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Mikkelson, Peterson, Searing and Molter Lead I-94 Victory Parade

RaceChaser blog was back at I-94 Sure Step Speedway for Race of Champions Night. A field of 143 cars was on hand on a sunny, humid evening. I knew with that many cars, and a hammer down fast track, and meet the drivers night — that it could be a long evening. And it was, with the final checkered waving at just before 12:30 a.m.

It felt like a warmup for the Wissota 100 with cars from four states on hand. Some big guns were in town.

It was a lightning-fast track with some character after the rain the past few days. I-94 officials worked very hard to get the track in racing shape, but with the rain, plus a humid evening without much wind, things didn’t dry out much. I give them credit for putting in the effort just to get a show in. Almost every other track that I could see rained out in the region.

It was not a racetrack for the meek, I’ll tell you that.

Four Wissota classes competed, and I counted 15 drivers in attendance that were in the top 10 of their respective national standings in what were some stacked fields:

Wissota Late Model: Cole Searing (1st), Chad Becker (2nd), Shane Edginton (3rd) and Bryce Sward (8th)

Wissota Modified: Tyler Peterson (2nd), Devin Fouquette (6th), Mike Stearns (7th), Dale Ames (8th)

Wissota Midwest Modified: Lucas Rodin (1st), Mike Nichols (2nd), Jake Smith (4th)

Wissota Street Stocks: Parker Anderson (1st), Justin Vogel (4th), Braden Brauer (5th), Ryan Satter (6th)

The Viessman Late Models were running for $600 to win, and brought in 25 cars, 23 of which took the green in the feature. I feared a caution-fest — and it was with six. There was plenty of beating and banging back in the field, and it led to several cars dropping out.

There was a longer stretch of green flag racing, however. Sam Zender of Fergus Falls took the green from the outset and led the first several laps. The car that was flying was Ryan Mikkelson’s #77. It’s been a busy summer for Mikkelson, as he and his wife, McKenzie (Gerdes), welcomed their first child, Leo, in June.

Mikkelson powered around Zender for the lead during the longer green flag run. Mikkelson ran up high, and that 77 was an absolute rocket coming out of the turns. Four-time I-94 champ Ben Wolden of Fergus Falls, who started ninth, moved into third.

Wolden got by Zender for third but Mikkelson had firm control of the race, on his way to pick up the win. Wolden was second; he has clinched his fifth straight Limited Late model title. Zender was third with Scott Zimmerman of Rothsay and Brady Mellendorf of Brandt, S.D. rounded out the top five. Limited Late Model rookie Scott Harrington of Waubay, S.D. — a long-time midwest modified driver —was hard charger, going from 19th to sixth. Only 11 of the 23 starters finished.

The #1TPO machine of Tyler Peterson is in an intense fight for the Wissota Modified national championship. He trails Shane Sabraski of Rice by 51 in the latest standings. It spelled big trouble for the field as he redrew the inside pole.

Peterson took control from the outside. Jake Wildman of Glenwood and Danny Vang of Deerwood battled for second with Dusty Bitzan of Brandon in pursuit.

Mike Superman Stearns of Aberdeen, a former Wissota national champion, was lurking outside the top five behind Jayson Good of Watertown.

Peterson’s only deterrent on this night was the caution flag — and even that didn’t stop him from pulling away.

Wildman had moved into second but Vang regained the spot after a restart. Stearns, who started eighth, moved around Wildman for third late.

Peterson won by a comfortable margin with Vang running a solid second. Stearns was third, Wildman capped off ag good run in fourth. Bitzan was fifth. Zach Johnson of Lowry was the hard charger, starting 19th and finishing seventh.

For Peterson, it was a big win in terms of national points. Since Peterson, Vang and Stearns had already qualified for the Race of Champions at other tracks, Wildman earned the berth from I-94.

Speaking of national points, the Wissota Late Model feature featured the top three drivers in the standings.

Jordan Tollakson of Montevideo and Bryce Sward of Nelson led the pack to the green. Tollakson took the early lead.

Cole Searing of Huron, the national point leader, was determined to get to the front. He got by Sward and then moved around Tollakson to take the top spot.

Chad Becker of Aberdeen — second in national points and the defending national champion — and Tyler McDonald of Huron was also running in the top five.

Sward worked on Tollakson for second as Searing opened up a nice lead. McDonald and Shawn Meyer of Wahpeton also put on a good battle for fifth.

With seven to go, Sward and Becker were spun in turn two. Sward’s car had pretty substantial damage and his night was over. Becker tried to continue but would pull in moments later.

Meyer started 12th but found something on the higher lane — as did Mikkelson. After the restart with seven to go, Meyer powered around Tollakson for second, and started to close in on Searing, cutting the lead to .523 seconds. Searing regrouped, however and opened a few car lengths as he picked up the win, his 16th of 2021.

Meyer settled for second to cap off a great charge. It was important for him — since Searing has already qualified for the Race of Champions, Meyer will be the I-94 representative in the race.

Mikkelson, who started 15th, pressured Tollakson for third, but couldn’t make the pass and settled for fourth. Tyler McDonald was fifth.

Dan Aberle of Finley, N.D. — who had never won at I-94 Sure Step Speedway — took the lead from the outset of the Wissota Street Stock feature. But the race for the win would come down to a pair of teenagers — 17-year-old Parker Anderson and 16-year-old Braden Brauer of Eyota, Minn. And a crazy ending occurred too.

Royce Jawaski of Horace took over second early, but Justin Vogel of Brooten, a former national champion, overtook him for second. Brauer than began to pressure Vogel for second as Anderson moved into the top five.

