The Chilton Fall Invitational brought nearly 300 entries in ten divisions for the two-day show, capped off with live bands and mechanical bull riding after the racing was done. Chilton Speedway at the Calumet County Fairgrounds has replaced weekly racing with a few special events, thanks to the efforts of many. Late model racers Bob Cullen and Brad Mueller worked tirelessly throughout the event handling things behind the scenes, but only Mueller found time to compete this year. It was a rare moment when I found the pair standing still for a moment Saturday morning before the nonstop whirlwind of racing resumed.
Friday’s weather forecast didn’t matter as the night was filled with heat races. The luck of the draw set the starting positions and passing points would advance the top dozen to the next night’s features, with the benefit of not having an inverted start. Restarts set the leader ahead of the rest, with the second car allowed to choose his lane. The MSA 360 sprint cars, however, still used their usual inverts since this was a point show for them. Restarts set the leader ahead of the rest, with the second car allowed to choose his lane. With 272 cars making it onto the track Friday, delays were kept to a minimum by sending cars to the pits if they caused a caution flag a second time. We were thankful for these efforts when the yellow flag waved often for spun cars.
Leading off the divisions were Brandon Sletter and Jered Cech winning the micro sprint heats. IMCA-type stock car heat winners were Billy Lemieux, Luke Lemmens and Matt Junio. Grand National winners were Justin Green, Roger Lee, Don Sorce Jr. and Matt Yancey. Street stock winners were Lexi Ashcraft, Brandon Peterson, Brandon Riedner and Kevin Luedtke. Troy Jerovetz, Greg Gretz, Tim Czarneski and Eric Scribner topped the IMCA-type mods with some close finishes. The late model heat winners were Mitch McGrath and Brad Mueller.
Sport mods were topped by Dion Wahl, Steve Schneider and Kelsey Hayes. Robby Wirth and Kurt Davis won the MSA Sprint heats. All 4-cylinder cars were grouped together to make the largest field, heats won by Chris Maas, Calvin Stueck, Shaun Bangart, Matt Brehmer and Jeff Behm. Eugene Gregorich Jr. borrowed the street stock of Jeremy Jauquet to compete in the hobby stock division to win his heat, with Marcus Moeck the other winner. Spicing up the action were several close finishes at the line, a couple wheels rolling away, and one car stopping with a fire underneath.
The band began playing before the races were done, but many stayed for the pickup truck tug of war to follow. Many walked from the pits to the infield and frontstretch to watch. A pair of personal vehicles was linked with a strap with a cone marking the center line. After several eliminations and a lot of black smoke spewing from their mounts, the finalists achieved their goal and a winner was declared. We joined the huge gathering in the pavilion to enjoy our racing family, great band, and a mechanical bull finding many daring riders. Of great interest was the wall posting feature and B main lineups for the next day. It was a much longer night for those who stayed to the end, and Saturday morning would not be kind to some. Rain arrived while we slept, but ended before breakfast time.
Saturday morning began in sunshine and high hopes in the acres of race cars and campers. Just as the driver’s meeting began at 2:00, the light rain began, but an hour later it had passed. Eleven B mains in six divisions followed, with an alternate starter drawn from the first car not advancing to the main event. It’s a good thing this was considered when that option came into play later. The already large purses were increased with many individual contributions Saturday, as well as hard charger awards getting bonus pay. There were many happy recipients at the end, including the person with the winning 50/50 ticket worth more than all but one of the race winners received.
The micro sprints had a dozen entries for the 25-lap feature. Jeff Jesberger, Brandon Sletter, Tyler Brabant, Jered Cech, Vance Lein and Dusty Gerrits made up the first three rows. Before a lap was complete Brabant’s car spun but was not charged because the race had not begun. This was a lucky break, since a second spin forced the yellow banner a few laps into the race. Sletter let the way past three more cautions in the first half of the contest, with Will Gerrits coming from the fourth row to lead the rest of the way. Two more slowdowns found Gerrits still in charge for the five-lap dash to the finish, with Sletter behind to the end. Zach Boden started last and finished third, with Cech and Lein completing the top five.
The stock car field rolled onto the track seconds later with twenty cars for the 30-lap main. Josh Van Haren, Luke Lemmens, Mark Schuenemann, Billy Lemieux and Matt Junio were in front at the start, and Lemmens was in the lead the next time around. One spun car brought out the only caution in the opening circuits, and Lemmens was hounded by Schuenemann to the end. Behind the lead pair were Lemieux and Barry Van Straten from the fifth row.
The Grand National field also began their 30-lap contest with twenty cars. Tim Simon, Brad Lubach, Matt Yancey, Charlie Sancinati, Roger Lee, Mark Kuhfuss, Don Sorce Jr. and Justin Green were in front at the green flag, and Simon quickly took the point. Four laps were complete when a spun car forced the first caution flag, followed by a pair of yellow flags three laps later. With four laps remaining trouble brewed behind Simon. Sancinati had just passed Lubach before Lubach got inside Sancinati and the latter spun. The crowd had their own opinion when Lubach got his spot back and Sancinati had to go to the back of the pack. Even more surprising was Simon suddenly retiring with a broken tie rod. This gave the top spot to Lubach, who was the defending champion of this event. Kuhfuss was second, followed by Green, Yancey and Lee.
