Plymouth, WI – Hollywood would be hard pressed to write a better drama than the events which took place on Saturday evening at the Plymouth Dirt Track as Tony Stewart made a guest appearance in the Bumper to Bumper IRA Outlaw Sprint program. While “Smoke” may have swept the program, the final laps of the feature contest showcased the talent of the “North Pole Nightmare” Bill Balog who stole the lead with a pair of laps to go in the 30 lap A-main then then went wheel to wheel with Stewart to the checkered flag. In the end Stewart would edge Balog by a car length to take the victory but the battle left an impression on Stewart who commented to an official that the closing laps of the race was the best sprint car event he had participated in this year making referring to the battle with the #17 machine of Balog.
Stewart then climbed to the back of his car to thunderous approval from the crowd and the victory celebration began. As victory lane ceremonies got underway even more thunder took over, as approaching storms which had been threatening the race program all evening finally arrived at the raceway with a downpour which would eventually cancel the main event for the 360 sprints which were also on hand. Stewart would stick around for hours after the event signing autographs and posing for pictures creating memories which will last a lifetime for many of the fans in attendance. Tommy Sexton would join Stewart and Balog on the podium after capturing a hard fought third place finish out dueling several drivers for the spot and then fending off a late race charge by series point leader and leading rookie Jeremy Schultz.
The 30 lap A-main took to the track with drivers and fans well aware of approaching rain. With some 62 sprint cars in the pits between the two classes on hand, drivers had done their part running all the heats races with no cautions and keeping slowdowns to a minimum in the B-main events allowing for the featured event to take place ahead of the approaching weather.
Stewart would start eight on the grid with polesitter Steve Meyer getting the jump on Lance Fassbender to take the opening lead. Mike Kertscher eager to get back to victory lane charged into the second spot by lap two but was overhauled for the position by Balog on the next circuit around the racy quarter-mile oval. Balog wasted little time reaching the lead using the high line heading down the backstretch on lap three. Stewart was also on the move as he had been picking off cars since the drop of the green flag reaching the top five. Balog began to encounter lapped traffic by lap seven, moments later the first slowdown occurred when Fassbender rolled to a stop in the third turn. The cars of Robbie Pribnow and Kertscher became involved in the incident with Kertscher getting assistance to the pit area to work on his car. Fassbender and Pribnow were unfortunately done for the evening. The events was about to go back to green when the yellow flag was extended to hustle a safety vehicle off the racing surface. The additional time allowed Kertscher to return to the track at the tail of the field.
One more lap went in the books when Ryan Irwin lost power in turn one and was clipped by Kris Spritz who was unable to avoid him. Both drivers would retire to the pit area and the incident was the last slowdown of the contest. Balog would lead Meyer and Stewart back to the green flag and fans would be treated to an amazing show for the final 21 laps of the event. Balog bolted away from the pack at the return of the green flag while Stewart went to work on Meyer for second. Stewart would sweep to the outside of Meyer down the backstretch on lap ten powering ahead to grab the second spot. Balog began to encounter lapped traffic at the halfway point but he maintained a six car length gap on Stewart. While fans were focused on the impending battle between Balog and Stewart an impressive duel for third place was taking place between Meyer, Scott Neitzel, Sexton and Schultz as the quartet of drivers tossed the third spot back and forth.
On lap 17, Balog briefly got caught behind a lapped car and Stewart was quick to take advantage of the opportunity powering past Balog for the lead through turns three and four. At the same time Sexton swept to the outside of Neitzel to garner the third position.
Stewart would extend his lead to a full straightaway by lap 20 leaving many to believe the race was well in hand, that however was far from what took place. Balog would rally and slowly reel in Stewart closing within a couple car lengths by lap 25. Diving to the bottom of the track on lap 26 Balog was able to slice ahead of Stewart to retake the lead, leading at the line on lap 27.
For the next two laps Balog and Stewart would exchange the lead at opposite ends of the track with well timed sliders. As the white flag flew Stewart managed to get enough traction to fend off the passing attempt by Balog holding a narrow lead to the final two turns of the contest. Balog made one last ditch passing attempt to try and steal the top spot but the effort came up short with Stewart scoring the win. Balog’s efforts were rewarded with a second place finish with the roar of the crowd nearly approaching that of the cars on the racing surface.
