Sunny skies and warm temperatures ended Slinger Speedway’s season, with the TUNDRA super late models also crowning their champion Sunday afternoon. Some 120 cars packed the pits as the program included eight divisions for the season finale. Despite the weather forecast for a cool day, the audience baked in the sun and enjoyed the final race of the year here.
The TUNDRA tour regulars were joined by some Slinger veterans Sunday. Dennis Prunty edged out Brad Mueller for fast time honors in the car he had just finished repairing hours earlier. The fastest five ran a dash, with Michael Bilderback the winner. Heats were won by Tom Gee Jr. and Chris Blawat, with all 24 cars to start the feature. One was missing at the start, and Conrad Morgan dropped to the back after pitting with problems in his son’s car. Brandon Selle, Randy Schuler, Reagan May, Mike Lichfeld, Ryan Farrell and Bilderback filled the first three rows at the start of the 75-lap contest.
Schuler was leading when a cluster of cars got sideways on the third orbit to force the first yellow flag. Schuler chose the bottom groove for the restart and was passed by Selle two laps later. The next caution flag came on lap twelve when Chris Blawat and Rich Schumann Jr. stopped just before exiting the track. Selle chose the bottom lane and Bilderback passed him after the restart. Another caution for a car stopping before exiting forced the next caution, and Bilderback favored the outer lane for the next start. Travis Dassow’s spin collected several cars in the aftermath to cancel the restart, and Bilderback again chose the high side. Farrell got ahead on the inside lane for two circuits before Bilderback regained the advantage, but five laps later Paige Decker and Reagan May spun in the first turn.
Farrell chose the outer groove to stay ahead of Bilderback, but Bilderback surged ahead two laps later. Shortly after fifty circuits were complete Prunty maneuvered between the lead pack to take the lead, surpassed by Mueller just before the next caution flag. Prunty was in his favored outer lane at the next green flag and regained the point. Mueller challenged until his car slid around with fourteen laps remaining. Mueller had to restart at the back, and Prunty suddenly drove to the pits before the restart. The next two in line were Farrell and Bilderback, but no more lane choice was given due to time. The single file field received the next green flag with Farrell in front and Bilderback challenging on the outside. Another spun car at the restart forced the final yellow banner, with the field again single file.
Farrell had the advantage again with Bilderback challenging on the outside, and the audience was riveted as the final flags flew. At the line it was Bilderback ahead of Farrell, with Mueller, Brad Keith and Schuler completing the top five. Bilderback spun donuts on the track before walking to the stage for his victory interview. Talking on the phone on the way, Bilderback had an emotional journey on the way. Clearing his tears before climbing onto the stage, Bilderback said, “We ran the outside early in the race, and he (Farrell) took the bottom. Early in the race we got a little tight and fell back to third.” Bilderback choked up when stating, “This one’s for my grandpa. I called him and told him I won and he started crying.”
Farrell exclaimed, “Second sucks. He (Bilderback) had a better car. I gave it all I had.” Floridian Dalton Zehr spends his summers in the Midwest, and it paid off with the TUNDRA championship. Rookie of the year honors went to Reagan May, who hung on for a top finish.
Kyle Chwala again topped the Area Sportsman field in qualifying, with Evan Beattie and Brad Hetzel winning the heats. Chwala started the 30-lap feature behind Jason Dummer, Hetzel, Scott Ascher, Rich Wagner and Nick Egan. Hetzel took the point away from Dummer on the second lap and was hoping to capture the win when a car spun with four laps remaining. With two laps remaining Hetzel was unable to fend off Chawla, who got past on the outer groove to notch the win and championship title.
Spinning donuts before taking a reverse victory lap, Chwala happily returned to the winner’s stage. “That car is really fast,” began Chwala, adding, “I don’t care where they are. I like the top side.” Also competing in a limited late model from the Team 16 racing stable, Chwala talked about the new experience, “It was different. I’m going for rookie of the year next year in late models.” Asked if he wanted to thank anyone, Chwala exclaimed, “My mom and dad are huge. He’s worked on my sportsman all night, then my late model.”
The limited late models began with point leader Danny Church posting quick time. Kyle Taylor piloted a Jerry Eckhardt machine to a heat win, with Mike Meyerhofer winning the second heat. Wayne Freimund started ahead of Andy Evraets, Jeff Holtz, Eddie May, Mike Meyerhofer and Alex Prunty for the 40-lap feature. Freimund led until the twelve lap when a spun car forced the first caution. Choosing the inside lane, Freimund was overtaken by Meyerhofer at the restart, and a lap later another spun car brought out the second yellow flag. Meyerhofer was ahead at the next green, but another spun car forced the next caution with six laps remaining. The restart saw Church get ahead on the outer lane just before three cars tangled in the fourth turn. This left a five-lap sprint to the finish.
Church chose the inside for the final green flag, staying ahead of Meyerhofer to win the race and the championship. Rounding out the top five were Prunty, Gergg Pawelski and May. Church’s team soon donned championship shirts for their victory photos and celebrated in the infield as the next race was staged. We know Church is thankful for his team, family and sponsors, while Prunty missed the championship by a narrow margin.
The Midwest Sportsman field saw Jimmie Evans capture his first fast time, and Cody Erdmann won the heat. The 35-lap feature front rows were made up of Brian Holtz, Jack Stern, Kenny Joosten, Evans and Jeff Holtz, who had just finished his late model contest. Stern took the lead at the green flag and never wavered, withstanding a restart with nine laps remaining. Followed by Jeff Holtz, Gutknecht, Evans and Joosten, Stern won the race, but not the championship. Gutknecht led the point standings coming into the final race and solidified the title with a top finish. Gutknecht’s team brought celebratory cake in anticipation of his crown, plastering their champion with it later.
Jake Schraufnagel topped thirty Slinger Bees in qualifying. Rich Schaefer, Jared Deming and T. J. Graczkowski win their heats, with Deming doubling his fun by winning the semi. Nicole Mueller’s top five heat finish ended when her wheel rolled away and she was the fourth and final car to transfer from the semi to the 18-car main. The 25-lap contest began with Graczkowski, Dale Kiley-Schaefer, Brandon and father Marty Tackes in the front rows. Graczkowski was the leader until defending champion Nick Schmidt lost a wheel on the eighth lap. Kiley-Schaefer took the point after the resart, and Schraufnagel moved up from the fourth row to lead the final six circuits. Garnering his fourth win of the year, Schraufnagel hoped it would be enough to overtake Brandon Tackes in the point standings. The closest contest of the season ended with Tackes the track champion by one point over Schraufnagel.
The visiting Super Cups joined the day with a reduced field. Mike Ellis was quickest in time and Brian Baldyga won the heat. The 15-lap feature started with Gred Davis, Baldyga, Andy Forster, Erle Hoth and Ellis in the front. Baldyga only led three laps before Derek Doerr charged from his fourth-row start to the lead. The race ran nonstop to the checkered flag, with 15-year Doerr winning in his rookie year. Completing the top five were Forster, Ken Jones, Hoth and Baldyga. Doerr wore a Pat Schauer shirt in honor of his late grandfather, who was part of the crew for the late ASA champion from Wisconsin.
Spectators ran their eliminations before the Figure 8 race closed the show. Ryan Lovald won the last race of the day, spinning donuts on the frontstretch in celebration. In the first turn Scott Goetzke was doing a burnout in front of the fans, celebrating his record seventh championship. It was after 6:30 when fans crowded into the pits for a visit with their heroes for the last time. By the time we left the full moon had shown up and it was time to bid farewell until next 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