KAUKAUNA, WI — Parity has been the name of the game ever since the late model class was bumped up to the half mile at Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna in 2001.
Now, some 18 years later that parity will likely continue as Markesan native Jesse Bernhagen, the ’18 division champion, has announced he’ll compete at WIR’s “Thursday Night Thunder” on a part time basis this season, leaving the title wide open.
There has never been a back-to-back champion in the division and in fact just two drivers have captured more than one division crown since the class competed on the D-shaped, half-mile oval. Vulcan, Michigan’s Kris Kelly won the titles in ’07 and ’09 with Kaukauna’s Gary Natrop winning the crowns in ’01 and again in ’11.
With that said, trying to predict who will be title contenders this year is akin to throwing darts at a dart board, for many reasons. Some of the top drivers haven’t tipped their hats to say if they’ll be running every week. With a few newcomers in the mix it should make for an interesting season in the division. Should he return weekly Neenah’s Braison Bennett, the ’16 champion would be considered a threat to challenge for the title. Other frontrunners include Green Bay’s Eddie Muenster, Appleton’s Bryan Monday and Hopfensberger Racing of Kaukauna with driver Nathan Van Wychen of Kaukauna who placed 2nd through fifth in last year’s point standings, respectively.
“The Showstopper” Mike Meyerhofer of Hilbert is expected to return at least on a part time basis. Other returning drivers include Appleton drivers Mike King, Randy Yaeger and Brian Randerson, Two Rivers’ Brett Wenzel, Freedom’s Tarra Springstroh and hometown drivers Craig Krueger, Matthew Wittman and Will Timmers.
A group of newcomers expected to compete at least on a part time basis in the division include Merrill native Justin Woller, Kaukauna’s Scott Baker, De Pere’s Reagan May and newcomers Justin Johnston from Menasha and Neenah’s Nathan Brantmeier, who’s moved up from the truck division.
Tuesday night oval practices are already taking place with Saturday, May 18 serving as the annual FRRC practice and inspection day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Spectator admission is free that day.
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Wisconsin International Raceway Press Release
Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Jason Schultz