By Joe Verdegan
It feels good to be “back in the saddle” again so to speak.
The offseason can be very long or very short, contingent upon how you look at things. Among the projects I’ve taken on is I’m currently in the process of writing a book covering the racing scene from coupe days in the 1950s up through the revolution of the Late Model class in the 1970s era.
I’m really enjoying putting that together, and I especially enjoy visiting with older drivers and soaking in all of their stories about how things were handled “back in the day” at local race tracks. So far it’s been a great ride and we’re hoping to have the book wrapped up and begin the book signings just prior to the holidays.
My schedule allowed me to check out the season opener at Seymour Speedway on April 4. With a couple dozen or so local drivers in Iowa for the Frostbuster and some guys simply not done with their cars, car counts were a tad light (88).
However a hearty crowd showed up for the lid lifter and three of the main events went caution free. The track got a little bit dusty but for a show that started in the early afternoon under sunshine and strong winds, what are you to expect?
One driver who impressed me in the SportMod division was Jordan Bartz. Son of former Shawano Speedway Modified driver Craig Bartz, Jordan looked awfully tough in her heat, passing cars and chasing down the leader. In the main she did a Danny Sullivan 360 spin, but a yellow was never thrown. She recovered to place a respectable sixth place finish.
A shout out also goes out to 14-year-old Konnor Wilinski, son of track champion and hometown driver Jerry Wilinski.
Konnor held his line on a black, slick track in the IMCA Modified main and placed fourth. Yeah, there were only 12 cars but half of the field had won features in their careers.
Eric Scribner must have found some good luck by scrubbing the “5” off of his number “75.” The black 7 dusted the field and won by ¾ of a lap.
I got a chance to chat with former Wisconsin IMCA SportMod champion Brad Lautenbach of New Franken. His dad Tim told me the family bought a cabin in the Mountain area and they would not be racing as much as they did in recent years.
The 21L was one of the “Last of the Mohicans” so to speak that would race three nights a week. That’s a tough deal these days as not many teams can afford it, not only financially but from a time standpoint.
It was also good to see ageless veteran Ted Dolhun Sr. and son TJ Dolhun racing. Ted’s one guy who raced dirt Late Models on the old half mile, the tri-oval, and now the new true third-mile. The Late Models provided a solid feature. Even though Nick Anvelink had ‘em covered, Dave Fieber, who now resides in Chippewa Falls, mounted a late race charge and kept things interesting. He scrapped and clawed his way through the field to nab second and gave the crowd something to cheer about.
It was also good to see the Eagle River contingent come down – Eagle River Speedway promoter Ryan Glembin and Bruce Crossing, and Michigan’s Jordan Kurtti. Kurtti, a former 141 Speedway Fall Classic winner, took the Street Stock feature win. Eagle River’s Jason Jensen took fourth.
They competed with their WISSOTA Street Stocks. The Street Stock class was a real mixed bag of drivers as Wilmot Speedway regular Patrick Rossmann couldn’t wait for their season to get going, so he towed up all the way from Wadsworth, Illinois to compete.
It was evident though that many teams simply weren’t done. Whether it was in the pit area or in the grandstands I ran into several drivers who simply were waiting on parts, motors, lettering, etc.
A look ahead
There is no shortage of big special events in the area in 2015. Betweeen the Cheesehead, which incorporates the $10,000-to-win Clash at the Creek at 141 Speedway, and two tracks riding off the coattails of that event with $5,000-to-win events of their own at Luxemburg and Chilton Speedways, a possible $20,000 is up for grabs in the world of Modifieds in late June.
If you’re a late model fan you’ve got not only the traditional World of Outlaws Late Models coming to Shawano Speedway for the sixth straight year with the Sundrop Shootout July 28. Oshkosh Speedzone is hosting the Lucas Oil Late Models on May 15. The top two touring series for dirt Late Models both coming to our area for the first time in the same season. I think that’s pretty cool.
Perhaps the most noticeable of drivers moving up in the area is Jared Siefert’s move full time to the Late Models. The second generation Green Bay native holds the distinction of winning an IMCA Modified title at more local tracks that anyone. His crowns include Shawano, Seymour, Sturgeon Bay, Manitowoc and Luxemburg. In addition, he was the 2007 IMCA Modified National Champion. He’ll be a solid addition to Shawano’s Late Model class.
Speaking of late models, Luxemburg Speedway promoter Gene Mathu made the bold move this offseason to add the area’s top, fendered division to his weekly, Friday night program. The move sparked some expected Internet chatter this winter about a possible conflict against Manitowoc County Expo Speedway, which runs WDLMA-style Late Models on Friday nights and has for a few years now.
While we certainly hope the best for all parties involved, the $64,000 question is where will these Late Models all come from that Mathu is expecting to show up? Time will tell. Hopefully there will be enough cars to go around, and those cars will put enough paid adults in that Kewaunee County grandstand to help pay yet an additional purse for a sixth division.
Late Models are an expensive class to feed with even a modest weekly purse. Here’s hoping the Luxemburg promoter hasn’t bitten off more than he can chew with this move. And the main reason is the profit margin for any track promoter, if any, is razor thin at best these days. With six classes to pay and the other overhead involved, the modern day short track promoter has thousands invested before swinging the gates open on any given race night.
Manitowoc’s Greg Hermann is predicting close to 30 trucks being constructed by years end. Hermann, who built the first “stock truck” locally late last year, has been sort of the “ambassador” for the area’s newest division. With most tracks already hosting five, in some cases six classes (which are too many in my opinion) what I do like about the trucks is that it’s a different looking product. These days, an IMCA Stock Car looks like a Street Stock, which looks like a Grand National.
They all look the same. The trucks will standout. The key to this class is having the trucks consistently teched and keeping the rule book bare bones and affordable. Promoters cannot let it get out of hand. I’ve seen that happen too many times over the years with rules. Don’t let drivers get involved in the rules making process and you’ll be ok.
To the north, Eagle River Speedway is for sale. It’s, in my opinion, probably the best maintained and top track in the north woods. It would be a perfect gig for someone who is retired, loves racing and has a business acumen to fall back on. Serious inquiries can contact Ryan Glembin at [email protected]. Speaking of the north woods racing scene it’s good to see TNT Speedway in Three Lakes will be back up and running, with some sort of co-op type management in place.
(This article first appeared in the May 2015 issue of Full Throttle magazine.)