Sunday was a special night at Slinger Speedway for many reasons. Fifty years separated the race winners, two of whom captured their first victories, while in the town of Slinger a train derailment forced people to evacuate their homes. Normally the Sunday following The Nationals finds competitors worn out, but this week special efforts were made. Danny Church and Alex Prunty are leading the points in the limited late model field, but both suffered extensive damage at The Nationals. Church arrived in crew member Jordan DeVoy’s car and Prunty was loaned the machine of his close friend John DeAngelis. They had many adjustments to make by race time in their quest for the track title.
Defending super late model champion Steve Apel posted fast time Sunday and followed by rolling the die to start in the fifth row at feature time. Braison Bennett, John De Angelis and Dennis Prunty won their heats and everyone made the main. Conrad Morgan was joined by Mike Egan in the front row for the 60-lap feature, followed by Dale Prunty, Tim Lampman, Dave McCardle, Rob Braun, Lowell Bennett and Ryan DeStefano. Egan got the advantage at the start and led for almost two dozen circuits when Morgan took over. Behind them we could see Dennis Prunty, Lowell Bennett and Apel moving through the field in the nonstop contest.
Lapping the backmarkers along the way Morgan found 56-year old Bennett challenging at the end, the pair of masters showing how to race Slinger’s high banks. At the end Morgan captured his second win of the season shortly after turning 66 years old, remarking that the older he gets the younger he feels. “This is great,” stated Morgan, telling the audience, “I’m not going to pat myself on the back for starting in the front row. A couple times it started getting away from me,” but Morgan managed to get the handling back. Referring to Bennett, Morgan replied, “I’ve been racing with him for so long, we never get together.” As the field crossed the final stripe Austin Luedtke’s quest for a top five finish ended in a spin before the line. Dennis Prunty came from eleventh to third at the end, with Apel and Egan completing the top five.
Jack Stern topped the limited late model field in qualifying and heat winners were Tyler Schley and Al Stippich. The 40-lap feature began with Alex Prunty, Justin Poenitsch, Stippich, Wayne Freimund and Mike Held in front of Stern. Poenitsch led the opening laps until Prunty recovered in the outer lane and got past on the fourth lap. A spin brought out the caution flag on lap eleven, with Prunty choosing the inner groove. Roaring along the outside was Stippich, who surged into the lead the next lap, but Prunty got ahead two laps later.
Just past the halfway mark another spun mount gave everyone lane choice before the restart. This time Prunty was passed on the outside by Stern, who led to the checkered flag. Stern spun donuts on the frontstretch to celebrate his first win in this division. Stippich got inside Prunty before the end, followed by Freimund before Prunty recovered for a fourth-place finish. Ty James had his first visit of the season pay off with a fifth place finish. Freimund retired from the race early, tightening up the point chase for the second half of the season.
Kyle Chwala completed his third clean sweep of the area sportsman field Sunday, with Joe Shelby the only other winner in his heat race. The 30-lap feature began with Chwala in the last row as John Daley and Rich Wagner started in front of Shelby, Ken Schraufnagel, Brad Hetzel and Nick Egan. Wagner led two laps and suddenly drove into the pits, leaving Daley in the front. Shelby was the leader on the fifth circuit of the caution-free event, and Chwala took charge just before the halfway mark. With Mark Deporter right behind, Chwala added to his huge point lead over third-place Shelby. Egan and Andy Welter completed the top five. Chwala did a reverse victory lap in celebration and searched for a broom for his photo later. After showing such dominance in this division, Chwala has hopes of moving up to a late model if finances allow.
The Slinger Bees qualifying had an incident when a Bennett cousin from Virginia, Aleks Kesic, did not exit after his second lap, coming around the fourth turn just as Nicole Mueller was entering. The cars collided and Mueller never posted a time. Repairs were made quickly, and Mueller won her heat race. The other heats were taken by Dale Kiley-Schaefer and point leader Nick Schmidt. Jayden Buckley left her car to drive Todd Buckley’s machine after qualifying, winning the semi as the final four entries made it to the feature. Tackes was relegated to the fifth row at the start of the 25-lap contest. In the front was Zach Braun, Paul Reagles, Brandon Berens, Heather Stark, T. J. Graczkowski and Matt Rose.
Reagles led the opening laps until Steve Dickson sped ahead in his number ten car from tenth to first in ten circuits. With three laps remaining everyone marveled at the sight of Rockford police chief Dickson being passed by Graczkowski, the pair putting a lapped car between themselves and the others. Reagles, Tackes and Schmidt rounded out the top five. This was the first win for second-generation racer Graczkowski, joined by father Mike afterwards. “I’m shaking like crazy,” began the victor, adding, “For me to run down The Chief (Dickson) like that is just crazy.” Proud father Mike parked his late model last year to help his son, stating, “I’m so pround of him. I make him do all the work. This is awesome.” Later Dickson told me he had another broken hub, and was able to hang on to the finish.
The spectator eliminations proved interesting when Dennis Prunty took his hot rod to the final round, then took the challenge of running against perennial winner Al Roberts for a bonus. Prunty was the first to claim the bounty, just five days after capturing over three thousand dollars in lap money during The Nationals. With such a turn of events, we think this should be the week Prunty buys lottery tickets.
The Figure 8 finale had a close call when a wheel rolled up to the wall and bounced high before coming back down on the right side of the catch fence. Ryan Lovald recovered from an earlier crash to win the event, and the show was complete at 9:30. Before the end it was announced that the train spill in Slinger would force everyone to find another route home, already a challenge with construction closing the freeway access. We feel fortunate not to be evacuated from our home on a Sunday night, and wish the best for all concerned. Next Sunday closed the month of July, and suddenly the season grows short.
(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.