WEST SALEM, Wis. (July 2, 2016) – The TUNDRA Super Late Model Series has visited nine tracks since it began as the Alive For Five Super Late Model Series in 2011. Dalton Zehr has now won at eight of those nine tracks.
The two-time and reigning series Champion put a check mark next to LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway on Friday night as he survived several restarts to win the Johnny’s Hobbies 50. The win was his 11th in TUNDRA and 100th of his career.
“We’ve been doing a lot of racing,” Zehr said of his team’s 2016 calendar. “Any time you can do a lot of racing you build momentum behind the team and they get better at working together.”
Starts and restarts proved to be a critical formula for Zehr and some of the other quick machines to come through the field. A ten-car invert placed Jordan Thiel on the pole for the 50-lap feature alongside Joel Thiesen. Thiel broke away in the first ten laps before a caution gave those faster qualifiers a chance to work some magic on the lane choice.
On the lap 10 restart, Johnson, Nick Panitzke and Zehr chose the outside line behind Thiesen. This particular restart would prove to be crucial in shaping the eventual podium as Johnson moved to Second, Panitzke to Third, and Zehr settled in Fifth.
“We chose the outside on (that) restart, which I honestly thought was a little bit of a risky move. I’m not sure what happened on that inside row, but it checked up pretty good. Then it was a race to the front from there.”
As the field began to sort out from the lap 10 restart, Johnson closed the gap on Thiel in front, but was unable to make a move. On lap 16 the top four had broken away from Thiesen in Fifth and the battle for Sixth which included Travis Dassow, Mike Lichtfeld and Ty Majeski. With some ground to make up, Majeski moved past Lichtfeld on lap 18 and Dassow on lap 20.
Unfortunately for the night’s fastest qualifier, the race came to an end just five laps later. Majeski slowed on the front stretch and attempted to pull off the track surface after it appeared he lost all power in his machine.
The restart at lap 25 pitted Thiel on the inside and Johnson to his outside. After one botched restart, Johnson powered past Thiel through turns one and two to take the top spot. Zehr followed on the outside into Second and Panitzke secured Third just three laps later.
Just as the race was approaching lap 30, Zehr began to challenge Johnson for the lead. Zehr slid to the inside line on lap 30 and began a back-and-forth battle with Johnson. Zehr nosed past Johnson by mere inches at the line on lap 32, just before a caution came out for a spun Lichtfeld on the front stretch. Zehr was given the lead and the critical first choice when the TUNDRA barrel was placed to pick a lane for the restart.
Surprisingly, Zehr chose the outside on the restart, giving Johnson the bottom groove. Johnson enjoyed an exceptional restart and cleared Zehr without issue. Johnson built an advantage of about three car lengths until the yellow fell again when Michael Sauter came to a stop on the back stretch.
This time it was Johnson who had the first choice. Just like Zehr on the previous caution, Johnson selected the outside line, leaving the bottom for Zehr. Johnson tried to clear Zehr on the top side, but could not turn him away. Zehr held on in the low groove as the pair raced door-to-door for the next two circuits. Finally on lap 36 Zehr was able to surge past Johnson and secure the top spot.
“It was kind of a shaky call,” Johnson said of selecting the top groove. “I got him on the inside before that but I thought maybe we’d get a run on the outside. But I spun the tires and that was all it took.”
There was still some doubt to be had about a Zehr win. With 11 laps remaining Panitzke swiped Second from Johnson and set his sights on running down the leader. Although he made up some ground, it appeared Panitzke would need some help to close the gap. That help came on lap 47 when a final caution fell for a Joel Thiesen spin.
Because the restart came with less than 5 laps left, the field was single-file at the drop of the green. Zehr played the restart to perfection and had enough of a cushion to keep Panitzke in the rear view mirror.
“Restarts weren’t our best game for sure, so I was glad to see that last one be single file,” Zehr said.
For the former Champion Panitzke, a Second Place finish in his return to the series was a satisfactory result. “We had a lot of fun coming back to TUNDRA. I kind of let (Zehr) and (Johnson) go and figured I’d let them beat up on each other a little bit and see if I could capitalize late, but they kind of cleared up.”
