JEFFERSON, Wis. (June 22, 2013) – Mother Nature may have been a fan of Nick Panitzke on this Saturday night at Jefferson Speedway. A persistent sprinkle developed into a heavy rain on lap 37 of TUNDRA Super Late Model Series Round Two, forcing officials to shorten the main event.
The rain couldn’t have come at a better time for Panitzke, as the healthy lead he built early in the race was in grave danger due to lapped traffic and some fast company closing the gap.
“It would have got interesting if Dalton (Zehr) and Casey Johnson would have got up there,” Panitzke said. “I know they were fast all day. My car was definitely faster in the feature than it was all day.”
The 22-year-old Lakeville, Minn., driver seized the lead from pole-sitter Steve Lichtfeld as he stormed to a two-car-length lead by the time the field had exited turn two. Panitzke’s jump allowed Mike Egan and Frank Kreyer to follow into second and third and begin a battle for the runner-up spot.
As Kreyer dashed to the inside and took the spot from Egan, Brandon Selle swung to the outside of Lichtfeld for fourth on lap two. Selle, who entered the event with the TUNDRA point lead, had a short run of luck up front. On lap three Selle slid up the track and subsequently dropped out with mechanical issues. Earlier in the day, Selle and crew were forced to scramble to fix a broken rear end.
Selle was able to get his machine out of harm’s way and into the infield, but the caution flew just one lap later for a major melee in turn four. Billy Mohn was sent spinning just outside of the top five. With congestion in turn four Claire Decker attempted to check up, but had nowhere to go except into the outside retaining wall. Decker’s hit was thunderous, but she was unharmed.
After a red flag to check on Decker and a quick cleanup, the cone was placed for the restart. Panitzke elected to hold the outside line as he did at the start, leaving the bottom open for Kreyer. When the green was dropped Panitzke got away and built a large margin over Kreyer. Kreyer had the same stout advantage over third place where the action was frantic.
Spots in the top five were being hotly contested on lap six among Eugene Gregoric Jr., Johnson and Zehr. Zehr hugged the bottom and found his way past Johnson on lap seven. Just two laps later Zehr used the same line to surpass Gregorich; then James Swan two laps after that. As Zehr clicked off spots on the bottom, Johnson followed in his tire tracks.
By lap 16 Zehr had caught third place John Zimmerman and made the pass. One lap later Johnson moved to fourth. Unfortunately for the duo of Zehr and Johnson, Kreyer and Panitzke were over a straightaway ahead. As they tried to close the gap, Zehr and Johnson reengaged in battle for third.
“With the two car [Casey Johnson] right on my bumper there it probably would have taken five to ten laps, but we were catching the leaders,” Zehr said. “I was using lapped cars as picks, I can tell you that much. I knew he was quick. I knew if I would have given him the outside he would have been gone.”
Indeed ten laps later things started to take shape for Zehr and Johnson to catch the top two. Panitzke closed in on lapped traffic that was getting thicker and thicker as the field neared the midway point. Right at lap 30 Panitzke’s lead had shrunk drastically and Kreyer had moved in to challenge. Zehr and Johnson had closed the gap, as well.
“I’ll bet you the crowd was kind of flipping out there,” Kreyer said. “My wife Michelle was spotting for me and told me the rain was coming and it was time to go. The lapped traffic definitely helped, but we were tight off.”
Panitzke was in a very auspicious position on lap 35 when two lapped cars were racing for position in front of him and did not fall into line. Kreyer not only closed the gap, but also had an inside look for the lead on Panitzke.
“Kreyer and I were both on the back bumpers of two lapped cars,” Panitzke recalled. “It was getting pretty dicey, if it would have come down to another lap or two it would have come down to who was being harder nosed than the other guy.”
Zehr agreed, and was hoping that he and Johnson would have had the chance to turn the two-car battle into a four-car frenzy for the lead in lapped traffic.
“If we would have caught them I know that it probably would have gotten real hectic, real quick because everyone was ready to go somewhere,” Zehr said.
Unfortunately the rain started to pick up on lap 36, and on lap 37 officials decided to throw the yellow flag in hopes of restarting. Cars cycled for several laps as the rain continued to come down. Officials also learned of severe weather in the area and decided it was in the best interest of safety to throw the checkered flag on the event.
Panitzke was awarded the win in his first TUNDRA start, Kreyer picked up his fifth second-place finish in 11 TUNDRA starts and Zehr again found the podium in third. Johnson was fourth and James Swan rounded out the top five.
The trip to Jefferson was a completely new experience for Panitzke who had done some traveling in the past, but had never visited Jefferson. In Victory Lane, as he was awarded the Kim Parsons Memorial Trophy, he called Jefferson his new favorite track and said he hopes to return.
It was also Panitzke’s first time in a TUNDRA event. He said he plans to run the remaining four races of 2013, and feels as though he may have found a home.
“I had a ton of fun racing TUNDRA,” he said. “I can’t say enough about all of the people that are involved and all of the competitors. It’s a real good deal for the average joe racer to come out here and compete in these types of Super Late Model events.”
Nicknamed “Picker,” Panitzke certainly picked a solid partner to team with in the TUNDRA points battle as he and Cardell Potter will form a union toward the title. The win sent the team to second in standings, but they still sit in Zehr’s rear-view mirror, with a 16-point spread to try to catch TUNDRA’s winningest driver.
The next event for the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series is scheduled for Wednesday, July 3 at LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway in West Salem, Wis. TUNDRA’s stop marks a rare mid-summer Super Late Model event at the home of the famous Oktoberfest Race Weekend. The first green flag is scheduled to drop at 7:30 p.m. TUNDRA will be joined by the LaCrosse Sportsman and Thunderstox. A huge fireworks display will round out the night.
LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway is located at N4985 County Road M in West Salem, Wis. For more information visit http://www.lacrossespeedway.com.
The Unified Northern Drivers Racing Association (TUNDRA) Super Late Model Series was formed in 2011 as the Alive For Five Super Late Model Series at Dells Raceway Park. TUNDRA’s business plan is based on a sustainable program for promoters and race teams alike, while still providing high-quality Super Late Model entertainment to fans.
For more information on TUNDRA including news, results and standings, archived results and standings, the 2013 schedule and more visit http://www.tundrasuperlates.com. Also, interact with us on Facebook (facebook.com/TundraSuperLateModels) or Twitter (@TUNDRAslms).