Steve Apel closed out the 2011 season at the Slinger Super Speedway just as he had started it. Apel found his way to Victory Lane on opening day, and he found his way back to Victory Lane on the final day for the super late models. Apel, held off Brad Mueller over the final 22 laps to win the Bob Fish 80.
“To end the season like this is really awesome,” said Apel. “To beat the 40 car (Jeremy Lepak) and Lowell (Bennett), Conrad (Morgan), and those guys on the track is just amazing. We made wholesale changes on the car after the dash, the car was really terrible. It was good in practice, we qualified third, it was ok. On the radio after the race I kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I won the race’. I don’t know what to say.”
Jeremy Lepak found himself in a strange position, starting the feature from the outside of the front row alongside Jon Reynolds Jr. Lepak, who has made many impressive runs from the back of the invert all season long, seemed to be poised for a runaway from the drop of the green flag.
While Lepak was able to get the jump and get our front, he uncharacteristically did not pull away. Reynolds Jr. stayed on Lepak’s rear bumper until the first caution flew on lap 5. Rob Braun spun in turn three, with a pair of Mikes, Graczkowski and Held spinning behind Braun to avoid the contact. During the melee, Lowell Bennett suffered slight damage to his left front fender that would prove costly later on.
The green flag flew again with Lepak regaining the lead. Conrad Morgan got around Reynolds Jr. on lap 6 and Apel would join him four laps later at lap 10. Bennett’s fender collapsed onto the left front tire causing a severe tire rub and a huge trail of smoke. Bennett would pull off the track at lap 13, ending his season and title reign.
Brad Mueller, who earlier had set fast time, began to make his presence known getting around Reynolds Jr. for fourth place on lap 15. A lap later Dennis Prunty followed into the fifth spot.
Meanwhile back up front, Conrad Morgan began to put the pressure on Lepak for the lead. Morgan ducked to the inside of Lepak on lap 20 to take over the lead. The significance of that pass is that was the first time the entire season at Slinger that Lepak was passed on the race track for position.
Morgan would increase his lead to a few car lengths, before encountering heavy lapped traffic on lap 28. A pack of six cars were running side by side three rows deep creating an obstacle for Morgan and the rest of the leaders. That situation was aided by a yellow on lap 32 when Mike Held spun down the front straightaway. Held’s car came to rest on the apron in turn one, and when he tried to get back onto the track, he was clipped by Jerry Eckhardt and spun again bringing out the yellow.
Morgan would get the jump on the restart, and Apel would quickly get around Lepak and into the second spot.
Mike Held would spin again on lap 34, but this time the race remained under green. During this lap, Mueller would get past Lepak and into third place.
The caution would fly again on lap 47 when Gregg Pawelski got into the back of Jon Reynolds Jr. causing him to spin down the back stretch and onto the apron in turn three.
The restart found Morgan and Apel sharing the front row, but as they came off of turn four Morgan got loose and climbed the hill and made contact with Apel. This caused Morgan to spin down the straightaway and aborted the restart. Morgan was given his spot back and another attempt to restart the race was made.
This time it would be Apel getting the jump, but Morgan would fight back on the inside. Mueller and Lepak renewed their rivalry for the third spot, but Lepak would find the high side failing him where he had dominated it all season long. Jeff Holtz would also get around the now fallible Lepak and into fourth place. Lepak would lose yet another spot on lap 54 when Dennis Prunty would get by.
Morgan would get back onto Apel’s rear bumper on lap 55 and began to mount an attack. Morgan was perhaps a bit over anxious as he got into the back of Apel in turn one, but he slowed to let Apel regain control. Two laps later Morgan would get around Apel, but that moment was fleeting.
Morgan would spin on his own coming off of turn four, but there would be no yellow to save him this time. Apel inherited the lead and Brad Mueller now found himself in second. Holtz was now in third, and Lepak looked to challenge Prunty for fourth.
That battle would be short lived, as Prunty would pull into the infield with mechanical issues on lap 72. This allowed Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Famer Al Schill to climb into the top five.
Apel was able to hold of Mueller over the final eight laps, cruising to the checkers a mere .818 seconds ahead of Mueller. Holtz would wind up in third with Lepak and Schill rounding out the top five.
It would be Apel’s third win of the season at Slinger, something that even he thought was a tough task.
“We had some bad luck throughout the middle of the year,” said Apel. “I had some bad runs, made some wrong changes on the car that I will take blame for ‘cause I thought they would work, but they didn’t. We learned a lot this year about what works and what doesn’t with this brand new chassis. Tonight we really figured it out in the feature. We had a really good bite off the corner and with this Motor Masters motor got this thing to wind up pretty good.”
Brad Mueller, who is a former three time champion at Slinger and came off clinching the track championship on the dirt at the Plymouth Speedway in Wisconsin the night before, was happy about his second place run despite his infrequent appearances on the asphalt this season.
“We had a pretty decent car that was just a touch free,” said Mueller. “I was praying for clouds because when the sun came out I was really, really free, and when the clouds came out it tightened up a little bit, but not enough to reel in the 16 car (Apel). He was good, Conrad (Morgan) was the best car and unfortunately he got into Steve’s (Apel) car and spun. Our car is getting a lot better than it was. We changed a bunch of stuff on the front end this past week and Mike Meyerhofer and I put our heads together and really got the thing turning good now, so we’re off to Rockford with it. Even if I could have got to Steve there wasn’t much I could’ve done with him. If I had gone to the outside the car would’ve just slid. But I got my baby back so it’s much better than it was.”
