Ashland, WI — It had been over eight years since the WISSOTA Shaw Trucking Late Model Challenge Series had held an event at the ABC Raceway. It had been even longer since John Kaanta had pulled into the venerable northern Wisconsin speedplant’s Victory Lane.
Both of those long absences ended on Saturday night.
Kaanta, of Elk Mound, led all 40 laps to win his second Challenge Series feature of the season and his first in Ashland since his lone Red Clay Classic win in 2006. All four feature winners during Saturday’s PolyDome Dirt Track Series program landed in the Raceway’s winner’s circle for the first time this season.
Possibly more impressive than the wealth of first-time winners was the running of the features themselves. A smooth, wide, racy track led to 92 laps of racing interrupted by only one caution flag – and that was for a “jump” on the initial start of the WISSOTA Midwest Modified feature. The other three A-mains – including the 40-lap WISSOTA Late Model spotlight event, ran non-stop.
Kaanta came into the program leading the Series by just ten points, but he extended that lead by a couple tallies heading into Sunday’s show at Proctor, MN. As a result of his win in the Pole Dash he started on the pin for the headliner and, taking advantage of his circumstances, he grabbed the lead from fellow front-row starter and first-time visitor Jeff Wildung and stayed there.
Wildung had his hands full early on with Darrell Nelson and Pat Doar; in fact, Nelson dove inside to claim second during lap 2. By lap 4 Kaanta had already built up a two-second lead as Nelson fended off Wildung and Doar battled with Jake Redetzke for fourth.
Kaanta’s lead was 2.5 seconds by lap 7 and he seemed solidly in control, but then Wildung found the outside groove in his favor. He took second back from Nelson on lap 8 and then chipped away at the leader’s margin. Redetzke finally won the battle with Doar for fourth on lap 7 and then reeled in Nelson, working the low line to steal third on lap 18.
Kaanta’s lead at mid-race was still over two seconds, but by then he had reached the tail end of the field. On lap 23 Redetzke stole second from Wildung, and with Kaanta working through slower traffic Redetzke and Wildung drew near. But Redetzke got caught up behind Lance Matthees on lap 30, allowing Wildung to sweep around him and retake the runner-up spot.
Wildung stayed upstairs and trimmed Kaanta’s lead to within four-tenths of a second – or not much more than a couple of car-lengths – with five laps remaining. But Wildung himself had to make a couple of moves to clear lapped traffic over the closing stages, allowing Kaanta to hold on for the $2,000 win by three-quarters of a second.
“I thought I heard someone back there,” Kaanta said of Wildung’s late charge in Victory Lane. “I didn’t realize how close he was.”
Redetzke, who won the last time the Challenge Series was in town in July 2009, finished third to retain second place in the Series standings, while tenth-starting Rick Hanestad clipped Nelson with two to go for fourth. Doar held on to sixth ahead of Steve Laursen, who was driving TJ Adams’ car here after seriously damaging his at the LMCS show in Menomonie the night before. Jesse Glenz and Buddy Hanestad came home eighth and ninth, and former ABC Raceway Super Stock and Street Stock regular Andy Nezworski, visiting from Iowa, took tenth.
The entire 40 laps took eleven minutes and 41 seconds, from initial green to the final finisher taking the checkered.
Medford’s Paul Niznik outdueled Neil Balduc, then pulled away in the WISSOTA Modified feature for his first win here since 2014, and first in a “big Mod” since 2006.
Balduc paced the 20-lapper early, with polestarter Niznik right on his tail, as the lead pair scooted away to decide this one between themselves. Within the first five laps Pat Cook took third away from Steve Lavasseur and led a tightly-packed contingent of cars battling well back of the lead pair.
Nelson, pulling a rare double-duty in Ashland, worked his way by Lavasseur for fourth on lap 6 and then spent the better part of the next nine laps trying to find a way past Cook. Up front the dogfight for the lead was drawing out of reach, with Niznik throwing every move he could at Balduc as the two built a buffer of well over three seconds on the rest of the field.
Just after mid-race Niznik got a high-line run on Balduc, and on lap 11 he crept alongside and by for the lead. Once out front, Niznik showed just how strong his car was on this night, building up a full-second lead within just three laps. Nelson finally passed Cook for third with five to go, but he was well back of Balduc, who in turn was behind Niznik by 1.8 seconds at the checkers.
