Ashland, WI, August 25 — That full moon looming over the pit area may have had something to do it.
The final night of the 2018 regular season at the ABC Raceway included more than its fair share of dramatic twists and turns – in particular, for the WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds – but when the final checkered flag flew, five champions were crowned, including two first-time champs.
On a cloudy, muggy “Championship Saturday Night” presented by Pepsi, North Star Beverage of Hurley, and WIMI-FM of Ironwood, MI, Ashland’s Kevin Eder claimed his first career points title, by a large margin in the WISSOTA Modified division, while Randy Graham of Trego nailed down his first-ever track title, in the WISSOTA Pure Stocks.
Mason’s Nick Oreskovich had his third straight WISSOTA Super Stock crown sewn up as soon as he took his first lap in his heat race, while Tiffany Hudack of Ashland claimed her third ABC Six-Cylinder title in the past five seasons in similar fashion.
But the Mid-Mod crown was up for grabs coming into the night’s action, and it wasn’t until a good 20 minutes after that division’s feature had ended that Paul Suzik of Ironwood, MI, was named that division’s champ for the third time in the past four seasons.
The drama in the Mid-Mods started with the drop of the green flag in the division’s second heat race, when a huge crash collected six of the nine cars that started the race and knocked four of those out of the run, including Suzik – who ended up on his roof directly under the flagstand – and Dan Kingsley, who entered the night just 11 points behind Suzik. Many other race teams helped both drivers get their cars put back together, and both drivers made the call for the feature, although with badly roughed-up equipment.
Tyler Hudack ran strong to hold off Marcus Dunbar and Clay Passuello for the early lead, but just as Passuello completed a pass of Hudack on lap 4, Dunbar looped his ride, negating Passuello’s move. Third-in-points Tanner Hicks moved up into the thick of things after the restart and took over the lead on lap 7, bringing Passuello and Brandon Copp along into second and third.
By the time the caution flag had waived for Jake Kruzan’s stalled car on lap 11, Kingsley had moved all the way up from a 15th-place start to fourth, while Suzik was scored in sixth after starting 14th. But Kingsley lost the handle on his ride less than a lap into the restart and collected several cars with his spin, including Suzik, who had to hustle to the pits to change a flat tire. Both drivers restarted at the tail of the line, and both were caught up in Passuello’s spin on the next restart. This time Suzik’s car was damaged beyond repair and he was towed in for the night, while Kingsley had the safety crew push him to the repair area for a quick once-over, and he rejoined the field for the ensuing green flag as the last car running in 11th.
Up front, Hicks was barely holding on to the lead, as Copp was pressuring him with every remaining lap, and ninth-starting Jesse Aho worked his way past Hudack into third with seven laps left. The lead pair had some distance on the field, but Copp spun his car with three circuits remaining, bunching up the field and giving Kingsley a chance to gain some positions. Copp passed six cars from his last-place spot on the restart to get back into the hunt, and Aho pulled alongside Hicks for the lead as they crossed the stripe under the white flag.
Aho dove under Hicks coming off the final turn, and the Toivola, MI, pilot edged Hicks at the stripe by .050 seconds for his third career feature win in Ashland. Dunbar recovered nicely from the earlier bobble to climb back to third, while 16th-starting Ross Fuhrman took advantage of the cautions and carnage to take fourth ahead of Hudack.
Officials took their time to carefully sort out how the DNFs should be scored in the final rundown, and it wasn’t until after the next feature was completed that it was determined that Suzik finished in 13th place, giving him a scant three-point edge in the championship standings over Kingsley, who could only urge his wounded car to a ninth-place run.
The other four features combined for just three caution flags – all coming in the WISSOTA Modified feature. The first came on the initial start of the 20-lapper, when contact between Jeff Spacek and Jake Hiatt sent Hiatt spinning into the infield at the start-finish line and Spacek to the pits with damage. The next 18 laps ran off non-stop, however, with Todd Gehl pulling alongside Tanner Byholm and charging by for the lead just two laps into the run.
From there Gehl looked uncatchable, running a mid-groove line and pulling away from a stout field on the lightning-fast red-clay track. Gehl pushed his lead to well over a second on the battle between Byholm and Al Uotinen for runner-up honors by lap 7, but after mid-race that pair began to cut Gehl’s cushion down until it was just two-thirds of a second by lap 14.
Gehl kicked it up a notch and pushed the advantage to .86 seconds on lap 17 and appeared to have things well in hand, but Byholm lost control of his second-place car and spun on the next lap. In the first attempt to go green-white-checkered, Rick Rivord, who restarted third behind Gehl and Uotinen, spun to stop the action. The second two-lap dash went more smoothly, and Gehl ran off to a half-second win over Uotinen, with Steve Lavasseur, Steve Stuart and Neil Balduc in pursuit.
Eder, who held a commanding lead going into the night, pulled into the infield just before the next-to-last restart with the title in hand, finishing 49 points ahead of Lavasseur.
