Slinger Speedway capped off its 66th season Friday with dinner, awards, stories and amusing banter. Co-owners Todd Thelen and Rodney Erickson thanked everyone for their support, including the many who work behind the scenes. In eleven weeks Slinger’s 67th season begins with practice April 18 and racing Sunday afternoon, April 19. Dean Strom handled announcing duties with humor and several drivers took turns speaking to the amusement of the crowd.
The Slinger Bees crown was won in the last race when Brandon Tackes garnered one more point than Jacob Schraufnagel. Both have fathers also competing weekly at Slinger, and both could be proud of their performances. Tackes began with, “I want to thank all my sponsors and the people who helped me out,” including fellow racers and his father Marty. Isaac Daniels was awarded the Rookie of the Year honors, and thanked his friends and family who helped him get to this point.
Kyle Chwala earned his second consecutive Area Sportsman title in a record season with ten feature wins, thirteen fast times, and fifteen top five finishes. Chwala stated, “I have to thank my mom and dad. Dad pushed me to always be better.” Thanking his fiancé, crew and sponsors, Chwala also thanked Dan and Sonya DelCamp for offering him a late model seat with Team 16 this season. With no defending champion, this opens the door for the others.
Scott Goetzke claimed his seventh Figure 8 crown in eight years, and will return once again to add to his success. Runner-up Joe Mueller claimed, “I thought I had it won,” bringing chuckles from the audience when adding, “I’ve got to thank some other people,” and did not mention their names. Goetzke, a more taciturn fellow, thanked those who helped him, ending with, “Thanks for coming.”
Ryan Gutknecht earned his first Midwest Sportsman championship by finishing in the top three every night. “I’ve got to thank my girlfriend. She’s my biggest supporter, and I sometimes forget to mention her. Thanks to all the wives and girlfriends. The guys are in the shop late all the time.” Gutknecht ended with, “Thanks to my dad, uncle and sponsors. I couldn’t do it without them and the crew.”
The limited late model group began with 51-year old Duke Long telling the audience his amusing tale of deciding to become a racer at the age of 50. After sharing his disastrous beginning, Long got help from several others, and ended with, “Since then I’ve been hooked. This was great, the people are awesome.” Grant Griesbach, now 13 and about a foot taller since we last saw him, thanked his father and Team 16 for their help, and will soon be heading to Florida to try his hand in a limited late model. Third-generation Tyler Schley stated, “Thanks to my dad. He means a lot to me,” adding gratitude to the crew help from others, and sponsors. Mike Held took the microphone to entertain the crowd for a few minutes before thanking his sponsors, safety crew, the track, his parents and girlfriend. Runner-up Alex Prunty mentioned his father’s health problems, ending with, “Thanks to my dad for all his work and my sponsors.”
Danny Church’s Late Model championship was earned by posting fast time on eight occasions and finishing in the top five nearly every night. Church doubled his fun by fielding a Super Late Model for Ryan Farrell, and started by thanking his wife Stephanie. “I remember about fifteen years ago, we talked about getting married and I told her I wasn’t going to quit racing. We’ve been married thirteen years now, and she tells me about mental illness. I started racing at Hales Corners when I was in high school. Thanks to my crew, friends and families. The crew really works hard. It’s been a dream season. I appreciate everything. Thanks to Slinger, too, the best racing in the Midwest.” Church plans to drive his own Super Late Model this season. Rookie of the Year honors went to Ricky Heinan, who made sure to thank his family and crew, as well as the track’s safety crew, where his father works every week.
The Super Late Model drivers began with 72-year old Jerry Eckhardt announcing, “We’ll try to do it a few more years,” as well as two more tracks weekly. Rob Braun finished sixth in the final point standings, telling the crowd, “I would have finished fifth it I hadn’t been disqualified the last race of the year. I don’t have a girlfriend, so I’ll thank Joe Mueller’s because she seems special,” which drew laughs from the audience before adding, “Thanks to my wife. (Conrad) Morgan and (Jerry) Eckhardt are an inspiration to everyone.” Fourth-place Conrad Morgan posted three wins the year he turned 66, and earned six Slinger championships so far. Morgan said, “I’ve been in front of this crowd like forty times, and I’m still nervous. I look out in the audience and see all the wives, girlfriends, mothers, and sisters. You deserve a big hand for putting up with all the crap. The crew, when everyone else is sitting in their air-conditioned living rooms, you’re sweating in the garage. Thanks for all you did. My sponsors, most have been with me a long time. I thank them all.”
Lowell Bennett earned seven Slinger championships and five prestigious Slinger National titles, overcoming adversity to finish third in points. Bennett opened by saying, “I went to the doctor the other day and he told me I shrunk one and a half inches. I thought if I ran long enough I’d match Conrad (Morgan),” a height joke between masters. Bennett continued, “I remember riding with my parents one day and we stopped at Slinger Speedway. We went in and sat down. They saw my dad and paged Bob Bennett to the pits. He raced a mod that night and it was 1981. I’d been running up north at Shawano and DePere, dirt tracks. I came down in June 1981 and had fun. After racing Shawano, changed the car and ran against Conrad (Morgan) and Jerry (Eckhardt). I won my first race that year and have been coming back ever since.” Bennett paid homage to his family, crew and sponsors as well.
Runner-up Dennis Prunty brought his wry humor to all, “I don’t have much to say, but that Mike Held went on and I thought I’d better, too. We had some problems and some high spots.” Mentioning the loss of friend and engine builder Bruce Mueller, Prunty added, “Losing Bruce was hard. Congratulations to Steve Apel. I owe him two, not saying I’m paying him back. This year I’m having my golden birthday, forty-two in the number 42 car,” hinting for his family to celebrate the occasion. Prunty did win the coveted Pepsi Challenge Series title with two wins, thanking the track staff and safety team. “Winning both races was pretty awesome.”
Steve Apel celebrated his second consecutive Super Late Model championship with mixed emotions. Apel stated, “Thanks to Todd (Thelen), Rodney (Erickson) and Slinger staff. I started having bad luck in the middle of the year. Thanks to Motor Masters, family, crew, Team 16 (Dan and Sonya DelCamp), and sponsors. I’m looking forward to 2015. I’ll no long be with Team 16. And we’re expecting our first child.” Rookie of the Year honors went to Johnny DeAngelis, who stated, “Thanks to the Slinger staff and all the competitors for welcoming me.” Thanking his crew, family, girlfriend and sponsors, DeAngelis ended with, “It’s been a fun year with a couple top three finishes.”
Later many drivers were big winners in drawings for engine work, bodies, and other expensive race necessities. Several audience members won door prizes as well, and the room was filled with friendships for hours before we left. There’s nothing like spending time with your beloved family, whether it’s relatives or race people. Join us for more adventures as we head to Florida for our 30th year of covering Speed Weeks.
– Story and Photo by Fay Hendricks