The Slinger Nationals:The Midwest’s Preeminent Stock Car Race
Tradition as Deep as The Derby, All American and Winchester
By Gregg Paul
This year marks the 32nd annual Slinger Nationals at the Slinger Super Speedway in Wisconsin.  It is a race that is steeped in tradition that has brought many big name drivers to the world’s fastest quarter mile oval.  The race ranks right up there with other prestigious events such as the Snowball Derby, Winchester 400, All-American 400, World Crown 300, and Oktoberfest. 

How the race came into existence is a unique story.  Back in the late 1970’s, Dick Trickle was winning almost everything and everywhere barnstorming across the country.  Trickle raced seemingly most nights during the week, but never made it to Slinger since they run their show on Sunday nights.

Slinger owner and promoter Wayne Erickson desperately wanted to find a way to get Trickle to race at the famed quarter mile.  Legend has it that the two got together over a few beers to discuss just how Trickle could free up his schedule to be able to race at Slinger.  It was during this discussion that Trickle suggested that Erickson run a special event on a Tuesday night, since it was a night that Trickle was usually available.  Erickson agreed and so the Nationals were born.

The first Nationals were held in 1980, with the late Larry Detjens taking home the first ever checkered flag.  Detjens was one of the premier drivers in Wisconsin at the time as well as one of the most popular. 
Unfortunately, later in that same season Detjens was tragically killed in a racing incident at the Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna, Wisconsin.  It was decided to honor Detjens by naming the trophy for the nationals as the Larry Detjens Memorial Trophy.

Former NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, and Slinger track champion Alan Kulwicki would win the first Detjens trophy the next season, and a classic event began to take off.

The man who helped create this event, Dick Trickle captured the third installment in 1982, and in 1983 became the first two time winner.  Mark Martin would win in 1984 before Trickle came back to win in 1985 becoming a three time winner.  Trickle would win his fourth Nationals in 1989, although he continued to be a force to be reckoned with until his last appearance as a driver in 2007.  Trickle’s health has forced him to “retire”, but he still makes an appearance to sign autographs and talk to his many fans.

Joe Shear would match Trickle’s record of four Nationals titles, getting his fourth win in 1993. Shear would have no doubt contended to break that record had he not succumbed to cancer in 1998.

The record of four wins would be jointly held by Trickle and Shear until 2007 when seven time Slinger track champion Lowell Bennett would capture his fourth win. A year later in 2008, Matt Kenseth picked up his fourth title.  Kenseth would take over the top spot for most wins in 2009 as he notched his fifth win.  Bennett would then score his fifth victory in last year’s running.  In fact, from 2000 through 2010, Bennett and Kenseth would win all but three of these events.  Interrupting their dominance were wins from David Prunty in 2001, Rich Bickle, who scored his third win in 2003, and Nathan Haseleu who won in 2005.

Another multiple winner of the event is Butch Miller with two wins, 1988 and 1995.

The list of winners of the Nationals is an impressive who’s who of Midwest stock car stars. Scoring single victories are drivers six time track champion Conrad Morgan in 1999, three time track champion Tony Strupp in 1998, and John Ziegler in 1986.

While all of the winners of this race were based in the Midwest, the Nationals has always attracted many of the top stars of NASCAR.  The 1987 event featured Bobby and Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt Sr., Alan Kulwicki, Mark Martin, Ted Musgrave, Butch Miller, and Dick Trickle along with a strong contingent of Wisconsin drivers.

The popularity and legend of the Slinger Super Speedway has brought other top stars to try their hand at winning.  Drivers such as Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Rusty Wallace, Kenny Wallace, Dale Jarrett, Ken Schrader, Kyle Petty, Sterling Marlin, Ernie Irvan, Jimmie Spencer, Kurt and Kyle Busch, David Stremme, Michael Waltrip, and Ron Hornaday have all raced in this event.  Roush Racing’s Robbie Reiser was a three time Slinger track champion and raced the Nationals multiple times.

The race has become a must win in the career resume for many drivers.  Kyle Busch has made it a quest to capture a win in the Nationals. Busch’s determination and disappointment wasn’t any more evident than during last year’s race.  Busch dominated leading 140 of the 200 laps and was cruising to what looked like a sure victory.  However the racing gods always seem to have other plans.  A yellow with only nine laps to go bunched up the field for the double file restart. During the caution, Busch began weaving his car much more than normal as if he thought he had a flat. When the green flag flew, Busch’s car did not get up to speed and there was contact in turn one that made the flat tire official.  Busch would pull off the track in a shower of sparks and speed directly to his hauler.

This year’s Nationals are shaping up to be another awesome event.  Kyle Busch returns for redemption, and fellow NASCAR driver Kelly Bires will also join a field of top flight field of the Midwest's finest drivers.  Lowell Bennett looks to break his tie with Matt Kenseth to become the all time win leader.  Matt will also be there, but only to watch his son Ross try to break into the win column.  Wisconsin Short Track Hall Of Fame driver and six time Slinger track champion Al Schill, who despite winning anything and everything at Slinger and elsewhere, has somehow never managed to capture the checkered flag for the Nationals.  While partially retired at age 66, Schill may have the best chance he has ever had to finally win the Nationals.  Schill is scheduled to drive for renowned car owner Gerry Gundermann, whose cars are always a threat to win at any track they go to.  Gundermann’s cars have won 6 of the 8 features this year at Slinger with Dave Feiler and Jeremy Lepak each notching three wins. 

List of past Slinger Nationals Winners

2010Lowell Bennett
2009Matt Kenseth
2008Matt Kenseth
2007Lowell Bennett
2006Matt Kenseth
2005Nathan Haseleu.
2004Lowell Bennett
2003Rich Bickle
2002Matt Kenseth
2001David Prunty
2000Lowell Bennett
1999Conrad Morgan
1998Tony Strupp
1997Lowell Bennett
1996Rick Bickle
1995Butch Miller
1994Matt Kenseth
1993Joe Shear
1992Rick Bickle
1991Joe Shear
1990Joe Shear
1989Dick Trickle
1988Butch Miller
1987Joe Shear
1986John Ziegler
1985Dick Trickle
1984Mark Martin
1983Dick Trickle
1982Dick Trickle
1981Alan Kulwicki
1980Larry Detjens

Kyle Busch wants to erase this image from his mind after he lost the race in 2010. (Doug Hornickel Photos Photo)
Rich Bickle has a three wins at Slinger in the Nationals.
Bobby Allison is one of the heavy hitters who have run the high banks.
Back in 1987 Dale Earnhardt (#8) ran door-to-door with Dick Trickle in the (#99). (Russ Lake Photo)
Ross Kenseth says the Slinger Nationals mean as much to him as the Snowball Derby.
Matt Kenseth is a five time winner at the Slinger Nationals. (Al Graf Photo)