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Perseverance Pays Off for Mensen

Chris Mensen, shown in late 2020 at I-94 Sure Step Speedway

There’s something to be said about perseverance in racing. And battling through the tough times.

Racing can be a rewarding hobby, but it can be a frustrating hobby. You can put hours and hours of work in during the week of prep time, and on the track, something can go wrong. A wreck. Or a mechanical breakdown. Or, the car simply doesn’t work, and you struggle to stay with the top runners.

Chris Mensen of Carlos is in his seventh season as a Wissota Modified driver. Even though he had previously won features in the Wissota Midwest Modifieds, the feature wins in the A mod class have eluded him. Some weeks, it's been a struggle. After six years in the class at I-94 Sure Step Speedway and Viking Speedway, where the Wissota Mod competition is stout every week, there were times of frustration. And discouragement.

But he stuck with it. Kept working at it. And on Friday he got his reward. As Mensen put it, it was about keeping a “can-do” attitude.

Mensen led early on Friday, but Jayson Good of Watertown, S.D. — one of the top mods in eastern South Dakota — stuck to the bottom line and eventually took over the lead. But the race wasn’t over, and Mensen stuck to his line — entering the corners on a higher line, and exiting towards the middle with a surge of momentum.

“He’s so solid. He’s hard to get by if he’s running the bottom,” Mensen said. “I knew I had to do something different to get by him. I knew that was the only way to get by him.”

On a restart with eight laps to go, Mensen briefly slipped back to third behind veteran Shane Sabraski — who has more than 700 career feature wins by the way — as Good maintained the lead. Mensen then had a battle with Sabraski for second, finally clearing him with three to go.

“I knew car was good. I had to get back into the mindset of hitting my line,” Mensen said.

With Good running well on the bottom, Mensen stuck with his higher line, and it started paying off late as he closed the gap. As the white flag came out, Mensen surged into the lead off of turn four.

“When I got by Shane, it felt smoother,” Mensen said. “It felt like the car was faster, or I’d found the line that the car really liked.”

Good pulled aside Mensen on the final lap, but the #53 car was not going to be denied. He crossed the line a few car lengths ahead of Good. After seven years, he had his first feature win in an A mod.

“It was unreal,” Mensen said.

There were a lot of emotions when the #53 car crossed the checkered line. Happiness, joy, relief. He called the win "euphoric."

“It’s awesome,” Mensen said. “I was so excited and so ecstatic (after the trophy presentation), when I got back in the car, it wouldn’t start. I didn’t put the ignition switch on.”

Mensen had watched a video from Jeff Taylor, a former IMCA SuperNationals winner and the builder of Taylor Chassis, about brakes in race cars. He said in the video that you don’t win if you don’t have good brakes, or faith in the brakes.

So, with that in mind, Mensen and his crew decided to do an overhaul with the entire brake system last Thursday. It was a move that paid off.

“We were replacing everything that had to do with brakes,” Mensen said. “It was so easy to drive. The brakes helped it turn nice.”

He received a lot of messages of congratulations from fans and fellow drivers after his win on Friday. While he’s happy with the win, he also

“There’s a sense of relief, but you want more,” Mensen said. “I want to be consistent and competitive with the top guys all the time.”

Breakout Win for Gierke

Ryan Gierke, only 17, picked up a big-time win in the modifieds a night later. It was his first A mod win as well, and like Mensen, beat a stout field. Gierke won a midwest modified feature at KRA Speedway in July 2020 but Saturday was his first in a Wissota Mod.

You talk about a kid who has improved in leaps and bounds over the past two years, Gierke would be it. Part of the reason, in my opinion, is he’s been willing to race at a lot of different tracks in Wissota country. The seat time has made him better.

He drove a flawless race on Saturday as multi-time I-94 Sure Step Speedway Brady Gerdes was giving chase. 2020 I-94 champion Dusty Bitzan, talented young veteran Tyler Peterson of Hickson and Shane Sabraski were the rest of the top five. That’s a brutally tough field, and Gierke never flinched.

Hunter Carter Back Behind the Wheel

I talked to Hunter Carter a while after Friday’s race. The #19H Wissota Street Stock led several laps in the feature, but contact with another car caused a tire to go down late. Amazingly he finished fifth, and you could see the cut tire in the tech area. Could he have won without the tire going down? I’d like his chances, although Ryan Satter was plenty fast.

Carter plans to run some Steffes Street Stock Tour shows this season. His duties as co-promoter at Sheyenne Speedway, which includes leading the track prep, pretty much take care of his Saturdays and Sundays (although Sheyenne is off the entire month of July) in the summer. He’s a good runner — a former King of the Dirt Champion — and should bolster an already strong street stock field.

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