Jeremy Lepak is even finding it hard to believe himself. Although he has raced often at the Slinger Super Speedway, he has never ran a full season. Even at the start of this season, the plan was to not run the entire season. Yet early into the 2011 campaign, it became apparent the Lepak and his Gundermann Racing team were a force to be reckoned with. For someone who wasn’t even supposed to be at Slinger all season long, Lepak’s seventh feature win is making believers out of everyone.
“It’s surreal to me,” explained Lepak. “I was telling my wife it just ain’t even sinking in the amount of wins that I have this year. It’s unreal.”
It’s certainly real to his competitors, as Lepak cruised to an easy victory in the Pepsi Challenge Series 75.
Michael Bilderback and Jon Reynolds Jr. led the field to the green flag. The tightly bunched field remained side by side over the first five laps. The top six remained side by side over the first seven laps, before Reynolds Jr. finally took over the top spot.
Lepak, who started form the fifth spot, wasn’t making any headway on the low side, so he decided to move upstairs to try his luck there. As has been the case ever since he switched to driving the red #40, he began to pick off cars one by one. First it was Dennis Prunty, and then it was Jeff Holtz. Then by lap 15 he worked his way around Bilderback and into the second spot.
While this was going on behind him, Reynolds Jr. opened up a ten car length lead. Despite showing sparks from bottoming out in turns three and four, Driver X pulled away from the field.
Lepak quickly closed that gap and pulled up to Reynolds Jr.’s rear bumper by lap 25. Prunty got past Holtz and Bilderback and into third place at the same time.
Lepak, who got to the second spot by driving the high side, quickly changed tactics and began to look underneath Reynolds Jr. by lap 26. A mere two laps later, Lepak made the pass, and once he cleared, simply began to pull away.
The field strung out, and Lepak began to encounter heavy lapped traffic as they came to the crossed flags signifying the halfway mark. Back in the pack Tommy Pecaro spun into the infield on lap 41, but the race remained under green.
Lepak was maneuvering through traffic easily, and Reynolds Jr. was simply hitting the same traffic at the wrong spots. This allowed Prunty to close onto Reynolds Jr.’s rear bumper by lap 54. When Prunty got past Reynolds Jr. on lap 57, he opened the door for Bilderback to follow him through. Bilderback pulled alongside Reynolds Jr. and the two raced side by side for the next several laps. However, on lap 65, Bilderback would spin coming off of turn four and bring out the only caution of the race.
This was the break that Prunty and the rest were looking for, especially since Prunty has said in the past that he prefers to start on the outside. He had ten laps to prove that point. The problem is, the anticipated shootout with Lepak was not meant to be.
As the cars were coming to the green, Prunty’s car sputtered and lagged behind Lepak. This led to an aborted restart, and the cars realigned for another shot. During this time Prunty came to a stop in turn two, before slowly moving down the backstretch. He appeared to be waiting for the field to catch up to him, and he retook his position outside of Lepak for another attempt to restart the race.
When the green flag waved, Lepak took off and Prunty did not and caused a bottleneck behind him. A spark plug wire had come loose and robbed Prunty of power and the chance to battle Lepak to the end.
Considering Lepak’s dominance at Slinger he didn’t need any breaks, but this allowed him to pad his lead and cruised to an easy 2.2 second victory over Reynolds Jr. Jeff Holtz, in a desperate attempt to hold onto the Pepsi Challenge point lead, made a valiant effort to get by Reynolds Jr., but ran out of laps. Lowell Bennett and Conrad Morgan finished in fourth and fifth respectively.
Considering how easy Lepak makes it look, was he worried about that late race restart?
“This thing just doesn’t seem to be very good after the restarts,” said Lepak. “It needs three or four laps to get going. I was contemplating starting on the outside because it seems the outside is better with this. The 42 (Prunty) wasn’t passing anybody on the outside, so that was our decision to stay on the bottom and take our chances.”
Those chances seem pretty good when you have the kind of equipment that Gerry Gundermann provides. Yet there are people out there that wonder if the cars are 100% legal. Lepak and his former teammate Dave Feiler were penalized for rules infractions earlier in the season, yet is still able to dominate week in and week out.
“Everybody has their opinion and I let them have their opinion,” said Lepak. “It is what it is. It’s hard work. I don’t know how to answer those questions, but I feel everybody should have their opinions and they should be able to express whatever they want. None of it is true. These cars are 100% legal. I would put up my own paycheck for a week, and that is hard for me to do, to strip these cars down. I’m 100% sure that these cars are legal. It’s easy for people to speculate when a car dominates as god as this car has. It’s just a matter of hard work and hitting a good set up. Like I said, the blue car isn’t as good as the red car and they are identical cars, so somebody explain that to me because I don’t understand that. I think it’s part of the sport and there’s no reason people shouldn’t be able to express their opinion.”
Yet that opinion still permeates that Lepak’s car at the very least is bending the rules.
