(St. Croix Falls, WI)–Over the winter of 2010/2011, the leaders of the Upper Midwest Sprintcar Series (UMSS) put into place the framework for a new type of sprint car. This new car would sport the traditional sprinter frame and suspension, and forgo the modern-day top wing. But unlike modern sprinters, this “new traditional” sprinter would utilize an abundantly available and affordable engine. The thought process behind this development – lower costs will allow more drivers access to sprint racing, keep the playing field even and competitive, and racing excitement would ensue. As clearly as the UMSS Traditional Sprintcar Series (TSCS) visionaries saw the future, no one could have envisioned the events that transpired over the weekend at St. Croix Valley Raceway.
To close out its first full season of operation, St. Croix Valley Raceway hosted the two-night Badger State Championships. On the schedule each night were the UMSS Traditional Sprints, a complete show each evening. Reigning TSCS champion Kevin “Rocketman” Bradwell arrived on Friday night, trailing Rob Caho Jr. by a single point in the 2012 title chase. A season-high and series-high turnout of 14 TSCS sprints were on hand with Johnny Parsons and Jack Clark picking up heat race wins. The redraw for the scheduled 20 lap feature race saw rookie Ryan Olson on the pole with the three title contenders of Caho, Bradwell and Parsons in the second through fourth starting positions. Olson bolted into the early lead ahead of Caho, but the bid for his first sprint car win came to an end after six laps when the rear-end in his sprinter broke and he coasted to a stop on the back stretch to bring out the first caution. On the restart, Parsons made an incredible charge on the bottom and went from third to first. A second yellow for a spin in turn four slowed the pace once again. Parsons led laps seven and eight before Caho took the top spot on lap nine. Seeing what Parsons had done a few laps earlier, Bradwell used the low line to get by Parsons on lap nine. The third yellow waved for a spin in turn two with nine laps in the books, and on the restart Bradwell blasted under Caho in turn four to lead lap ten. The final yellow light blinked on when Tom Porter lost the left rear tire on his sprinter with ten laps scored. At this point, the number of laps was reduced due to time limitations and the threat of rain approaching. Bradwell went on to lead the final six laps while Caho rode home in second ahead of Parsons in third. Clark and Jeff Pellersels completed the top five. The win for Bradwell, his series best seventh of the season, left him tied with Caho going into Saturday’s finale with Parsons still mathematically alive in the title chase.
That’s when things got really exciting.
Bradwell won the opening heat on Saturday night, but TSCS does not award points for heat races, so the win was inconsequential to the championship. Caho, after starting fourth, was going for the lead in his heat race when he came together with the leader, Katrina Sautbine. On a lightning fast track, the contact with Saubtine was just enough to upset #78 of Caho, sending him spinning down the front stretch. Mid-spin, Caho’s rear tire dug into the clay, flipping him violently at the entrance to turn one. Quite sore but otherwise unharmed, Caho gingerly extracted himself from his torn up mount and made the longest walk in motorsports, back to his hauler, with any serious notion of a championship dashed. Sautbine went on to win the heat, her first race win since graduating from the karting ranks.
In the pits, the assessment of Caho’ ride was grim. Fellow TSCS competitor Lucas Milz offered to forfeit his starting spot in the feature, allowing Caho the use of his car – so that the championship could be decided under a green flag, instead of red flag. However, UMSS rules stipulate that a racer cannot race a feature in a car in which he did not qualify. So the generous offer from Milz had to be declined.
But the collective spirit of the racers wasn’t broken. Attention immediately turned from the rule book back to Caho’s sprinter. Fuel cell, wheels, linkages…the list of components needing replacement was built and attacked. Among those offering to help included Caho’s championship foil, Kevin Bradwell. A veritable swarm and mechanics and pit-helpers buzzed about Caho’s sprinter. Using spare parts from Caho’s trailer and, when needed, parts off of Milz’ car, Caho’s crew – with the help of several of Caho’s competitors – began the task of stripping and rebuilding the #78. With several minutes to spare, Caho’s sprinter was reassembled and race ready.
