Balog Sprints Away to IRA Win at Ashland
Super Stock Challenge to Lawrence; Beeksma wins sixth
by Nick Gima
 Ashland, WI, July 28
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Count Billy Balog as the first to vote for a return trip by the IRA Outlaw Sprints to Ashland in 2013.
Balog not only trimmed nearly two-tenths of a second off the track single-lap record during qualifying, but he later took advantage of heavy lapped traffic to grab the lead from Mike Kertscher and then ran away to his second A-main win in as many visits by the popular traveling sprint car group to the ABC Raceway.
The AmsOil Dirt Track Series program, presented by Wagner’s Shell, Arby’s Restaurant and FastLane Motorsports & Custom Powdercoating, also saw Scott Lawrence of Superior retake the WISSOTA super stock points lead with the win in the FastLane Super Stock Challenge, while Pat Beeksma of Ironwood, MI, strengthened his grip on the six-cylinder field with his sixth feature win in nine shows this summer.
A crowd of well over a thousand fans watched 58 racers – nearly perfectly split between sprints (20), supers (20) and sixes (18) – compete on another gorgeous mid-summer night.
Balog was the second of two of the Midwestern-touring 410 winged sprinters to break Mike Reinke’s mark set last July 30 of 12.540 seconds by flying around the tacky-fast three-eighths-mile red-clay oval in a time of 12.382 seconds, or at an average speed of 109.029 mph based on IRA officials’ calculations. The other driver to run below Reinke’s 2011 lap was Reinke himself, with a lap of 12.508 seconds.
After the traditional four-wide salute to the fans, Kertscher set the early pace of the 30-lap A-main from the pole and quickly wheeled away by taking the high lane around the smooth, fast track. Balog struggled early with planting his sprinter on the corner cushions – twice on consecutive laps he nearly backed into the turn 4 wall – but he never fell back further than fourth, as Reinke followed Kertscher into second and Neitzel grabbed third.
By lap 4 Kertscher was already putting slower racers a lap in arrears, with Reinke right in his tire tracks. As the traffic got heavier, the frontrunners thrilled the fans by weaving and dodging at high speed between sprinters who themselves were often racing two- and three-wide for position.
It was in this lapped traffic that Balog made his first move toward the win, slipping inside on Neitzel for third on lap 11. Reinke also worked to challenge Kertscher for the lead, taking a peak inside on the pacesetter once on lap 14 and then slipping past with an outside move one trip around later. But before lap 15 was through, Kertscher recovered with a slide-job move inside on Reinke in turns 3 and 4 to retake the top spot.
Over the next six laps the top three snaked through traffic while staying within a few car-lengths of each other. Balog found something for his car to bite on down low, and he used an inside move to swipe second away on lap 21. Then on the next circuit he used a similar line to steal the lead away from Kertscher, and over the next four laps he expertly weaved his way through traffic to extend his lead.
The torrid pace was slowed on lap 25 when Mike Decker came to a stop at the bottom of turn 3, and on the restart Balog took advantage of the lapped car aligned between himself and second-running Kertscher to draw away to a sizeable lead. By lap 28 of the 30 scheduled Balog owned half a straighaway on the battle for second between Kertscher and Reinke. But just then Decker and Wayne Modjeski got together to slow the field and bring about a green-white-checkered finish, with the lapped cars removed from the restart alignment this time.
Back under green Balog slipped away again, but Reinke made a run to the inside on Kertscher to grab second, and Neitzel snuck in on Kertscher to steal third. At the checkers Balog’s lead was about ten lengths, with Reinke and Neitzel – ironically second and third, respectively, in series points behind Balog – chasing him in the same order at the line. Kertscher and Phillip Mock follwed close to complete the top five.
The win was Balog’s 12th of the season in IRA action and second of the weekend after a victory in St Croix Falls on Friday. The first 25 non-stop laps clicked off in just under seven minutes, and even with two caution slowdowns the 30-lap A-main was completed in less than  17 minutes.
