ABC Raceway Welcomes Fans, Racers for 37th Red Clay Classic
by Nick Gima
Ashland, WI — The most anticipated stock car racing event of the 2012 season in the Northland – the 37th annual Red Clay Classic – will be held this Friday and Saturday, September 28-29, at the ABC Raceway.
The three-eighths-mile red-clay oval will once again be the host site for the area’s traditional season finale for racing, with upwards of 200 WISSOTA-sanctioned late model, modified, super stock and Midwest modified drivers competing over the two days for their share of a purse in excess of $75,000.
The high-powered late models are the featured attraction of the event, having been a part of each Red Clay Classic since its inception in 1976. This is the only scheduled appearance of the division in Ashland in 2012, but many of the drivers in this class enjoy running on the tacky-fast red-clay oval, which allows chassis set-up and driver finesse to come into play every bit as much as horsepower.
The modifieds, which have been a part of the Classic since 1984, are a regular part of ABC’s weekly program, and the regulars can be tough to beat on their home track. But the local talent will be tested by a host of high-quality travelers that will make the trip to the northern Wisconsin speedplant in strong numbers.
Super stocks tend to show up in big numbers for Red Clay Classic weekend, and this year’s show should be no exception. The super stockers who race in Ashland on a regular basis will pose a stiff challenge to a visiting contingent that will bring quality as well as quantity to that field.
In only their fourth year as part of the Red Clay Classic program, the Midwest mods have proven they can bring strong numbers, talented drivers and exciting racing to the party. There have been two different winners in this class since its inclusion – one visitor and one ABC regular – and, based on the talent in this division, there could be another new one this year.
The payoff awarded to the drivers will again be big, topped by the $4,000 prize to the winner of the 50-lap late model main event, which pays $350 just to start. The mod A-main champ will cash a cool $3,000 check, while each starter will make at least $275. In the super stock feature, first place pays $1,500, with anyone making the final field collecting $200 minimum. And at the end of the Mid-mod finale, the winner will take home $600 with his big trophy, while just to start the event pays $100.
In addition, Northern Clearing of Ashland will again award a $150 bonus to the drivers who post the fastest laps in each of the four features, based on the track’s electronic scoring and timing system.
As if that isn’t incentive enough, the ABC Raceway has included a Champions’ Challenge to this year’s payout. A $500 bonus will be paid to the winner of any of the four features if that driver is also a 2012 WISSOTA track champion, a past Red Clay Classic winner, a 2012 WISSOTA touring series champion, a past WISSOTA national champ, or a winner of one of the post-season special-event invitationals from this season.
The program will include qualifying heat races in all four divisions on Friday evening, while last-chance qualifiers and the four big features will be held on Saturday night. In addition to the racing, the Ashland area merchants welcome fans to visit the Historic Downtown district for things to see and special sales offered by the Downtown merchants, and the annual Red Clay Classic four-person scramble golf tournament will be held on Saturday morning at the Chequamegon Bay Golf Course, located west of Ashland on State Highway 137, beginning at 9:30 am.
On Friday the pit gates will open at 1 pm, and the grandstands will open at 3:30. Hot laps for all four divisions will get underway at 5:30, and the first heat race of the weekend is set for around 7 pm.
On Saturday the pit gates will open at noon, while the grandstand gates will open at 2:30 pm. Semi-feature action will kick off the balance of the race program right at 5 pm.
Admission tickets for adults (ages 13 & older) are only $20 for each night, while fans ages 6-12 can get in for just $10 each night. Fans can save with two-day passes, priced at just $35 for adults and $15 for kids. Reserved seating is still available on a limited first-come, first-served basis for the price of a two-day pass plus $10 more.
For fans planning to spend the weekend at the track in their RVs, there is a very limited supply of primitive camp sites on the Raceway grounds still available.
Fans interested in a reserved seat or campsite can call Mary at (715) 682-2672 Monday-Thursday from 6-8 pm (Central) or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Prior to each night’s race program, special editions of “Race Night” will air live with up-to-date track news, interviews and weather information on WBSZ, 93.3 FM, starting at 3 pm.
The following is a division-by-division preview:
WISSOTA Late Models
Jake Redetzke of Eau Claire dominated last year’s 50-lap late model feature and became the first son of a Red Clay Classic champion to become a champion himself. Jake’s father Jerry won the prestigious event in 1999.
The younger Redetzke, who came into last weekend’s action ranked fourth in WISSOTA’s national late model points standings, has had some impressive efforts throughout the summer and into the invitational season and looks to be the man to beat once again at this year’s running, as he has indicated that he will return to defend his title.
Although late model fields at most special events this fall have lacked in strong numbers, the quality of those fields has been anything but lame. Past Classic winners like Kyle Peterlin of Hibbing, MN, Elk Mound’s John Kaanta, Steve Laursen of Cumberland, and Eveleth, MN’s Harry Hanson have enhanced fields at this event for several years, and all are contenders as soon as they unload.
