Nelson, Spacek, Sabraski, Bahr Dominate at 47th Red Clay Classic
by Nick Gima & John Kimmes
Ashland, WI, October 1 – Outstanding feature performances, a capacity crowd of over 3,500, and a car count in excess of 200 were just a few of the many highlights of the 47th annual Red Clay Classic at the ABC Raceway on Friday and Saturday.
The 2022 season finale for the award-winning northern Wisconsin track – presented by FastLane Motorsports & Custom Powdercoating of Ashland; Red’s Auto of Ironwood, MI; and Tim’s Automotive Machine of Bloomer – drew 208 entries – 37 WISSOTA Late Models, 54 WISSOTA Modifieds, 60 WISSOTA Super Stocks, and 57 WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds – to compete for a purse well in excess of $100,000, along with over $20,000 in contingencies and bonuses donated by a number of groups and businesses. As a result of those bonuses, several non-winning drivers took home larger paydays than the feature winners.
Hermantown, MN’s Darrell Nelson started the $6,000-to-win, 50-lap WISSOTA Late Model feature on the pole and led every lap on his way to his third RCC title but first in a Late Model.
Nelson – who had only won one other time at ABC in a Late Model, and that was just this past July – immediately shot to nearly a second-and-a-half lead ahead of a pack that included Nick Anvelink, Pat Doar and Jody Bellefeuille. Fifth-running Chad Mahder’s car spun to bring out the first of four caution flags on lap 3, and on the restart Doar stuck close to Nelson as the lead pair pulled away.
For the next six laps Doar threw every trick in the book at the leader, making for a thrilling show before the fun was delayed on lap 9, when 2007 RCC Late Model winner Rick Hanestad’s car slowed amid heavy traffic on the front straight, causing several drivers to bump and spin.
Nelson and Doar again pulled away on the re-do, and Doar again took a shot at the lead with a strong inside move, but Nelson pulled away to lead by 1.3 seconds when the yellow lights came on again on lap 16 for a three-car tangle.
On the restart Bellefeuille pressured Anvelink for third, while behind fifth-place Sam Mars there was an entertaining side-by-side battle for sixth between Derek Vesel and Sam’s dad, six-time RCC winner Jimmy Mars. Bellefeuille’s great run ended, however, with a spin on the front straightaway on lap 21, bringing about the final stoppage of the night.
From that point on Nelson would not be challenged, while Anvelink worked his way by Doar on that final restart and spent the rest of the race trying to catch the leader. A couple of laps later Vesel got by Sam Mars for fourth, and just past midrace Jimmy passed his son to move into the top-five.
Nelson’s lead was over three seconds when he caught the back of the running order with less than 20 laps remaining, and Anvelink cut that gap by about half within ten laps. But Nelson expertly maneuvered through the backmarkers, and when Anvelink caught the lappers Nelson again pulled away, winning by an impressive 3.9 seconds for his 11th career win at Ashland.
Doar held on to third ahead of a determined Vesel and Jimmy Mars to complete the top-five, while Sam Mars, 20th-starting Mike Bellefeuille, 16th-starting Shane Edginton, 15th-starting Kevin Eder and Dave Flynn rounded out the top-ten.
“My luck has been good all month,” Nelson stated in Victory Lane when asked about the benefit of starting toward the front during recent invitational races. He then alluded to his team and his car, pointing out, “You’re splitting hairs when working on set-up, but when you hit it, it works.”
At the conclusion of Friday’s heat-race action, 16 Late Model drivers took to the track for a 16-lap special Red’s Auto Fans’ Choice Feature. Rick Niemi started from the pole and was impressive in leading the first 15 laps, withstanding heavy challenges from first defending RCC champ Diemel and then Mahder before both drivers spun themselves out of contention.
But a late-race restart put Jimmy Mars directly behind Niemi, and Mars slipped by Niemi coming to the white and stole the $800 win away. Eder, Harry Hanson and Kevin Burdick completed the top-five.
Jeff Spacek of Phillips, a six-time ABC Raceway track champion, also started from the pole and led every lap on his way to a very popular WISSOTA Modified win – his second in this event and the 61st of his career at Ashland, which is third-best on the track’s all-time win list.