“This season has been very hectic,” an elated Niznik explained in Victory Lane afterwards. “But it’s always fun when we get here (to Ashland) to race.”
Cook was fourth, just ahead of a late-surging Steve Stuart. Cook finished ahead of Bill Byholm in both their heat race and the feature, trimming Byholm’s points lead to just 11 with two nights remaining.
The only yellow flag thrown in any feature on this night came when visiting Andrew Inman was called for a “jump” at the start of the Midwest Mod A-main. But once Inman was assessed his one-row penalty and the field was re-aligned, the 20-lap race ran off without another hitch, with Toivola, MI’s Jesse Aho collecting his second career feature win at ABC and first since June 2015.
Polestarter Justin Weinberger grabbed the initial lead from Jared Stricker, and the two young speedsters looked strong in pulling away from Jared’s dad Wayne Stricker, Aho and Ryan Adamzak. Aho moved up a lane and found something to his liking, slipping past the elder Stricker on lap 2, and then repeating the move to take second from the younger Stricker a lap later. Within two laps he made the move pay off again, sweeping by Weinberger for the lead.
Adamzak took over third a couple of laps later but was a distance back of the lead pair, with Aho working hard to put any cushion between himself and the determined Weinberger. Adamzak soon found himself in a battle as well, as divisional points leader Tyler Vernon picked his way from a fifth-row starting spot to work into third on lap 9. Aho finally put some breathing room between himself and Weinberger over the final five laps, while Vernon charged up to challenge for second. Aho worked his way through slower traffic during the last couple of tours and claimed the win by 1.2 seconds, while Vernon slipped by Weinberger on the white-flag lap for second.
“We’ve been struggling with this new car all season,” Aho told the crowd after the run. “We’re ecstatic to get a win with it here.”
Paul Suzik charged from a row 9 start to claim fourth on the final lap from Adamzak, placing the pair in a tie for second place in the standings, 23 points behind Vernon, with two shows remaining here. A small car count in the WISSOTA Pure Stocks was made up for by an entertaining feature race, won by Randy Graham of Trego. Graham, who has been on fire in his first year in ABC’s Six-Cylinder class, had not won a feature in the Pure Stocks since July 2016.
Jeff Christman led early in the 12-lap run, running a higher line while a tight five-car pack stayed hot on his heels. Graham, who started outside on the third row, dropped low to edge ahead of polestarter Matt Olson for second on lap 2, and within another circuit he repeated the move to claim the lead from Christman. Many eyes were on Andrew Hanson and Kyle Copp, the primary combatants for the division’s points title. Hanson held a four-point lead on Copp coming into the night, and after both young drivers won their respective heats the difference stayed at four heading into the feature. They started side-by-side on row 4, but Hanson made the first move forward, taking third from Don Livingston on lap 4.
The lead pack became a five-car swarm as Olson dropped back, and in the thick of it Copp made a move inside on Hanson for third on lap 7. During the next go-around Copp worked his way by Christman for second, and as the lead bunch sped to the white flag Copp dove low to challenge Graham for the lead. Their cars scrubbed against each other, causing Copp to check up, and that allowed Hanson to grab second spot. Coming out of the final corner Hanson pulled up alongside Graham in a last-ditch pass attempt for the win, but Graham held on by half a car-length for his ninth career ABC Raceway feature victory. Copp recovered quickly for a close third but slipped to five points out in the battle for the title. Christman was not far back for fourth, and Livingston trailed by a few lengths in fifth.
The fastest laps recorded in each feature were set by Rick Hanestad in the Late Models (16.385 seconds), Stuart in the Mods (17.501), and Aho in the Mid-Mods (18.240). Next Saturday night the ABC Raceway will hold its annual “Summer Blast” fan appreciation night, presented by Northern Wisconsin Fence of Phillips and Outlaw Wraps & Apparel of Ashland. The WISSOTA Super Stocks and ABC Six-Cylinders will included for a five-division points-paying show, the kids’ bike races, postponed from the rain-shortened July 8 program, will be held, and the Northern Vintage Stockcar Racers group will bring a dozen or so vintage race cars to the track to compete. Also scheduled will be dee-jay music after the race program.
Hot laps start at 6:15 pm, followed by qualifying heats at 7. Adult grandstand admission tickets are just $11, while younger fans are admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult. “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 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.