The Super Stock Challenge started off with the 20-car feature field also offering a four-wide salute, with the pole position left open in a “missing man” tribute to former racer Keane Laakson of Stone Lake, who passed away late this past week after a two-year fight with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The first seven laps under green were exciting, with Brian Mikkonen and Lawrence overtaking pole-starter Trevor Wilson on either side for the top two spots. Lawrence, running a lower line, ran door to door with Mikkonen, who circled around the high side of the track, for the first three laps before Lawrence established a slight edge at the line on lap 3, while Jeff Tardy joined in and worked the inside groove to take second.
Further back Wilson had his hands full holding off threats from Dave Flynn and Curt Myers before first-nighter Rick Randall looped his ride on lap 7. At this point the race reached a speed bump, as the next three attempts to complete lap 8 were fruitless. First Shawn Rivord and Dave Elliott spun together, and then Myers slid to a stop on the inside of turn 3 to negate a pass for second by Mikkonen.
On the next attempt Flynn slipped past Wilson’s loose-handling ride for fourth, and in his attempt to recover Wilson crossed up in front of Rich Bishop and Ken Truscott, who hit together hard to end their nights. Finally the field put together back-to-back laps under green, with Tardy’s momentum off turn 4 nearly putting him into the back of Lawrence’s car; Tardy checked up safely but gave up third to Flynn.
Lawrence had a half-second lead on Mikkonen on lap 10 when Randall and Ashley Smith collected each other to stop the action again. Flynn made an inside pass on Mikkonen to grab runner-up honors, but that pass didn’t count either, as Myers spun again. Track officials ruled that the allotted time limit had expired, and the scheduled 25-lapper was shortened to just 12 laps. However, Flynn was able to complete the pass of Mikkonen again for second before the checkered flag flew.
The win by Lawrence was the 51st of his career at Ashland, tying him with Jeff Spacek for fourth on the track’s all-time feature win list, and his third of the season. The win also allowed Lawrence to flip-flop positions with Flynn in the season standings, from one point back coming into the night’s action to one point up with four scheduled shows remaining.
After a three-car incident one lap into the 15-lap six-cylinder A-feature, Jonathan Popp grabbed the early lead, with Scott Ovaska and Beeksma hot on his heels. Beeksma then made an inside move on Ovaska stick to take the runner-up spot away, and before lap 2 was booked he used the same move on Popp to take the lead.
From that point on the division’s points leader was uncatchable, even though two evenly-spaced caution flags flew to bring the field back to his trunk-lid. Ovaska led a tight seven-car scramble for second at a distance behind the leader, and in the middle of that pack Tad Bretting tried an inside move to take fifth away from Greg Jaeger that instead turned Jaeger around and sent Bretting to the tail of the field for the lap 5 restart.
Shawn McFadden, Jr – whom Beeksma lost to in last weekend’s feature by a whisker – drove inside on Ovaska on the ensuing restart to take second, but two laps later the leader’s advantage was already a second-and-a-half. Beeksma had extended that buffer to 3.3 seconds by lap 10, but it all disappeared when Aaron Mashlan and DeJay Mihalek got together.
McFadden looked upstairs to try to find a line around Beeksma on the restart, and fourth-running Jaeger lost a couple of spots when Tyler Hudack and Don Muzzy got by his loose ride, but Beeksma was gone again by lap 12. Just then McFadden slowed and pulled off the track with a flat tire, and Hudack’s move by Ovaska at about the same time put him into second, but Beeksma was too far away to catch, leading at the final stripe by 3.6 seconds. Muzzy advanced to third in the closing laps, ahead of Ovaska and Jaeger.
The win was the 26th of Beeksma’s career in Ashland, all coming in the sixes.
Turning the fastest laps in their respective features were Tardy in the super stocks (17.168 secs) and Beeksma in the sixes (18.012 secs). Beeksma’s time was a mere 25 one-thousandths of a second off the track’s record for the class, set by Ovaska last year (17.987 secs).