At the start Spacek immediately ran away from a heated battle between two other past RCC champs – AJ Diemel and Ashley Anderson – before Anderson got the edge during lap 2. Adam Hensel trailed that pair, while Shane Halopka moved by Kelly Estey into fifth on lap 3, just before Jake Hartung slid sideways onto a mud-berm on the inside of the entrance to turn 3 for the race’s first caution stop.
Halopka, a two-time RCC winner in the Midwest Mods, replaced Hensel a couple of laps after the restart, and Anderson moved up to challenge Spacek for the lead just after that, but Spacek – running a smooth, higher line around the three-eighths-mile oval – held off the three-time RCC champ and eventually extended his advantage to over a second-and-a-half as he approached slower traffic.
Adam Ayotte’s spin on lap 15 gave Spacek some open field to run, and on the restart he once again drew away while Anderson and Diemel exchanged second. Over the next 11 laps Spacek stretched his lead to 2.6 seconds – or roughly half a straightaway – before he again caught tail-enders, and this time he picked his way through traffic without much resistance in coming home with his first win at ABC since August 2019, but this one worth $4,000.
“The reality has got to set in yet,” an exasperated Spacek stated in Victory Lane. “We got to lapped traffic, the yellow flew, we got some clean air, and away we go!”
Diemel outdueled Anderson late in the run for second, and Halopka got by Anderson just before the checkers for third. An solid run by 2020 track champ Pat Cook earned him fifth-place money, followed by Hensel, Jody Bellefeuille, Nelson, 16th-starting Michael Truscott, and 21st-starting Dan Ebert.
Soon-to-be-crowned national WISSOTA Super Stock champion Shane Sabraski of Rice, MN, grabbed the lead five laps in to his 30-lap A-feature, fought off some stout early challenges, and eventually ran off to his second straight Red Clay Classic win, after last year’s victory in the Modifieds.
Front-row mates Terran Spacek – the defending RCC Supers winner and nephew of Jeff – and two-time defending ABC Super Stock points champ Steve Stuart were engaged in a terrific battle throughout the race, initially for the lead. But Sabraski made a daring outside move on Spacek for second on lap 3, then repeated the move to take the lead from Stuart on lap 5.
As Sabraski tried to get away, Stuart switched to his preferred higher line around the red-clay oval, while Spacek hugged the bottom, and Stuart held second for a handful of laps before Spacek edged ahead. Dan Severson’s spin on lap 9 brought the field back to restart formation, and before Sabraski could get away from the battle for second Jason Havel looped his ride on lap 13.
After the restart Eric Olson, the 2010 RCC Supers winner who had started this race 14th, moved up behind Cole Chernosky, who had been running fourth since early in the race. Again Stuart used high-side momentum to take second, and again Spacek fought on the low line to take it back, while Sabraski pulled to a 1.5-second cushion before a lap 18 caution slowdown for debris.
Olson moved by Chernosky to fourth on that restart and closed in on the ongoing dogfight for second, while Sabraski built a lead of nearly 2.8 seconds over the next eight laps until Havel’s second spin stopped the race for the final time with three laps to go. On this re-do Stuart dropped to the bottom to try to block Spacek’s line, allowing Chernosky to power around Spacek and pull up alongside Stuart. Sabraski motored away to the $3,000 victory, while Chernosky edged by Spacek for second, 3.2 seconds behind the winner.
“You never know where the track changes when you’re out front,” Sabraski said of his tenth career ABC Raceway win and fourth here this season, including third in the Supers.
Stuart and Olson were close behind, as second through fifth finished less than seven-tenths of a second apart. Tommy Richards, who won this race in 2016; 23rd-starting Jordan Henkemeyer, Andrew Mackey, Shawn McFadden and Nick Traynor made up the second-five.
Tony Bahr of Haugen methodically worked his way forward before taking over the lead of the 25-lap WISSOTA Midwest Modified feature and speeding away to his second RCC win, worth $1,500.