“That’s why we have tech guys,” said Lepak. “It’s our job to push those rules to the max and that is the reason why we have as good of a car as we do. That is also the reason we have as good of tech guys as we do. Jason (Shultz) and Bob (Abitz), they’re the best that you’ll find and I’ll guarantee you they’ll let you push it to the max but they ain’t going to let you go over it.”
Jon Reynolds Jr. felt good about finishing second, yet disappointed about not completing the deal.
“It was a really good night for us,” said Reynolds Jr. “We got to lead it for a while and Lepak got around us, but he is really, really fast. It was good to get behind him and try to pick up on what his line is like and watch his car for a little bit. It was good to stay there in second. The car got tight in the middle of the corner around lap 50, and Dennis (Prunty) was turning better in the corner and passed me clean. Then on the restart we were able to get back around him. Finally we’re hanging at the top with the big boys and we can see what we have to do to raise our program.”
James Swan picked up his second Late Model feature win of the season in holding off Dave McCardle and Brad Keith.
Keith led the first 30 of the 35 laps before Swan executed a perfect crossover maneuver to take over the lead on lap 31. McCardle would also get by Keith to finish in second. Wayne Freimund and Ryan DeStefano rounded out the top five.
Scott Shambeau was sitting in third place coming to the checkers of the Mid-American Sportsman feature, but inherited the win as Andy Haver spun leader Danny Church as they were coming off of turn four.
Shambeau’s win was a perfect remedy for what he had to endure seeing happen to his brother Jay earlier in the race. Jay took over the lead on lap 21 from Andy Haver. Haver was subsequently passed by Ryan Farrell who began to hunt down Jay Shambeau. Shambeau was running a lower line than Farrell, and on lap 25 thought he was clear of Farrell’s car. However he was not completely clear when he moved up in front of Farrell. Contact between the two turned Shambeau straight into the back stretch wall and the car quickly rolled onto its roof. The car then slid down the backstretch upside down and slid hard into the turn three wall. The impact tore the bodywork completely off the car as it finally came to rest on its roof in turn four.
Scott Shambeau got out of his car during the red flag to check on his brother before the race would get back underway. Shambeau was a distant third when Haver got overanxious in his quest for victory and got into the back of Church as they came to the checkers. Officials ruled Haver caused the wreck and dropped him to the tail of the field giving the win to Scott Shambeau. Crystal Wood wound up in second place, while Ryan Farrell recovered to finish in third. Aaron Cain came home in fourth with Danny Church rounding out the top five.
Ordinarily three wide racing around the high banks of Slinger does not end well for those involved. Usually one, two, or even all three cars end up crashing one way or another. However, Andy Welter not only survived a last lap three wide battle, he hung on to take the win in the Thunderstock division.
Al Stippich led the first 15 laps before Welter got to restart on his outside after a yellow. Welter would inch ahead as the green flag waved, with Stippich holding strong on the outside. After taking the white flag, the pair pushed up the track in turn two. This opened the door for fast qualifier Brad Hetzel to try to duck underneath both cars coming off the corner. Hetzel stuck his nose deep underneath both Stippich and Welter, with Stippich being the meat in the sandwich as they entered turn three. Welter never backed off and came off turn four with a slight advantage. He was able to cross the line just ahead of Hetzel, who squeezed off Stippich for the second spot. Tyler Schley and John Daley rounded out the top five.
John Dickson picked up the win in the 4 Cylinder Slinger Bees Division, holding off a fast charging Braison Bennett. Shane Westphal would wind up in third with Nick Wagner and Allen Maher Jr. rounding out the top five.
Misty Benn suffered a nasty looking wreck in one of the Bees heat races. Benn was battling with the car of Jimmy Lund, when Benn’s car veered into the turn four wall. The impact was so hard, it actually knocked the helmet off her head according to track safety officials. She was briefly unconscious as the crew attended to her. She was able to climb from the car under her own power and even hung around the infield waiting for Lund as he was coming to Victory Lane after winning the event. Been made her feelings well known as she berated Lund in Victory Lane.
Mark Van Dierdonk won the Speedway Guest Car Feature.
Brad Helser scored his first career win in the Figure 8 division holding off Dan Lighthart and points leader Scott Goetzke. Brandon Wolf finished in fourth place with Willy Van Camp rounding out the top five.
Results of the Pepsi Challenge Series 75
1 40L Jeremy Lepak 75 2 10R Jon Reynolds Jr. 75 3 38H Jeff Holtz 75 4 2B Lowell Bennett 75 5 92M Conrad Morgan 75 6 16A Steve Apel 75 7 26B Chris Blawat 75 8 72S Randy Schuler 75 9 98B Rob Braun 75 10 2M Michael Bilderback 75 11 5P Terry Patnode 74 12 89E Mike Egan 74 13 72H Mike Held 74 175 14 61E Jerry Eckhardt 74 15 17G Gregg Pawelski 73 12G Mike Graczkowski 73 17 42P Dennis Prunty 70 18 9P Tommy Pecaro 49