Wausau, WI -- Justin Mondeik finally had some good fortune on season championship night at State Park Speedway. It just wasn't quite enough to spoil Jay Van Der Geest's big moment 24 years in the making.
Mondeik rebounded from a miserable night a week earlier to win the Auto Select Super Late Models presented by C-Tech feature, taking the 50-lap main event on Fighting Cancer Full Throttle Night. For the second straight year, though, the Gleason native finished a few points shy of a championship, as Van Der Geest edged him out by six points for the season title.
Van Der Geest won his first-ever super late model crown in 24 years of racing. The popular Merrill driver finished fifth in the feature, and at 54 years old he became the oldest super late model champion in track history, one year after then 14-year old Luke Fenhaus was the youngest-ever season champ in the class.
Van Der Geest ended up going wire-to-wire leading the super late models this season, winning the feature on the first night and never surrendering the lead. He did so just one year after running twice late in the season at State Park Speedway and in a year where he originally had no plans of running for points at the track.
"The first race we came out there, I told everybody I want to semi-retire, put (son) Levon in the car a little bit, and the fans they started teasing me saying 'You've got to come back,'" said Van Der Geest after the feature. "And every week the same fans kept saying to me 'You've got to come back.'"
The final night did not come easily for the champion, as Van Der Geest struggled in qualifying, timing in sixth of nine cars. "All season long, we've barely touched the car," said Van Der Geest, "and tonight when we rolled off it just wouldn't go."
A win in the first heat helped him pick up some important points, though, and though he slipped back from his pole starting spot early in the feature, he steadied to stay in the top five and was able to hold off Brock Heinrich and Mike Olson lurking closely behind in the final laps.
Mondeik entered the night in third in the standings, 28 points behind Van Der Geest, but gave it a valiant run one week after he totaled his main car in a practice laps crash and then saw a good run with a backup car fall apart in the final laps. He set fast time, finished second in his heat and then led the final 21 laps of the feature, getting by Ryan Hinner shortly after a mid-race restart.
It was actually another brief dark cloud that sprung Mondeik finally getting a good break. Running second and closing in on Hinner on lap 27, Mondeik spun after contact from Fenhaus in turn two, bringing out the yellow and sending both to the back of the pack.
With many drivers picking the inside lane on the restart, though, Mondeik actually restarted on the outside of the second row. He passed both Van Der Geest and Travis Volm on the outside on lap 28, and a lap later worked outside Hinner for the lead. Mondeik checked out from there, building nearly a straightaway lead and coasting from there for his second feature win of the season.
Mondeik finished second in the points for the second straight year. A year earlier he finished four points behind Fenhaus for the title after Fenhaus took the lead in the final feature with three laps left and Mondeik finished inches behind Neil Knoblock for second, a five-point difference of position that decided the championship.
"It's definitely a little disappointing, we really feel that championship could've been ours (if not for last week)," said Mondeik after the race. "The car was just awesome tonight."
Volm passed Fenhaus with seven laps left to finish second. Fenhaus came into the night 22 points behind Van Der Geest but was unable to replicate the dominance of his feature wins the previous two weeks and finished third. Hinner came home fourth after leading the first 28 laps from the pole, when he built a big lead early before the pack slowly closed in.
Super Late Models
Fast Qualifier: Justin Mondeik, Gleason, 13.924 sec.
First Heat: 1. Jay Van Der Geest, Merrill; 2. Ryan Hinner, Stevens Point; 3. Mark Mackesy, Wausau; 4. Nate Steif, Wausau
Second Heat: 1. Mike Olson, Dorchester; 2. Mondeik; 3. Luke Fenhaus, Wausau; 4. Travis Volm, Mosinee; 5. Brock Heinrich, Wausau
Feature: 1. Mondeik; 2. T. Volm; 3. Fenhaus; 4. Hinner; 5. Van Der Geest; 6. Heinrich; 7. Olson; 8. Steif; 9. Mackesy
Schramm, Blount rally late in features to clinch championships
Much like the night for super late model champion Jay Van Der Geest, it was far from a stress-free evening for points leaders Brian (Butchie) Schramm and Greg Blount Thursday on season championship night at State Park Speedway.
Like Van Der Geest, though, both veteran drivers survived some hairy moments to win hard-earned track championships in their respective divisions. Schramm capped off his second consecutive Advance Auto Parts Pure Stocks title, while Blount won his first-ever championship in the Snap-on Mini Mods.
Schramm came up just short in a superb side-by-side battle with Alex Volm over the last 11 laps of the 25-lap pure stock main, with Volm holding on by half a car length after the top two were even coming to the white flag. The Wausau driver still had just enough cushion in the point standings, though, to finish eight points ahead of Volm in the finally tally for the season.
It took much of the race for Schramm to get close enough to Volm to get that margin, as he was stuck at the tail of a seven-car pack for the first 10 laps while Volm surged to the lead on lap 8 by passing Brian Plisch on the outside.
