Along with next weekend’s race at WIR, the series will also make appearances at Marshfield Motor Speedway on June 12, Jefferson Speedway on July 17, State Park Speedway on August 7, Golden Sands Speedway on September 6 and Dells Raceway Park on September 26.
TUNDRA has become a favorite for both fans and drivers alike. The event format featuring heat and qualifying races, and a 75-lap feature (50 for larger tracks) with deep inverts keeps fans on the edge of their seats.
Meanwhile, TUNDRA continues to be one of the most affordable series options for drivers in all of Super Late Model racing. Teams pay a buy-in rate at the beginning of the season, and TUNDRA provides tires and four pit passes for each team at every race. The buy-in for the 2020 season was $2,100, and series co-owner Matt Panure said in an interview with joeverdegan.com that 19 teams received a $1,000 point fund check at the end of the season.
Casey Johnson heads into the new season off the heels of his record-fourth TUNDRA title. With the new season brings big new changes. He and Travis Dassow is fielding a car for Alabama teenager Grant Thompson out of the Apex Motorsports stables, while Johnson himself has joined Aaron Larson for a run at the championship.
“We’re switching things up quite a bit. I built a new car over the winter and I didn’t really have any plans for it. I got into contact with Grant Thompson and his father through John Halverson and they were really interested in running the TUNDRA series,” Johnson told Speed51. “I told them it was real competitive and it was a great way to get their feet wet up here.
“Aaron Larson approached me over the winter as well and asked if I would be interested in driving for him in the TUNDRA series. He’s got real great equipment so that was a no-brainer as well. All that stuff got put into play and that’s the plan for the year.”
With his championship last season, he now has more TUNDRA championships (four) than he does wins with the series (three). While the wins haven’t come in the fashion that he would like, his consistency in series events has been unmatched. In 28 TUNDRA starts, he has earned 23 top-fives and has finished outside the top-ten just once.
I don’t know, our consistency in the series is probably what has got us to that point. All of the TUNDRA races have big inverts but they always make it worthwhile to qualify well. You qualify good and as long as you get back into the top-five, it makes for a good points night. We’ve been fortunate enough to do that a lot over the last few years.
That consistency is what helped him take the championship from Justin Mondeik last season. Mondeik was perhaps Wisconsin’s hottest driver in 2020, and it translated over to TUNDRA where he won races at State Park Speedway and Golden Sands Speedway. However, a bad finish at Marshfield would relegate him to second in the final points standings.
“I’ve been in the top-five in points for the last three years and we were close to the championship last year, but we had a bad race at Marshfield that took us out of the hunt,” said Mondeik. “We are coming back to TUNDRA this year and going for that title.”
“We just have to show speed at every track we go to like we did last year. We can’t have any issues. With it only being a six race series, there’s no room for error.”
Mondeik’s 2020 season was one to remember. He won 14 races, including his first ARCA Midwest Tour win and first two TUNDRA wins while also adding track championships at State Park and Golden Sands Speedway. He hopes that same success will carry over into 2021.
“What a year 2020 was to say the least. When we started the year we couldn’t even imagine the run we would go on. Getting our first Tour win, two TUNDRA wins and two track championships is what I’m most proud of. I feel like we always worked week in and week out and it paid off.”
Jordan Thiel is another driver knocking on the door in the TUNDRA points races year after year. A one-time winner with the series at Dells in 2017, he was third in the final standings in 2020, marking the fourth time in the past five years he finished in the top-five in points.
Next weekend’s TUNDRA opener provides Thiel a rare opportunity to compete at his home track. He is normally unable to compete at WIR during the weekly Thursday Night Thunder program due to other obligations, so the TUNDRA race gives him the chance to race at home.
“Being a part of the TUNDRA series is always a good time. They bring some damn good competition and being at Kaukauna, I consider that my home track. I grew up 10 or 15 minutes from there and I’ve been going there since I was a kid. To be able to race there is just awesome,” Thiel stated. “I don’t get the opportunity to run there weekly with it being a Thursday night and work schedules and conflicts with the crew, it never works out. I’m super happy that TUNDRA runs out there, it gives me a chance to race there once a year.”
The series’ cost and the competition it provides has brought Thiel back to TUNDRA every year since the series rebranded and hit the road in 2013.
First of all, it’s the most economical series out there with the buy-in program and them providing the tires and pit passes. You can’t get any better than that for a traveling series. On top of it all, it brings some tough competition. It makes you a better driver going up against high-quality drivers, and every year it seems like the competition gets tougher. It’s a fun series, I get along with the owners Matt (Panure) and Drew (Kreibich) and all those guys very well. It’s the way to go in my opinion.
The same reasoning can be made for Colin Reffner and why he continues to compete with TUNDRA. The grandson of Wisconsin legend Tom Reffner and nephew of former ASA champion Bryan Reffner has been with the series since 2017 and is a former race winner at Marshfield back in 2018.
“I think that I like about TUNDRA is the buy-in with the minimal up-front cost to be able to run the six races. The series has fielded a lot of great drivers at every single race every year, to be able to go to races with high levels of competition and to be able to chase for a championship over the course of six races,” said Reffner. “The format is really cool, you go to six different racetracks. Everyone who runs the series do a really great job as far as race day procedures and promoting the series and drivers, it makes you feel good to be a part of it.”
With just six races to decide the champion, there are no nights off for anybody in TUNDRA. Reffner talks about what all it takes just to enter the season finale with a shot at the series championship.
“To be in contention for the championship you have to be on top of your game every single race and minimize your mistakes on the track and get the best finishes you can. With six races it just becomes even more crucial. I’ve had it where you get wrecked in a race and it takes you from being on top of the points to now you’re down in fourth. Points stay tight all year around and you have to make sure you’re on top of your game every single race.”
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51 Photo