New track records, first-time winners, one lost wheel, and a lot more happened Saturday at Plymouth Dirt Track (PDTR). The black flag was the only banner in the arsenal not used as the night’s program progressed, including a lengthy red flag period for a medical issue in the pits. In the latter a man chose to forgo the ambulance and have someone drive him to the hospital instead. The first casualty of the night, however, was that of last week’s late model winner, Turk Letizia, when leaving the hot lap session in a cloud of smoke. Because PDTR is doing well this season, they are rewarding each division with extra cash, and this night the late model field saw an increase of fifty percent in pay. Letizia lost his chance of earning anything, but new faces showed up Saturday.
The sprint cars opened the show with heats won by Kyle Marten, Scott Conger and Josh Walter. Instead of running a B main, it was decided to put all 23 cars into the 25-lap main. The cars were parked in front of the grandstand for driver introductions before rolling four abreast to give the fans a treat. The random invert placed rookie Nick Melis on the pole alongside Travis Luedke, followed by Doug Wondra, Randy Sippel, Justin Miller, Kevin Karnitz, Paul Pokorski and Jason Johnson. Melis had the advantage at the green flag, but Wondra owned the rest of the race. Surviving two restarts for minor incidents, Wondra was up to the task to capture his very first win.
Racing the high groove, low line and in between, the others found whatever worked for them, with some great results. Wondra was followed by Sippel, Miller, Jim Melis from nineteenth place, Brandon McMullen, Nick Melis and Donny Goeden from the seventeenth spot. Parking in front of the grandstands, Wondra erupted from his car and proceeded to pound his wing so hard he left a dent. Emotions took over the first-time winner, barely able to speak afterwards. “I can’t believe it,” claimed Wondra, adding “I always had bad luck.” Thinking of his father who got him into the sport, Wondra added, “This one’s for him.”
Jim Letizia won his late model heat to reverse his son’s luck, with Mitch McGrath and Mark Rose the other heat winners. The extra money extended the feature to thirty laps. Justin Schmidt and Russ Scheffler began ahead of Brad Mueller, Rick Scheffler, McGrath, Justin Hirt and Letizia. The green flag waved and stayed out until the white and checkers. Schmidt led for a dozen circuits, Mueller taking charge to the end. Lapping nearly half the field, Mueller was on a mission, crossing the final stripe with several lapped cars separating him from the rest.
Russ Scheffler, McGrath, Schmidt and Rick Scheffler completed the top five, and all but one car finished the event. Mueller was jubilant at his success, talking about the race. “There’s nothing you can do when it’s all green flag,” explained Mueller, adding, “We’ve been struggling this year.” Giving a lot of credit to his hard-working crew, Mueller explained why he returned to his car from 2010 and said of the $1,200 payout, “I can use this money right about now.”
The Grand National field opened with J. J. Pagel, Aaron Stolp and Scotty Houpt winning their heats. The B main was cancelled after some scratched their entries, with the rest answering the call at feature time. Houpt was on the pole in his first race of the season, with Don Sorce Jr. on the outside for the 25-lap event. Behind them were Barry Maas, Pagel, Aaron Stolp and Matt Yancey. The field roared to life at the green flag and Sorce was ahead the next time around. Sorce had a trail of lapped cars between himself and second place when a car spun with eight laps remaining. The caution was followed by another the next time around after a cluster of cars ended in a tangle.
Some top finishes ended seven laps from the end, and the next restart ended in a caution for a stalled car. If there were five or fewer laps remaining, the lapped cars would be sent to the rear of the field, but six circuits remained to mix lapped cars with the top runners at the final restart. Sorce was up to the task, with Maas catching up to him at the end. Pagel, Jeff Lammers from the eighth row and Stolp completed the top five finishers. Sorce posted his fourth win of the season, stating of his front row starting spot, “It helps. That nineteen (Stolp) was a fast car.” Asked about track conditions, Sorce replied, “The bottom is good, I get a lot of moisture.”
The Outlaw Compact field was reduced this week, with Brody Rivest capturing the heat win. The feature field was parked in front of the audience for driver introductions before strapping in for the fifteen-lap main. Tyler Fischer and James Johnson began ahead of Jon Hitsman, Patrick Ciske, Justin Erickson and Jonathan Otte. After the green flag the lead changed three times before the end of the first lap, with Hitsman the first leader. Just after Otte took the point on the third orbit, a spin forced the first yellow flag. The restart was followed by another spin, and another at the next attempt when Ciske’s wheel rolled off.
Scott Schlafke zoomed from his last-row start to the lead on the seventh circuit, followed to the end by Rivest, who started last. The rest of the race was nonstop to the checkered flag, with Rivest unable to wrest the top spot away from Schlafke. They were followed by Otte, Brian Chiminatti and Erickson. This was the first win for Schlafke in his rookie year, the victor exclaiming, “I didn’t think I could hang onto it. It’s a good fast track.”
The super modified field was also treated to driver introductions before their main event. This week six cars showed up, but the result was the same. Johnny Fahl swept them all. Beginning in the front row after the random inversion certainly did not hurt Fahl, who was closely followed by Dennis Klumb and Leroy Ostrowski on his first night. Behind the top trio were Dan Kruschke, Butchie Hafemann, who was celebrating his nineteenth wedding anniversary, and Erv Helms.
Even with the delays, the program was complete just after ten o’clock, leaving plenty of time for fans to visit their favorite drivers. Many had left before this time, including first-time sprint car winner Wondra. Next week another field receives bonus bucks to close out the month of July. Suddenly we can see the end of the season nearing, even though it seems to have just begun. Time is really speeding along.
(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.