Third place was hotly contested to the wire with Sexton managing to fend off Schultz for the final podium position. Schultz the leading series rookie and point leader recorded a fourth place finish extending his streak of finishing in the top ten in every A-main this season in the Bumper to Bumper IRA Outlaw Sprints. Meyer would complete the top five finishing just ahead of Neitzel who held down the sixth spot. Nick Alden was the final car on the lead lap recording a seventh place finish after starting in the 17th spot advancing the most positions of any driver in the A-main.
Kertscher rebounded from his problems early in the contest to finish eighth. Phillip Mock and Wayne Modjeski completed the top ten. 17 of the 22 starters still on the track when the checkered flag fell. All totaled 33 drivers were on hand for qualifying tonight. Stewart by virtue of his draw would be the first car to take to the track in qualifying and he laid down the fast time of the evening. Phillip Mock would set the second fastest qualifying time and Balog was third quick on the evening.
Several drivers were still haunted by mechanical ills in tonight’s program including Mike Reinke who had started out the evening in strong with a fourth place qualifying effort and later earning a starting spot in the main event through his heat. In the A-main however engine problems sidelined the heavy hitter early in the contest. Engine problems also continued to plague rookie of the year candidate Bryon Walters who was unable to participate in any events this evening.
The B-main would see Scott Uttech run away from the field winning the contest handedly. Ryan Irwin would finish second followed by Kris Spitz, Todd Daun, Michael Decker and multi time track champion Ben Schmidt who had numerous titles to his name in 360 action at Plymouth Dirt Track. The top six advanced to the feature from the contest which had 15 starters. The event would be a heartbreaker for Brian Kristan who was making his first start of 2013 as he was in a transfer position until encountering mechanical difficulties with a handful of laps to go. Heat race victories were captured by Stewart, Dave Uttech, Balog and Schultz.
The month of June has one more event on schedule for the Bumper to Bumper IRA Outlaw Sprints with its first stop of the season at the Oshkosh Speedzone Raceway. The show will be held on Friday evening June 21st. The wide, semi-banked third mile clay oval will see the stars of the Bumper to Bumper IRA Outlaw Sprints blister the track reaching speeds of up to 130 mph in their 900 horsepower machines. Pit gates are set to open at 3:00pm with the grandstands opening at 4:30pm. Fans are advised to arrive early to get the best possible seating as a full house is expected. Hot laps will begin at 5:30pm followed by qualifying for the IRA Sprints. The first race is scheduled to push off at 7:00pm
In the last appearance at Oshkosh Speedzone Balog grabbed the lead from Reinke near the midway point of the contest to go onto victory. Neitzel would finish second after a late race charge and Reinke claimed the third position. Additional star-power is in the works for the June 21st program as efforts are being made to bring Kyle Larson to the track to display his open-wheeled driving talent behind the wheel of an IRA Outlaw Sprint. Larson’s appearance cannot be confirmed yet as of press time.
The track will be presenting two additional divisions with IMCA Modifieds and IMCA Northern Sport Modifieds on hand. Both Modified classes will be competing in a full point program and the facility is known for its hardcore Modified racing action. Kenny Schrader a NASCAR star known for his short track performances will be making a three race swing through Northeastern Wisconsin and will be participating in the program wheeling his IMCA Modified.
Admission for the special event is $20 for adults with young fans ages 11 through 15 admitted for just $10. Children ages 10 and under are admitted FREE with a paid adult.
Fans can visit the track website at www.oshkoshspeedzone.net, Oshkosh Speedzone can also be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thespeedzone Oshkosh Speedzone Raceway is a 1/3 mile semi-banked clay oval located at the Sunnyview Expo Center which resides near the intersection of Highways 76 and County Trunk Y in Oshkosh.
For more information on the IRA Outlaw Sprints check out the tour website at www.irasprints.com or logging onto the series Facebook page at www.facebook.com/irasprints
The IRA Outlaw Sprint Series is proudly supported by Bumper to Bumper Auto Parts & Service Centers, Hoosier Tire, Osborn & Son Trucking, TW Metals, Onan, Carriage Auto Body, Polaris DEFENSE, and Mother’s Polishes and Waxes. The office of the IRA Sprints can be reached at 815-759-9269 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org