Graham Snares ABC Sixes’ Sizzler; Kuklinski, Dunbar Snap Seven-Year Droughts
by Nick Gima
Ashland, WI, June 17 — Randy Graham of Trego fended off Scott Ovaska after a race-long battle to win the 11th annual Six-Cylinder “Summer Sizzler” feature, presented by the Auto Value Auto Parts stores of Ashland and Ironwood, MI, at the ABC Raceway on Saturday night.
Graham’s win, which capped off the five-division PolyDome Dirt Track Series race program, was his second in as many nights in the unique-to-ABC class, after he edged Tiffany Hudack during the division’s visit on Friday to the Proctor (MN) Speedway.
Kevin Eder of Ashland; Greg Kuklinski of Ironwood, MI; Duane Dunbar of Marenisco, MI; and Kyle Copp of Brule also took checkered flags on this night. Eder last won here on opening night and Copp took his third-straight feature win, but it was the first time back in Victory Lane at Ashland for Kuklinski and Dunbar since the same August night back in 2010.
Seventy entries competed on a muggy night when light rains tampered with track preparations and discouraged a few fans and drivers from coming. But Mother Nature created a perfect “racing window” and held off the precipitation from just prior to the first heat race taking to the track at 7:10 pm until 9:55, when Graham raced under the final checkered flag of the night and the sprinkles began again.
Graham started to the right of pole-starter Ovaska for the $400-to-win, 15-lap “Sizzler” event, and within two laps he had cleared Ovaska and held a two-length lead, while DeJay Jarecki battled with Ovaska for second. Ovaska came back and slipped past Graham for the lead on lap 3 just before Tyler Vernon’s looped ride brought about the first of three yellow-flag slowdowns.
One lap after the restart Jarecki’s ride was punted, and after another circuit Bubba Anderson’s car also got turned around. But the remaining ten laps stayed green, and Graham first held off a determined effort by Jarecki and then set his sights on the leader.
At midrace Graham worked low to pull alongside Ovaska, and on lap 9 he completed the winning pass. On the same circuit Hudack used a low-lane move to grab third from Jarecki, and with five to go Vernon copied the move for fourth. Graham eventually pulled to a 1.25-second advantage at the checkers, while Ovaska led Hudack and Vernon in a close-knit battle for second. Jarecki came home fifth.
Kuklinski chalked up his track-record 90th career feature win – and his 41st in the WISSOTA Super Stocks – after an absolutely dominant performance in his 20-lap feature. In fact, as the first 18 laps clicked off non-stop, the popular veteran racer built up a nearly half-lap lead on the strong field.
Kuklinski started from the pole, beat fellow front-row starter Don Muzzy into turn 1, and checked out on the pack. Muzzy held off the initial challenges from Cory Casari, but by lap 2 Casari gained the better of that battle. Muzzy regrouped by lap 6 and retook the runner-up spot, and sixth-starting Jeff Klopstein took to the high side to grab third.
With traffic thick behind Muzzy, Kuklinski roared away to a 4.7-second lead – the length of a straightaway – by lap 9. Three tours later he was slipping past Aaron Mashlan to put him a lap in arrears, and by the time he passed 12th-running Myron Basina on lap 14 the lead margin was six full seconds.
Klopstein and Nick Oreskovich slapped fenders in a battle for third that nearly clogged up an already tightly-packed field even more with four laps remaining, but the green lights stayed on until Casari spun in turn 2 just as Kuklinski crossed under the white flag. Despite the field tucked tight to his rear bumper for the restart, Kuklinski charged away in the two-lap sprint for his first feature win at Ashland since August 21, 2010, ahead of Muzzy and Klopstein, while Dave Flynn and Scott Lawrence used last-lap passes to sneak into the top five.
“I grew up driving on this sticky red clay,” said Kuklinski in Victory Lane. “This track tonight was perfect for me.”