The anticipation and electricity in the air during the three-wide salute to the fans prior to the feature was a welcome diversion for the chilly spectators, eager to see this epic clash for the championship title. Bradwell started outside of the third row, with Caho at the back in row six. Open Wheel Nationals champion Johnny Parsons III immediately vaulted from his third starting spot to the point at the drop of the green. Parsons, a long shot championship contender, was doing everything he could to claim the title, and he could do no better than a win. Entering turn four on the second lap, Katrina Sautbine, Jeff Pellersels, Denny Stordahl and Jack Clark were all involved in a wild crash, with Pellersels and Clark both flipping their cars. Clark took the harder tumble, but both Pellersels and Clark would emerge from the carnage unharmed. Unfortunately, neither car was race worthy afterwards. On the restart Bradwell was quickly up to second and with three laps in the books, Caho was up to third. For the middle section of the race, it was a high-tension, nerve-wracking affair as the running order remained Parsons, Bradwell, Caho through lapped traffic. With Parsons’ advantage shrinking on lap fifteen and Bradwell applying pressure for the lead, Parsons lost the handle on his car coming out of turn three. The spin collected Bradwell as Caho took evasive action up high. During the spin, Bradwell’s car throttled over the implement tire in the infield and came to a rest, upside-down, between turns three and four.
Fortunately it was an “easy” roll for Bradwell, and both Parsons and Bradwell would be able to continue, restarting from the back of the field while Caho, sporting Milz’ #60 fuel cell, inherited the lead. Both Bradwell and Parsons immediately charged forward, slowed only by a final caution with two laps to go. The half-mile championship dash started with Parsons in fifth, Bradwell in fourth. At the white flag, Bradwell had gotten past both Sautbine and Stordahl and was staring down the #78/60 ride of Caho. With only a quarter of a mile to work with, Bradwell closed the gap, but ultimately did not have enough left to pull of the clean sweep championship drive. On the final lap, of the final race, after both top contenders flipped their cars and were able to continue racing, Rob Caho Jr. won the race and the season championship by a single point. An exhausted and disappointed Bradwell finished in second ahead of Parsons, Sautbine and Stordahl.
Although the dramatic sprint car battle will be most remembered by the hearty fans in attendance, the weekend featured an abundance of racing in other classes as well. A pair of heavyweights dominated the weekend in WISSOTA Midwest Modified competition. On Friday night, Jason VandeKamp and Justin Oestreich brought the field to green with VandeKamp grabbing the early lead. By lap three, seventh starting Ryan Olson had caught VandeKamp and the pair commenced a race-long donnybrook. Frequently racing in parallel, the race for the win was fever-pitched with the lead duo often times negotiating traffic amidst their joust. The traffic was heavy enough late in the race to finally force the race for the lead to go single file, with VandeKamp possessing the advantage. At the final double checkers, it was VandeKamp picking up his first win at The Valley since the Open Wheel Nationals on June 29. Olson settled for second ahead of Oestreich, Ryan Bowers and Vince Corbin.
Saturday night saw Kevin Marlett and Vince Corbin pacing the field and Justin Oestreich darting for third to first on lap one. Oestreich held strong until lap six when Friday night’s runner-up, Ryan Olson, slipped by into the lead. Just past halfway, Oestreich slid back to third as VandeKamp claimed second. Through the last handful of laps, VandeKamp tried in vain to repeat Friday’s result, but to no avail as Olson claimed his first SCVR win of the season in the track’s final race of the summer. VandeKamp was second to the stripe in front of Oestreich, Corbin and Marlett.
