The TUNDRA Super Late Model Series was started in 2011 by Tom Litchfield, Five Star Race Car Bodies Marketing Coordinator Matt Panure and former Dells Raceway Park track owner Joe Graziano as the Alive For Five Series to keep Super Late Model racing alive at Dells Raceway Park. After two successful years at the Central Wisconsin track, the series expanded across the state and bore a new name, The Unified Northern Drivers Racing Association (TUNDRA). Since then, the series has consistently had some of the highest average car counts in the entire country, boasting 28 cars per race in 2019 with a season-high total of 33 for the opener at Wisconsin International Raceway.
TUNDRA utilizes a format unique to the state of Wisconsin, which creates some of the best racing that can be seen anywhere. After qualifying, the top 14 teams are locked in to the A-Main and compete in a dash for the top five qualifiers, and a heat race for the remaining drivers locked in. The rest of the field splits into two and run separate qualifying races to lock in more drivers into the A-Main. A B-Main is also run if necessary. Then, the field inverts anywhere from 10 to 14 cars based on qualifying results for the A-Main, which is 75 laps for the smaller tracks and 50 laps for the half-miles.
The series is now co-owned by Tom and Sharon Litchfield, along with Panure. The Litchfields work behind-the-scenes on race day while Panure does the PA announcing among other duties. Panure explains the reasoning behind the race format used by the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series.
“The big thing is we like to keep the features shorter for a pair of reasons. Reason number one is less laps turned on the car, the less cost,” Panure told Speed51.com. “That allows us to do a three tire per race format where our first race is four tires and then we have a traveling impound for that used tire the rest of the way through. Everybody’s on a similar playing field and if somebody new comes in, we have extra tires they can pull from that. We have really good relationships with the tracks in the area, we know if they took one out of their impound at another track we know how many laps it has on it, we can check the tread depths and compare, we can make sure everybody’s on a pretty equal standing.
“The other reason is you’ve got to go, you’ve got to get it done,” he added. “You don’t have the 100-laps, the 150 or 200 to get up there or mind your time, mind your business, bank on a good pit stop, bank on a change. You’ve got to have your car right, you’re going to have anywhere from 10 to 14 cars in front of you. You’ve got to be on your game. That makes for exciting racing, we’ve had a lot of really good races and I think the fans really appreciate that.”
Panure says one of the draws to the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series is the affordability of the series. With only six races a year and shorter races, it allows teams to stay committed to the series without having to spend a fortune to chase after a championship.
“It’s a little more cost-effective for drivers to run our events. I don’t really know what other series or tracks do with their payouts but at the end of the day our drivers end up doing about the same or better,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of drivers who have finished 10th, 11th, 12th in our points standings actually make money off of running our series. Mind you, it’s $100 or $200 for gas or repairs or anything like that. It’s hard for a lot of other series to say that kind of thing. What we’ve basically done is say okay, you like racing your car, you understand you’re not going there to make a ton of money, come have fun with us. That’s impressed a lot of drivers who just want to race, want to have fun, do it out of their own pocket and want to find a cost-efficient way to do it.”
While the 2020 schedule has yet to be announced, Panure and the Litchfields expect even bigger things for their tenth season at the helm of the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series. With a hotbed of Super Late Models to pull from and the supports from tracks around the state, they can see new drivers supporting the series for this year and beyond.
“It looks like we’re going to continue to grow. Six races, I bet a lot of people look at that and think well geez, it’s just six races how could it be a big deal?” he said. “We’re pretty blessed to have a very saturated market here in Wisconsin as far as racetracks that run weekly programs and other series. It’s a great thing for fans, it makes myself and my partners pull out our hair quite a bit trying to schedule these races, it doesn’t make it very easy on us to try to coordinate everything with the other tracks and other series in the area.
“We have a lot of drivers interested, a lot of new drivers,” he continued. “The last two years we’ve had rookie crops of I think four drivers. What’s really important to us is everybody stays around as well. It’s not just one year and out, they like to stick around and continue coming back and being a part of our program. We expect a lot of retention and then it sounds like we might have two or three rookies that have already committed and then maybe one or two veteran drivers that we’ve talked to that are pretty interested in coming to run it for the first time. We could pick up another three to five cars that we know of, and then there’s always a few that jump out around March and surprise us. We’re pretty excited, we’ll probably get to see a rise in our car count again this year.”
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN/MI) – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com