Kaanta in particular can be tough, as he is among the top ten in national WISSOTA points and took the WISSOTA Challenge Series touring title this past summer. Peterlin, the 2012 Proctor (MN) Speedway points champ, and Hanson, who took the title in Grand Rapids, MN, this year, are also both in the top ten among the nearly 270 registered drivers in the national rankings.
Also to be considered as front-runners, should they pull into the pits, are Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, MN, and Joey Jensen of Forest Lake, MN, both of whom have won here in the late models and both of whom could be here with mod entries as well, making them automatic contenders in both classes.
Tough customers who could be in town looking for their first RCC titles include Scott Gilberts of Sand Creek, the son of 1992 champ Paul Gilberts who topped Memomonie’s late models in points this past summer; Darrell Nelson of Hermantown, MN, who collected four feature wins in Proctor in ‘12 and the win at Superior’s Northern Nationals; young hotshoe Nick Anvelink of Navarino, who took the track title at Shawano; and popular veteran Lance Matthees of Winona, MN.
Other possible entrants from closer to this area include Darin Meierotto of Superior, who has won the Classic in a super stock; former mod winner and many-time ABC mod track champ Don Copp of Brule; Todd Frank of Mellen; and Tim McMann of Duluth, MN, who claimed the points title in Superior.
A car count in the upper 20s to low 30s is likely, although as many as 39 different drivers have mentioned that they’ll try to make the trip to Ashland.
Joey Jensen of Forest Lake, MN, and Eric Pember of Pittsville put on a show for the ages as they battled side-by-side for nearly all of last year’s 35-lap feature before Jensen finally edged ahead late for his second Red Clay Classic modified win and third overall. Expect more of the same if both unload their racers in the ABC Raceway pit area this weekend.
Jensen was dominant in winning during a visit here earlier this summer and is one of several infrequent visitors who always seem to thrive on Ashland’s red clay. Another is Craig Thatcher of Knapp, who has 11 mod feature wins here, including three in the Classic.
Also on that list is Dave Cain of Corcoran, MN, who is battling with Kevin Adams of Cameron for the national points championship. Cain has enjoyed some success in his limited visits to Ashland, but he would like to add a Red Clay Classic title to a season which already includes a Labor Day Shootout win in Hibbing and that possible national title.
The visitors will have to contend with ABC regulars like Jeff Spacek, Jared Loos and Kevin Eder. Spacek, of Phillips, edged Loos by one point in the final mod standings to win his sixth career points title in Ashland despite not winning a feature all summer here. Meanwhile, Loos, of Loyal, made ABC his regular Saturday night haunt this past summer and was a threat every night out, collecting three feature wins.
Eder is one of this track’s “young guns,” along with Loos, 2011 points champ Steve Stuart of Ashland, Washburn’s Ross Lightner, and Steve Lavasseur of River Falls. Eder had the best year among the kids this past summer, finishing within 11 points of the championship in third while chalking up two wins.
With the mods, though, it’s usually about savvy and experience, and when you have veteran drivers in the field like 2010 ABC Raceway points champion Robby Bunkelman of Abbotsford, four-time ABC champ Al Uotinen of Superior, Proctor Speedway points champ Darrell Nelson of Hermantown, MN, former national WISSOTA champion Curt Myers of Cameron, Hibbing Raceway champ and Northern Nationals winner Kelly Estey of Kelly Lake, MN, and Silver 1000 winner Ryan Aho of Chisholm, MN, you have the makings of many youthful exuberance-vs-veteran cunning match-ups throughout the weekend.
Last year 46 mod drivers registered for the show, and a similar number should fill the pit area this weekend.
WISSOTA Super Stocks
For nearly a decade, Scott Lawrence of Superior has all but owned the ABC Raceway. Since he began his unprecedented string of nine straight WISSOTA super stock points titles here, Lawrence has chalked up 28 of his career 51 feature wins here, as well as several Northern Nationals and other special-event wins. His 51-win total is fifth-best all-time here.
This year he won three features in Ashland, six more in Proctor, took the points titles at Superior and Proctor to complete the rare three-track sweep, and added huge post-season feature wins at Hibbing and Cedar Lake. He even went into last weekend’s action in Menomonie sitting fifth in WISSOTA’s national points.
About the only thing Lawrence hasn’t done in a super stock is win a Red Clay Classic. And don’t think he doesn’t know it.
Oh, he’s been close. Last year he battled Shane Kisling tooth-and-nail before settling for second-place money, just like he did when he chased Eric Olson to the finish in 2010. And in 2008 he took fourth.
