Monday marked practice day for the 41st Annual Slinger Nationals, giving drivers the chance to dial in their machines for Tuesday’s event. For Wisconsin-based teams, the Slinger Nationals allows local favorites to take on the country’s best at the high-banked half-mile as they look to keep the trophy in the Badger State for the seventh time in the last eight years.
Four-time Slinger Nationals champion Rich Bickle was on hand for practice day with two cars at his disposal. He took turns taking both cars on-track throughout the day as his team decided on which one to use for Tuesday’s Nationals.
“The black car’s the car we had here in the spring, and it was super-fast, nobody was even in the same zip code and we got wrecked and haven’t found it since,” Bickle told Speed51. “We’ve rebuilt the car twice and it just isn’t good. It won’t turn in the middle of the corner no matter what we do.
“We built this other car for the Dells and maybe to come here with. It’s got old stuff on it but it drives really good and it feels good. We thought we’d give both a shot.”
Even through his success on a national level over the years, Bickle has remained a fixture at the Slinger Super Speedway. With retirement looming at the end of the 2021 season, he wants nothing more than to match his Snowball Derby record with a fifth Slinger Nationals triumph in the final two years.
“I’ve got two more shots at it, next year’s my last year. It would be cool here to make it five here like at the Derby because this is home. I probably should’ve won 10 of these things but I always seem to have something going on. It is what it is, it’s racing. It just feels good to be here and back at one of my favorite tracks in the country and have a shot at it.”
Bickle wasn’t the only driver that took two cars out on-track during the day. Last year’s third-place finisher, John DeAngelis, Jr., exercised all available options for tomorrow’s event at his home track, with the team having picked their weapon by the end of the day.
DeAngelis had perhaps the fastest car in the final laps of last year’s Nationals, but ultimately couldn’t make it past Matt Kenseth and Ty Majeski.
“We should be alright, we just found some issues here after practice so we should be a little bit better tomorrow. We weren’t getting full throttle,” DeAngelis said. “We tested two different cars and ended up with one that we like. We’ll see how we stack up tomorrow once everyone else has transponders on and we can see how everyone else is doing.
“We built a car brand-new last year for this race and we finished third. We knew we had a good car, we were in the lead by lap-12 after starting pretty far back. A racing incident had us going to the rear, which screwed us over. A win tomorrow night would be a lot of redemption because we had the car to win.”
Former State Park Speedway track champion Luke Fenhaus returns to the Slinger Nationals this week after qualifying second and finishing in the top-10 in his first Nationals attempt one year ago. At just 16 years old, he could become the youngest driver to win the Slinger Nationals Tuesday night.
“I think we’ll have a good piece, we’ll just focus on long run, you have to be there at lap 200. We’ll see what we’ve got when we get the car balanced a little bit better. Tomorrow will be a good show.”
“If I won that would be a dream come true,” Fenhaus added. “The 200-lapper is going to be tough with Majeski being so good on long runs. It’s going to be tough but if we end up winning or top-three even, I’d be really happy with it.”
Four-time track champion Steve Apel heads into Tuesday night’s Slinger Nationals looking for his first win in the event. It wouldn’t be the first time he took the checkered flag first, having done so in 2013 before he was disqualified for having an illegal tapered spacer plate.
Apel believes this will be his best shot at the Nationals win yet.
“Racing here weekly, we know what the car’s going to do in long trim. I look at it as the Nationals is something we believe we’ve fallen a little bit short of, but I feel like this is the best car we’ve had here in a long time,” Apel said. “I feel like we have a good piece that should be a solid contender and will have us in position at the end.”
The Slinger Nationals are important for Apel and his fellow local racers in more than one way. While he would love nothing more than to beat the invaders and keep the trophy in the area, it also allows him to race for more money than he will race for all season in local competition.
“It’s extremely important, I would say for most of the guys that travel here, they have paid pit crew guys and $10,000 is just a weekend of racing. $10,000 to a local guy is quite a bit of racing on a Sunday night deal.
“Last year we led 120-130 laps, with the lap leader money I think we walked away with $3,500 in cash. We didn’t win the race, but it was a consolation prize for being up front and leading some laps. The goal tomorrow is to get to the front as fast as we can and lead some laps and try to stay there at the end.”
National stars like Bubba Pollard and Stephen Nasse were also on hand for Monday’s open practice. You can hear what they have to say on Speed51 as a premium subscriber.
Click here to purchase your PPV ticket for the 41st Annual Slinger Nationals at Slinger Super Speedway.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51 Photo