Despite his fourth place finish, Jeremy Lepak had already clinched his first ever track championship. It was also the first ever track championship at Slinger for his car owner Gerry Gunderman, who has had a stellar class of drivers who have driven for him before. That was something that even Lepak had to marvel at.
“Surreal, I guess is the key word. I think surreal,” said Lepak. “It’s going to take a while to sink in. I don’t know man, it’s awesome. To be representative of this race track and this race team means more to me than being called a champion. It’s a real pleasure when you have team that puts in the effort that they do and I go out there and give them the performance they deserve, it means a lot to me. It means more to me than being called a champion for sure.”
Yet where does he rank amongst the bevy of superstar drivers that have driven for Gunderman over the years?
“I don’t even know how to answer,” said Lepak. “You can go to that shop and look at the drivers that have been in that race shop and to know that my name is on the race car in the same shop that Mark Martin and Alan Kulwicki, Scott Hansen, Mike Garvey and I could go on and on and on. Their names were on the cars that sat in that shop and from where I started racing, I don’t even know what word best describes that. It’s that great. It’s just unreal.”
Alex Prunty picked up his second win of the season in the Late Models, as he easily held off the 2011 track champion in Wayne Freimund. Prunty, who had earlier set fast time, methodically made his way towards the front. He was aided by a couple of incidents both in front of him and behind him that took out other contenders. Yet he was able to make his car work when it counted and steadily pulled away from over the closing laps.
Scott Ascher made his season debut in Rob Braun’s car a good one by finishing in third, while James Swan and Ryan DeStefano rounded out the top five.
Ryan Farrell picked up his second win of the year in the Mid-American Sportsman cars, as he out dueled 2011 track champion James Swan for the win. Farrell twice built up comfortable leads only to see them disappear when he encountered heavy lapped traffic. He almost ran into the back of Del Vanstone on one occasion, and Eric Lingford on another. Swan would close the gap on each occasion, but could never quite get past. Farrell would learn from his mistakes as coming to the checkers he would use the lapped car of Jay Shambeau as a pick and hold off Swan for the win. Dave Thomas made his return to Slinger a good one, as he would finish in third place, while Scott Shambeau would finish in fourth. Farrell’s car owner Danny Church would round out the top five.
Al Stippich picked up his first win of the season in the Thunderstocks as he cruised to an easy win over John Daley. Brad Hetzel came from the back of the pack to finish in third, while Bernie Leonard and Nate Fick were the rest of the top five. Andy Welter finished in sixth, but captured the 2011 track championship.
Davey Pennel made his second consecutive trip to Victory Lane in a four cylinder Slinger Bee. Pennel, who had to start shotgun on the field for winning the previous week, made quick work of his competition. By lap 5 he was already in sixth spot, and two laps later he was in second. He would take over the lead from Cory Romenesko on lap 8, and Nick Wagner and Braison Bennett would follow him to the front.
The race would be a three way battle to the end. A battle that would be halted by a red flag on lap 13 when the electronic fuel pump and Brittiny Helmers car malfunctioned and spewed fuel that started her car on fire. She quickly pulled to the infield and got out of the car as the safety crew put out the fire even before her car came to a rest.
Pennel, Wagner, and Bennett resumed their quest for the win, with Bennett trying to go three wide coming off of turn two. Bennett thought wiser of that, as Pennel and Wagner were left to duke it out to the checkers. Pennell would make it there first, narrowly beating Wagner to the line by a scant .057 seconds. Bennett finished in third while Jason Dull and Cory Romenesko completed the top five. Wagner became the 2011 track champion.
The American Super Cups feature was won by David Cerer. Behind Cerer was not only the race for second, but the race for the series championship. Erik Gehrke, Erle Hoth, and Ken Jones were separated by a single point heading into the feature. Gehrke wound up in second to clinch the series title, while Hoth and Jones finished in third and fourth in the feature. Cody Erdmann finished in fifth.
Bob Bennett took the checkers in the Speedway Guest Cars.
Bob Rose took top honors on the Spectator Eliminators.
Donald Van Camp was declared the winner of the Figure 8 race when that race was red flagged for a vicious wreck at the X involving Ryan Lovald and Rick Bruskiewicz. Lovald, who had just purchased the car of Shane “The Shark” Becker, slammed hard into Bruskiewicz in the middle of the intersection. Lovald hit Bruskiewicz flush in the door sending Bruskiewicz all the way to the backstretch. The impact then caused Lovald’s car to roll onto its side, bringing out the red flag. Track officials ruled the race to be complete due to the severity of the cleanup involved from the incident. Scott Goetzke became the 2011 track champion.
Results of the Bob Fish 80 at the Slinger Super Speedway.
1 16A Steve Apel 80 440 2 89M Brad Mueller 80 3 38H Jeff Holtz 80 4 40L Jeremy Lepak 80 5 714S Al Schill 80 6 3H Tommy Hromadka 80 7 72S Randy Schuler 80 8 92M Conrad Morgan 80 9 17G Gregg Pawelski 79 10 61E Jerry Eckhardt 79 11 10R Jon Reynolds Jr. 79 12 9P Tommy Pecaro 78 13 42P Dennis Prunty 72 14 98B Rob Braun 65 15 26B Chris Blawat 54 16 12G Mike Graczkowski 47 17 72H Mike Held 41 18 2B Lowell Bennett 13