Polestarter Jason Schill set the early pace over Jason VandeKamp, Justin Bassa and Cody Carlson as Bahr settled into fifth. Bassa, who had an impressive early run, moved by VandeKamp on lap 2 for second, and Bahr moved up to displace VandeKamp on lap 4, while Scott Splittstoesser took over fifth. Bahr continued his forward progress by going around Bassa for second on lap 7, and it took just three more circuits for him to eliminate Schill’s quarter-second lead and take over as pacesetter.
Bassa had just gotten by Schill for second on lap 15 when Splittstoesser’s car broke loose, costing him several positions. However, the caution light came on at nearly the same time for a separate incident, putting Splittstoesser back to fifth for the restart and igniting a great four-car battle for the runner-up spot. Then Bassa’s great run came to an end when he pushed too hard while trying to retake second from Schill on lap 18 and spun for the race’s final stoppage.
Splittstoesser, Schill and Carlson ran three-wide for second behind Bahr after the restart, with three-time ABC Mid-Mod points champ Paul Suzik on the charge from his 17th-place starting spot to fifth. Bahr pulled away from that battle to a two-second winning advantage for his third win at ABC and second this season here, while Splittstoesser edged Carlson for second, just ahead of Schill.
“The car felt really good,” Bahr told the crowd from Victory Lane afterwards. “I saw Scott alongside and moved to the middle to get some momentum going.”
Splittstoesser was particularly emotional and happy about his second-place run, telling the capacity crowd about his battle with cancer throughout the racing season.
A post-race inspection disqualified Schill from his fourth-place finish, handing that position to Suzik, while David Simpson followed to fifth. The second-five included two-time RCC Mid-Mod winner Truscott, Zach Benson, VandeKamp, Kennedy Swan, and two-time ABC points champ Tyler Vernon.
Prior to racing on Saturday, longtime race fan Vince Mattson was recognized as the ABC Raceway’s “Superfan” presented with a trophy. Mattson has attended nearly every race ever at ABC over the track’s 57 seasons, including every one of the 47 Red Clay Classics, as well as events at many other area tracks, and his days as an avid race fan in this area date back to the early 1960s.
The weekend’s most frightening moment came Saturday during the third Super Stock semi-feature, when Tom Karaba’s car got sideways and was bumped, causing it to flip wildly along the front straightaway. Fortunately, after a few tense moments, Karaba was helped from his badly-twisted machine and walked away from the incident without any significant injuries.
All four feature runners-up accepted the “Bridesmaid’s Challenge” and donned formal gowns and held bouquets for their post-race photos and interviews in Victory Lane, earning each of them an additional $2,200 complements of Neighborly Bar of Ashland. As a result, each took home larger incomes than their respective race winners.
Doar scored the Northern Clearing Fast Lap Bonus in the Late Model feature with an early lap of 15.437 seconds (87.452 mph), while other Fast Lap Bonuses went to Spacek in the Modifieds (16.790 seconds; 80.405 mph), Sabraski in the Supers (17.272; 78.161), and Bassa in the Mid-Mods (17.549; 76.927).
Hard-charger bonuses were presented in each of Saturday’s features, with Dalbeck Sales of Wakefield, MI; Clint Larson Trucking of Duluth, MN; and Tyler Maki, in honor of the late racer Jim Maki Sr, contributing to all four divisions, with Joe Provo Racewear (Modifieds) and Mashlan Business Services (Super Stocks) also donating generously. Mike Bellefeuille (Late Models), Ebert (Mods), Henkemeyer (Supers) and Truscott (Mid-Mods) all benefitted from these bonuses.
A special collection was raised by local fan group Finlander Corner in honor of the late Midwest Mod driver Ryan Adamzak of Ashland, donating the funds to the drivers finishing ninth and seventh in the Mid-Mod feature, as Adamzak’s car wore the number 97. The fan response was tremendous, and after a scoring error correction and Schill’s DQ, Benson and Swan were presented just over $3,100 each, giving Benson a ABC Raceway Midwest Mod-record $3,550 payday.
All of Friday’s heat race winners and Saturday’s semi-feature winners received $100 bonuses from Dirt Race Central and commemorative T-shirts from SSR Race Cars.
