JEFFERSON, Wis – Entering the final event of 2015 at Jefferson Speedway, defending TUNDRA Super Late Model Series Champion Dalton Zehr knew there was only so much he could control. He controlled it well.
Zehr dominated a caution-free final 75-lap feature of the season, propelling him to a five-point win in the Championship standings over Ty Majeski, who lost power steering early in the race and manhandled his machine to an eighth-place finish. Zehr had trailed Majeski by 25 points entering the main event.
“I guess this would be the turning point of the season,” Zehr said. “I didn’t come into this race very optimistic about the points. We just set out to put the best car we could on the track and go out for the win.”
Zehr captured the top spot from early race-leader Ryan Farrell and outdueled defending TUNDRA Jefferson race winner Casey Johnson to pick up his second win of the season.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “The race went exactly the way we needed it to go, straight through. Credit goes to the TUNDRA drivers. Casey (Johnson) and I were racing hard and no one was holding that up.”
A quick scramble to the front saw some of the faster qualifiers push into the top five early in the race. The original invert was nine, which would have placed Steve Rubeck on the pole for the feature. However, just prior to the feature, Rubeck elected to start in the rear, putting eighth-place qualifier Duke Long on the front row alongside Ryan Farrell.
After a strong performance at Jefferson last season, Farrell proved to have a solid machine early by taking the lead from Long. He led a parade of cars from the outside line into the top three, which included Zehr and Johnson.
Farrell held a tenuous lead until lap ten when Zehr shot to the outside line to challenge. On lap 11 Zehr secured the lead from the rookie. One lap later Johnson found a way past Farrell into second.
A quick run to the front was part of the race strategy for Zehr. “It’s hard to pass when the cars are equal,” he said. “It would have been really interesting with Casey and I because I ran the outside the whole race. If Casey would have been ahead of me I would have burned my stuff up trying to get around him, so the key was to get to the front first.”
Johnson gave Zehr no time to relax once they separated themselves from Farrell. With the inside line open, Johnson ducked to the bottom and tested the low groove in both sets of turns. Surprisingly, Zehr gave Johnson the bottom lane in turns one and two. Lap after lap, Zehr was able to escape. Johnson was able to pull even on a couple of occasions, but ultimately couldn’t make the pass. As the race hit the halfway point Zehr slowly cleared Johnson and started to stretch out his lead.
“We just kind of threw something at it and hoped for the best. It unloaded pretty good right away,” said Johnson, who was driving the Chase Motorsports 47 at his home track for the first time. “Dalton could just hang on out the outside really well. He gave me the line so there was no need to rough him up at all. We just raced around and he was better at the end.”
As Zehr and Johnson rode out front, the remainder of the top five continued to sort out. Mike Lichtfeld made a run to fourth on lap 14, then, after tracking down Farrell, shot into the third spot on the outside line. Although his machine had some jump in only his second visit to Jefferson, Lichtfeld wasn’t able to make up the deficit.
“A yellow would have been nice by the time I got into third place,” Lichtfeld said. “Those two guys were half a track ahead. We kind of rolled around saving our stuff hoping for a caution, but we never caught it.”
As Lichtfeld settled into third, and the trio of Farrell in fourth, Performance Diesel Fast Qualifier Dan Lensing in fifth and Gregg Pawelski in sixth (which is where they would finish the event) sorted out the final spots in the top five, attention turned to Majeski. Majeski had started in the fifth position, but fell back to seventh early in the race when the outside lane made its run to the front.
After closing on Pawelski on lap 25, Majeski fell back a few car lengths. Because of his power steering issue, a run back into the top five wasn’t in the cards for the two-time winner in 2015. Eventually, on lap 57, Travis Dassow nudged his way past Majeski, leaving him to settle for eighth. It was only the second time in a stellar season that Majeski finished outside of the top two.
“With all the caster we run in these wheels it’s almost impossible to turn the car, so I just tried to hang on and come home with the best finish I could,” Majeski said. “There was no time to give my arms a rest, I was just fighting it. Congratulations to Dalton Zehr on the Championship, he ran great all year. I’m disappointed we couldn’t take it home, but you have to take the good with the bad.”
Up until the final circuits Zehr was unaware that Majeski was not in position to hold the points lead.
“To be honest with you those last couple of laps I was thinking about how I was going to congratulate Ty on the Championship,” Zehr said. “I had no idea. I was just out there running my hardest every lap.”
Heading into the Championship race with the point lead was not unfamiliar territory for Zehr. However, Zehr had the title wrapped before the final race of last season. The 2015 story looked similar to the 2012 point battle where Zehr led the points coming into the evening, but did not come out with that title. Dennis Prunty won the feature and captured the Championship.
Sometimes history repeats itself in more ways than one.
Keske and Anderson are co-Rookies of the Year, Lensing Finishes Third in Points
For the first time this season both Bryan Syer-Keske and Cole Anderson appeared at the same TUNDRA event. Keske, being the primary driver, accumulated the points at Jefferson. With his heat race win he put the wraps on the Dean’s Satellite and Security Rookie of the Year title for the team. Anderson was on hand to compete in the 75-lap event and celebrate after the race, as well.
“It’s awesome to come out here and compete for Rookie of the Year,” Keske said. “I had Nick Panitzke and Dan Fredrickson over my shoulder. We have a five hour ride home to think the race over.”
“It was a good short track race,” Anderson said of Jefferson. “I had a great time in the series.”
The team of Keske and Anderson finished fourth in series standings behind Dan Lensing.
“We’ve had a lot of ups, but we had some downs,” said Lensing, who set a new track record in qualifying. “I really like the series. We went to a lot of tracks that I never went to. I really like how they run everything and I’ll probably be back.”
The TUNDRA Super Late Model Series would like to thank its 2015 partners: The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Dean’s Satellite and Security, Performance Diesel, The World Championship Snowmobile Derby, Habelman Brothers Company Cranberries, Johnnie’s Hobbies, RSI X-ray, The Country Plumber, Five Star Race Car Bodies, TD Graphics, Coleman Racing Products and Wegner Automotive Research. The series would also like to thank its 2015 partner tracks and their staffs, race teams, and countless fans who supported TUNDRA this season.
An Awards banquet for the series will be announced in the coming weeks. TUNDRA has announced the 2016 season will begin at Wisconsin International Raceway on Saturday, May 7, 2016.
Series PR – Bruce Nuttleman Photo