Next Saturday night the WISSOTA modifieds, Midwest mods and ABC pure stocks return join the supers and sixes in action for the August stretch run. The Mid-mods will be in the spotlight, as the NAPA Auto Parts stores of Ashland and Washburn present the $500-to-win “Mid-Mod Madness” special. Hot laps will start at 6:15 pm, followed by time trials for the sprints, while racing will follow at 7.
“Race Night” will air on WBSZ, 93.3 FM, and online at www.wbszfm.com from 4:30-6 pm with live at-the-track news and weather updates. The ABC Raceway is located 3-1/2 miles south of Ashland on State Highway 13 and one mile west on Butterworth Road. For raceday information call (715) 682-4990.
Results
IRA 410 Sprints
Feature: Bill Balog, Milwaukee; Mike Reinke, Howards Grove; Scott Neitzel, Beaver Dam; Mike Kertscher, Plymouth; Phillip Mock, Pleasant Prairie; Kris Spitz, Salem; Russell Borland, Beaver Dam; Dave Uttech, Kenosha; Bill Wirth, Cudahay; Brandon Thone, Sheboygan; Bill Warren, Beaver Dam; Dennis Spitz, Lewisburg, KY; Darrell Dodd, Beach Park, IL; John Sernett, Prior Lake, MN; Wayne Modjeski, Oak Creek; Robbie Pribnow, Mayville; Andy Hunt, Randolph; Michael Decker, Silver Lake; Chad Tessman, Jefferson; Brian Portschy, Plymouth.
Heat 1: Kertscher; Balog; Uttech; Hunt; Decker; Thone; Spitz.
Heat 2: Spitz; Borland; Reinke; Wirth; Dodd; Tessman; Portschy.
Heat 3: Neitzel; Modjeski; Sernett; Mock; Warren; Pribnow.
WISSOTA Super Stocks
Feature: Scott Lawrence, Superior; Dave Flynn, Superior; Brian Mikkonen, Iron River; Jeff Tardy, Hibbing, MN; Cory Casari, Montreal; Randy Spacek, Phillips; Nick Oreskovich, Mason; Greg Kuklinski, Ironwood, MI; Andy Grymala, Superior; Trevor Wilson, Superior; Rick Simpson, Thunder Bay, ON; DJ Keeler, Superior; Ashley Smith, Superior; Charlie Anderson, Ironwood, MI; Rick Randall, Wakefield, MI; Curt Myers, Cameron; Rich Bishop, New Richmond; Ken Truscott, Greenland, MI; Shawn Rivord, South Range; Dave Elliott, Minocqua.
Heat 1: Flynn; Tardy; Mikkonen; Oreskovich; Spacek; Elliott; Keeler.
Heat 2: Myers; Casari; Wilson; Bishop; Anderson; Rivord; Randall.
Heat 3: Lawrence; Kuklinski; Simpson; Truscott; Grymala; Smith.
Six-Cylinders
Feature: Pat Beeksma, Ironwood, MI; Tyler Hudack, Ashland; Don Muzzy, Ironwood, MI; Scott Ovaska, Marengo; Greg Jaeger, Mellen; Bill Anderson, Wakefield, MI; Tad Bretting, Ashland; Forrest Schultz, Ashland; Jonathan Popp, Iron River; DeJay Mihalek, Ashland; Adam Traaholt, Ashland; Ron Lillie, Wakefield, MI; Shawn McFadden, Jr, Ashland; Aaron Mashlan, Ashland; Jeremy Lindquist, Ashland.
Zach Pagels, Marengo; Dale Coddington, Hayward.
Heat 1: Hudack; Bretting; Ovaska; Jaeger; McFadden; Anderson; Traaholt; Dale Coddington, Hayward.
Heat 2: Muzzy; Beeksma; Mashlan; Popp; Mihalek; Schultz; Zach Pagels, Marengo; Lillie; Lindquist.