If Lawrence is due for his first RCC win, there will be plenty of competition in the pits to make him earn it, starting with his closest rival at ABC over the past three summers – Dave Flynn of Superior. Flynn has finished second to Lawrence in points in two of the past three seasons here and tied Lawrence for the track lead in heat wins this summer with six while scoring his fifth career feature win.
Another ABC regular, Randy Spacek of Phillips, enjoyed a strong late-season run, posting two feature wins and a second-place run over the final three Saturdays here, finishing third in the ABC standings, and claiming a points championship in Unity. Other tough “home-grown” customers include Cory Casari of Montreal and Nick Oreskovich of Mason.
The local stars will be challenged by a host of very tough visiting talent. Among those expected who could be potential threats for the title include past champs Kisling, Olson, Jeff Tardy of Hibbing, MN, and Curt Myers of Cameron. Tardy and Myers both raced Ashland with some frequency this past summer and could hold a slight advantage in familiarity, while Kisling won points titles in Jim Falls and Rice Lake and is in the hunt for the national WISSOTA championship.
Tim Johnson, the 2006 RCC winner from Brainerd, MN, has had a phenomenal season, taking track titles in Fergus Falls, MN, and Brainerd and winning features at the Northern Nationals in Superior and the Corn Cob Nationals in Glyndon, MN.
Other potential visiting challengers include Menomonie points champ Aaron Wilson of Eau Claire; Tyler Kintner of Hibbing, MN, who topped the standings at Hibbing and Grand Rapids; and Ben Hillman Jr of Menomonie, who is among the top ten in national points and is fresh off his first-ever Punky Manor invitational win in Menomonie last Saturday.
The super stocks have the longest current run of parity in effect in the Classic – no driver has repeated as an RCC feature winner since 2002, when Greg Kuklinski won his fourth Classic trophy.
The supers have often posted the strongest numbers at the Classic, and a car count in the 45-50 range would make for another great show.
WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds
In 2010 Skeeter Estey of Kelly Lake, MN, was dominant in winning track titles in Hibbing and Proctor, then topped off the season by winning the first-ever Midwest mod feature in Red Clay Classic history.
Last year George Dalbeck of Ironwood, MI, was competitive at every track he raced at, won his first-ever track title in Ashland, and capped off his dream season with an impressive win in the Red Clay Classic.
This year, it might be Travis Nye’s turn. The Ashland pilot was tough to beat on the ABC red-clay oval this past summer, leading the division with seven heat wins and taking two features, and he captured his first career track title here. Now the question remains: Can he follow the pattern set by Estey and Dalbeck?
Nye must certainly by included in the discussion of potential favorites for the win in this year’s edition, but with the wealth of talent in this division that discussion will be loaded with possibilities. Dalbeck is one of them – he led all Mid-mod drivers at Ashland in feature wins this past summer with four, and had he not missed a full month of the season with motor issues he may have had more of a say in the title hunt.
The Raceway can boast a slew of top-shelf Mid-mod competitors from its weekly ranks, including 17-year-old sensation Alex Van Natta of Minocqua, who enjoyed a break-through season by racing full-time in Ashland in 2012, grabbing his first career win here and finishing second in points to Nye. Van Natta also collected the points title in Unity.
Other top possible contenders who call ABC their home track include veterans Duane Dunbar of Marenisco, MI, and Rick Przybylski of Ashland and rookie Paul Suzik of Ironwood, MI, all of whom finished in the top five in points here this season.
Third-year racer Neil Balduc of Ironwood, MI, has been a tough customer at every track he’s raced at this summer, and rookie Cole Spacek of Phillips, the son of ABC mod champ Jeff Spacek, has impressed many with his late-season surge here and points championship in Tomahawk.
Estey has moved on to race with the “big mods,” but he has been replaced with a strong crowd of other contenders from outside of the Chequamegon Bay area. If he makes an appearance here, watch out for Cory Crapser of Chippewa Falls, who, with well over 30 feature wins in 2012, is on the brink of clinching his third WISSOTA national championship in the division. Devin Van
House of Silver Bay can also be a legitimate threat for his first Classic win, having won points titles at Superior and Proctor this summer.
Grant Southworth of Bloomer and Jason Vandecamp of Forest Lake, MN, who finished second and third to Dalbeck in 2011, were very impressive in their runs on the unfamiliar red-clay surface and could be forces to contend with if they are in town for the show. Menomonie points champ Shane Halopka of Medford is coming off a win at the Punky Manor special in Menomonie and won four features at ABC while running on a nearly-full-time basis here in 2008, and Nick Koehler of Bloomer collected his first-ever career feature win in Ashland in July as well as a win during the Labor Day weekend special in Rice Lake.
The increasing popularity of the Mid-mods was evident during the first two runs of the division at the Red Clay Classic, as 64 entries crowded the pits in 2010 and 46 were entered in 2011. A car count in the 45-55 range could be possible this year.