WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. (July 22, 2012) – It should have been an easier night at Dells Raceway Park, Dalton Zehr said. But when you’re lapping drivers in the top ten who are racing for position, and Rich Bickle is chasing you down, your heart rate is bound to rise.
Zehr built a commanding lead just halfway through the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series Advanced Engine Concepts 80-lap feature and watched it shrink as he maneuvered through lapped traffic. Bickle caught and challenged Zehr with five laps remaining, but could not take the win from the 21-year-old driver from Daytona Beach, Fla.
With a couple chances to strike, Bickle looked high and low, but Zehr’s machine proved to be too strong. The final battle thrilled DRP’s largest crowd of the season, who were witness to a total of 30 TUNDRA Super Late Models rolling through the gate.
“It sure turned what was going to be a good feature win into a struggle, Zehr said of the lapped traffic. “It was a battle. It was understandable because those guys were racing for position, but it made it interesting.”
After winning the dash earlier in the evening, Zehr was placed on the outside of row three, two rows behind his eventual challenger. With a strong starting spot, Bickle surprisingly slid back at the start of the race on the outside as Josh Wallace and Dale Prunty exchanged the top spot.
With a win in TUNDRA Round One and a third-place finish in Round Two, Bickle seemed to be the early favorite. However, it was not to be at the beginning of the event.
“We put rear tires on tonight. This two tire thing is a little bit of a challenge because you have to put on a left rear somewhere along the line and the right front wouldn’t turn,” said Bickle who slid out of the top five in the first ten circuits. “I kind of just worked my way back up there.”
As drivers jockeyed for early positioning and Dale Prunty showed the way, the first caution of the race fell on lap 14. Landry Potter and Frank Kreyer made contact, sending last year’s Alive For Five Champion spinning. Both were sent to the tail of the field and the restart placed Prunty alone in the front row with Wallace flanked by Dan Lensing and Mike Egan flanked by Tommy Pecaro behind.
The restart was short-lived as two former DRP Late Model combatants Derek Childs and Bobby Kendall were involved in an incident and came to a stop in turns one and two. Kendall continued, but Childs’ night ended.
Yet another caution fell one lap after the restart when Dennis Prunty was sent spinning. The following restart would be the last with 61 caution-free laps clicking off.
Bickle and Zehr aligned side-by-side behind Pecaro and Lensing and the leader Dale Prunty. Utilizing a few laps to sort things out, Zehr waited, then seized his opportunity to lay siege to the top three.
During that move to the front Zehr found another uneasy moment when he soared to the top line in an attempt to capture third from Dan Lensing. On lap 25 Zehr slid to the top of the track in the middle of turns three and four. Lensing slid up, nearly opening the door for a three-wide situation with Wallace.
“I was waiting for the radio to key and say we were going three wide,” Zehr said of his pass of Lensing for third. “The way he was getting into me, it felt like he was getting helped up there.” Indeed it was a situation beyond Lensing’s control – he lost the power steering on his machine.
With a narrow escape Zehr chased down Pecaro for the second spot, leaving Lensing to try to hold off the advances of Bickle, Jeff Storm and fast qualifier Michael Bilderback.
Zehr swooped past Pecaro by lap 35, brining Bickle and Storm to battle for third and fourth. Just three laps later, Zehr was on the back bumper of Dale Prunty, surveying his options to grab the top spot. First looking to the bottom, Zehr was turned away by Prunty. On lap 39 coming to the start/finish line Prunty slipped, allowing Zehr to take the outside and the lead.
Holding off Bickle for another seven laps, Prunty’s defense allowed Zehr to break away. Bickle stole the second spot on lap 48 and brought Storm to third.
Bickle and storm hooked into battle for second while simultaneously trying to chase down Zehr. A furious battle erupted behind them with Pecaro, Bilderback, Corey Jankowski, Kreyer and Dennis Prunty.
With less than 20 laps remaining, and the leaders seemingly settled in their spots, attention turned to the battle for fifth. Jankowski repeatedly tried to move Bilderback off the bottom to the point of wrinkling his own fender causing a tire rub. After nearly ten laps of trying, Jankowksi took the spot. Behind them, Kreyer and Prunty raced in close quarters.
After Kreyer and Prunty both cleared Bilderback, he felt the heat from two other sources – a hard charging Kenny Reiser, and the leaders. Bilderback and Reiser locked into battle and Zehr suddenly found himself boxed in with less than ten laps remaining.
Although Bickle was closing in quickly, Zehr waited patiently for the lines to open. The seas parted just in time to escape Bickle and secure the win. Dale Prunty finished fourth about a half straightaway behind third-place Storm, Jankowski was fifth and, nearly a full lap behind the leader, Dennis Prunty and Kreyer made contact coming to the stripe for sixth. Prunty held on to the spot.
The win was Zehr’s third in his last seven visits to DRP. Zehr won rounds two and three of the Alive For Five Series last season and continued to prove his machine and team are a threat each time they hit the track.
“I felt like we had the race-winning car and it was just my job to get it there,” Zehr said. “It’s just the actual team and great equipment. That’s what it takes to win races, and we bring that every week.”
Bickle picked up his third podium finish and was relieved that the altercations in the race didn’t seem to follow him. “It’s unusual because it feels like lately everything has been happening around me,” he said. “Some nights you’re the bug and some nights you’re the windshield. Tonight we weren’t the bug so that’s a good thing.”
By virtue of his finishes Bickle remains one of the top drivers in TUNDRA standings. However, due to passing points utilized by the DRP point system, Corey Jankowski tops the standings by two points. The top five drivers are separated by only seven markers with two races remaining.
Round Four of the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series 2012 season is schedule for Saturday, Aug. 25.
Dells Raceway Park is located at N1070 Smith Road, five minutes north of downtown Wisconsin Dells, Wis., off highway 12-16. For more information including the latest news, the 2012 schedule and more visit http://www.dellsracewaypark.com.