Behind Panitzke, Johnson scored yet another podium finish in TUNDRA action. To go with his two Second Place finishes already, the Third Place finish helped cap another decent day in regard to the TUNDRA standings. “Not a bad day at all. Obviously we’re hunting for trophies but in the long run it was definitely a good points day.”
Nick Barstad enjoyed a solid late-race run to take Fourth in just his second ever TUNDRA start. After leading the race early, Thiel held on for a TUNDRA career-best finish of Fifth.
Despite Zehr’s win, Johnson’s better qualifying effort and a lap led secured enough bonus points to keep his healthy lead in the standings. He holds a 49-point edge over Zehr, who moved to Second and a 72-point lead over Dassow. Terry Schoppenhorst sits in Fourth, 84 points out of the top spot. Thiel’s Fifth place finish moved him to Fifth in the standings, 94 points out of the lead.
The Super Late Models will enjoy a six-week break until the next event at State Park Speedway.
Double the Fun for Prietzel in Sportsman Twin Features
Patience was the name of the game for the faster cars in the wildly entertaining Sportsman twin features. Veteran and Hall of Fame racer Bill Prietzel played that game to perfection, picking up both 15-lap events.
Prietzel also collected an extra $200 from Dean’s Satellite and Security for his trips to Victory Lane.
Rachel Kallas and John Zuch led the field to green in the first feature. The two leaders jousted for the top spot for the first five laps, until Kallas secured the lead. Just after she took the top spot, Kallas immediately was pressured by LaCrosse regular Brian Hesselberg. Hesselberg took the lead on lap six as Prietzel and fast qualifier Dave Trute scrapped for Second.
Although on the outside, Prietzel was able to take the lead from Hesselberg with three laps left in the first feature. Trute followed quickly and set his sights on Prietzel. Meanwhile, Greg Back had captured Third and was closing quickly.
Trute tried frantically to find a line past Prietzel, but could not make the last-lap pass. Prietzel cruised to the win in the first 15 and Back was able to clip Trute at the line for Second.
In the second 15-lap feature Kallas and Zuch again led the field to green, but this time their battle for the top spot intensified. There was little to no separation between the two. When Kallas pulled ahead, Zuch fought back. When Zuch had the edge, Kallas regained position.
Things finally broke free with three laps to go when Zuch finally cleared Kallas. The result was a mad scramble as Trute, Back and Prietzel tried to rush to the lead. With two laps to go both Trute and Prietzel were winding up ready to make their moves on the leader from as far back as fifth and sixth.
Back tucked into second on the inside behind Zuch, Trute was behind Back and Prietzel had taken Fourth when the white flag fell. As the top four went into turn one Trute attempted to go to the inside of Back, leaving the outside for Prietzel. Prietzel went door-to-door with Back down the back stretch, then charged to pull even with Zuch through turns three and four. With a run to the stripe, Prietzel was able to hold off Zuch by half a car length. Back was Third and Trute had to settle for Fourth.
Drivers were awarded points on the average of their finishes. The order was Prietzel, Back, Trute, Zuch, Hasselberg, and Kallas.
Rossier Rockets to Vintage Win
The Stockton Rocket was back in form in the 25-lap Vintage feature event. After setting fast time earlier in the evening, Rex Rossier blazed a path to the front of the field and picked up his first series win of the season.
Roger Peterson and Royce Rossier battled for the lead early, only to see Rex on their doorstep by lap four. After making the pass on Peterson, Rex went to the outside of his brother Royce to take the lead.
A yellow fell for a spin with ten laps to go, giving Dave Gawronski and Ken Lewis a chance to steal the win from Rossier. However, the battle between Lewis and Gawronski allowed Rossier to escape. Gawronski finished Second, Lewis Third, JJ Meyer was Fourth and Gene Pennington rounded out the Top Five.
TUNDRA will take a mid-summer break and be back in action on Sunday, August 14 at State Park Speedway. Details on the event will be release in the coming weeks on TUNDRA’s web site.
State Park Speedway is located at the foot of Rib Mountain at 5711 North Mountain Rd in Wausau. For more information visit http://www.stateparkspeedway.com