A.J. Diemel caps off a successful 2009 racing season with Fastrak National Weekly Championship
By Bert Lehman
Editor, Full Throttle Magazine
To say Navarino’s A.J. Diemel had a successful racing season in 2009 would be an understatement. During Labor Day weekend he concluded the regular racing season at Shawano Speedway by winning the WISSOTA Late Model track championship. Then on Sept. 19, he won the prestigious WISSOTA 100 at Dakota State Fair Speedway in Huron, SD. One week later he won the 13th Annual Punky Manor Challenge of Champions at Red Cedar Speedway in Menomonie.
When the calendar turned to October, the success continued, as Diemel won the Fastrak National Weekly Championship. The championship netted Diemel $10,000. Even though local racing was done for weeks, Diemel and his crew headed to Tennessee and Virginia the third week of October to participate in the Fastrak Grand Nationals. He finished third overall, netting him another $10,000.
In all, Diemal said he won around 30 feature races in 2009 while racing in WISSOTA Late Model, Fastrak Late Model and other Late Model sanctioned events.
Diemel says he attributes his success to the time spent preparing his race cars in the shop during the week. Working on race cars is also Diemel’s “day job,” but he says during the racing season he probably spends 14-16 hours a day in the shop working on his and other’s race cars.
“We always say a race is won in the shop,” Diemel says. “We always pride ourselves on spending the most time getting our stuff ready to go.”
This was the first year in the last few years that Diemel has stayed close to home to race. But that wasn’t necessarily the plan at the beginning of the season.
“We were looking at fuel prices which actually were pretty good this year, but we started the Fastrak deal and there was the ability to win pretty good money staying close to home so we ended up doing that and that’s kind of how it worked out,” Diemel says.
He readily admits he had no plans of racing for the Fastrak National Weekly Championship, but that plan changed at the urging of fellow Fastrak driver and Fastrak Great Lakes Region director, Jeff Curtin.
“He kind of talked me into it a little bit,” Diemel says. “We put that car together for that $5,000-to-win race in Shawano. We got it together the week before. We won that race, then the $5,000-to-win race. He said, ‘all you have to do is run 15 shows and you can qualify for the Nationals.”
In addition to racing his WISSOTA Late Model, Diemel raced his Fastrak Late Model the rest of the summer, accumulating 17 wins, with victories at Shawano Speedway, Oshkosh Speedzone Raceway, Langlade County Speedway in Antigo, Eagle Valley Speedway in Jim Falls and Central Wisconsin Raceway in Unity.
When determining the Fastrak National Weekly Championship, the top 15 feature finishes a driver has is used to determine that driver’s point total. Since Diemel won 17 features, he received the maximum number of points. Mike Pegher Jr. from Pennsylvania won 15 features, so he also received the maximum number of points, tying him with Diemel for the championship. The tie-breaker was total feature wins for the year, and since Diemel won two more feature than Pegher, Diemel won the championship.
Due to the fact Fastrak Late Models are considered a more cost effective late model division, and Diemel has achieved a lot of success in the more powerful WISSOTA Late Models, he says he heard rumblings that he shouldn’t have been racing the Fastrak Late Model.
“A lot of people say, ‘You are taking money that’s not necessarily yours,” Diemel says. “We put in a lot of time too, just like everybody else in this deal. It’s part of a beginner deal, but there’s a lot of money up for grabs. That was a lot of the reason why we did it and we were fortunate enough to get some of it. It was a pretty good deal the way it ended for us.”
With the Fastrak Weekly Championship settled, the Fastrak Grand Nationals were next, which consisted of three races at three different tracks. Diemel finished second in a first round race at Langlade County Speedway Oct. 4. He then made the 14 hour trek to Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tenn. for the second race Oct. 21-22.
Diemel says he qualified mid-pack, finished fourth in his heat race, and won the B-Main to qualify him for the feature. He finished 14th in the feature.
“We were struggling there a little bit, we couldn’t quite get a hold of that track very well,” Diemel recalls.
The third and final race was held at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Va., Oct. 23-24. He says he once again qualified mid-pack, but finished second in his heat race. That’s when Diemel’s weekend took a turn for the worse, as he was disqualified for excessive tire grinding. He says seven to 10 other drivers were also disqualified, and it created a lot of controversy.
“There ended up being three guys who were softening their tires on Friday night at Wythe,” Diemel says. “It kind of started a whole storm as far as tire management and how that stuff goes. They told us how we can grind our tires which all my stuff was done so I had no choice. We ran the heat race, they ended up disqualifying me for excessive tire grinding, which like I said was the same as we’ve done all year.”
Diemel says after a meeting was held, those drivers who were disqualified for excessive tire grinding were given their original heat race finishes back. He finished third in the feature, giving him a third place overall finish for the Grand Nationals.
He says he was satisfied with how everything turned out at the Fastrak Grand Nationals, but did have “what if” thoughts.
“The only disappointment I had is that we were as far off as we were when we went to Bulls Gap,” Diemel says. “It’s something we never really raced on. I raced on nothing actually similar to that. The banks are just so high there. … We made the show which was our goal, but I just wish we could have run a little bit better there because it would have helped us out in the points.”
(This article first appeared in the April 2010 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)