Jerry Winkler was followed by Jeremy Jauquet, Jeff Jungwirth, Tony Everard, Brandon Riedner and Kevin Luedtke at the start of the street stock 25-lap feature. Jason Wirtz had his car stall and was towed before the start, allowing alternate Ryan Blank to join the 20-car field. Leading from start to finish, Winkler faced a couple restarts before the end. Riedner’s car was unable to restart after the first yellow flag and Jungwirth’s car caused the second caution with six laps remaining. During the latter a couple cars pitted with flat tires. Winkler was followed by Everard, Jeff Steenbergen, who transferred from a B main and began in the eighth row. Completing the top five were Andy Fuhrmann from the fifth row and Lexi Ashcraft from the fourth row. Most amazing finish of the night was that of alternate starter Blank, who came from last to finish sixth.
The Mod main went from the green flag to the checkers in a hurry, the 30-lap contest also fielding twenty cars. Jay Matthias, Troy Jerovetz, Todd Felix Dart, Erik Scribner, Tim Czarneski and Brian Drexler were in the first three rows at the start, and Jerovetz quickly took charge. Meeting lapped traffic sometimes two abreast, Jerovetz was challenged by Dart, who came out ahead in a daring three-wide situation just past the midway mark. Dart was shadowed by Jerovetz to the finish line, with Mike Wedelstadt coming from the seventh row to third place ahead of Matthias and Czarneski.
The WDLMA Late Models had many missing this weekend. Only 18 cars began the 40-lap contest with Brad Mueller and Mitch McGrath in front of Paul Parker, Taylor Scheffler in father Rick’s car, Justin Schmidt and father Jim in the Schueffner number 70 car. McGrath got ahead at the start and Mueller drove past on the outside on the third orbit. The first caution flag came out on lap seven, with the duel between the pair continuing. Just before twenty circuits were complete McGrath had the edge. Parker suddenly retired from the top five with fifteen laps remaining, and the next lap spun cars forced the next caution. As the second-place car Mueller chose the outside lane, repeating the choice when another car spun on the restart.
Four more laps were complete when the next caution light lit up. This was a miscommunication, a car sitting in the return chute instead of stalled in the corner. The restart saw Justin Hirt slide off the track to erase his third place with ten circuits remaining, and the ensuing green flag was replaced by the yellow with cars spun off the second turn. During the caution officials kept checking under McGrath’s car, and an apparent problem saw McGrath retire ten laps before the end. Mueller led the survivors to the checkered flag, facing strong challenges from young Scheffler. Behind them Joel Bennett came from seventh to third, with Jim Schmidt finishing ahead of son Justin.
The sport mods followed with twenty finalists for the 25-lap feature. Ryan Lemieux and Travis Arenz started in front of Kelsy Hayes, Jarred Van Laanen, Josh Massart, Dion Wahl, Steve Schneider and Brian Bruechert. Arenz was passed by Schneider with one caution for a spin just before the halfway mark. At the checkered flag Schneider was followed by Wahl, Bruechert, Arenz and Jeff Schmuhl from the seventh row.
The MSA Sprint Car field was the only feature to use an inverted start as eighteen cars began the 30-lap main. Chris Clayton and Luke Warmwater began ahead of John Krebsbach, Scott Conger, Randy Sippel and Danny Schlafer. Clayton led until Conger got past on the third time around, replaced by Schlafer on the sixth orbit. With eleven laps remaining Sippel’s car spun to force the first caution, and two laps later Samantha Portschy caused the second yellow flag of the race. The remaining nine laps sped to the finish line with Schlafer followed by Shane Wenninger from the fourth row, Robby Wirth from the fifth row, and Justin Miller from the sixth row. Schlafer took a reverse victory lap before heading to the infield scale, and rolled the die for the bonus $1,000 from Hagar Nelson. The die increased Schlafer’s winnings to $2,600, the richest of all the winners Saturday.
Tony Fletcher, Branden Goeser, Shaun Bangart, Mike Montie and Matt Brehmer were in front of the 20-car feature for the 4-cylinder group. The caution-free race saw the lead change from Goeser to Bangart in the opening laps. Calvin Stueck came from eighth to lead with two laps remaining, Bangart led the penultimate lap, and Stueck roared back at the finish line. With lapped traffic between them, the top duo was followed by Montie, Brehmer and Kyle Stark from the sixth row.
The Hobby Stock contest completed the program with fourteen cars on hand. Eugene Gregorich Jr. and Marcus Moede were ahead of Amber Weidner, Roger La Violette, Matt Kaye and Eric Micolichek for the 25-lap finale. Moede got the jump at the start, but faced five restarts for spun cars in the first ten laps. The final restart was followed by Gregorich getting past to lead the rest of the race in the borrowed street stock. Moede was second and Dave Schmidt came from the sixth row to third place. Gregorich was the last to sign the hood in winner’s lane before it went to the highest bidder that night.
Just after ten o’clock it was all over and the band had begun playing in the pavilion. Hours earlier the tragic news had spread through the place that a racer lost his life in a practice mishap at another track, and many of our thoughts were with his family. We bid farewell to all, thank the scoring staff for providing names with the numbers, and applaud all the efforts behind the scenes. They can all take a bow for a successful show, 276 competitors doing their best, and the camaraderie of the extended race family. Even if they didn’t get trophies, there were many more winners.
(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