Ashland, WI — Nearly 250 fans, racers, crew persons and track personnel filled the conference hall at the AmericInn in Ashland to celebrate the 2017 stock car racing season during the ABC Raceway’s annual Awards Banquet on Saturday, January 20.
Following a buffet-style meal prepared by Country Cafe & Catering, Ashland-Bayfield County Racing Association president Eric Erickson congratulated the points champions of the track’s five weekly divisions, expressed appreciation for the track’s sponsors, and thanked the all-volunteer staff and Board of Directors of the award-winning three-eighths-mile red-clay speedplant.
Erickson noted in his comments that the Raceway had paid a record total purse of over $286,000 during the 2017 season, and a points fund totaling an additional $10,000 was handed out during the awards ceremony.
Erickson also paid tribute to several long-time members of the Raceway’s work staff, handing “Valuable Volunteer” plaques to Skip Hunter, Brian Lucas, Jenny Bowers, Laura Luger, Bobby Wherritt, and Greg Jaeger. He also presented the first-ever “Pitman Award” to Ken Bogdonovic, a popular and personable long-time crew member of the Spacek race teams.
Event emcee Nick Gima then introduced those drivers who finished in the top ten in points in each of the track’s weekly divisions in 2017, as well as others who achieved special accomplishments. Drivers in the top ten received trophies, and the divisional champions were also awarded commemorative jackets, banners and etched glass steins noting their accomplishments.
Of the five divisional champions, four were first-time honorees – an historic first in the Raceway’s 53-year history. Two of the track championships were decided by one point, while the largest winning margin was just 21 points.
Glidden’s Bill Byholm had waited 27 years to win earned his first-ever ABC Raceway points championship, topping the WISSOTA Modified division by 11 points. Despite sitting among the top 20 all-time in feature wins at ABC, Byholm did not win an A-main here in 2017, but he used five top-five feature finishes – including three runner-up efforts – and six more finishes in the top 10 over 12 shows to earn the title.
Byholm noted in his acceptance speech that one of his favorite memories of the season was running side-by-side for the lead in a handful of races with his son, Tanner, who completed his rookie season in 2017.
Defending track champion Neil Balduc of Bessemer, MI, scored two feature wins on his way to finishing second in the “big Mods,” just ahead of Pat Cook of Washburn and Steve Lavasseur of River Falls, as the top four in the final standings were separated by just 25 points. Six-time ABC champ Jeff Spacek of Phillips wound up in fifth.
Five-time track champ Steve Stuart of Ashland and Superior’s Rick Rivord headed up the second five in the Mods, and Jacob Hiatt of Mason, who scored his first career feature win in Ashland during the ‘17 season, claimed eighth, ahead of Tanner Byholm of Glidden and Medford’s Paul Niznik.
Nick Oreskovich of Mason was the only repeat track champion at ABC in 2017, scoring his second straight WISSOTA Super Stock title. Oreskovich led the division with seven heat wins, and his four feature wins on the season included an early-season run of three in a row to establish “the Flyin’ Farmer” as the man to beat.
Former ABC Super Stock champ Randy Spacek of Phillips opened 2017 with a feature win on his way to second place in the division’s points, 18 back of Oreskovich, while Montreal’s Cory Casari grabbed a feature win in the season finale to secure third in the standings. Superior’s Scott Lawrence, the 14-time ABC Raceway champion, finished fourth ahead of 2015 champ Jeff Klopstein of Tomahawk, as the top five were separated by just 46 points.
Shane Kisling of Park Falls took sixth in the Super Stocks, ahead of Superior’s Dave Flynn, Randy’s son Terran Spacek of Phillips, Ashland’s Matt Deragon, and Don Muzzy of Ironwood, MI.
Tyler Vernon of Ashland won the WISSOTA Midwest Modified track championship here in a season when the ABC Raceway hosted an average regular-season car count of 29 Mid-Mods – the highest in any division of any of WISSOTA’s 47 member tracks. Vernon collected three of the four feature wins he scored in 2017 in this division to earn the first championship of his family’s long and storied history of racing at Ashland.
