Once again there was a rumble in the air, the ground shook, and the dirt flew at Shawano Speedway as the Speedway opened its race season Saturday night.
Even though the weather was cool, and got downright cold by the end of the racing program, the die-hard fans were out in force. There were 98 race cars on hand for the opener, which was four more than last year’s opener. There were 16 WISSOTA Late Models, 24 IMCA Modifieds, 24 IMCA Stock Cars, 11 FASTRAK Late Models and 23 IMCA Northern SportMods on hand.
For the second year in a row, it was a disappointing car count for the FASTRAK Late Model division. Four drivers from last year — Dave Fieber, Justin Hirt, Aaron Holiday and Brett Swedberg — have moved up to the WISSOTA Late Model division full-time this year. I still believe a decision is going to have to be made after the season as to the future of this division. But that’s a topic for another day.
Feature winners included: Nick Anvelink (WISSOTA Late Model), Jared Siefert (IMCA Modified), Brian Ambrosius (IMCA Stock Car), Joel Bennett (FASTRAK Late Model) and Cody Hudson (IMCA Northern SportMod).
As previously stated, Fieber, Hirt, Holiday and Swedberg appear to be racing full-time in the WISSOTA Late Model division this year. Hirt and Swedberg dabbled in the division last year. Fieber and Holiday made their first appearances in the division last week.
I had a chance to speak with Holiday before the night of racing and he said he felt he was ready to move up and that his sponsors helped him move to the WISSOTA Late Model division.
When asked if it was always his goal to eventually race in the WISSOTA Late Model division, he responded, “It was in the back of my head, yeah, but dollar-wise I never thought I’d be here.”
He also said he was a little nervous, but more excited than anything, “to feel the power behind the gas pedal.”
Holiday said his goal is to be in the top 10 in points by the end of the season, and to win rookie of the year honors.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty tough fight between me and Dave Fieber for that, but that’s what racing is all about,” Holiday said.
Holiday had a tough opening night in the WISSOTA Late Model division. He finished fifth in his heat race, but hit the wall in the feature. It took two wreckers to get his car off the track after that wreck as the car sustained heavy damage. He finished 16th in the feature.
Fieber finished seventh in the feature, while Hirt finished eighth and Swedberg finished ninth. Mark Rose, another rookie in the division, finished 10th in the feature.
For those of you at the races, you noticed that Justin Ritchie was doing double duty, racing his familiar WISSOTA Late Model as well as an IMCA Modified. Ritchie said his main focus is the WISSOTA Late Model as he is gunning for the championship this year. As far as the IMCA Modifed goes, there is a simple explanation for him racing it.
“My buddy raced a SportMod last year and he likes being involved with everything,” Ritchie said. “He just didn’t have the driver knack he felt like. He was really uncomfortable in the car all the time, but he wants to be here, he wants to be involved and he had some money to burn so he asked me if I wanted to drive a Modified for him.”
Ritchie said the main priority with the Modified is to race it at Seymour because that track is 20 minutes from his house. He may race it at Oshkosh a few times. He’s not sure how often he will race it at Shawano Speedway.
“If it doesn’t go bad here, we’ll run it here all the time, but if it’s too much, we’ll focus on the Late Model,” Ritchie said.
He also plans on racing the Modified at all the Badger Mod Tour races except the one on a Saturday night in Beaver Dam.
Over the next several weeks I will go over some of the changes in the other divisions.
In all the years of writing my racing column about Shawano Speedway, I have never attempted to predict the track champion in each division. That is changing this year as I am putting my prognostic skills to the test.
Even though he told me earlier this year he doesn’t plan on racing for points, I am predicting that Paul Parker will win the WISSOTA Late Model championship. I would pick Nick Anvelink, but he usually misses a week or two due to racing at a different track during the season.
In the IMCA Modified division, I am predicting Racin’ Jason Czarapata will repeat as track champion.
One Michonski is going to like me and the other isn’t. Nate Michonski impressed me last week starting mid-pack and finishing fifth in the feature. But I’m not picking him to repeat as the track champion in the IMCA Stock Car division. Instead, I am picking his brother, Dan Michonski to win the championship. I made this decision at the end of last year because of how well Dan Michonski ran when he started racing again mid-season last year.
Joel Bennett won the most features last year in the FASTRAK Late Model division, and I see him claiming his first championship in the division this year.
In the IMCA Northern SportMod division, I am predicting that Cody Hudson will race to his first championship. I am basing this choice on Hudson’s late-season performance last year. I do feel Tracy Wassenberg is going to be a tough challenger.
There you have it, my predictions for this year.