With its season scheduled to begin on Saturday, May 14, Marshfield Motor Speedway recently held its Driver Registration/Media Day. I made the trek out to the Speedway for the event, my first visit to the Speedway since the early 1990s when it was still a dirt track, and spoke with several drivers.
Here are some of their comments:
Dean LaPointe, Marshfield, 39 years old: LaPointe has been racing in the Super Late Model division for just under 15 years. During that time, LaPointe has said he hasn’t won a track championship yet, but has finished second several times. He says he is currently putting together a new car and will hopefully start the season in that car. A lot of changes and updates have been made to the other car in his stable. He’s just waiting on his motors yet.
“Right now I’m going to just concentrate on Marshfield,” LaPointe says. “It’s 10 miles away from home. With the fuel prices and everything, I mean that motor home doesn’t run down the road for nothing. We used to race 70 shows a year but now I’ve been running Marshfield. I’ll venture off and maybe go to a couple of different shows during the year and then Ocktoberfest down in La Crosse.”
LaPointe’s goal for 2011 is simple, “Win. That’s all it is, win and be safe.”
Mark Kraus, Stratford, 40 years old: Kraus has a wide variety of racing experience under his belt as he has raced on both dirt and asphalt. In fact, Kraus has won track championships at Marshfield Motor Speedway when it was a dirt track as well as after it was paved with asphalt. His dirt championship came in a Modified and he also win the Super Late Model championship the first year the track was asphalt.
Kraus originally cut his racing teeth on dirt racing Super Stocks and Modifieds at Marshfield before switching to asphalt in 1995. He ran the NASCAR Re-Max Series and finished in the top 10 in points. But building a house and starting a family in 2002 put a halt to Kraus’ racing career, but also led to a new racing opportunity.
“A well driller who drilled my well asked if I would run his dirt Late Model [in the UDTRA Series],” Kraus says. “I did. I had never ran one, but I always wanted to. The first place I went was Georgia, I went with Jimmy [Mars]. I said the only way I would do it is if these guys (Jimmy and Chris Mars) set the car up and we get a MasterSbilt. So we did it and I qualified 10th in time in Georgia. And then we went to Florida and all over. It was like a 36 race schedule and I ran 24 of them but then the sponsor ran out of money. But I didn’t want to quit because I was leading in rookie points. I couldn’t keep doing it myself so it ended. But it was fun, it was a great experience. I wish I could have finished it because when I start something I finish it.”
After the dirt Late Model deal fell through, Kraus returned to asphalt because he still had his asphalt car. He began running the ASA Series and continues to run the ASA Series.
“I am going to run here (Marshfield) when I’m not running the ASA Series,” Kraus says. “I don’t know if I’m going to run the full ASA Series this year with the costs of everything. Otherwise I’ll be here because I like this place. It’s 11 miles from home and Wayne [Brevik] does a good job here. It’s a beautiful facility. ASA is coming here this year so it should be a good year.”
Marshfield Motor Speedway hosts a three race series throughout the season called the Yellow River Racing Series. For those three races, Super Late Model drivers from other tracks also invade the Marshfield Motor Speedway increasing he competition. Kraus won that championship in 2010. Kraus will be looking to defend his title in 2011.
Rory Melbinger, Marshfield, 50 years old: Melbinger has been racing Super Late Models on asphalt for 16 years, but before that he raced on the dirt for 20 years all across Wisconsin and every year at Marshfield. His dirt experience was in Super Stocks, Modifieds and Late Models.
The last dirt race at Marshfield Motor Speedway took place in 1995. It was then paved with asphalt and that is when Melbinger switched to asphalt racing.
“I won the Modified championship in 1993, 1994 and 1995,” Melbinger says. “I won the championship in 1995 and was in a [asphalt] Late Model that fall yet here, the first race because they blacktopped the week after the last dirt race.”
Since switching to asphalt Super Late Models, Melbinger says he has won around 40 features, as well as two track championships at Marshfield Motor Speedway. He didn’t race fulltime at Marshfield in 2010 and might miss a couple of weeks in 2011. But that’s OK with Melbinger.
“I’ve raced for points for 35 years and this year I’m going to go for wins,” Melbinger says. “I’m done with that (racing for championships) now. I’m 50 years old and the kids can have at it.”
Don Turner, La Crosse, 67 years old: Turner will be entering his 46th year of racing in 2011. When asked about his accomplishments, Turner stated, “I’m still alive and I’m still enjoying the sport. As far as track championships, I was only a track champion once and that was at Excaliber [Speedway], the one they are reopening. I’ve ran Oktoberfest every year that it’s been in existence. And I’ve ran all over the Midwest. I don’t really keep real good personal records so I couldn’t tell you how many wins and stuff I have.”
Turner has won one of the phases of Oktoberfest, but has never won the big event. But Turner is proud of his streak of participating in every Oktoberfest, so much so, that he had to rent a car in 2010 to keep his streak alive because his car was badly damaged in a wreck prior to the event.
