Antigo, WI,– There was a chill in the air, and on the track on Friday Night at the Langlade County Fairgrounds Speedway. Having battled weather all afternoon, track officials overcame several afternoon downpours working the track into shape to present the first Bumper to Bumper IRA Outlaw Sprint Series race held at the track since the 2007 season.
Cool evening temperatures greeted fans with weather more representative of early October than mid-summer, and perhaps it was the chill in the air that helped former Alaska native Bill Balog find the extra speed he needed to charge from his 10th place starting berth to victory in the 20 lap A-main.
While Balog’s speed on the slightly banked half mile was impressive he found himself nearly a straightaway behind veteran racer Steve Meyer with five laps to go in the contest. Meyer who had lead from the opening green flag had cleared lapped traffic and appeared to have the pace to outrun Balog to the checkered flag when the lone caution of the contest appeared when Scott Nietzel looped his ride in turn three.
With rules placing lapped machines to the tails of the field Meyer no longer had any lapped cars as a cushion on Balog when the green flag fell for the five lap dash to the finish. As racing resumed Balog immediately began to pressure Meyer, working to is inside down the backstretch and securing the top spot before the lap was complete.
Once out front Balog was able to pull away from Meyer and he would take the checkered flag by a dozen car lengths. Meyer would accept the checker flag earning a second place finish for the second time this season. Meyer had posted runner-up honors in May at the 141 Speedway where he also saw Balog cross the finish line first.
The A-main event has started presenting a field of 21 cars for the race narrowed by mechanical difficulties which eliminated three drivers from participating in the event. Phillip Mock, Ken Jay Fiedler and Michael Decker all suffered engine problems in the heat races, with Mock’s ride suffering a very visible explosion just ase he took the checkered flag in his heat race.
Due to weather conditions qualifying was scrapped in the interest of time and heat race passing points would determine the starting lineup for the main event. By virtue of those points Meyer would start on the pole with Allen Hafford to his outside. Hafford turned in an exceptional performance in his heat race finishing second to Jeremy Schultz to earn his starting spot but he did not have the speed to keep pace with Meyer who took the opening lead in the main event. Rookie of the year contender Lance Fassbender sliced into the second spot, and Schultz bolted from his sixth place starting
position to reach third at Hafford’s expense before the completion of lap one.
Meyer would set sail on the smooth and tacky racing surface putting some distance on the field while Balog began his march forward. By the fifth lap Balog had cracked the top five and continued his charge picking off several more positions eventually surpassing Schultz for third before the halfway point. By this time however Meyer had reached the back markers and he began to place several lapped cars between himself and Fassbender who still held down the second position.
Fassbender would soon have his hands full as Balog caught up to his rear nerf bar by lap 13 and with a decisive move down the backstretch Balog placed himself in the second position. Meyer however still had several lapped car and a full straightaway lead on Balog as the laps began to wind down. The last thing Meyer wanted was a caution and unfortunately that’s exactly what happened on lap 15 when Neitzel slipped in turn three.
The caution negated not only the large lead Meyer had on Balog but due to the caution occurring with 5 laps or less the back markers were also moved to the tail of the field. This placed Balog directly behind Meyer for the restart. Meyer was able to get a good jump coming to the green flag but Balog drove deep into the corner, then diving under Meyer down the backstretch. Balog would then nose ahead into turns three and four taking the lead. Once out front Balog demonstrated the speed of his #17b machine leaving Meyer unable to close the gap.
The battle for third also changed hands on the restart as Fassbender lost several positions allowing both Schultz and Mike Reinke to work past. Schultz the current rookie point leader and second in the overall standings would run wheel to wheel with Reinke who made a surprise appearance this evening after having battled motor ills throughout the early season. On several occasions Reinke would draw even with Schultz who would stand his ground and fend off Reinke’s challenges for the third spot.
The race would conclude with Balog scoring the win by a comfortable margin over Meyer. Schultz would manage to fend off
Reinke to the checkered flag earning his ninth top five finish of the season. Reinke completed the contest in
fourth with Tommy Sexton rounding out the top five finishers. Todd King would pass Fassbener with only a couple laps remaining to grab sixth while Fassbender faded to a seventh place finish. Russel Borland, Dave Uttech and Nick Alden completed the top ten finishers.
13 cars were on the lead lap with Balog at the finish and only two drivers, Alex Bleisner and Dennis “Ozzy” Weisner were unable to finish the event leaving 19 of the original 21 starters on the track at the finish. Ironically it was the first series start of the 2013 season for both drivers. The second day of the planned double header “Northwoods Weekend” would have included a trip to ABC Raceway located in Ashland, Wisconsin. The banked third-mile clay oval was to have
seen it’s third appearance by the Bumper to Bumper IRA Outlaw Sprints on Saturday Night, July 27th, however intermittent showers began just after the pit gates opened and remained persistent leaving series officials no choice but to call off the event. Both the IRA and track officials hope to return again during the 2014 season.