Like Kuklinski, Dunbar also started on the front row of his feature, led every lap, and captured his first feature win since – ironically enough – August 21, 2010. However, this veteran “Yooper” never held more than a car-length lead and had to withstand constant pressure throughout the 20-lap WISSOTA Midwest Modified final.
Dunbar swept around pole-starter Brandon Copp through the first turns and ran a steady pace around the upper groove of the three-eighths-mile oval throughout the event. After a lap 4 caution for debris, Wayne Stricker dove under Copp for second and brought Ryan Adamzak in tow to third, setting up a three-car dogfight up front that lasted most of the remaining green-flag laps.
Stricker tried on nearly every lap to dive to the bottom of turns 3 and 4 and attempt a “slide-job” pass of Dunbar for the lead, but Dunbar stayed true to his line and held the point. On a couple of occasions, when Stricker didn’t take a shot at a pass for the lead, Adamzak snuck a peek to the inside looking for a way into second, but he, too, was unsuccessful. The top three raced in close formation until Jesse Aho was turned around while fighting for a top-ten spot on lap 11, and after two more laps under green a three-car altercation stopped the pace again.
Over the final seven laps Dunbar fought off more threats from Stricker and Adamzak and held on for the long-overdue win. Dunbar’s son Marcus came home fourth, just ahead of Vernon.
Eder worked his way around pole-starter Brian Mikkonen on the initial lap of the WISSOTA Modified A-main, then edged his way by Rick Rivord a lap later and ran away with his second feature win of the season here.
With drivers shuffling positions behind him, Eder flew to a 2.195-second lead after just six laps before the event’s lone caution came about for a spin by Jeff Spacek. The remainder of the 20-lapper clicked off non-stop, and Eder was in complete control. Steve Lavasseur, who restarted third after a pass of Mikkonen just before the stoppage, gave Rivord a number of challenges for second before eventually settling back, and points leader Bill Byholm, who restarted fourth, kept the three-car battle for second interesting.
Eder was over six seconds up on Rivord as he crossed under the checkered flag for his 26th career feature win, and Lavasseur outran Byholm on the final sprint coming out of turn 4 for third. Neil Balduc, whose car took a scary hit into the turn 1 guardrail during earlier heat race action, came from dead last on the grid to finish fifth.
Kyle Copp overcame a lap 1 spin and weaved his way through some close-quarters traffic early to move into contention for the WISSOTA Pure Stock feature win. And even after grabbing the lead away from Graham three laps after the restart he had to hang on as the lead pack consisted of as many as seven potential winners running in a bunch.
Ryan Savoy went around Graham and Andrew Hanson for second on lap 5 of the 12 scheduled, and Hanson then claimed third just before Brock Beilke’s car coasted to a stop on the front straight with five laps remaining. Hanson made a strong move to the inside on Savoy with just two laps left, and Savoy’s ride slipped back after taking the white flag as Dylan Shelton and Graham charged by. But Copp stayed just ahead of all that to score his third-straight feature win here by less than a car-length.
Lap times were lightning-fast on the smooth, wide, sticky red-clay surface, with Eder (Mods, 16.380 seconds), Kuklinski (Supers, 16.848), Brandon Copp (Mid-Mods, 16.915) and Graham (Sixes, 18.222) posting the fastest lap in each’s respective feature. All four times were within four-tenths of a second of each division’s single-lap record, with Copp’s time within 37 one-thousandths of a second of the best-ever Mid-Mod lap at ABC.
On Saturday, June 23, the ABC Raceway will hold its qualifying features for the annual “Afco Race of Champions,” to be held during the WISSOTA 100 weekend in Huron, SD, in mid-September. The winners of the features in the track’s four WISSOTA-sanctioned divisions will receive invitations to represent the track and attempt to qualify for the prestigious event. Hot laps are at 6:15 pm, followed by racing action at 7. “Z-93 Race Night” will air live on WBSZ, 93.3 FM, and stream online at www.wbszfm.com, from 4:30-6 pm with 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 more information on race days call (715) 682-4990.
