Grosz, Schill, Satter and Reinke Lead I-94 Opener Winners
I-94 EMR Speedway in Fergus Falls held its 2023 season opener with a stout 133-car field on hand on a very nice early May evening.
I thought the track was in really good shape for an opening night and I thought the racing was pretty good throughout the evening as only two features turned into runaways. Thanks to the folks at I-94 for the hospitality and I think it will be a great summer at the 3/8-mile oval.
We will start with the Wissota Modified feature which turned into a tense battle between Watertown driver Lee Grosz and East Grand Forks driver Dustin Strand. A stout 26-car field took the grain in a race that went from green to checkered with no cautions. Nice work by the drivers.
Grosz put his #4J to the cushion and stuck it there while Strand put his 71 on a lower line. Also in hot pursuit was Shane Sabraski of Rice. Veterans Jason Thoennes of Garfield and Dusty Bitzan of Brandon had a nice battle for the fourth spot.
Grosz opened up a little breathing room as Sabraski pressured Strand for second. However Grosz began encountering lapped traffic and after tagging the wall in turns three and four, saw his lead shrink.
Strand worked and worked the low line and pulled beside Grosz a few times but could not make the pass. A few times it looked like Strand had the run he needed but Grosz’s momentum on the high line kept him up front.
Meanwhile, Brady Gerdes of Villard, who started 11th, moved into the top five behind Thoennes.
Grosz would outlast Strand for the win with Sabraski coming home third. Thoennes and Gerdes capped off solid runs in fourth and fifth, respectively.
The Short Tracker feature was as competitive a feature as I’ve seen in the class. Joe Martin of Willmar led the early part but Matthew Dittman of Lake Lillian had a surge to the front to take the lead. It was no runaway, though.
Peter Martin of Willmar, defending I-94 champion Shawn Beto of Wahpeton and Travis Olafson of Wilton were also fighting hard for spots within the top five.
A late caution with three laps to go probably cost Dittman, who seemed to be in pretty good shape. On the final restart both Martins were right on Dittman’s heels. Peter Martin got a great run on a little higher line in turns three and four and surged by Dittman on the outside for that win. Dittman settled for second with Olafson, Joe Martin and Beto rounding out the top five.
Ryan Satter sitting on the front row in the Wissota Street Stocks is usually bad news for the field at I-94, and
Early on, though Jamestown veteran Scott Bintz was providing a formidable challenge as he
took the lead. Kyle Anderson of Jamestown and Jeff Ekdahl of Oakdale soon were closing.
Satter made the pass for the lead, but Anderson soon moved into second. The top two opened up a bit of a gap on third place.
Eric Riley of Morris, who bought Kyle Dykhoff’s national championship car from 2022, moved into the top five.
Cole Greseth of Harwood was having a good run into the top five but saw his run end with an apparent left front flat.
Satter had a few car lengths on Anderson who was facing a challenge from Ekdahl. The caution came out with three to go. On the restart, Ekdahl took a peak on the inside on the restart, but Satter wouldn’t flinch to pick up the opening win. Ekdahl settled for second with Anderson a solid third. Bintz and Riley rounded out the top five.
Nate Reinke of Lisbon and Cole Elton led the Wissota Midwest Modified field to the green with Reinke jumping out to the early lead.
The ageless Ron Saurer or Dalton moved into second with former national champion and Wissota 100 winner Lucas Rodin of Marion moving into third. Winnipeg driver Austin Hunter moved into fourth.
On the move was Watertown driver Mike Nichols as he worked into fifth after starting 10th.
A multi-car crash in turns one and two collected Haley Lee, Chad Gronner and Michelle Hutt with 12 to go. Gronner left on the hook while Lee pulled pitside with some damage. Hutt was able to continue.
Rodin had just passed Saurer for second but the caution waved, and the lineup went back to the last completed lap.
On the restart Reinke just blasted away from the field as Saurer and Rodin battled for second. Nichols worked on Hunter for fourth.
Reinke opened by a 1.8 second lead on second as Rodin cleared Saurer. Nichols was very fast and got into fourth and soon went to work on Saurer.
There was no challenging Reinke who picked up the win with Rodin settling for second. Nichols, who may have been the fastest car on the track at the end, was third with Saurer fourth and Hunter fifth.
