PLOVER, Wis. (May 27, 2014) – Every lap, every turn, every one-thousandth of a second. It all mattered for Michael Bilderback on Monday afternoon in TUNDRA Round Two Powered by Wisconsin Potatoes at Golden Sands Speedway.
With no room for error on the final lap, the 22 year old from South Beloit, Illinois held off fast-timer and home-track-favorite Eugene Gregorich Jr. in a photo finish that left a near-capacity crowd holding their breath, awaiting the result.
In the end Gregorich’s charge from his 14th-place starting spot came up just shy in the 60-lap main event. Testing the outside line several times over the final five laps, Gregorich got his best run on the final circuit. He was able to pull even with Bilderback exiting turn two and stayed nose-to-nose through turns three and four. Bilderback found just enough to win by the nose of his racer.
“I saw him coming and I knew we had to step it up and we did,” Bilderback said. “I had a feeling he was going to try it on the outside but we found something in the old gas tank to stay out front.”
Gregorich, who dropped out of last year’s Memorial Day TUNDRA feature at Golden Sands could only shake off coming up short. “I feel like I’m just destined to be the bridesmaid in this race,” he said in a post-race interview.
Ironically enough, it was Gregorich who may have sealed his fate earlier in the afternoon. During opening ceremonies Gregorich rolled an six, which created the 14-car invert and placed Bilderback on the pole for the feature. Bilderback wasted no time jumping away from fellow front-row starter Jordan Ives. He then built up a five-car advantage as Ives tried to fend off Bobby Kendall, who entered the event with the TUNDRA point lead.
As Kendall worked over and eventually slipped past Ives the fastest qualifiers were mired in traffic. Gregorich was forced to exercise patience as he trailed fellow fast-dash competitors Dalton Zehr and Claire Decker. Behind them Gregorich found his way to the top ten by lap 21.
As that grouping worked its way into the top ten, the driver on the move was Jeremy Lepak. Lepak patiently picked his way through the top five and up to the third spot by the halfway point. Behind him Dean’s Satellite Rookie Reagan May, Matt Pyburn and Brandon Selle were jockeying for position. Eventually Pyburn broke away from that grouping and made a pass on Lepak for third.
The lone caution of the race fell on lap 35 when Brad Keith looped his machine exiting turn two. When the Barricade Flasher Service TUNDRA Barrel was placed for lane choice, Kendall decided to stay on the bottom line in the tire tracks of Bilderback. Pyburn jumped to the top and joined the leader in the front row for the restart.
When the green was dropped Pyburn held strong on the outside. However, his challenges were turned away by Bilderback. Further back in the field Zehr and Decker made contact sending last year’s TUNDRA Champion and the rest of the field scrambling to avoid danger. Everyone was able to keep pointed in the right direction and carry forward. However, the group in front of those drivers – now including Gregorich – were able to jump away to settle the top five spots.
With time and space to operate Gregorich made his first appearance as he swung past May on lap 42. One lap later Gregorich muscled the fourth spot away from Lepak. Just two laps later Pyburn fell victim to the fast-surging Gregorich.
Once in the third spot Gregorich needed only five laps to chew up the real estate to catch Kendall. With ten laps remaining Gregorich worked past Kendall and set his sights on Bilderback.
As the laps clicked away Bilderback’s lead shrunk. With seven laps to go it dropped to three car lengths. Gregorich then caught Bilderback with five to go and took several chances on the high side before coming up just short at the line as the checkered flew.
In a sense TUNDRA Round Two looked very much like Round One. Fast qualifier Bobby Kendall charged from deep in the field to challenge pole-sitter and eventual winner Dalton Zehr. This time it was Gregorich who provided nervous moments for the driver who paced all 60 circuits. Each lap wasn’t without a challenge, however.
“I figured [Kendall] would be strong, and he was. Then Pyburn came up to the outside; I thought that was going to be a good run and it was,” Bilderback explained. “Then I had Gregorich. Yeah I started on the pole, but a ‘W’ is a ‘W.’”
The win holds extra significance for Bilderback as it was his first in TUNDRA, first podium finish in a TUNDRA race and his first appearance in a Super Late Model at Golden Sands. He had competed in a Big 8 Late Model earlier in his career at the third-mile
“We struggled a lot in practice. Every practice session we were changing the kitchen sink. We got it back by race time, and I think I like this place now.”
Following Bilderback and Gregorich to the stripe were Kendall, who enjoyed yet another strong run, Lepak, who surged early in the event and May, who found the top five in just her second TUNDRA start.
With his drive to the front Gregorich took the point lead from Kendall, due to passing points. His advantage sits at six points over the Montello driver. Zehr, Lepak and Panitzke round out the top five in early season standings. Tommy Gee continues to pace the field of rookies with a 17-point advantage over Travis Rodewald.
The next event for TUNDRA is Round Three Powered by Wisconsin Potatoes at Jefferson Speedway. Nick Panitzke was victorious in the rain-shortened event last season. The tight quarter-mile featured frantic three-wide racing and incredible battles for position. It will be the first time in 2014 TUNDRA will compete under the lights.
Jefferson Speedway is located on Highway 18 just outside of Jefferson, Wis. For more information visit http://www.jeffersonspeedway.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 the 2014 standings, archived results and standings, and more visit http://www.tundrasuperlates.com. Also, interact with us on Facebook (facebook.com/TundraSuperLateModels) or Twitter (@TUNDRAslms).