Fifth Annual George Scheffler Reunion at Oshkosh
The Fifth Annual George Scheffler Memorial and Hales Corners Reunion Night was a rousing success Friday at the Oshkosh Speedzone Raceway. Only three of the over 120 cars could win the big money offered, and the biggest winners were the fans. Side-by-side battles were decided by inches at the finish line, a lot of top drivers missed the main, and equipment failure parked some too early. The Corn Belt Clash brought more late models to the already packed pits, as their tour included three Wisconsin tracks in three nights. After rain erased their Thursday event, the drivers were fresh and ready to battle Wisconsin’s finest. And what a battle it was.
The late models saw Jimmy Mars in the 14-second bracket during hot lap sessions, and progressive racing followed. Bobby Pierce used Bob Cullen’s mount Friday and had an autograph session in the seating area before racing. Tom Naeyaert drove the number 70 car that Brian Gilles drove in weekly shows while Jared Siefert doubled in Naeyaert’s late model and his own IMCA modified. With some fifty entries in each field, making the cut would not be easy. The fifth heat held nothing but top names, and saw T. J. Dolhun crash into the frontstretch wall and flip over. This was the second destroyed car for Dolhun in four weeks, but he was unhurt and already planning to build another car.
Heat races were won by Doug Blashe, Spencer Diercks, Jordan Yaggy, Chad Simpson and A. J. Diemel. A pair of B mains ended with Chris Simpson and Nick Anvelink leading the final six entries into the 24-car feature. Missing the cut by one position were Russ Scheffler and Siefert. A dash determined the first three rows at feature time, the 30-lap contest beginning with Chad Simpson and Diemel in front of Mars, Jason Utter, Blashe and Diercks. Rick Scheffler, Anvelink, Mars and Diemel were the previous winners of the Scheffler Memorial and all made the field Friday. The prestige of winning this ten-race memorial event was coupled with the lure of $6,000 for first place.
The green flag saw the field roar into action with Simpson leaping ahead of the others. After nine circuits Simpson had begun lapping the back markers, but three laps later a caution for debris regrouped the field. By this time Russ Scheffler and nephew Mitch McGrath both retired with suddenly-broken fan belts. The restart failed when Jake Meier’s car dropped its drive shaft on the frontstretch, and random raindrops began to fall. Forging ahead, the field again got up to speed as the moisture stopped. Simpson fended off challenges by Mars and Diemel while continuing to negotiate lapped traffic on his way to the win. Simpson was followed by Diemel, Utter got past Mars before the checkered flag and Jason Rauen completed the top five.
Simpson proudly posed with the huge travelling Scheffler Memorial trophy, planning to repeat by winning on his second visit to the Plymouth track the next night. Diemel was tempted to join Simpson on Saturday, but Mars and Rick Scheffler would be elsewhere. Anvelink found engine problems that needed to be solved, so his weekend fun ended here until finding a solution. Rain and fog were the unwelcome choices for the rest of the weekend, and we would all be gambling on clear weather.
Over fifty IMCA modified cars were running for points as well as the $1,000 winner’s purse Friday. Heats were won by Joel Crowbridge, Brian Crapser, Brian Mullen, Sean Jerovetz, Mike Mueller and Mike Wedelstadt. The B mains ended with Marcus Yarie, Jason Zdroik and Don Scheffler leading the final six entries into the 20-lap feature. Again Siefert missed the main by one car, but we think his experience left him with a smile. We were surprised to see Scheffler back in action after being sidelined with a brain concussion earlier this season. Wedelstadt led every lap, but it was not easy. On the second lap a car met the wall and there was a lengthy cleanup.
Six more laps were completed when a spun car forced another restart. That ended quickly when another car spun and was hit, and Crapser’s mount flipped over. We were happy to see the drivers were fine, but their cars were done. The race clock had expired by this time, so the contest ended with the green, white, and checkered flags in quick succession. Wedelstadt had just been passed by Mike Mueller on the final lap, but nosed ahead at the finish line to take the win and money. Behind them were Jeff Steenbergen, Mullen and Jerovetz.
The Grand National field was not competing for points, but the feature win was worth $500 Friday. Tyler Kulow, Kenny Richards and Luke Schoten won the heat races and all 21 cars started the main. Kulow and John Schultz III shared the front row at feature time, but before a lap was scored a car spun to regroup the field. One lap was complete when the next yellow waved for a car trailing fluids. One more lap was scored when a car spun. Two laps later Larry Richards had moved up from the fourth row to the lead, but he also met the yellow banner on lap six. On the restart the field was met with the white flag when time had run out, and Richards happily took the checkered ahead of Kulow, Schultz, son Kenny Richards and Tim Reichenberger. Richards is one of many Hales Corners racers who adopted Oshkosh as their weekly track, and we saw many others in the audience enjoying the show.
Some former Hales champions joined the fun by running a race in Grand National machines for the first time. Al Schill barely edged out Gary Laack at the finish line, followed by Bill Prietzel, Mike Melius, Pat Heaney, Chris Johnson and Mark Eckert, who joined the race late after his mount wouldn’t start. Wes Eckert, Frank Smith, and others also enjoyed their visit. On the other side of the track were Roger Regeth, Darryl Traber, Jere Nicholas, Wayne Freimund, Mike Weir, Dave Magnus, and Lowell Bennett among others. Since 2003 the drivers of Hales Corners have scattered to tracks in Oshkosh, Beaver Dam Plymouth, and the pavement of Slinger. Others have retired, but the memories live on. As do the stories, which may or may not be as accurate decades later.
