Ashland, WI — Four drivers earned invitations to September’s Afco Shocks “Race of Champions” event by winning their respective features at the ABC Raceway on Saturday night.
Ninety-three drivers registered for action in the five-division PolyDome Dirt Track Series race program presented by the Safari Tavern of Ashland, with Ashland’s Steve Stuart, Dave Flynn of Superior, Highbridge’s Wayne Stricker, and visitor Jason Havel of Rice Lake punching their tickets for the Race of Champions features to be held during the WISSOTA 100 weekend in Huron, SD, on September 13-16.
Once again, Mother Nature had a hand in how this night’s program played out. Off-and-on light rains throughout much of the morning and early afternoon made track preparation a challenge, but the racing surface smoothed out over the course of the program, making for a wide, fast red-clay oval before the sprinkles started again with five laps to go in the program-ending WISSOTA Pure Stock feature. The 17-race docket kicked off promptly at 7 pm and was completed well before 10:30.
Stuart was on a mission in the 20-lap WISSOTA Modified A-main, weaving his way from his inside-third-row starting spot through traffic and into a battle for third place within the first seven laps. At the very start of the race, Al Uotinen worked low to sneak by the front-row pair of Paul Niznik and Steve Lavasseur and set the early pace, with Lavasseur and Niznik swapping second over those first few laps. Uotinen built himself a lead of nearly a second-and-a-half as Stuart closed in on the Lavasseur-Niznik feud. Stuart worked low to get by Lavasseur for third on lap 7, then, finding the upper groove to his liking, Stuart displaced Niznik for second on lap 9. Within a couple more short laps he was within striking distance of Uotinen for the lead, but when the pair caught visiting Bryan Hessler, the leader cleared the slower car with relative ease, while Stuart struggled briefly to get by. Once past Hessler, Stuart had only six laps to again reel in Uotinen, who had pushed his lead back to a full second. But Stuart flew around the upper groove of the track, pulled alongside Uotinen on lap 17, and passed him at the flag stand. From there the five-time track champ cruised to his 30th career ABC Raceway feature win, better than 1.1 seconds ahead of Uotinen, while posting the race’s fastest lap at 17.014 seconds. Neil Balduc was a distant third but was well ahead of Jacob Hiatt, who had gotten by Niznik late in the run for fourth.
In the WISSOTA Super Stock 20-lap headliner, it looked as though Greg Kuklinski had a decent shot at a second straight feature win, after ending a seven-year drought last Saturday. The Raceway’s all-time feature wins leader made a thread-the-needle move between front-row starters Flynn and Shawn McFadden Jr to get from the inside groove to the high side of the track, where he edged ahead of polestarter Flynn. However, on lap 3 Flynn made a strong drive off the low side and pulled ahead of Kuklinski to stay. Randy Spacek, who started behind Kuklinski in row 3, followed Flynn on the lower lane and pulled alongside Kuklinski to start a battle for runner-up honors that lasted for a couple of laps, before the yellow lights blinked on for a get-together between Colten Vernon and visitor Cooper Berlin. On the ensuing restart three other cars crashed to hold things up, but from there the pace was fast and the action clean. With Spacek and Kuklinski resuming their duel, Flynn drew to a 1.7-second lead by the race’s midpoint, and he extended that by another half-second two laps later as Scott Lawrence began to mix it up with the second-place pairing. Lawrence stayed low to grab third from Kuklinski as the top line started to fade, and then he dove lower still to take second from Spacek with six laps left. By that time Flynn was nearly three-and-a-half seconds ahead, but the 14-time track champion trimmed over a half-second off Flynn’s margin by the time the checkers flew, despite the winner’s race-best 17.474-second lap. Spacek held on to third ahead of 11th-starting Cory Casari and Shane Kisling. While the “big Mods” and Supers ran off their features with barely a hiccup, the WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds could not complete their 20-lap A-main within the allotted 30-minute time limit. This was perhaps to Stricker’s benefit, however, as he had to fend off a strong challenge from Dan Kingsley during the precious few green-flag laps that were completed.