Schramm worked inside Jeff Spatz for fourth on lap 14, and the race took a big turn two laps later when a caution came out after second-place running Mitch Stankowski was clipped by a lapped car. Schramm then moved up from third to the front row outside Volm on the restart after Plisch chose the inside lane, and the top two staged an 11-lap drag race the rest of the way.
Schramm won back-to-back titles for the second time in his SPS racing career, having also won in 1999 and 2000 in the street stock division. Volm won his fourth feature of the season, closing out his best-ever finish in the pure stocks.
"Even though we fell short on the points, to win on the last night, to win on the last night it feels just as good to me," said Volm afterwards. "It's the best year I've had in 10 years of racing...we had a loose car there, and I know Butchie loves that inside, so I said I wasn't going to make the same mistake I made before and open it up...man, that was awesome."
Blount rallied late to finish third in the feature behind winner Gary Garand and second-place George Seliger. The resident of Marathon wrapped up the season nine points ahead of Seliger, who was bidding for his fourth straight championship in the class.
It looked bleak for Blount for a moment past the halfway point of the 25-lap feature. Racing for the lead on lap 15, he got into Garand on the backstretch, causing a spin which Blount took the blame for. As a result, Garand got his lead spot back but Blount had to go to the rear of the field.
The race restarted with 11 to go, and it took some time for Blount to work his way back through the pack. He moved into fourth with four laps left, though, the same time when Seliger slipped back to second after a side-by-side battle for the lead with Garand, and Blount also got by Dale Louze on the outside on the final lap to finish third and ensure his first points championship since taking the 2016 mini stocks title.
Garand won his second career mini mod feature and second of the season, taking the lead on the first lap and proving tough to pass on the outside. The Weston driver and native of the state of Maine was challenged multiple times on the outside by Seliger, who even held a slim lead at the line on laps 16-18. In all, the two raced 12 very clean laps side-by-side with both giving the other plenty of room, but Garand's zippy Mustang held strong as he capped his best season at SPS so far.
"Yeah, it was very nice of Greg to tap out with a little touch there," said Garand after the race, "he was certainly faster and a little better handling, but it was nice to race with George clean and get the victory, I appreciate that.
Kole Ferge of Schofield came into Thursday night needing to just start the feature to wrap up the Rockstar Energy Drink Mini Stocks championship, but he did much more than that as he finished the season with another feature win.
Ferge closed out his second straight mini stocks championship with his third straight feature win and sixth feature victory of the season. He passed Evan Pingel for the lead on lap 13 and cruised the rest of the way to win the 20-lap race. Pingel finished second after leading for the first 13 laps from the inside pole, holding off Tom Lecher for the runner-up spot.
"Yeah it feels really good to go back-to-back, and I hope to do the same tomorrow," said Ferge of his pursuit of a second straight title at Golden Sands Speedway as well. "It helps to throw on new tires on under it, but this car really comes around when we've got a 20-lap feature."
Advance Auto Parts Pure Stocks
Fast Qualifier: Brian Schramm, Wausau, 15.308 sec.
First Heat: 1. Brian Plisch, Athens; 2. Kolton Guralski, Wausau; 3. Jeff Spatz, Wausau; 4. Jon Benninger, Windsor
Second Heat: 1. Alex Volm, Mosinee; 2. Schramm; 3. Mitch Stankowski, Wausau; 4. Dave Cabelka, Wausau
Feature: 1. A. Volm; 2. Schramm; 3. Cabelka; 4. Plisch; 5. Guralski; 6. Stankowski; 7. Spatz; 8. Benninger
Snap-on Mini Mods
Fast Qualifier: Greg Blount, Marathon, 15.646 sec.
First Heat: 1. Garret Strachota, Wausau; 2. John Lietz, Mosinee; 3. Jeremy Kemnetz, Plainfield; 4. Kevin Tessmer, Wausau
Second Heat: 1. George Seliger, Wausau; 2. Evan Call, Elderon; 3. Dale Louze, Mosinee; 4. Blount; 5. Gary Garand, Weston; 6. Noah Gajewski, Marathon
Feature: 1. Garand; 2. Seliger; 3. Blount; 4. Louze; 5. N. Gajewski; 6. Jim Lietz, Mosinee; 7. Call; 8. Tessmer; 9. John Lietz; 10. Kemnetz; 11. Strachota
Rockstar Mini Stocks
Fast Qualifier: Kole Ferge, Schofield, 16.534 sec.
First Heat: 1. Evan Pingel, Ringle; 2. Matt Gajewski, Wausau; 3. Amanda Rowe, Mosinee; 4. Sheldon Baumann, Wausau; 5. Travis Lang, Wausau
Second Heat: 1. Tyler Custer, Stratford; 2. K. Ferge; 3. Tom Lecher, Wausau; 4. Kyle Check, Shantytown; 5. Chad Ferge, Wausau
Feature: 1. K. Ferge; 2. Pingel; 3. Lecher; 4. Check; 5. Custer; 6. C. Ferge; 7. Rowe; 8. M. Gajewski; 9. Lang; 10. Baumann
-State Park Speedway Press Release
-Photo Credit: QCWilly