It was Past Champions Night Saturday at Plymouth Dirt Track (PDTR), bringing back decades of title holders to hear cheers from the crowd one more time. More than thirty champions were on hand, including a few fathers and sons, and some are still racing. We were happy to see 75-year old Dick Hed join the past champions before strapping back into his Grand National car after a horrid wreck weeks ago. Jim Melis also returned in his sprint car after last week’s hard impact with the wall, and we applaud the resilience of both. The first race of August begins the countdown to the end of another season, and this year’s champions are still undecided.
Several late models were missing this week after the previous night’s action took a toll. Brad Mueller and Brian Gilles won their heats before the 25-lap feature field was inverted. Russ Scheffler and Tim Buhler shared the front row, followed by Gilles, Mueller, Kyle Odekirk and Mitch McGrath. Scheffler led the pack for the first dozen circuits as the tire rubber quickly blackened the oval. While most settled into the lower groove, Mueller chose the high side to make his way to the front, taking control for the second half of the contest. Without a caution, the race quickly concluded.
McGrath got past Scheffler before the end, with Jim Schmidt coming from ninth to fourth and Buhler hanging on for fifth place. Mueller was happy to enter victory lane to be interviewed by a former Plymouth champion. “It feels real good to be interviewed by my good friend Dave Enders,” began Mueller, claiming, “The 74 (Scheffler) car is really fast.” Thanking his crew for their dedication, Mueller quipped, “Now they get to work on my Slinger car, that’s their reward.”
The Grand National heats began in controversy when third-place drove into the fifth-place finisher after the race, followed by the announcement of the offender being disallowed points for his finish. Dan Sorce, Tim Simon and J. J. Pagel were the heat winners, and ageless Hed led the four transferees from the B main. Twenty cars began the 25-lap feature, with Sorce and Roger Lee starting in front of Donny Sorce Jr., Luke Schoten subbing for Scotty Houpt, Simon and Pagel. Dan Sorce had been thwarted from posting a win all season, and used his advantage to leap into the lead at the green flag. Establishing a lengthy gap over Sorce Jr. and Lee, Sorce had just begun lapping the back markers when the slow car stopped on the track.
The caution was followed by another when the restart ended with the fifth and sixth place cars spun. The final eight laps were caution-free with Dan Sorce scoring his first win of the season, hounded by brother Sorce Jr. and Lee to the checkered flag. Schoten finished a strong third, followed by Lammers and Lubach without incident. Sorce shouted, “The car was awesome tonight!” Approaching the back of the pack before the caution, Sorce explained his dilemma, “They were two and three wide in front of us. I figured the 99 (Sorce Jr.) and 10 (Lee) were right behind me. As I’m getting older the wins don’t come as easy”, adding he started racing in 1991.
Al Schlafer, Travis Luedke, Tim Haddy and Donny Goeden started the night with heat wins, but the races were not without incident. Ozzie Wesener brought out his mount hoping to sell it, but flipped onto his wing before one lap in his heat. The third heat stopped when Randy Walter slammed sideways into the wall. In both cases the drivers walked away, their mounts not faring as well. The B main was won by Ken Jay Fiedler and the final six were added to the main. This was the sprint car field’s turn for a 50% bonus in pay, all positions getting extra cash in the 30-lap feature. Paul Pokorski, Jim Melis, Shane Wenninger, Haddy, Luedke, Robby Pribnow, Kevin Karnitz and Goeden led the 22-car field. Pokorski took the point right away and did not want to see the yellow flag after a dozen circuits for a stopped car.
The next green flag was followed by Wenninger taking the point as the rest of the race quickly sped by. With five laps remaining Goeden caught and passed Wenninger on his way to posting his fifth win of the season. A lapped car separated Goeden from Wenninger at the checkered flag, with Pokorski, Luedke and Haddy completing the top five. Goeden made a reverse victory lap and spun donuts in the infield before parking in front of the fans. “This is so much fun to race at Plymouth, all the fans here, thanks to them all,” declared Goeden. Thanking his car owner and sponsors as well, Goeden talked about the field taking the inside on the tricky track, “I wanted to get to the outside,” and the rest is history.
The Outlaw Compact heats began with a delay for Mark Kuhfuss, who had just completed his Grand National heal before strapping into the Jonathan Otte machine. Scott Schlafke and Chris Maas won the heats before the random feature invert. Donnie Welch and Brody Rivest shared the front row, Maas, Schlafke, Justin Erickson and James Rautmann following at the start of the 15-lap main. Rivest roared into the lead, driving full speed ahead on the outer groove until Schlafke got past him on the fourth circuit. The nonstop race ended with Schlafke posting his second win of the season, several lapped cars separating the top finishers.
The audience could not believe their eyes when Rivest literally drove the wheel off his car with three laps remaining, finishing third behind Maas at the end. Schlafke talked about Rivest from victory lane, claiming, “If he would have slowed down nobody could have caught him, but he didn’t slow down.” Later Schlafke told of his car loving a black track, having been built for the paved Madison oval.
The Super Modified field found new winners for the first time, having been swept by Johnny Fahl in the past. Butchie Hafemann won the heat before the 12-lap feature was realigned. Leroy Ostrowski and Hafemann shared the front row ahead of Fahl, Dennis Klumb and Roy Stern. Ostrowski quickly took control and led every lap, with Fahl, Klumb, Hafemann and Bill Lemkuil following at the checkered flag. On his second visit in this car, Ostrowski quickly adjusted to racing without a wing, claiming from victory lane, “I started my career with a wing down at Wilmot. It takes a while to get used to it.”
Before ten o’clock the program was complete, with just a little chill in the air telling us there are only a handful of races left in 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.