The final UMSS Micro event of 2012 was co-sanctioned with the MinIaKota Micros based in Worthington, MN, resulting in an eye-popping 20 miniature sprint cars clogging the pits on Friday night. Trey Thesenvitz and Sandy Traaseth paced the twenty micros to Shaun Cimfl’s green flag with Thesenvitz holding the point early. Fourth and fifth starting Kris Wilke and Wade Huisman quickly squirted up to second and third and Wilke eyed up Thesenvitz. By lap three, Kalab Johnson worked around Huisman and into third while Thesenvitz stretched his lead up front. By the race’s midpoint, SCVR regular Ty Sampair had cracked the top three and front of the pack would remain unchanged up to the end. Thesenvitz made the long haul from Jasper, MN worthwhile by posting a win in his SCVR debut in front of Wilke, Sampair, Chris Breen and Mike Nichols.
After Nichols and Gunner Cummings led the field to green on Saturday night, many of the same players from Friday ran up front again. Nichols led with Cummings holding second through lap four before when #97B of Breen claimed second. With Nichols leading, Breen jostled for position with Wilke, Ryan Schuur and Huisman. There were no changes in the top three over the final six laps, resulting in the first career micro win for Nichols, the Brookings, South Dakota eighth grader. Behind the elated Nichols were Breen, Wilke, Huisman and 2012 MinIaKota champion Tim Ottenbacher.
Friday night’s Pure Stock line up featured eleven cars, with Dustin Doughty and Tony DuBois pacing to green. A pile-up in turn two of lap one eliminated the only two cars to win at The Valley this season – Jay Folz and Jason Havel. On the restart, Doughty led with Tony DuBois in tow. At the crossed flags, DuBois over took Doughty and led the rest of the way, claiming his first win of the season over Doughty, Brandon Davis, Krysta Swearingen and Kyle Hallin.
Only four Pure Stocks made the return trip for Saturday night’s contest, and Jason Havel, having made repairs from the previous night, spotted the field about a half a lap at the start. Regardless of the advantage, in only a few laps, Havel caught and passed the three car field and cruised to the win over Jon Wigchers, Oliver Swanson and Kyle Dahlheimer. The win marked a track best thirteen for Havel on the season.
A handful of Future Fours were in attendance for their final two nights of racing, including both members of “Team Rollover”, Damon and Dylan Roberts. Dylan and the #10a of Oliver Swanson led the five pack to green with Roberts grabbing the lead and maintaining it throughout. Behind Dylan, Damon had a spirited battle all race long with Nicki DuBois and Swanson. At race’s end, it was Dylan Roberts picking up his third win in four weeks over Swanson, DuBois, Damon Roberts and Brandon Opsahl.
DuBois didn’t return for Saturday, but the Future Fours were joined by Hope Tucker and Karen Koltunski for the season wrap-up, upping their numbers to six. Damon Roberts led the opening lap of the finale before giving way to Swanson on lap two. Once in front, Swanson cruised to his first win in over two months, and third of the summer, in front of Damon Roberts, Koltunski, Dylan Roberts and Opsahl.
Night number one of the two night affair was kicked off by the Northern Vintage cars. Paul Dolphy was presented his trophy in the full body division by St. Croix Valley superfan Austin Tilton. And as per Northern Vintage custom, Dolphy immediately awarded the winning trophy right back to his presenter, sending young Austin home with the majestic 40-inch tall prize. In the Modified division, an elated Mark Peine posed in Victory Lane along with presenter Maeghan Milz in front of his #54 Modified. Like Tilton, a happy Milz carried home a trophy rivaling her in height. Night number two for the Vintage cars saw Josh Stirrat carry home Rick Heber’s trophy in the full body division and Makayla Cassavant claimed Butch Bethke’s modified trophy.
The final event on the raceway’s calendar is the track’s rather unique swap meet on Saturday, October 6. Vendors will receive free admission, and the track will be open for buyers and sellers to test drive any potential purchases. Pit passes will be $5 for this event and “track passes” are $30 for car and driver. The track will also be hosting an awards banquet in January to celebrate a successful 2012 racing season. Details for the banquet will be available on the track’s website, www.scvraceway.com, once they are finalized, as well as their Facebook page.