Nygaard, Mullen and Croaker Open Season at Park Jefferson Open Wheel Nationals
I REALLY needed to see some kind of racing, so I watched the Speed Shift TV broadcast of the Open Wheel Nationals at Park Jefferson Speedway near North Sioux City, Iowa. The track had 32 IMCA Modifieds and 31 410 Sprint Cars in attendance. Speed Shift had a record number of people logging in which meant some were unable to get the broadcast during the early moments. The good news was a rain shower hit and delayed the start of racing till around 7:40 p.m. and by then the bugs seemed to be worked out. I logged in around 7:50 and had no issues the rest of the night. I’m MUCH rather be at a race in person, but with where things are at with Covid-19, it’s the best as a race fan I can get. Hence, the screen shot above came from Speed Shift, which I thought did a good job. For those who questioned whether the event should happen, consider several things. First of all people there (which were mainly pit crews) wore masks. Secondly the event was not open to the public, as only 10 people per car (who were allowed to sit in the stands to watch the race) were allowed. Precautions were taken for social distancing in the stands (it seats 3,000) and with no general admission people there, those who traveled with the race teams could easily sit far apart in the stands. No concessions were sold, either. Social distancing rules were followed. Three RaceChaser area sprints were in attendance — veteran Wade Nygaard of Grand Forks, Jack Croaker of East Grand Forks and Brenden Mullen of Grand Forks. The 410 sprint cars drew cars from Texas, Indiana, Pennsylvania, California, Oklahoma and Georgia. Nygaard’s time trial was 14th fastest out of 30 cars while Mullen was 24th and Croaker 25th. Mullen had quite a battle up front in his heat race with Pennsylvania driver Brock Zearfoss. Mullen started on the pole and fended off several fierce challenges from Zearfoss to pick up the win. Nygaard struggled in his heat, dropping from his third starting spot to fifth but still managed to qualify for the A main. Croaker started seventh in the first heat and finished seventh and had to go to the B main. He was in the top five early but finished seventh in the B. Nygaard was involved in a tangle in turns one and two as the No. 88 car of Kyle Offil spun in front of several cars. Nygaard dropped out early, without being there not sure there was damage from that incident or not. Mullen slide off the top of turns three and four as he was being lapped and wound up in 22nd. It probably wasn’t the start either wanted but getting some laps at this point is certainly valuable. Zearfoss, who had a good battle with Mullen in the fourth sprint heat, won sprint feature, which saw two leaders Aaron Reutzel and Parker Price-Miller both slow on the track with issues to bring out cautions. There were some big time names in upper Midwest modified racing in attendance — former NASCAR drivers Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace, multi-time USMTS national champion Kelly Shryock and former Dakota Classic Mod Tour champs Ricky Thornton Jr. of Arizona and Jeff Taylor of Arkansas, to name a few. The Sioux City area has some quality mods like Chris Abelson, Chris Mills, Ricky The Racer Stephan and Jay Noteboom, to name a few. Aaron Johnson of Brainerd, who drives the #442 IMCA Mod and won a feature at Norman County Raceway in Ada in 2019, and Tom Berry Jr. were the fairly local regional drivers (just outside the RaceChaser coverage area) competing in the modifieds. Berry Jr., the 2019 winner of the Dakota Classic Mod tour, had mechanical issues in his heat race and dropped out. He did not start the B main. Johnson looked good in the B main, finishing second by a good distance to qualify for the A main. Man did Ricky Thornton Jr. lay a whipping on the modified field. He took the lead about 1/3 of the way through the 25-lap feature and crushed the field. Jeff Taylor was second. Aaron Johnson, who I hope to see at NCR in Ada again this summer, was 17th; he was able to continue after a multi-car pileup on the front stretch early in the race. All in all, it was great to see cars on a track, and great to see social distancing rules were followed.