WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis (August 25, 2012) – When the going gets tough, Dalton Zehr gets going. Zehr and pole-sitter John Zimmerman were the only two drivers not involved in a caution in TUNDRA Round Four Saturday at Dells Raceway Park. In the end they were the only two to lead laps in the Advanced Engine Concepts 80.
After the fifth caution on lap 26 claimed drivers from second on back, Zehr emerged for a single file restart in the second spot. Although he challenged at the drop of the green Zehr had to bide his time until he was able to take the lead on lap 50 and pocket his second straight TUNDRA win.
“Zimmerman was tough to pass,” Zehr explained. “Originally I thought it was going to be a breeze because he was giving such a wide lane out there, but when I got out there, it tightened up.”
Grabbing the lead from Mike Egan, the former track champion enjoyed one of his strongest runs since returning to DRP last season. Zimmerman broke away slightly to leave the field to battle until the first caution fell for Steve Lichtfeld on lap four.
From his third-place spot on lap four, Bobby Kendall picked the outside line for the restart and immediately challenged Zimmerman. Kendall found out early what Zehr would learn later – Zimmerman was ready to repel those who tested the top line. Kendall held the outside line for nearly ten laps until another caution fell on lap 14 for a Terry Schoppenhorst spin.
Although he looked strong on the outside before the caution, the temptation of selecting the bottom line was too much for Kendall to pass up. Leaving the outside lane vacated allowed Dennis Prunty to slide to the top line for a restart in the third position. Behind Prunty was Rich Bickle, who was developing a history with the TUNDRA Round Two winner.
The field sorted out at the drop of the green allowing Kendall to keep the second spot behind Zimmerman. As he closed in to challenge, attention turned toward Bickle and Prunty who started jousting back and fourth for the third spot.
Just as Kendall approached Zimmerman for another challenge, James Swan made contact with Mike Egan while racing for fifth. Swan gave Egan his spot back, but had not made his final appearance near the front of the field.
The caution also claimed Landry Potter and Dan Lensing. As Lensing tried to avoid, he caught the hood of Potter’s machine and went airborne. Lensing continued but brought out another caution just three laps later on lap 25 when his right rear tire failed and he hit the front stretch wall.
Behind Zimmerman frustration was poised to boil over. After racing in close vicinity through the first 25 laps Bickle and Prunty scrapped for second in a furious manner. Prunty worked the outside with very little room for error. After making contact on several occasions over the lap, Prunty came out with second. However, Bickle tapped the back bumper of Prunty enterting turn three. Unable to save his machine Prunty spun in front of the field out of four, brining the remaining drivers to a screeching halt.
The wreck was worst for Terry Schoppenhorst who was right behind the battle. He sustained major damage and could not continue. Although Zehr wasn’t damaged, he wasn’t immune to the melee in front of him.
“It was a big pileup in turn four there,” Zehr said. “We were lucky to be one of the ones who got hit in the back not in the front and didn’t have the radiator taken out.”
Only eight cars paced around DRP during the caution laps while others made repairs or were done for the remainder of the event. Even Bickle and Prunty, who were both able to continue, were able to restart in the top ten.
After the restart Zehr challenged, but was turned back by Zimmerman by lap 32. While the top two broke away, the line of Swan, Bickle and Prunty moved back toward the top five. After moving around Kenny Reiser for third, Swan, making his Super Late Model debut at DRP, closed the gap on Zehr.
Seeing his rear view mirror fill with a baby blue nose, Zehr decided it was time to roll the dice.
“Eventually (Swan) caught up to us and it was go time,” Zehr said. “I jumped to the outside and if I wouldn’t have made that pass, I probably would have ended up tenth. It worked out though, we were able to make the pass and build up a lead.”
Swan followed to the second spot just two laps later and seemed as though he might have had something for Zehr. Although Zehr proved to have the superior machine, Swan again forced Zehr to alter his plans.
“Swan broke free and it was time to put the hammer down,” Zehr said. He also discussed some handling conditions with Swan after the race completed. “He started losing the front end of his car before I started losing the back end on mine. If I lost mine five laps earlier, it might have been different.”
Without incident over the final 25 circuits, Bickle followed Swan to third and Prunty rounded out the top four. Ken Reiser passed Zimmerman in the final laps to complete the top five.
In similar position to his wins in the Alive For Five Super Late Model Series last season, Zehr had seen these scenarios before – just as he referred to in an article leading up to TUNDRA Round Four. He said the roughest race in the Midwest is like every race in Florida. With rain looming Zehr might have felt like he was in the Sunshine State again.
“We kept taking the outside on the restarts with all the cautions,” Zehr said. “Every time we picked the outside we would go forward a position, but we would go to back and it wouldn’t stay green long enough for us to move back up. It all panned out in the very end.”
Most importantly for Zehr, however, was his ability to capture the point lead. Zehr embraced starting behind the invert in Round Four and said he looks forward to it again in the fifth and final round as he tries to lock up his first career championship
“We were really chasing points tonight and early in the race it didn’t look so good,” Zehr said. “We did everything we could do to put ourselves in contention.”
The fireworks between Bickle and Prunty crept into Victory Lane. Bickle explained why he and Prunty got so physical early in the race even though both seemed to put it behind them over the second half of the race. Bickle’s confession was met by a boisterous mixed-reaction, inciting the crowd of Prunty faithful to serenade him with boos as others cheered.
With a point battle that features Zehr holding a three point lead over Prunty and eight point lead over Bickle, the fireworks and emotions have seemingly only just begun and will most certainly boil up over the next two weeks.
TUNDRA Rounds out the 2012 season Saturday, Sept. 8 at Dells Raceway Park. Champions will be crowned in all five divisions.
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.