Strand, Arneson Earn Big Norman County Raceway Wins; Gronwold, Heinrich Continue to Roll
RaceChaser blog was back at Norman County Raceway in Ada with NLRA Late Models and Sanders Modified Challenge highlighting the night. A strong field of 22 late models and 23 modifieds were on hand as part of an 85-car contingent in the pit area.
It was also the first night of the Northern swing of the Red River Modified Tour. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as travelers go — especially with the Covid-19 situation hitting the southern U.S. hard. There were three cars from Texas, Darin Duffy from Iowa and Cody Blixt from Montana.
Some drivers are just on fire right now — Tye Wilke, Brock Gronwold, Dustin Strand and Austin Arneson come to mind. Gronwold, Strand and Arneson found victory lane.
We will start with the late model feature, and few drivers have as many laps — and wins at NCR as Dustin Strand of East Grand Forks, interviewed above. Strand has wins in the midwest modifieds, modifieds, and late models at the 3/8-mile oval, and had to be considered a favorite going into the night.
Don Shaw of Ham Lake, who hasn’t raced a lot this year since purchasing I-94 Sure Step Speedway in Fergus Falls, had the pole for the late model feature along side Ryan Mikkelson of Alexandria.
Shaw took the lead early, but Strand, who started fourth, was on the move to the front quickly. He passed Shaw for the lead and not longer after Shaw pulled off.
Strand had the lead, but moving up through the field were Brad Seng of Grand Forks, Dave Mass of East Bethel and Pat Doar of New Richmond, Wis. Seng moved into second while Mass and Mikkelson battled for third. Doar moved into fifth.
Mass took over third from Mikkelson. A late restart brought Seng and Mass right up to Strand but the East Grand Forks driver — who might be the fastest late model in the area right now — had no issues, opening up several car lengths to pick up the win. Strand has five straight wins in his late model and seven overall.
Seng finished second with Mass taking third and Doar fourth. Casey Meyer of Wahpeton had a nice race, holding off his cousin Shawn for fifth place.
Duffy had the outside pole of the IMCA Modified feature and led early. But it didn’t take Austin Arneson long to get into the lead, and once he did, the Fargo driver checked out. He led by as many as three seconds and weathered some late lapped traffic to pick up a pretty dominant win. Duffy, from Urbana, Iowa, took second while Casey Arneson of Fargo was third.
Another car that has run well lately is Michael Johnson of Moorhead. He finished fourth on Thursday and ran in the top five the whole race. Cody Leonard of Sinton, Texas, edged Jesse Skalicky of Fargo for fifth.
The IMCA Sport Mod feature looked pretty drama-free for much of the race. Chris VanMil of Barnesville held the lead for much of the way but a caution came out for a Vince Jetvig spun in turn two.
That completed changed the complexion of the race. It brought Andy Wagner of Ada and Luke Johnson of Moorhead to VanMil’s bumper with three laps to go.
Sensing the opportunity, Johnson made an aggressive move one lap into the restart and went for the slider in turns one and two and completed it, and went on to take the win, his second at NCR this season. VanMil, who also has a win this season at NCR, settled for second with Wagner third. Scott Jacobson of Fargo quietly made a nice run through the field; he started 11th but made a late move into fourth as Rich Pavilcek of Casselton slowed (he still managed to finish fifth).
There was a wild start to the Wissota Midwest Modified feature as several cars bunched up in turn two — but no caution. Unfortunately that changed moments later as Joe Henninger of Grand Forks rolled his #68 machine hard down the backstretch. When I mean hard, I mean hard like 6-7 times — you could just hear the car getting crunched as it impacted the ground. Pieces of debris were all over the backstretch. He walked away, which was the good news, but the car had a lot of damage. Jason Strand of Portland also had damage in the incident and left on the hook.
The question in the midwest modified is who can slow down Brock Gronwold of Fergus Falls, and right now, it seems like no one can locally.
Hunter Hougard of Warren, armed with a couple of wins at Greenbush this season, assumed the lead, but Gronwold was on the move on the high side. Meanwhile, battling for third were Aaron Blacklance of Thief River Falls and Justin Jones of Bemidji.
With 11 to go Gronwold made the pass of Hougard for the lead with laps running short to pick up his 13th win of the season (including Arizona wins earlier), and his fifth in a row. Hougard finished second, Jones third, Blacklance fourth and Reise Stenberg of Argusville was fifth.
Gronwold’s car seems to work wherever he needs it to go — high, low, middle — and right now that’ making him awful tough to beat at area tracks.
The same could be said for Wilke in the INEX Legends, who has the most area feature wins this season with 14.
Wilke had a great battle with Ryan Braseth of Ulen for several laps and looked to be a little quicker, but the bottom line seemed to go away as the laps waned, and Alex Braseth moved into second past Wilke. Ryan Braseth picked up his fifth win of 2020 over his brother Alex. Wilke finished third ahead of Brody Carlsrud of Fargo. Tony Brockhouse of Glyndon was fifth.
Todd Heinrich of Fargo had the pole in the IMCA Stock Car feature and man did he check out. The #38 car had a straightaway on the field, and the last thing he wanted to see was a caution. Unfortunately for Heinrich one came out with three to go to bring Rick Schulz and Rob VanMil to his bumper. Heinrich weathered the storm and picked up his third NCR win of 2020. Schulz was second, VanMil third, Kalvin Kesselburg of Ada fourth and Travis Robertson of Moorhead was fifth. For a while, Kesselberg, Schulz, VanMil and Robertson put on a nice show battling for second as Heinrich ran away from the pack.
Thursday Night Notes
--Brandon Mehrwerth of St. Stephen topped his sister Ashley for the Wissota Midwest Modified win at KRA Speedway in Willmar on Thursday night. Justin Froemming of Garfield was third.
Justin Vogel of Brooten won the Wissota Street Stock feature with Nitro Williams of De Graff taking fourth.