Of the 31 Mid-Mod entries on the night, twenty-four started the main event, but only 18 survived the carnage. Paul Suzik grabbed the initial advantage from the pole, and Stricker bolted to the high groove from his second-row starting spot and pulled alongside, just before Kinglsey was spun around to bring about the first stoppage. Ryan Adamzak and Tyler Vernon got together before the next lap could be scored, and debris on the track stopped the next green-flag attempt. Stricker had the momentum on the high side to get around Suzik, but the yellow flag kept slowing his progress. After a Brady Jokinen-Alex Smith get-together brought about a lap 3 caution, a grinding three-car crash involving second-generation racers Marcus Dunbar, Jared Stricker and Brandon Copp stopped the pace on lap 4. Wayne Stricker finally cleared Suzik to officially lead lap 5, and on the next circuit Adamzak and Cody Carlson came together while battling for sixth place. As the next four laps stayed green Stricker pulled to a three-quarter-second lead, while Kingsley dove low to get by Suzik for second. Kingsley then got a chance at the lead when Gunner Peterson’s spin stopped the show on lap 10, and he stayed alongside Stricker for the next two laps before James Kannegiesser’s spin stopped the race right at the 30-minute mark. The race was then called complete, with Stricker scoring his second win of the season over Kingsley, Suzik, 12th-starting George Truscott and Carlson. Suzik set the fast lap early on at 17.544 seconds.
Havel made a rare trip to Ashland pay off with the victory in the 12-lap WISSOTA Pure Stock feature. However, he did have a huge stroke of good luck help him to his first-ever feature win here. Havel started from the pole and held off Chad Carlson at the front of a tight pack of contenders for the first lap, but he slid high in turn 2 at the start of lap 2, allowing Dylan Shelton to slip by for the lead. Havel was saved, though, by a crash involving Jake Nevala and Tyler Keup further back in the field on the same lap, which negated Shelton’s pass and put Havel back on the point for the restart. Havel chalked up the lesson as learned and stuck as close to the bottom groove as he could for that restart as well as the final one of the night a lap later, after Brock Beilke’s spin. With a tight pack of cars in tow, Shelton could only hold close to Havel’s trunklid as he trailed the visiting hotshoe around the red-clay oval for the remaining 10 laps. Kyle Copp, coming off of three straight wins here and another one at Superior the night before, worked his way by Chad Carlson for third on lap 4, and Minnesota traveler Dustin Doughty followed suit to take fourth. With four laps to go and the light sprinkles just starting, Andrew Hanson took fourth from Doughty but could climb no further. Havel nearly lost the lead once more as he got caught up behind the slower Beilke with three laps remaining, but Beilke dove into the infield just as Shelton took a peek to the outside. Havel held on from there for the landmark win, with Shelton again right behind. Copp, Hanson and Doughty completed the top five.
Trego’s Randy Graham made it two wins in a row with another solid performance in the ABC Six-Cylinder feature. Graham, driving a car owned and previously raced by former track champ Dale Coddington, weaved through heavy traffic over the first two laps and stormed past polestarter Jonathan Popp into the lead. He would not be challenged from there despite two quick mid-race stoppages – one for Matt Larson’s spin on lap 6, and the other for a two-car mess on lap 8. On the restart after the latter caution, Tiffany Hudack worked her way around Dalton Truchon to take second place, but the defending track champ could not track down the leader. Scott Ovaska also made a bold outside pass of a couple of cars to grab third, but that’s where he would stay, as Graham was better than a second-and-a-half up on Hudack and the rest at the final stripe, while posting a race-best 18.721-second lap in the process. Forrest Schultz trailed Ovaska in third, just ahead of Tyler Vernon.
The ABC Raceway will host a very special race program on Friday, June 30, when Northern Clearing Inc of Ashland and Heartland Communications present the track’s annual “Race to a Cure” fundraiser for Chequamegon Bay area cancer organizations. Besides presenting five divisions of racing action, the track will offer free admission to all fans in attendance on the grandstand side, and there will be food and beverage specials, favorite driver voting, prizes and much more.
The Raceway will also be accepting free-will donations throughout the race program, with all proceeds to be forwarded on to cancer awareness programs in Ashland and Bayfield Counties. Area organizations that would like to be involved are welcome to contact members of the Raceway’s Board of Directors to offer help, reserve vendor space, or arrange for other opportunities to be a part of this community-oriented event.
Hot laps are at 6:15 pm, followed by racing action at 7. “Z-93 Race Night” will air live on WBSZ, 93.3 FM, and stream online at www.wbszfm.com, from 4:30-6 pm with at-the-track news and weather updates. The Raceway will not run a program on Saturday, July 1, but will return to its regular Saturday night schedule on July 8.
The ABC Raceway is located 3-1/2 miles south of Ashland on State Highway 13 and one mile west on Butterworth Road. For more information log onto the track’s website, www.abcraceway.com. or on race days call (715) 682-4990.