Feature: Kevin Eder, Ashland; Rick Rivord, Superior; Steve Lavasseur, River Falls; Bill Byholm, Glidden; Neil Balduc, Bessemer, MI; Tanner Byholm, Glidden; Pat Cook, Washburn; Kelly Checkalski, Poplar; Ryan Garson, Wrenshall, MN; Brian Mikkonen, Iron River.
Heat 1: B Byholm; Rivord; Cook; Garson; Jeff Spacek, Phillips; Balduc.
Heat 2: Eder; Mikkonen; Lavasseur; T Byholm; Checkalski.
WISSOTA SUPER STOCKS
Feature: Greg Kuklinski, Ironwood, MI; Don Muzzy, Ironwood, MI; Jeff Klopstein, Tomahawk; Dave Flynn, Superior; Scott Lawrence, Superior; Nick Oreskovich, Mason; Randy Spacek, Phillips; Matt Deragon, Ashland; Cory Casari, Montreal; Terran Spacek, Phillips; Charlie Anderson, Ironwood, MI; Aaron Mashlan, Ashland; Myron Basina, Washburn.
Heat 1: Casari; Muzzy; Oreskovich; Deragon; R Spacek; T Spacek; Anderson.
Heat 2: Kuklinski; Flynn; Lawrence; Klopstein; Mashlan; Basina.
WISSOTA MIDWEST MODIFIEDS
Feature: Duane Dunbar, Marenisco, MI; Wayne Stricker, Highbridge; Ryan Adamzak; Marengo; Marcus Dunbar, Wakefield, MI; Tyler Vernon, Ashland; Brandon Copp, Brule; Tanner Hicks, Ashland; Tyler Hudack, Ashland; Jeremy Lindquist, Ashland; Cy Hoaglan, Ashland; Jared Stricker, Highbridge; Justin Weinberger, Park Falls; Ross Fuhrman, Ashland; Jesse Aho, Twin Lakes, MI; Paul Suzik, Ironwood, MI; Ryan Barningham, Bayfield; Steve Altman, Mercer; Jordan Barningham, Bayfield; Anthony Forfa Jr, Phillips; Chris Bretting, Washburn; Nick Oreskovich, Mason.
Heat 1: Copp; Lindquist; Vernon; Suzik; Hudack; Hicks; R Barningham; Altman.
Heat 2: W Stricker; Oreskovich; D Dunbar; J Stricker; Weinberger.
Heat 3: M Dunbar; Adamzak; Aho; Hoaglan; Fuhrman; Bretting; J Barningham.
Feature: Randy Graham, Trego; Scott Ovaska, Marengo; Tiffany Hudack, Ashland; Tyler Vernon, Ashland; DeJay Jarecki, Ashland; Bubba Anderson, Trego; John Darwin, Iron River; Cole Vernon, Ashland; Joshua Saunders, Spooner; Jonathan Popp, Iron River; Forrest Schultz, Ashland; Dalton Truchon, Ashland; Devin Dalbec, Ashland.
Heat 1: Graham; T Vernon; Truchon; Jarecki; C Vernon; Saunders; Dalbec.
Heat 2: Schultz; Ovaska; Darwin; Hudack; Popp; Anderson.
WISSOTA PURE STOCKS
Feature: Kyle Copp, Brule; Andrew Hanson, Iron River; Dylan Shelton, Wrenshall, MN; Randy Graham, Trego; Ryan Savoy, Foxboro; Don Livingston, Ashland; Jake Nevala, Ashland; Alyssa White, West Fargo, ND; Matt Olson, Ashland; Austin Gibson, Trego; Brock Beilke, Hayward.
Heat 1: Copp; Hanson; Graham; Livingston; White; Beilke.
Heat 2: Savoy; Nevala; Olson; Gibson.