Aberle led all but two laps — he slipped up in turns one and two as lapped traffic approached and that allowed both Brauer and Anderson to get by.

Brauer took the white flag with Anderson on his heels. As they went through turns three and four on the final lap, Anderson got into the back of Brauer and spun him; Anderson would cross the line first. The call from the flagstand was on Anderson for the spin — he was sent to the tail of the finishing order — giving Brauer the win. Which I believe was the right call as I got a good, clear view of the incident.

Aberle ended in second, Vogel was third. Ryan Satter of Dent, who will be the I-94 champion this year for a fourth straight time, was a solid fourth. Eric Riley of Morris was fifth. The street stocks, with 23 cars, went caution free. The hard charger was Kyle Dykhoff of Starbuck was the hard charger, going from 22nd to eighth after breaking in his heat race.

I can’t say the same for the Wissota Midwest Modifieds. Some early cautions plagued the race.

A first-lap melee in turns three and four involved Taten Blascyk, Jon Carlson, Kennedy Swan, Mike Nichols and Scott Samuelson. Nichols, who is second in the national points, dropped out early. It was not a good night for national point leader Lucas Rodin of Marion either as he also was a DNF.

Austin Chyba of Browerville was the early leader in the feature with Reise Stenberg of Argusville giving chase. Shane Howell of Buffalo, a former King of the Dirt winner at I-94, was on the move.

Howell would get by Stenberg for second and then went after Chyba for the lead. He soon moved into the lead, using a lower line.

As the leaders got into lapped traffic, Stenberg caught Chyba for second. There was contact, and Stenberg was sent spinning with Brendan Blascyk of Kensington having no where to go and was collected. Blascyk’s night was over; Stenberg got his spot back. Chyba would pull his #11x machine in.

On the restart, it looked like Stenberg had something for Howell on the outside. But in turns one and two Stenberg shredded a right front tire and stalled; he would pull in after the caution waved.

Also moving up was Travis Saurer of Elizabeth, driving his dad’s #42X machine. He started in 14th but was up to third.

On the restart, I was curious if Saurer or Gronwold had anything for Howell. They did not. Howell pulled away for his ninth victory overall in 2021 and also qualified for the Wissota ROC. Gronwold was second, Saurer third. Jeff Nelson of Perham had a really solid race, going from 12th to fourth. Justin VanEps of Pennock ran well and placed fifth.

By the way, Howell is probably still partying in I-94. He celebrates wins like no other, as evidence by his interview with owner Don Shaw after the race!

A couple of other notes: Luke Lick of Rosholt, SD was the hard charger, going from 24th to ninth; and Michelle (Lund) Hutt, who started 11th and finished eighth to cap off a solid night.

You would have had a solid feature just with the cars who didn’t finish: Rodin, Nichols, Blascyk, Haley Lee, Ron Saurer, Matt Schow and Stenberg being among them. Rodin, Stenberg, Jake Smith and Nichols have already qualified for the Race of Champions at other tracks.

Curtis Huseth led the Short Tracker feature early and was fast. David Wahl of Fergus Falls, the winner at Buffalo River last Sunday, with Jacob Aarhus of Canby, Minn., a former Wissota 100 champion, giving chase.

Wahl would pull in moments later. Huseth was doomed to the same fate, dropping out with a mechanical issue.

Aarhus and Zach Kort of Fergus Falls had a great duel for the lead. There was some contact a few times, and that brought another driver into the mix — Brady Molter of Rothsay.

Molter found speed on the outside and passed Aarhus for the lead with two to go. He would hold off Aarhus for the win — it was Molter’s first-ever feature win. Finishing third was Kort with point leader Kevin Younquist of Barney placing fifth. Shawn Beto of Wahpeton rounded out the top five.

I-94 Sure Step Notes

—I talked to Mike Stearns for a while. He has switched to a MB Customs chassis this year after running a Masterbilt by JMR for a decade. Stearns was planning on running the Corn Cob Nationals this weekend at Buffalo River Speedway but that event was postponed. Stearns is seventh in Wissota national points and is chasing a top five finish. He looked good in the feature, going from eighth to third.

—Congrats to Blake Saathoff, the youth pastor from Alexandria, on his heat win in the Viessman Late Models.

—It was good to see the brother-sister racing team of Brittany Smith and Jake Smith from St. Joseph in town. Jake Smith is in contention for the Wissota Midwest Modified national title. Brittany Smith is a former Wissota Hornet national champion who has a sharp-looking No. 5 car.

—14-year-old Kennedy Swan of Chippewa Falls, Wis., was in attendance in her #18S Wissota Midwest Modified. She won one of the B mains in the class. She is the 2021 Red Cedar Speedway track champion in her rookie season and has a very promising racing future ahead of her.

—Youngquist, well on his way to the track championship in the Short Trackers, has his #00 machine for sale. He has bought a Wissota Street Stock and plans to move into that class in 2022.

—It was also good to see Daniel Harstad back on the track in his #77 Wissota Street Stock. He has been sidelined for a while with a blown motor, but got a new one put together. He finished 17th on Friday, but kept the car in one piece, which considering his luck this year, was a good thing.

Friday Night Notes

--Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo cancelled because of the rain; the track rescheduled its championship night for Friday, Sept. 3.

--River Cities Speedway cancelled its show on Friday as well because of the wet conditions.

--Buffalo River Speedway near Glyndon has postponed the Corn Cob Nationals; no reschedule date has been set.

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