The weekend started with temperatures in the low 70s and bright sunny skies as fans and racers arrived in the Chequamegon Bay area on Thursday and Friday, and by the end of Friday’s preliminaries the temps had only dropped to the mid-50s. Saturday brought more sun but cooler, Fall-like weather, with temperatures barely reaching 60 during the day and dropping into the upper 40s after dark, thanks in part to an increasing northeasterly breeze off of Lake Superior.
For information on the ABC Raceway, log on to the track’s website, www.abcraceway.com.
WISSOTA Late Models
Feature: 1-10: Darrell Nelson, Hermantown, MN; Nick Anvelink, Bonduel; Pat Doar, New Richmond; Derek Vesel, Hibbing, MN; Jimmy Mars, Menomonie; Sam Mars, Menomonie; Mike Bellefeuille, Duluth, MN; Shane Edginton, East St Paul, MB; Kevin Eder, Ashland; Dave Flynn, Superior.
11-20: Jeff Massingill, Keewatin, MN; Jake Redetzke, Menomonie; Paul Niznik, Medford; Danny Vang, Deerwood, MN; Jayme Lautigar, Gilbert, MN; Jesse Glenz, Chippewa Falls; Cole Schill, Hawley, MN; Jody Bellefeuille, Duluth, MN; Chad Mahder, Bloomer; Skeeter Estey, Kelly Lake, MN.
21-24: Harry Hanson, Eveleth, MN; Tim McMann, Duluth, MN; Rick Hanestad, Boyceville; AJ Diemel, Elk Mound.
Heat 1: Anvelink; Mahder; McMann; Edginton; Estey; Vang; Marcus Simonson, Milltown; Kevin Carlson, Hermantown, MN; Rick Niemi, Eveleth, MN; George Ledin Jr, Britt, MN.
Heat 2: Doar; R Hanestad; Vesel; Diemel; M Bellefeuille; Max Nelson, Milaca, MN; Robbie Johnson, Wilson; Buddy Hanestad, Boyceville; Tim Lillo, Superior.
Heat 3: J Bellefeuille; S Mars; J Mars; Eder; Massingill; Glenz; Lance Matthees, Winona, MN; Aaron Wilson, Eau Claire; Kevin Burdick, Proctor, MN.
Heat 4: D Nelson; Redetzke; Hanson; Flynn; Lautigar; Schill; Niznik; Trevor Wilson, Superior; Travis Budisalovich, Minneapolis, MN.
Semi-Feature: Vang; Glenz; Niznik; Schill; Matthees; M Nelson; Burdick; Niemi; Ledin; T Wilson; Simonson; Carlson; Lillo; B Hanestad; Johnson; Budisalovich; A Wilson.
Fan’s Choice Feature: 1-10: J Mars; Niemi; Eder; Hanson; Burdick; Redetzke; J Bellefeuille; S Mars; D Nelson; Doar.
11-16: Flynn; Mahder; Glenz; M Nelson; Diemel; Estey.
Feature: 1-10: Jeff Spacek, Phillips; AJ Diemel, Elk Mound; Shane Halopka, Greenwood; Ashley Anderson, Elk Mound; Pat Cook, Washburn; Adam Hensel, Baldwin; Jody Bellefeuille, Duluth, MN; Darrell Nelson, Hermantown, MN; Michael Truscott, Chippewa Falls; Dan Ebert, Lake Shore, MN.
11-20: JT Johnson, Milaca, MN; Todd Gehl, Solon Springs; Al Uotinen, Superior; Cory Mahder, Elk Mound; Shane Sabraski, Rice, MN; Bill Byholm, Glidden; Kelly Estey, Kelly Lake, MN; Dan Kingsley, Superior; Dave Cain, Corcoran, MN; Paul Niznik, Medford.
21-25: AJ Roschen, Somerset; Adam Ayotte, Elk River, MN; Steve Hallquist, Fall Creek; Jake Hiatt, Mason; Jake Hartung, Elmwood.
Heat 1: Hensel; Bellefeuille; Byholm; Truscott; Ebert; Ayotte; Sabraski; Hartung; Cody Wolkowski, Thunder Bay, ON; Kelly Checkalski, Poplar; Cole Spacek, Phillips.
