It is about a six-hour drive from Brule, Wis., to Lisbon, N.D., but by the end of the night, it was worth the trip for Brandon Copp.
He won the Jeff Carpenter Memorial at Sheyenne Speedway in Lisbon on Sunday night, taking home $1,037 for the win against a stout field of 38 Wissota Midwest Modifieds. Monday was the season opener at Sheyenne.
I am familiar with the Copp name -- I watched Brandon's dad, Don, race in modifieds and late models for many years up in the Twin Ports area. He was awfully good. I've seen Brandon a handful of times but his performance on Monday will stand out for a while.
Not only were the stands full, but so were the pits — a track-record 118 cars signed in! According to track historian Pokey Lukes, the previous unofficial record was 107. Sheyenne no doubt benefitted from Madison Speedway cancelling its opener, which was scheduled for Monday. The event was well covered from a media standpoint, too — popular racing photographers Mike Spieker and Cody Papke were in attendance, while the ultimate race fan/chaser, All the Dirt columnist Ed Reichert from Wisconsin, was also seen wandering the pit area gathering information.
Man this stretch of weather over the last month is frustrating for a lot of people. Farmers for one; there are a lot of fields that haven’t been touched in the Enderlin area because it is so wet. Race promoters/track prep workers feel that pain. The wet spring has left tracks with an overabundance moisture — which means they are soft and hard to keep smooth. The result is no matter how many hours you spend packing, the track will be soft and get rough in spots.
Sheyenne faced a similar predicament to Jamestown two nights before — wet grounds, a bunch of people antsy to race with all of the cancellations, and no rain in site (the sun actually came out about 6:30). Do you race, even though the track might not hold up? Or do you cancel because it is too wet? The worry of Sheyenne co-promoters Benji Froemke and Hunter Carter was how the track would hold up. I know there was a lot of talk about whether to race or not, but I think everyone involved appreciated the efforts to get the show in, especially in honor of Memorial Day and the Jeff Carpenter Memorial. There were some start-and-parks, which is understandable this early in the year with a lot of racing ahead; a rough track can be rough on equipment.
I will say this — the track will be much improved once it dries out, which could happen this week with 80s in the forecast, and Sheyenne won’t run 5-hour racing programs. I hope some of the new drivers give the track another shot because of those things. I tip my hat to Froemke, Carter and the Sheyenne crew for taking a shot and getting the show in.
They had to work like crazy to get the track just raceable. They worked their tails off to get it to that point, and deserve credit for that. Unfortunately until the weather dries out some of these tracks, getting them smooth will be a challenge for everyone. “Old Man” Jerry Lamb, who does the grading during the week at the track, was pressed into duty to blade the track at intermission. It improved things for the B mains and features some.
—Car counts — record 118 cars on hand including a whopping 38 Midwest mods. Great car counts in the street stock class and mini stocks as well along with a solid 18 IMCA A mods.
—Crowd — stands were full to open the season. That is always a good way to start.
—Jeff Carpenter and veterans honored in a pre-race tribute. It was awesome to see so many cars on the track behind Randy Klein, who was driving Carpenter’ss car during the tribute. Wonderful tribute to the Valley City driver who died a couple of weeks ago and to the veterans who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.
Not so good.
—Moisture in track...a recurring theme this year for area tracks, makes for soft surfaces and rougher tracks. And this is in spite of hours and hours of effort by track prep workers. Until things dry out this is what we are dealing with to get racing programs in. Bottom line is to race at this point, drivers are going to have to endure some hammer-down, rougher tracks (Good news is forecast is for the 80s this week which will help A TON).
—Red flag. Hate to see bad crashes, especially on a night with so many cars, like the one in the Mini stock feature.
—Weather. Sun finally came out about 6 p.m. but the track could’ve used it earlier!
—I got to meet Brittany Smith of St. Joseph, Minn., in person for the first time. She was the 2018 Wissota Hornet national champion and has moved into the Wissota Street Stocks this season. Her best run so far is a solid fourth place finish at Chateau Raceway in SE Minnesota on May 24. Smith had tough luck in the heat after a scrape with the front-stretch wall. She will get better and better as she gains seat time in her No. 5 machine.
—Young Ryan Gierke of Westport, Minn, continues to impress me. He had a solid run at Viking on Sunday to place seventh and on Monday won his heat in the midwest modifieds. He was making a pass for the lead in the feature on Monday when a tire went down. I have a hunch he is going to win a feature this season.
--Copp made a long haul for his win, but two other drivers made long trips too. One was midwest modified driver Ryan Nash of Billings, Mont., and the other was IMCA Modified driver Terry Nelson of Oklahoma. There was a long haul award for the midwest modifieds which went to Nash -- 595 miles one-way from Billings to Lisbon!
—I chatted briefly with Clay Gentzkow of La Moure. He sold his hobby stock to a driver in Mandan and is racing a Wissota Midwest Modified (No. 32) at Lisbon and Jamestown this year. He’s excited to move into the class.
—Bo Gregor of Lisbon could be the guy to beat in the Hobby Stocks at Lisbon, especially with Gentzkow leaving the class. He won from the pole on Monday and knows the track well. Dillon Thorpe, who already has a win at Jamestown, ran a solid second.
—Austin Arneson winning the mods was no surprise. The Fargo driver is fast wherever he unloads and Monday was no exception, especially starting in the front, like he did in the IMCA Mods. He has two wins already this season and I expect him to be up front most nights. John Nord of Enderlin (second), Greg Friestad of Valley City (third) and Dylan Goplen of Fargo (fourth) all had good runs. Goplen started last on the field.
Speaking of modifieds, there was an entrant from Oklahoma — Terry Nelson from Oklahoma who did not finish the main event. Plus, Billy "The Kid" Kendall from Baxter, Minn., came over; he is a top runner in that area, but did not finish.
—Matt Bogart won the Mini Stocks with Neil Walton of Englevale taking second. One driver who made up a lot of spots was Dan Harstad of Fergus Falls; he started 15th after trouble in his heat and moved up to fifth at the checkered flag.
An excellent field of 22 cars in the mini stocks.
—Two nights after winning the Jeff Carpenter Memorial at Jamestown, Reise Stenberg of Argusville had another good run. After having to go through the B main to qualify, he started 16th and finished fifth in the midwest mod feature.
—Jonny Carter of Lisbon picked up the $537 to win Wissota Street Stock main event. He is up to three wins already in his 46 machine which looks as fast as ever.