The TUNDRA Super Late Model Series kicked off its 2017 campaign three weekends ago at Wisconsin International Raceway. The Midwest series, which predominantly visits Wisconsin tracks, continues to see great success as it embarks on its fifth season as a traveling series.
“Our success really comes from the people who make up TUNDRA. We have people like the Lichtfeld family, Drew Kreibich, Eamon Bauman, Zach Onan and others who put time and effort into the series away from the track,” TUNDRA Series Promoter Matt Panure told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
“Without the contributions and passion of our people we probably wouldn’t still be doing this. They’ve helped build TUNDRA to what it is today. Also, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association. They have been major supporters of the series and we’re happy to have them with us.”
The philosophy the TUNDRA team brought to the table was different, but it seems to be working.
Initially there were skeptics when the series said they were going to charge a flat, up-front entry fee of $1,800 for the six-race season. The fee gets drivers four tires at the first race then three tires at each additional race. The first race is a four-tire race and then they begin banking and impounding tires with races two through five being three-tire events. The fee also gets the team four free pit passes at each race. While some questions this approach, each year their car count grows and last year the series saw more than 65 Super Late Model drivers compete in their events.
“I think our philosophy is something that grows on people over time,” Panure noted. “People who once questioned it are now supporters of the series. I equate our series to lower stakes of gambling. You might not get the huge payoff, but when you’re only paying $300 to walk through the gate with four pit passes and your race tires it all evens out. We really look for the racer who does this out of his or her own pocket. They understand that we’re watching out for their budget and want to make things affordable.”
At a time when racetracks and even other race series struggle with car counts, the TUNDRA Series averaged 27 cars per race and has crowned three unique champions in four year. Panure says there are a few reasons why drivers keep coming back.
First, the TUNDRA rules package lends itself to be more inclusive than exclusive.
“We try to keep the rules as friendly as possible for anyone no matter where they race,” Panure explained. “Our engine rules are very inclusive, and the certification process has created a very level playing field. Last year in six events we had three wins from ACE motors, one from a Hamner, one from a Wegner LS and one from a GM 604 crate. I think everyone knows that no matter what they bring, they have a fighting chance.”
The second reason? Well, the good ol’ pocket book of course. Their upfront payment system, while different, does allow drivers to budget for the season and not walk away too far in the red.
“I think we keep things friendly on the pocket book, especially for the middle-of-the-pack racers. We do our best to keep costs down for entries and our payouts have continued to grow,” Panure said. “Thanks to our point fund the last few seasons, drivers have been walking away after the season breaking even, whether it’s the champion or the guy who finished 15th in points because we split that point fund money evenly. I don’t think a lot of racers who finish 15th in the points at a track or in a series can say that.”
By all accounts the success of TUNDRA looks to continue this year. Twenty-eight cars entered the season opener at WIR and the fight for a championship will be one to keep an eye on. Dalton Zehr will attempt to win his third straight championship, while some fresh faces, like rookie Kulwicki Development Driver Justin Mondeik will try to steal the show.
“We’re very excited about the group of drivers we have this year. We have an excellent crop of young rookies and some new veterans coming into the mix. Our drivers come from diverse places; some cut their teeth on half-miles, some on third-miles, some on quarter-miles. The way our schedule shapes up with two of each, no one really has an advantage,” Panure stated.
After Steve Apel took the win in round one, the TUNDRA Series will next head to LaCrosse Speedway in West Salem, Wisconsin on June 30.
-By Jana Wimmer, Speed51.com Midwest Editor – Twitter: @JWimm22
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/Jason Schultz