Heat 2: Halopka; Cook; Nelson; Roschen; Brent Prochnow, Colfax; Skeeter Estey, Kelly Lake, MN; Dale Ames, Huron, SD; Hunter Anderson, Phillips; Danny Thomas, Knapp; Tyler Luger, Oxford; Kyle Helling, Rice Lake.
Heat 3: A Anderson; Gehl; Hallquist; Hiatt; Mike Anderson, Jim Falls; Brandon Copp, Brule; Steve Lavasseur, River Falls; Josh Beaulieu, Bemidji, MN; Pat Hoffman, Rice Lake; Lance Schilling, Laporte, MN; Scott McKinnon, Thunder Bay, ON.
Heat 4: Diemel; K Estey; Kingsley; Cain; Cory Williams, Spring Valley; Mark Kangas, Eveleth, MN; Shane Howell, Buffalo, MN; Shane Kisling, Butternut; Brad Johnson, Wilson; John Kallas, Hurley.
Heat 5: J Spacek; Mahder; Niznik; Johnson; Uotinen; Marcus Dunbar, Marenisco, MI; Rick Rivord, Superior; Donnie Lofdahl, Duluth, MN; Mark Hanson, Chippewa Falls; Taylor Olson, Colby.
Semi-Feature 1: Ebert; Uotinen; M Anderson; Sabraski; Kangas; H Anderson; Hoffman; Kisling; Wolkowski; Luger; Hanson; Kallas; Olson; Helling; S Estey; Lavasseur; Rivord.
Semi-Feature 2: Ayotte; Hartung; Ames; C Spacek; Howell; Beaulieu; Dunbar; Kaden Blaeser, Chippewa Falls; Checkalski; Lofdahl; Thomas; Williams; Schilling; McKinnon; Prochnow; Johnson.
WISSOTA Super Stocks
Feature: 1-10: Shane Sabraski, Rice, MN; Cole Chernosky, Thunder Bay, ON; Terran Spacek, Phillips; Steve Stuart, Ashland; Eric Olson, Ladysmith; Tommy Richards, Mondovi; Jordan Henkemeyer, Sauk Rapids, MN; Andrew Mackey, Duluth, MN; Shawn McFadden, Ashland; Nick Traynor, Barron.
11-20: Ron Mahder, Elk Mound; Patrick Beeksma, Ironwood, MI; Scott Lawrence, Superior; Darin Meierotto, Superior; Andy Grymala, Superior; Tucker Quinn, Ladysmith; Nick Oreskovich, Mason; Dan Severson, Crosby, MN; Doug Koski, Chisholm, MN; Willie Johnsen Jr, Superior.
21-24: Jason Havel, Rice Lake; Kyle Copp, Brule; Kevin Salin, Iron, MN; Les Duellman, Winona, MN.
Heat 1: Beeksma; Richards; Grymala; Koski; Terry Kroening, Colby; Myron Basina, Bayfield; Kenneth Davis, Elk Mound; Josh Schmidt, Becker, MN; Wayne Stricker, Highbridge; Joey Jensen, Forest Lake, MN.
Heat 2: Spacek; Copp; Oreskovich; Johnsen; Randy Graham, Trego; Rich Bishop, Ladysmith; Chad Johnson, Colfax; Tucker Budreau, Zimmerman, MN; Don Livingston, Washburn; John Garrity, Thunder Bay, ON.
Heat 3: Traynor; Lawrence; Havel; Stefan Hogue, Altoona; Robert Lore, Embarrass, MN; Dylan Leu, Medford; Aaron Mashlan, Ashland; DJ Keeler, Superior; Chris Wark, Zimmerman, MN.
Heat 4: Stuart; Mackey; McFadden; Leslie Leu, Medford; Jeff Eisner Jr, Merrill; Tom Karaba, Superior; Brian Carl, Duluth, MN; Josh Saunders, Spooner; Jase Lien, Mora, MN; Jim Campbell, Two Harbors, MN.
Heat 5: Sabraski; Chernosky; Olson; Matt Deragon, Ashland; Henkemeyer; Mike Sirois, Duluth, MN; Scott Geiger, Dorchester; Wayne Dean, Strum; Chris Johnson, Superior; Ryan House, Neebing, ON.
