Six Slinger Speedway champions were celebrated Friday night as the historic track ended its 67th year of racing. The night was filled with fine food, friendship and fun as all enjoyed the company of their extended racing family. Co-promoters Todd Thelen and Rodney Erickson greeted all and thanked everyone for another great season of racing. Awards and door prizes were greatly appreciated by those in attendance, and many basked in the warmth of friendship long after the ceremony ended. Slinger can be proud of the fact that nineteen of its champions have been inducted into the Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame, as well as track owner Wayne Erickson and flagger Dick Witt. By earning his third consecutive super late model title, Steve Apel joined four other Slinger champions and Hall of Fame members by achieving that hallmark at least once.
Apel began by thanking his crew, “We were on our own for the first time and a lot of them stuck by me. My wife had our first child and having him with me is awesome.” Referring to the title that came down to the last race, Apel added, “The last night of the season was packed like it was Slamfest. Fans wanted to see who would win, me or Dennis (Prunty). These drivers push me to be better. My worst finish was ninth. This whole year wouldn't have been possible if the track wasn't still around. I race four-cylinders here when I was fourteen, and I never raced before that in my life. To have watched Al Schill, Robbie Reiser, Conrad Morgan and Lowell Bennett earn three in a row is something I never thought possible.” Ending with thanks to his family and crew, Apel gave credit to Team 16 owners Dan and Sonya DelCamp for getting him started in the first place. Also taking home the Pepsi Challenge Series title, Apel told the audience, “We'll be back at Slinger every week.”
Dennis Prunty achieved his goal of winning the elusive Slinger Nationals, but fell short of the track title with mechanical problems on the final night. “Racing is like everything else in life. You learn from your mistakes. It was awesome to win that $1600 in lap money (in Slinger Nationals race), and I hope they do it again. Congratulations to Steve Apel. Everybody thinks we're enemies, but that's not true. I love Slinger Speedway, and I'll be there as much as I can.” Referring to his branching out to other tracks and series, Prunty claimed, “There's some thirty races on my schedule right now.”
Danny Church was Rookie of the Year, claiming, “Moving up to the super late models was going to be a tough time. I've been watching a lot of them since I was in high school. I kind of struggled. It was basically a learning season for me. This is my favorite race track. I've raced probably 25 different tracks, dirt and asphalt, and Slinger is my favorite.”
Alex Prunty earned his second Late Model title at Slinger, exclaiming, “What a year. I can't thank my dad enough.” Prunty will probably not earn his third title in the upcoming season, claiming, “We had so much fun at the Dells (Raceway Park) last year that we're going to go back.” With thanks to his younger brother for helping all season, Prunty ended with, “See you next year.”
Runner-up Mike Held provided a humorous moment by taking the podium. “What can you say about second place? Second sucks. We had some bad luck and some good luck. To finish second to a Prunty isn't bad at all.” Jordan DeVoy earned top rookie honors and thanked everyone he could think of, the third-generation racer looking forward to better things.
Brian Holtz earned his first Midwest Sportsman title, stating, “Thanks to everybody for an awesome year. Giving a nod to his crew and sponsors, Holtz gave special thanks to one, “He came back from Florida just for this. That's awesome.” Bob Hamel, probably the oldest in this division, was honored to be named Rookie of the Year.
Scott Goetzke earned an unprecedented eighth championship in the Figure 8 division, providing the shortest acceptance speech of the night, “Thanks.” That was a lot for the taciturn racer. Runner-up Ron Schmitt was more loquacious. “This was probably the worst year I ever had, and I finished second,” Schmitt began, referring to wrecking often. “I had a guy come to my house every week to do welding on my car. That modified is gone.” The upcoming season will see Schmitt in a different mount and Goetzke return one more year.
Second-generation racer Nick Egan earned the Area Sportsman championship. Thanking his family, crew and sponsors, Egan added, “This is an expensive hobby to have. Even though some people don't think racing's a sport, they don't know. It's been a crazy year. I never thought we'd be in this position. We're a big group of friends, basically, even if it doesn't look like it. It was a great year. We're looking forward to more.”
Andy Welter finished second in the points, claiming, “I had the most fun I ever had. I wouldn't trade it for anything.” Scott Hoeft claimed Rookie of the Year honors, and all gave thanks to their supporters.
Tom Berens earned his first Slinger Bees title, stating, “It was probably my best season ever. I think last year there's been more close racing than ever. I wasn't the fastest car out there, but I had a lot of good finishes.” Young EJ Waldron claimed top Rookie honors, claiming, “ I didn't have a very good year.” With his voice changing this year, this was Waldron's very first speech. Joined by even younger brother, the youth movement has a way of making the others feel really old.
Other highlights of the evening came from the Super Late Model drivers. Lowell Bennett received the Hard Luck Award and was grateful for the bonus cash, saying, “This is a big surprise. I won this one during the season, too.” Finishing tenth in the point standings, Bennett later thanked the safety crew. “When you have a really bad wreck you know how good they are,” claimed Bennett, adding, “I had a pretty bad year at Slinger, but a good one at Kaukauna (WIR). Next year will be my fortieth race year.”
The ageless Jerry Eckhardt told the audience, “It was quite an honor for the track to honor my fiftieth year in racing. I'm not done yet. I'm going to race at least another year.” James Swan stood in for friend Rob Braun, who couldn't make it, claiming, “We're all entertainers. I come here because we're all friends, too.” Conrad Morgan admitted, “I'm not really pleased with seventh in the points. I guess after all these years it averages out. I guarantee things will be better next year.”
-Fay Hendricks Story & Photo