The Checkered Classic had everything and more Saturday night, and the huge moon overhead may have made things more challenging. The IRA Outlaw Sprint tour coupled with the 360 sprints from the MSA sanction. Joining the winged sprints were the pavement stock cars of the Mid-American tour. The latter field made their mark by nearly toppling the infield light poles. Not once, but twice, the second occurrence knocking out the lights and ending their feature early. The fast half-mile is a favorite of racers because they can go full throttle, but sometimes it’s too quick for some to handle.
Balog had crashed badly the previous night while vying for the win, and borrowed a Brandon Thone mount for Saturday. Tweaking the car to top performance, Balog gave the crowd another great show Saturday. Others had mechanical problems that sidelined their cars early. Balog still holds the IRA record at Dodge County, but it was South Dakota visitor Dusty “Zoom Zoom” Zomer taking quick time honors with the only 16-second lap. The first eighteen feature berths were filled from the heat races, won by Jeremy Schultz, Ben Schmidt and Balog. Scotty Thiel led the final six from the B main, and the redraw was held in front of the crowd.
Bill Rose, Steve Meyer, Jordan Goldesberry, Mike Reinke and Todd King began in front of the 24-car pack and Zomer was back in the fifth row for the 25-lap feature. The crowd waved as the field rolled past four abreast, choosing their favorites before the action began. The green flag waved and the field roared up to full speed. Rose led the way with everyone in hot pursuit, beginning to lap the back markers after only six orbits. Behind Rose the rest chose the high line, low side and everything between, as fans watched the progress of Zomer and Balog from the fourth row. It was in lapped traffic that Zomer saw his opening and took it with nine laps remaining.
The only slowdown of the race came when Thiel’s car stopped with six circuits left, reducing any advantage Zomer had. The restart was followed by a thrilling outcome. Balog hounded Zomer to the final flag, with several lapped cars before Rose, Reinke and Goldesberry crossed the final stripe. Climbing to his wing to the cheers of the crowd, Zomer stated, “Bill (Balog) is real good. I just had to run my line. It’s my first time here, it’s an awesome track.” The crowd roared approval when Zomer declared, “I wanted to win here so I could say “Go Badgers.” I’ve been travelling all around different tracks. Last night we ran in Ohio, and this was on the way home.”
Balog began by thanking his car owner Hans Lien and adding, “I’ve got to thank Brandon (Thone) for letting me use this. We banged it up pretty good last night.” Giving credit to Zomer, Balog added, “I don’t think he let off the throttle. I couldn’t catch him.” Asked about his decision to compete in other arenas this season, Balog answered, “We’ve been running with some real good competitors.” It was announced that Rose and Schmidt are now in a tie for the title. The championship will be decided in the final race next week when they return for another double-header with the MSA sprints.
Wayne Modjeski ran his 360 sprint as well as the 410 IRA mount, and posted a heat win with Donny Goeden taking the other heat. One car was missing at the start of the 20-lap feature, and Kurt Davis launched from his front row start, leaving the rest way behind. All hopes of posting a win ended when Davis got too close to a barrel in a corner and suddenly came to a stop after a dozen laps. John Krebsbach would have advanced into the lead if it weren’t for Goeden having progressed to third from his ninth-place start.
To no one’s surprise, it was Goeden zooming ahead after the green flag, stretching his advantage to nearly half a lap by the end. In hot pursuit were Tim Haddy from the fourth row, Danny Schlafer from third, Paul Pokorski from the sixth row and Brandon McMullen from sixth place to fifth. McMullen leads the MSA sprint car points as the championship title will be finalized next week. When the two sprint fields run their final show at Plymouth Dirt Track, your scribe will be covering the 50th Annual National Short Track Championships at Rockford Speedway instead. We wish the best to all.
The Mid-American Stock Car Series began on dirt tracks before moving to only paved surfaces many years ago. Only a few of today’s drivers ever raced on dirt, making Saturday’s visit more challenging. Several driver changes were made, and some Grand National drivers swapped tires to join the field. Series point leader Jeff Holtz won his heat race and Ron Koenig drove his son’s car to win the second heat. The 25-lap feature started with first-time dirt racer Kenny Joosten in the front row with Tim Fulford, followed by Mark Brooner, new racer Mike Held in a borrowed car, Gregg Beebe and Rick Tackman Jr.
Joosten overcame his earlier problems to lead the way, only to see the yellow banner the next time around when several cars tangled. Unfortunately, the damaged mounts included dirt and pavement champion Bill Prietzel among the retirees, leaving a dozen cars to choose their lanes for the restart. Joosten was in charge again, but Holtz had come from the last row to the front and took charge on the fourth orbit. Another caution flag flew four laps later, followed by another on lap ten. Grand National racer John Stanton slid through the infield grass and crashed hard against the water barrels protecting an infield light pole. The pole shook and survived while Stanton was checked over. The field again chose their lanes, but a spun car brought out the third caution and the field would realign in single file.
Holtz was still in charge at the next green flag, and the crowd groaned when another car spun to force the yellow flag to wave again on lap fourteen. Two laps later it was newcomer Held sliding on the wet grass and crashing hard into another light pole, knocking out the lights temporarily. Held didn’t do any good to himself or the borrowed car, either, and he paid a trip to the ambulance. Meanwhile, the backstretch was in the dark until the track got the lights working again, and the race ended. Holtz padded his championship point lead with a win over challenging Koenig, A. J. Smith, Ryan Gutknecht and Joosten. Gutknecht recently had two fingertips cut off and reattached, and was thought to have been replaced by his uncle Bobby Gutknecht, a dirt veteran. Later we found out that was not the case, as Ryan kept his hand safe during the run. This field has two more shows left before the championship chase ends.
It was not yet eleven o’clock when the show was complete at the fast half-mile. The bright moon was soon dimmed by dense fog on the trip back, and we hope all made it back home safely. Join us the next two weeks as the season comes to an end at Rockford Speedway and La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway.
-Story and photo by Fay Hendricks