Heat 6: Severson; Salin; Quinn; Duellman; Mahder; Will Fisher, Shell Lake; Meierotto; Dan Peterson, Foxboro; Matt Larson, Lake Elmo, MN.
Semi-Feature 1: Koski; Meierotto; Kroening; Eisner; Chad Johnson; Wark; L Leu; Basina; Larson; House; Schmidt; Sirois; Garrity; Dean.
Semi-Feature 2: Johnsen; Henkemeyer; Tristan LaBarge, Kelly Lake, MN; Fisher; Keeler; Jensen; Graham; Bishop; Carl; Peterson; Deragon; Lien; D Leu; Budreau.
Semi-Feature 3: Duellman; Mahder; Davis; Livingston; Saunders; Lore; Hogue; Stricker; Geiger; C Johnson; Jason Quarders, Prairie Farm; Mashlan; Karaba.
WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds
Feature: 1-10: Tony Bahr, Haugen; Scott Splittstoesser, Cottage Grove, MN; Cody Carlson, Superior; Paul Suzik, Ironwood, MI; David Simpson, Thunder Bay, ON; Michael Truscott, Chippewa Falls; Zach Benson, Princeton, MN; Jason VandeKamp, Scandia, MN; Kennedy Swan, Chippewa Falls; Tyler Vernon, Mason.
11-20: Mike Schnider, Cameron; Paul Ripley, Duluth, MN; Dalton Mains, Foxboro; Brady Uotinen, Superior; Ryan Savoy, Superior; Tommy Richards, Mondovi; Evan Checkalski, Duluth, MN; Will Moelter, Elk Mound; Justin Bassa, Cotton, MN; Ross Fuhrman, Ashland.
21-23: Derrick Reed, Emerald; Tyler Hudack, Ashland; Cole Chernosky, Thunder Bay, ON.
Heat 1: VandeKamp; Reed; Hudack; Uotinen; Tanner Gehl, Solon Springs; Eric Anderson, Chisholm, MN; Bryan Lund, Ashland; Zach Slayton, Springbrook; Ryan Barningham, Bayfield; Neil Dees, Hurley.
Heat 2: Bahr; Benson; Schnider; Brandon Jensen, Ellsworth; Checkalski; Jesse Aho, Twin Lakes, MI; Trenton Woodbeck, Thunder Bay, ON; Matt Jacobson, Bessemer, MI; Ashley Mehrwerth, St Stephen, MN; Kevin Eder, Ashland.
Heat 3: Carlson; Moelter; Richards; Paul Ripley, Duluth, MN; Jimmy Latvala, Solon Springs; Shane Howell, Buffalo, MN; Brandon Mehrwerth, Foley, MN; Dylan Miller, Hibbing, MN; Matt Larson, Lake Elmo, MN; Ryan Bauer, Chippewa Falls.
Heat 4: Splittstoesser; Simpson; Savoy; Truscott; Wyatt Boyum, International Falls, MN; Travis Anderson, Colfax; Chris Bretting, Washburn; Dakota Smith, Chippewa Falls; Mitchell Kesan, Medford.
Heat 5: Bassa; Swan; Fuhrman; Chernosky; Marcus Dunbar, Marenisco, MI; Duane Dunbar, Marenisco, MI; Austin Blom, Saginaw, MN; Kenny Rogers, Unity; Diamond Bressette, Spooner.
Heat 6: Jason Schill, Centuria; Mains; Suzik; Vernon; Les Duellman, Winona, MN; George Dalbeck, Wakefield, MI; Ross Siiter, Esko, MN; Casey Kintner, Mountain Iron, MN; Andrea Keeney, Ridgeland.
Semi-Feature 1: Uotinen; Truscott; Boyum; E Anderson; T Anderson; Lund; Gehl; Bretting; Smith; Kesan; Dees; Slayton; Barningham.
Semi-Feature 2: Chernosky; Checkalski; Jensen; Aho; M Dunbar; Blom; A Mehrwerth; D Dunbar; Woodbeck; Jacobson; Bressette; Rogers.
Semi-Feature 3: Vernon; Ripley; Howell; B Mehrwerth; Latvala; Miller; Dalbeck; Duellman; Larson; Bauer; Siiter; Keeney; Kintner.