Two-time defending track champion Paul Suzik of Ironwood, MI, claimed second place, just 21 points behind Vernon, thanks to two feature victories and five heat wins. Wayne Stricker of Highbridge used a division-leading seven heat wins along with three feature checkers to finish third, ahead of Ryan Adamzak of Marengo and Ashland’s Tanner Hicks.
Jesse Aho of Toivola, MI, scored a feature win here and was within just 46 points of the championship while landing sixth, with Tyler Hudack of Ashland finishing seventh. Wayne’s son Jared Stricker of Highbridge took the eighth-place trophy home, and to continue the father-son theme, Duane Dunbar of Marenisco, MI, finished ninth in the Mid-Mod standings, just ahead of his son Marcus, of Wakefield, MI.
Marengo’s Scott Ovaska became a first-time champion at ABC in 2017, winning the Six-Cylinder division’s honors by a single point. A long-time popular driver, Ovaska scored four heat wins and placed in the top three in 11 of the division’s 12 features run last summer, including winning the sixth of his career on June 10, to follow up a runner-up finish in the division in 2016.
Two-time and defending Sixes champ Tiffany Hudack of Ashland used four heat wins and four feature victories to finish second, and Mid-Mod champ Vernon won one feature and five heat races in the Sixes to claim third. Trego’s Randy Graham drove former Sixes champ Dale Coddington’s car to a division-best five feature wins on his way to a fourth-place trophy, as the top four were separated by just nine points. Ashland’s DeJay Jarecki finished fifth.
Sixth place went to Ashland’s Forrest Schultz, followed by rookie John Darwin and veteran Jonathon Popp, both of Iron River; Ashland’s Dalton Truchon, and the Spooner-based team of Josh Saunders and Matt Larson.
Andrew Hanson of Iron River was the fourth first-time ABC Raceway champion, claiming the 2017 WISSOTA Pure Stock title. The Northwestern High School senior was unable to attend the banquet as he was competing at a wrestling meet, but he did lead the division with seven heat wins, and his three feature wins on the season included two on July 29, as he finished fifth in WISSOTA’s national Pure Stock points.
Kyle Copp of Brule led the division with the first five feature wins of his career, placing him second to Hanson by just one point and setting up what could be the makings of a great friendly racing rivalry for years to come at ABC. Graham’s third-place finish included a feature win to put him just 15 points out of the championship, ahead of long-distance traveler Dylan Shelton of Wrenshall, MN, and Hayward’s Brock Beilke.
Sixth through tenth in Pure Stock points included rookie Matt Olson, Jake Nevala and Don Livingston, all of Ashland; rookie Austin Gibson of Trego, and veteran Jeff Christman of South Range.
The track’s coveted Sportsman of the Year award was presented to Mid-Mod racer Ryan Adamzak of Ashland, and the Most Improved Driver award was won by Jared Stricker.
Tanner Byholm (Modifieds), Deragon (Supers), Graham (Sixes) and Olson (Pure Stocks), plus Justin Weinberger of Park Falls (Mid-Mods), were recognized as the top ABC Raceway rookies of 2017.
Erickson presented former racer and current track-prep team leader Rick Przybylski with the annual President’s Award, honoring his significant contributions to the overall quality of the facility and the racing at ABC, prior to the introduction of the track champions.
During their acceptance speeches, all five champions were generous in their praise of the Raceway, especially with respect to the hard work of the staff, the track preparation, and the significant weekly purses and points fund.
A large number of door prizes were provided for those in attendance, and DJ-provided music completed an enjoyable evening for all in attendance.
The 2018 stock car racing season at the ABC Raceway is set to begin May 12 and include another very ambitious schedule, highlighted by the return of the Advantage RV Modified Series and the FastLane Motorsports Super Stock Series, plus a first-time visit by the UMSS sprint cars. The track is located 3-1/2 miles south of Ashland on State Highway 13 and one mile west on Butterworth Road. For more information, log on to the track’s website, www.abcraceway.com.