He says he plans on racing weekly at Marshfield in 2011, and possibly at State Park Speedway in Wausau. He admits the Super Late Model division may be “becoming a dying breed” because of the costs involved and the economy.
Turner admits the luster is wearing off as far as working on the racecar, but he plans on racing until he feels he becomes a hazard on the track.
“I still enjoy pushing the pedal and going fast,” Turner says. “I’m still not into hitting a white ball, swearing and walking after it like a lot of my age group is.”
Chad Selk, Chili, 25 years old: This will be Selk’s fourth year in a Super Late Model. He received the most improved driver award in 2009 at Marshfield Motor Speedway. He doesn’t plan on racing weekly at Marshfield in 2011, but is planning on being a regular at State Park Speedway in Wausau, as well as travel to special events at other tracks.
Selk says his goal is to win a feature in 2011 as well as the Yellow River Racing Series championship.
“We were running third in it last year with the twin 50s being the last segment and we running in second place with four laps to go and we broke, so we just had a bad day,” Selk says.
Randall Wilhorn, Nekoosa, 15 years old: Wilhorn will be embarking on his rookie campaign in the Super Late Model division in 2011. He started racing go-karts when he was nine years old, and began racing in the Modified division at Golden Sands Speedway when he was 12 years old. In 2010, Wilhorn raced in the Super Stock division at Marshfield, where he had two fast times, won two features and finished third in the point standings on his way to rookie of the year honors.
Wilhorn says he isn’t nervous about the jump to a Super Late Model because the cars are bigger, faster and more fun.
“My dad owns the car but we are getting a lot of help from Mark Eswein who has been racing for a long time,” Wilhorn says. “He won a bunch of championships so I’m looking forward to racing with him. He has a lot of experience and advice.”
He says he plans on racing mostly at Marshfield, with goals of setting a couple fast times, possibly winning a feature and finishing in the top five in the point standings.
Erin Schlough, Greenwood, 23 years old: Schlough will also be embarking on his rookie year of racing in the asphalt Super Late Model division. Schlough originally got his start in racing in 2003 in the Four-Cylinder division before moving up to the Super Stock division in 2009.
Even though he has never raced a Super Late Model before, he was offered the ride for 2011 and says it was too good to pass up. He will race fulltime at Golden Sands Speedway, half the schedule at Marshfield Motor Speedway and possibly a few races at State Park Speedway in Wausau.
He says he is looking forward to traveling to different tracks in the area and hopefully winning a feature and rookie of the year honors.
Christine Schmude, Arpin, 47 years old: In 2011, Schmude will be moving from the Bandit division to the Four-Cylinder Modified division. Schmude has raced on asphalt the last two years in different divisions, as well as on dirt at Central Wisconsin Raceway and on ice last winter.
“I was a little nervous [the first time I raced a car],” she says. “I had done a lot of practices so I knew how my car handled, so it was just getting in the car and going. Of course in practice you don’t have any lapped traffic or traffic around you so the first time I was in the car I thought, ‘OK, I have to hold my line.’ With more seat time I got more comfortable.”
She says she knows switching divisions will be a challenge, but it’s a challenge she is excited about.
“With the modified class you run a fuel cell, so the backend will be a little different,” Schmude says. “That’s going to take a lot of seat time to get used to.”
The plan for 2011 is to race weekly at Marshfield and Plover.
“Just to hang in there and finish the season out with the car in one piece,” Schmude says about her goals for 2011.
Harry Bell, Marshfield, 49 years old: For Bell, 2010 wasn’t his rookie year of racing, but in a sense you could have considered him a rookie. He says he raced from 1986 to 1990 and then didn’t race again until last year when he competed weekly in the Bandit division at Marshfield Motor Speedway.
“It was the same but different,” Bell said about racing again. “A lot of things changed. Just being a front-wheel drive class that was a lot different from what I was used to. But it was a lot of fun.
“My son got into racing two years ago and then he found this car and bought it. It was already built and he decided, ‘Why don’t you jump into it dad?’ He was just going to use it for parts, instead we made it into a racecar. ‘They have this new class, why don’t you run that?’ So I did.”
Run the car he did, as he went on to win the track championship without winning a feature during the points run.
“We had to make a lot of changes to the car to get it to work decent,” Bell says. “We progressively got better and better as the season went on. By the end of the year we had some fast times and heat wins.”
Bell says his goal in 2011 is to win some features and go for the championship again.
Charlie Nickel, Chili, 15 years old: Nickel raced in the Junkyard Warrior division at Marshfield Motor Speedway in 2010 and finished third in the point standings. He is moving up to the Bandit division in 2011 with his eye on the track championship.
He will race weekly at Marshfield and periodically at Plover. It is his goal to someday race a Super Late Model.