We thank the Scheffler family for all the months of work for this event, plus hosting a great reunion in the pits after the races. It was the next morning when we tore ourselves away from the reunion to pouring rain on our way home. Many of the participants decided to stay in Oshkosh instead. They are older and wiser now, as are we. Now into the third generation of some of the racing families, we have been blessed to know these people.
Corn Belt Clash at Plymouth Dirt Track
The Corn Belt Clash Late Model Series capped off their Wisconsin tour at Plymouth Dirt Track Saturday after a night of pounding rain nearly flooded the arena. The track crew transformed the quagmire into a drivable race track and as much pit parking as they could. Dense fog was a problem in surrounding areas, but visibility was much better by the time we reached Plymouth. Several of the behemoth race haulers were in the parking lot outside the pit gate when we arrived, for the previous night’s deluge left two inches of rain behind. Nearly thirty late models brought the car count to ninety entries, all of whom were challenged to find a usable pit area. Problems with a soft spot in the first turns were addressed by reworking the track often during the program, and the show went on.
The heat races were led off by the sprint cars, but they did not fare well on the heavy track. The first heat barely began when Mitch Yurmanovich rolled high into the fourth turn catch fence, breaking part of a section in the process. Climbing out to the applause of the crowd, the rookie was done for the night. John Krebsbach won the first event. The second heat was on the second lap when Robbie Pribnow bounced into the second turn fence, which returned him to the track with a crumpled wing. Pribnow also got grateful applause and returned with a new wing later. Danny Schlafer won the race with Lance Fassbender following in Dannon Tessmer’s car. Justin Miller won the third heat and the track was reworked again.
Tim Melis led the final six sprint cars in the B main, and the 22-car feature field was set. Jason Johnson and Fassbender shared the front row, followed by Justin Miller, Krebsbach, Danny Schlafer, Shane Wenninger, Tim Haddy and Kyle Marten. The field got up to speed at the green flag with Johnson leading the way. Six laps later Schlafer sustained damage after hitting a barrier tire and was towed off. The rest of the race was at full speed as drivers chose their lines trying get to the front. Johnson began lapping cars after a dozen laps were complete, and Marten saw his chance in traffic.
Marten was ahead on lap fifteen, Johnson three laps afterwards, but Marten fought back again with six laps remaining. Marten and Johnson threaded their way through lapped cars to the checkered flag, followed by Wenninger, Miller and Krebsbach. Fassbender, Jim Melis and Donny Goeden from the seventh row were next. Marten was very happy to capture his first feature of the season at Plymouth, telling the audience the track had a lot of bite.
The late model heats were won by Jason Utter, Spencer Diercks, Jake Redetzke and Chris Simpson, who set a new race record in the process. The Corn Belt Series uses a dash to set the feature’s front row, won by Diercks. Two B mains added six more cars to the top sixteen in passing points, led by Dave Ekrich and Bobby Smith, with Mark Rose and Pete Parker completing the 24-car field. The feature was to be 35 laps, with cautions followed by the leader in front of double rows and lane choice given to the second-place car. Whichever lane was chosen was also taken by the entire row of cars he was in at the time. After a four-wide salute to the crowd, the drivers settled into their positions for the green flag. Diercks was followed by Redetzke, Utter, previous night’s winner Chad Simpson, Chris Simpson and Lance Mathees.
Diercks led until seeing the yellow flag four laps later when Brad Mueller’s car was caught on the heavy inner berm. The restart was good for one lap until the next caution for another mishap, and it took three attempts to get another complete lap. Eighteen cars were left at the next green flag, and Utter found footing to get past Diercks on lap seven. Utter began lapping cars by the twelfth time around, and challenging Chris Simpson had contact than ended in a spin two laps later. Three more circuits were complete when the final caution occurred and the race clock ran out to shorten the event to thirty circuits.
Series point leader Chad Simpson challenged to the end, but Utter was up to the challenge. With a dozen left at the finish, the top pair was followed by Redetzke, Diercks and Mathees. Utter posted his second Corn Belt Clash win of the season, claiming, “We were trying to get up there a few times and it finally worked out.” Asked about his race career, Utter replied, “We raced go-karts a long time before this. We just try to win every time and see what happens.” We remember when Utter started competing in dirt late models after being part of Brian Birkhofer’s crew. Clearly Utter is not a rookie any more.
The Grand National heats were won by Don Sorce Jr., Matt Yancey and J. J. Pagel, and all 23 cars would start the night’s feature. It was minutes before the night’s mandated curfew when they quickly started the main event. Mark Fieber, Tim Simon, Johnathan Singer, Brad Lubach, Roger Lee, Sorce and Pagel made up the front rows when the green flag waved. One lap was scored when the green was replaced by the yellow banner, and it was announced that the next flag of any color would end the contest. Another spun car at the restart sealed their fate, and the night was done for them just before eleven o’clock.
Ben Meyerhofer and Chris Maas won the Outlaw Compact heats earlier, but they were also not able to run their feature. Considering the awesome feat of getting in any racing at all in the soggy ground, we can only applaud the herculean labor put into the night’s show. The person who won nearly $1,800 in the 50/50 drawing certainly did not complain.
The weekly program returns in two weeks to cap off the season championships for three divisions. Mitch McGrath, Tim Buhler and Brad Mueller are in the running for the late model title. Don Sorce Jr. and Brad Lubach are followed by Page, and Fieber in the Grand National field, and the Outlaw Compact title is up to Justin Erickson and Scott Schlafke. The sprint cars join the IRA tour 410 sprints next week and three weeks later to cap off their season championship. Donny Goeden has the advantage over Marten and Jim Melis, but things can still happen before the final show.
(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