Doar Claims Big Prize at I-94; Wolden, Dykhoff, Blascyk and Sabraski Win
I ventured back to I-94 Sure Step Speedway in Fergus Falls for the opening night of the Structural Buildings Wissota Late Model Challenge Series. An excellent 37-car field was on hand to fight for the $5,000 top prize.
River Cities Speedway and Red River Valley Speedway both cancelled their openers because of wet conditions. In fact, the only RaceChaser area track to open so far is I-94 Sure Step Speedway. Sheyenne Speedway, Buffalo River Speedway and Viking Speedway all have postponed their season openers. It’s been a miserable spring, if we can even call it that. I-94’s track was much improved from week 1 with a couple of soft spots, especially in the bottom of turn two. Again, better weather would help, and I know the I-94 crew will keep working to make the surface better.
The 37-car late model field was stacked – Wisconsin drivers Jimmy Mars, John Kaanta, Pat Doar and Jake Redetzke all were in town. Defending Challenge Series champion Darrell Nelson of Hermantown was also in attendance, along with defending national champion Cole Searing of Huron, S.D.
Car counts were solid in the other classes with 24 Wissota Street Stocks, 21 Wissota Midwest Modifieds, 14 Wissota Modifieds and 10 Viessman Late Models.
Let’s start with the 24-car late model feature, which was led to the green by two I-94 regulars, Cole Schill of Hawley and Ryan Mikkelson of Alexandria.
Mikkelson took the early lead with Schill giving chase. Schill worked the lower line and eventually took over the top spot.
Doar, a five-time challenge series champion and the all-time wins leader on the tour, worked his way past Mikkelson for second and set his sights on Schill. The track took some rubber and the lower line was the dominant line and passing was at a premium. Doar was patient and was looking for an opening – he found one when Schill hit lapped traffic, and the #11 machine took over the top spot.
Mikkelson had his hands full with Jimmy Mars for third. Canadian driver Shane Edginton settled into fifth.
The only caution of the feature came with 16 to go when Morgan Ward-Grosz suffered a flat right rear tire.
The restart saw some shuffling in the field. Searing, who impresses me every time I see him, made a move past Mars on the restart and shortly after, passed Edginton to work into the top four.
Doar was in control and picked up his 37th career challenge series win. Schill had an excellent run in his new car, taking second. Mikkelson, a week after blowing a motor, came back strong to finish in third. It was a great night for Schill and Mikkelson.
Searing went from ninth to fourth to cap off a good run with Mars, the defending Wissota 100 champion, taking fifth. Edginton was seventh.
The Viessman Late Models kicked off Friday’s features and had a good, clean race. Ben Wolden of Fergus Falls, a five-time track champion in the division at I-94, stormed to the front from his ninth starting spot and went on to another solid win.
Jarrett Huus of Fergus Falls had an excellent run. While Wolden was the dominant car, he didn’t walk away as Huus stayed within a few car lengths, on his way to a second-place win. Larry Samuelson of Erhard was a solid third, with Sam Zender of Fergus Falls and Ryan Mikkelson of Alexandria rounding out the top five.
It was the best I’ve seen Huus look in a limited late model, and if he runs like he did on Friday, a trip to victory lane is not out of the question.
A terrific 23-car field took the green for the street stock featured. Dan Aberle of Finley, N.D. was the early leader as he was looking for his first I-94 win.
Week 1 winner Kyle Dykhoff of Starbuck worked on Aberle with the Wolverine, Justin Vogel of Brooten joining the battle.
Dykhoff took over the top spot with Vogel moving into second. Vogel would pressure Dykhoff for the lead.
Unfortunately, the big one happened in turn two with a multi-car pileup. Josh Long of Canby and Kasey Ussatis of Nome, N.D., were the hardest-hit in that wreck with a lot of damage. Jacob Aarhus of Canby, a former Wissota Hornet driver, and Kevin Pender of Barnesville also being eliminated in the wreck.
Once the race resume Dykhoff had some breathing room as Vogel had his hands full with Braden Brauer of Eyota, Minn., for second. Also quietly making a move was Eric Riley of Morris who had started in 12th; he was in battling with Aberle and Cole Greseth of Harwood for fifth.
Dykhoff went on to take his second straight win with Vogel running a strong second. Brauer was third while Riley and Aberle rounded out the top five.
The Wissota Midwest Modified feature was led to the green by Haley Lee and Ron Saurer. I don’t know of a driver who has worse luck that Haley as she was a DNF. I thought she had a shot at the win based on how strong she ran in the heat.
By the time things settled, Brendan Blascyk of Hoffman, pictured above, was on the move to the front. He started ninth but got to the front quickly and recorded a good win.
Multi-time Wissota Midwest Modified national champion Travis Saurer of Dalton, driving one of his dad Ron’s cars, was second from seventh while Brock Gronwold of Fergus Falls was third. Austin Chyba of Browerville was fourth and Larimore, N.D., Jamie Dietzler had a good night to finish fifth. For the most part it was a good, clean race.
Multi-time I-94 champion Brady Gerdes of Villard took the lead from the inside pole over Jason Thoennes of Garfield in the Wissota Mod feature.
Dusty Bitzan of Brandon, Shane Sabraski of Rice and Lee Grosz of Watertown were also in the top five.
Sabraski used the lower line to make his moves to the front. He cleared Bitzan and Thoennes and then battled Gerdes for the top spot. Sabraski would take over the lead.
Gerdes was determined, however and didn’t give up the top spot without a fight. Gerdes challenged Sabraski for several laps but was unable to regain the lead. Sabraski won by 4-5 car lengths with Gerdes fending off Bitzan for second. Thoennes and Week 1 winner Joseph Thomas of Glyndon took care of the top five.
--Aaron Blacklance of Thief River Falls debuted his new Wissota Modified, an MB Customs Chassis. He got some valuable laps in the feature and also got to race his brother-in-law, Brady Gerdes, for the first time. Blacklance also plans to race a street stock and Midwest modified this summer.
--It was good to see some Grand Forks-area drivers pull in for Friday. That includes Brad Seng and Ryan Corbett in the late models, and Greg Jose, Trey Hess, Seth Klostreich and Aberle in the street stocks.
--Two drivers had tough luck in the late models. Defending NLRA champion Mike Greseth of Harwood was involved in a crash in his heat and suffered damage. I checked with him and while the damage wasn’t severe it was enough to end his night. Cole Babcock of Rothsay suffered a similar fate in one of the B mains and left on the hook.
--There is not a big margin of error in the late models. Rookie Kevin Burdick of Proctor, who is a former Wissota Super Stock national champion, started fourth in the 40-lap late model feature. On the first lap he got up into the marbles in turn two and lost several positions and it was costly as he finished outside the top 15. I expect Burdick to be a real factor at the tracks in the Twin Ports.
--It was a tough night for the Ward family in the late models. Morgan Ward-Grosz had a flat in the feature as I mentioned earlier while Scott Ward broke and pulled in during the feature.
--almost every person I talk to in the pit area that is involved with farming is on edge right now because of the weather. Many fields have not been touched yet as we hit the middle of May. Matt Schow of McIntosh is among the folks in that boat, telling me last night the fields are simply too wet to even get into (it seems the further north you go the wetter it is). Let’s hope for a dry stretch so farmers can get crops planted for the summer.