Blue sky, sunshine, and a fast smooth race track . . . what more could the racing community ask for as the 2014 season kicked off with the “6th Annual MTS Season Opener” at MISSISSIPPI THUNDER SPEEDWAY Friday April 25th.
The racers were ready, the fans were ready, and the on-track action did not disappoint. While fans used opening night to make a return pilgrimage to the track, several racers used the night to make return pilgrimages to Victory Lane.
After touring successfully in 2013 with the highly competitive United States Modified Touring Series, 2012 Rivercity Manufacturing USRA Modified Track Champion Lucas Schott made a triumphant return to regular weekly competition with a commanding clean sweep of the evening’s top division. Piloting his Schott’s Hardwood Floors #69 with smooth and precise determination, the young Chatfield, MN racer bested the top local talent, winning both the evening’s opening heat as well as the main Feature event in convincing fashion.
With a starting position on the inside of the second row many might think that Schott’s move to the front was a simple single lap move, not so. Front row starters Mick Glenn and Steve Wetzstein spent the opening three laps battling for the top spot, with Glenn’s gloss black #18 leading all three before giving way to Wetzstein’s #90 and Schott.
Schott’s calm and calculated driving which has earned him the nickname “Cool Hand Luke” was on full display for the filled grandstands as he spent the next three laps sizing up Wetzstein and putting forth a consistent challenge before grabbing the lead on lap seven and never looking back.
Schott brought second heat race winner Brandon Davis with him around Wetzstein, and many thought Davis’ #50iii would quickly pounce on Schott with a battle royal for the win, but Davis never quite developed the challenge. “Great way to start the season here at MTS,” said Schott after climbing from behind the wheel in Victory Lane, “I knew (Davis) was coming and lapped traffic was going to be there near the end.” Schott and Davis were able to weave through a couple of cars on the tail end of the lead lap, but they never really factored into the outcome. Several efforts by Davis gave the crowd a glimpse of what might have been, but Schott was not to be denied as he opened his 2014 MTS season with a performance very reminiscent of his 2012 dominance to grab the feature win.
Davis, who had started on the outside of the third row, completed the 25-lap feature in second with Wetzstein holding on for third.
Tim Johnson made the long haul down from Brainerd, MN with two cars, and made the long haul home with a WISSOTA feature win in both!
In the Jailhouse Saloon WISSOTA Street Stock division, Johnson jumped from the outside of the second row and immediately grabbed the lead, a lead which he’d hold onto for the entire 18-lap main. Septuagenarian Fred Prudoehl used his pole position start to his advantage and stayed within sight of Johnson the entire feature, racing his “Yellow Deuce” #2 to a second place finish with Adam Soltice coming from the third row to finish third.
In the Coordinated Business Systems WISSOTA Super Stock feature Johnson was also the first to the checkered flag, but despite starting on the outside of the front row, it took Johnson 6 laps to wrestle the lead away from former Track Champion Gary Wiersgalla. Wiersgalla shot from the pole to lead the opening handful of laps before Johnson worked around to take the lead.
Behind Johnson’s #1JR was the #00x of Dan Gullikson – both of them former WISSOTA National Champions, and they raced like former champions, fast and smooth. First heat race winner Gullikson had to work hard, however, to get within reach of even challenging Johnson for the win. Starting on the inside of the fourth row, his feature was full of movement as he worked his way through a competitive field. By lap nine Gullikson cleared Wiersgalla for second and set his sights on the leader.
The second half of the 20-lap feature was Gullikson slowly but surely closing in on Johnson to challenge for the win. But Johnson held off the advances and crossed beneath the waiving checkered flag with a tight .3 of a second advantage over Gullikson.
With the win Johnson claimed the first $200 Coordinated Business Systems winner’s bonus, which is paid ever week in addition to the regular posted winner’s pay, giving Johnson a nice $550 check to enjoy. Gullikson grabbed the Brauer Roofing, Inc. $100 bonus for second with former Track Champion Jeff Brauer earning the $50 bonus in third.
Jacob Bleess wrapped up 2013 with a Mississippi Thunder Speedway Track Championship . . . and then was able to enjoy the achievement through the long snowy off-season. But Friday night it was back to work behind the wheel for the Chatfield, MN Youngster . . . and just like last season, the challengers for the top spot were many and strong.
Starting outside of the third row, Bleess was like a tiger stalking his prey. As Alex Williamson jumped from the outside of the first row to lead the first five laps with his #15W, Bleess was hunting from behind. At first Bleess battled with Shaun Walski and Ryan Konkel to break into the top-5; on lap 6 Bleess was able to work past both Williamson and the #1 of Jon Van Minsel to take the lead. Over the remaining 12 laps Bleess and Van Minsel opened up an almost 3 second advantage over the rest of the field, and while Van Minsel was close, the half a second advantage Bleess had was too much to overcome.
“He’s such a fast and consistent driver,” Said Van Minsel about Bleess and the race for the lead, “Fun racing up front with him, but he’s a great racer.”
Bleess knew that one of the early race restarts after a caution was the turning point in the event for him, “I knew on the restart there was a good chance to go around (Williamson),” Bleess said. “He was low and I went high. Once I got out front, I started on top and moved to the bottom.”
Williamson held off Walski for third.
A solid 16-car field took the green flag for the redbox+ 600 Modified feature and as that green flag waived, series regular Bob Cisewski was mired deep in the pack. Starting mid-pack, in the fourth row, it looked as though his Ace Auto #40 would be relegated to battling for a finishing position outside the top three.
With first heat race winner, and 2012 Track Champion, Greg Wohletz and second heat race winner John Griffin lining up on the front row, and defending Track Champion Don Werner directly behind them in the second row . . . many assumed it might be a three-car battle for the win from the front of the field.
Cisewski used the first six laps to slice and dice his way through the pack, then after settling into second for a couple circuits, he made his move around Griffin to take the lead. Also on the move was multi-division racer Kyle Jumbeck, Jumbeck’s #01x came from the outside of the fifth row and followed Cisewski around Griffin to take second.
Cisewski was fast, though, and built up an almost three second lead over the charging Jumbeck to take the checkered flag win in the opening night feature. Jumbeck finished second with Wohletz clearing Griffin late in the race for third.
The Elmer’s Auto Salvage MTS Pure Stock feature was won by Rice Lake, WI visitor Jason Havel after defending Track Champion, and heat race winner, Bobby Fort, Jr. spun his #97 twice during the final race of the evening. George Richards and Lee Hager completed the top three.
Racing resumes next Friday night May 2nd with another evening of exciting regular season entertainment. The first green flag is scheduled to wave immediately following the 7 PM Opening Ceremonies with on-track competition provided by Rivercity Manufacturing USRA Modifieds, Coordinated Business Systems WISSOTA Super Stocks, Black Horse Bar & Grill USRA B-Mods, Jailhouse Saloon WISSOTA Street Stocks, REDBOX+ 600 Mods, & Elmer's Auto Salvage MTS Pure Stocks.