Several new faces joined the action to make things even more interesting. The night ended with champions bringing their cars behind the grandstands to receive their trophies. Amid a crowd of family, friends, crew and fans, it was a proud moment for them.
The sprint car heats were won by point leader Donny Goeden, Jim Melis and Josh Walter, who was donating to a juvenile diabetes fund Saturday. Justin Miller led the final six entries from the B main. The 22-car feature field rolled onto the track, but suddenly Kyle Marten left his seventh-place start. As Marten retired, there was no alternate on the track to take his place, so the event ran with 21 cars. Brandon McMullen and Al Schlafer were followed by Tim Melis, Paul Pokorski, Jim Melis and Doug Wondra. McMullen pulled ahead at the green flag and did not want to see the caution flag after eleven laps.
Danny Schlafer was making great progress from the back using the high groove when Scott Conger veered off the infield tire barrier to squeeze Schlafer into the wall. Both restarted in the back as McMullen again led the way. Goeden and others were seen roaring along the high side as the contest quickly wound down. With five laps remaining Randy Walter suddenly rolled in the third turn, climbing out to applause from the appreciative crowd. The five lap dash to the finish ended with McMullen followed by Goeden, Jim Melis, Travis Luedke and Walter.
Celebrating with a reverse victory lap and climbing to his wing, McMullen earned his first victory of the season. “I can’t thank my dad and my family enough, to get the car ready when I can’t be here,” said McMullen, who attends college in Madison all week. Post-race awards included Nick Melis named top rookie and Chris Clayton most improved. Goeden garnered enough points to lock up the championship a week early, the second-generation racers stating, “We’ve had a lot of fun racing. I won a championship here in 1994. All my crew guys have been with me twenty years. Bob and Dawn (Hood) give me a good car every week.” When the decision was made to no longer force the previous week’s winner to start no higher than twelfth place, Goeden said he voted against the decision. “I love passing cars. You have ten cars that can win any week here.”
The Grand National heats were won by Tyler Kulow, Aaron Stolp and Brad Lubach, who trailed Don Sorce Jr. coming into the final night. Brian Gilles headed the final four from the B main to start twenty cars in the 25-lap main. Pat Marcott and Mark Fieber started in front of Roger Lee, Kevin Lubach, Brad Lubach and Stolp. Lee earlier took the parade lap in opening ceremonies carrying a black flag to commemorate his father’s passing. When the green flag waved Lee and Marcott fought for the lead, the front group collided, and Marcott went to the pits. The next green flag was successful as Fieber took the point. Five laps later a spun car brought out the final caution of the race.
As the laps sped by, Lee was spun by Kevin Lubach and out of the race. Brad Lubach was in a side-by-side battle with Fieber for the lead, and edged ahead with two laps to spare. Lubach and Fieber were followed by Sorce, who ran a safe race rather than try to win. Kevin Lubach crossed the stripe fourth, but it was announced he was disqualified for rough driving. Brad Lubach earned over thirty wins at Plymouth, stating, “It was good racing. It was hard to get past (Fieber).” Asked about previous championships, Lubach replied, “Three titles, but second time here.” Despite winning the race, Lubach just missed another title by seventeen points. It is rumored Lubach may move up to a late model next year, but he would not confirm or deny this.
Dan Sorce had a blown engine keep him from racing, but joined his father on his brother’s championship night. Don Sorce Jr. told the crowd, “This is my seventh championship at five different tracks,” amazing all when adding, “This is my second car in 25 years.” Explaining his longevity, Sorce continued, “You’ve got to keep the wheels on it to finish the race.” Sorce added thanks to his daughter, who took over as car chief this year. Tim Simon was named the most improved driver of the season.
Mitch McGrath led the late model points with veteran Tim Buhler not far behind. Buhler suddenly pulled out of the heat that McGrath won, with Brad Mueller and Justin Schmidt winning the other heats. The 25-lap feature began with Kyle Odekirk and Jim Schmidt in front of Justin Schmidt, Mueller, Ted Dolhun, McGrath and Joel Bennett. Buhler joined the back of the 19-car field and clearly was down on power, getting lapped. McGrath was in the front pack until his engine expired after a dozen circuits. With Buhler finishing the race, people wondered how the point chase would end.
The race went from the green flag to the checkers, with Jim Schmidt leading the way until Mueller zoomed past with nine laps remaining. Schmidt held on for second, followed by Justin Hirt, Odekirk and Justin Schmidt. Mueller returned to victory lane, telling the audience, “It was one year ago we won the feature and the next day won at Slinger (paved track). I hope we can do the same this year.” Asked about the track conditions, Mueller stated, “It was a little bit rough and heavy.”
McGrath had enough points to win the late model championship in his first full season in a late model after racing a modified for years. Thanking his crew and family first, McGrath told the crowd, “We had a pretty good run last year. We raced the mods, and I like the late models better.” Asked why he pulled out of the feature, McGrath explained, “We broke the motor tonight.” Several were missing from the field tonight, including Dave Thomas, who was named the most improved driver in this division.
Brody Rivest set a new track record with his heat win, and Chris Maas won the other heat. Jonathan Otte, Patrick Ciske, Jeff Brendel, Brian Chiminatti, Scott Schlafke and Cody Pankow started in the first three rows for the 15-lap feature. Otte led the first lap, which ended when Ciske lost a wheel in the corner and rolled over. Ciske clambered out of his mount, but was done for the night. Schlafke took the point at the restart and Rivest roared past two laps later. Newcomer Jerry Orr made his mark by passing Rivest on lap six, and the pair began their duel. Schlafke suddenly stopped the race three laps when his car began barrel rolling in the fourth turn, and again the audience applauded when the driver climbed out.
The duel between Orr and Rivest heated up to the checkered flag, with Rivest nosing ahead before the checkered flag and Orr pushing him around in the final corner. Orr crossed the finish line first, Rivest recovered for second place among lapped cars, and the crowd reacted loudly. When it was announced that Orr would be disqualified for rough driving, the crowd got even louder. The official finish gave Rivest the win, followed by Cody Pankow, Chris Maas, Jacob Bank and Otte. Asked about the incident, Rivest exclaimed, “I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know what he was thinking. He and I have been friends for a long time, and I had no problems with him.” Justin Erickson stayed out of trouble to earn the championship, thanking his sponsors, crew, “And my brother up in Heaven.” Chris Maas got the nod for most improved driver.
Johnny Fahl and Butchie Hafemann won the super mod heats as several new faces showed up for the final night. The 15-lap feature began with Fahl and Hafemann in front of Leroy Ostrowski, Bill Lemkuil, Dan Kruschke and Dennis Klumb. Hafemann got ahead at the start and Fahl eased ahead on lap four. Ostrowski drove past for the lead on lap ten, but a spun car erased his deed when reverting to the last completed lap. Again Ostrowski roared ahead, again the same car spun to erase his move. The third time was not the charm for Ostrowski when the yellow flag waved one more time, and Fahl was in charge to the end of the race. Ostrowski followed, with Kruschke, Lemkuil and Hafemann completing the top five. Fahl told the crowd, “Leroy almost got me a couple times. He was good.” Fahl also won the first championship in the new division, stating, “This was a blast. I’m glad you brought these back. It was a lot of fun.” Asked about his varied race career in several types of cars, Fahl replied, “With a wing, without a wing, whatever. I’ll be in a sprint car next year and bring back a mod.”
It was shortly after 10:30 when fans flocked to the pits and the stage behind the stands. Their race heroes were everywhere, and this was the last time they could visit. With the full moon nearing, it was quite an end to the season.
(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