Dave Mass of East Bethel dominated the Gen X Late Model feature. For those who are thinking this is a new class at I-94, it is not – it is formerly the Limited Late Model class.
Mass took the lead from the green with Curtis Newberg, a long-time veteran from Cosmos, in second ahead of multi-time I-94 champion Ben Wolden of Fergus Falls.
Mass would build a comfortable advantage and cruise to the win by Wolden was second. Scott Zimmerman of Rothsay was a solid third. Third-year driver Jarrett Huus was fourth ahead of Newberg.
Trevor Saurer of Dalton was the early leader in the Wissota Super Stock feature, but defending national champion Shane Sabraski of Rice was lurking. It took a few laps for the 7A to get to the front, but once he did, it was all over.
Defending Wissota 100 champion Trevor Nelson of Warner, S.D., was making movement and took over second. William Lund of Brandon, who started dead last in the 11-car field, made a big run through traffic and worked into third and was chasing Nelson. Wisconsin driver Nick Oreskovich settled into fourth ahead of Saurer.
Sabraski won by 6.2 seconds to pick up his 826th career feature win. He has just a few wins in his career.
Nelson fended off Lund for second with Oreskovich capping a good run off in fourth. Saurer was fifth.
Josh Zimpel of Braham and Cole Schill of Hawley led the Wissota Late Models to the green. Zimpel jumped out to the early lead with Schill into second. Just two laps into the race however Zimpel’s #5 slowed suddenly on the back stretch to bring out the caution.
Schill, a former I-94 champion, assumed the lead on the restart. Danny Vang of Deerwood settled into second.
Former national champion Cole Searing of Huron and Bryce Sward of Nelson, who won the $10,000 Dacotah Rumble in Aberdeen last summer, had a heck of a battle for the third spot.
Vang was inching closer to Schill, but with 10 laps to go got into the wall. Searing couldn’t escape without hitting the #47, and Canadian driver Shane Edginton also made contact with Vang. Vang’s night came to an end as a result but Searing, despite some noticeable damage, was able to restart in third. Edginton’s night was done. It was a tough deal.
One the 10 to go restart Sward went to work on Schill with Searing fighting a damaged race car in third.
Defending I-94 champion Shawn Meyer of Wahpeton was on the move into the top four, but struck the wall in turns three and four and slid back.
Schill and Sward opened up a lead as Kevin Burdick of Proctor was pressuring Searing for third. Meyer and Larry Fitzsimmons were close behind in a four-car battle.
Schill stuck the 44 to the cushion and Sward closed within a car length but could get no closer and settled for second. Searing did a heck of a job limping a beat-up car in third. Burdick, a former Wissota Super Stock national champion, was fourth. Meyer, who started 10th, was a solid fifth.
It was a special win for Schill; it was his first win at I-94 since his father, Howie passed away in Dec. 2020.
The Wissota Mod class in western Minnesota has seen a new crop of talent. Brock Gronwold of Fergus Falls and Justin Froemming of Elbow Lake moved up to the class later in the year in 2022; this year, Brendan Blascyk of Kensington, Avery Anderson of Alexandria, Ryan Flaten of Madison and Austin Chyba have all moved up. Brennan Gave from the Princeton area has also moved up to the Wissota Mod class as well.
Zach Kort of Fergus Falls has moved up to the Wissota Midwest Modified class after racing in the Short Trackers previously.
With Gronwold and Blascyk moving out of the Midwest modified class I view that class as wide open at I-94. It might be a chance for a younger driver to rise to contention.
Ryan Satter’s 2023 color scheme is a throwback to his dad, Mike’s Chevelle car that won a championship many years ago at Wee Town Outlaw Speedway. It’s a nice looking car and a big difference from the black car we’ve seen Satter in for several years.
Speaking of new schemes, Dusty Bitzan’s 10x modified also got a big overhaul. Gone is the black car and replaced by a white, red and black machine that is terrific looking.
Matt Aukland of Glyndon had his #12 Wissota Modified on hand. He will do some late model racing in 2023 as well.
Tyler Peterson, the two-time defending Wissota Modified national champion, will also pilot a late model in 2023.
Former Short Tracker champion Dan Harstad of Fergus Falls has a different street stock car in 2023, purchasing a former Alec Minks car. He’s hoping to leave some of his bad luck in the past with the new car.