Eder had just left Victory Lane a few moments before, after winning his first WISSOTA Super Stock feature since last year’s Red Clay Classic. At the start of the non-stop 20-lapper Scott Lawrence inched his way past polestarter Eder for the lead, and over the first half of the race the pair swapped the lead with every lap, with Shane Kisling in tow.
Over the second half of the race, however, Eder began to take command, gaining a three-quarter-second advantage as Lawrence and Kisling duked it out behind him. Eder was passing slower cars by lap 13, and over the final stretch run he pushed his lead to nearly four seconds. Lawrence fended off Kisling for second, and Oreskovich took third with two laps left. Jeff Klopstein and Matt Deragon also got by to complete the top five.
Oreskovich finishes the season 91 points ahead of Shawn McFadden Jr in the Supers.
Tiffany Hudack wisely saved her race car after starting her Six-Cylinder heat race dead last, knowing that she had qualified for her feature and had wrapped up the points title. But she started very deep in the 15-lap feature field, and by the time she had worked her way into second with the white flag waiving, Graham was long gone.
Outside front-row starter Bubba Anderson made quick work of polestarter Jonathan Popp for the early advantage, and within a couple more laps Graham was on Anderson’s tail. Once Graham got past Anderson he set sail for the checkers.
Hudack, meanwhile, picked her way forward, eventually getting into a three-wide scrimmage for second place with Anderson and DeJay Jarecki. It took her a few laps but she managed to sneak under the other two to take second with a lap to go, but Graham was a full 3.8 seconds in front. Jarecki followed in third, and a charging Stuart moved by Anderson late in the run for fourth.
It was the sixth time in ten nights this season that Hudack and Graham finished as the top two in a Six-Cylinder feature, and each driver won five of the ten features run. Hudack’s winning margin was 52 points.
Graham capped off his season by stealing the WISSOTA Pure Stock feature from Don Livingston on the final lap, giving Graham wins in both the Six-Cylinder and Pure Stock features for the second week in a row. Livingston got around polestarter Aaron Bernick for the initial lead, and he held that lead right up until the final few yards of the final lap.
Graham followed Livingston into second place, and from there he kept the pressure on, diving low to show his car’s nose in the corners on nearly every lap in an attempt to rattle the leader. Behind them things were clogged up, with first Darren Dudley and later Cory Jorgensen leading the logjam that was battling for third.
On the final lap Graham got alongside, but Livingston still led going into the final corner. Coming out of that corner, though, Graham got a good low-groove bite and drove by, clipping Livingston by .033 seconds – barely more than a bumper-length. Jorgensen, in a car borrowed from Bernick, came home a distant third, ahead of Andrew Hanson and Justin Weinberger.
Graham held an 80-point lead on Livingston at the end of the evening.
The wide, sticky-fast red-clay oval made for some incredible lap times during the features, with Copp posting a new track-record for the Mid-Mods at 16.635 seconds and becoming the first driver in that class to post an 81-mph lap speed (81.154). All four other quick laps were within eye-blinks of track records: Gehl’s time in the Mods (16.095 seconds / 83.877 mph) was just a tenth of a second off that division’s mark; Eder (16.576 / 81.443) was within a tenth in the Supers; Hudack (18.233 / 74.041) missed a record time in the Sixes by about four-tenths of a second; and Weinberger (18.829 / 71.798) missed setting a new Pure Stock mark by just eight one-thousandths of a second.
The staff of the ABC Raceway will take the next few weeks to prepare the facility for one of the Upper Midwest’s biggest and most prestigious stock car race weekends – the 43rd annual Red Clay Classic, on September 28-29. A purse of over $100,000 will be up for grabs, as well over 200 WISSOTA Late Models, Modifieds, Super Stocks and Midwest Mods are expected to be on hand to compete.
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 log onto the track’s website, www.abcraceway.com. or on race days call (715) 682-4990.
Feature: 1-10: Todd Gehl, Solon Springs; Al Uotinen, Superior; Steve Lavasseur, River Falls; Steve Stuart, Ashland; Neil Balduc, Bessemer, MI; Bill Byholm, Glidden; Cody Carlson, Superior; Paul Niznik, Medford; Rick Rivord, Superior; Pat Cook, Washburn.
11-14: Kevin Eder, Ashland; Tanner Byholm, Glidden; Jake Hiatt, Mason; Jeff Spacek, Phillips.
Heat 1: Gehl; Lavasseur; T Byholm; Rivord; B Byholm; Cook; Spacek.
Heat 2: Carlson; Eder; Uotinen; Balduc; Stuart; Niznik; Hiatt.
WISSOTA Super Stocks
Feature: 1-10: Kevin Eder, Ashland; Scott Lawrence, Superior; Nick Oreskovich, Mason; Jeff Klopstein, Tomahawk; Matt Deragon, Ashland; Terran Spacek, Phillips; Shawn McFadden, Ashland; Don Muzzy, Ironwood, MI; Shane Kisling, Park Falls; Rick Randall, Wakefield, MI.
11-14: David Elliott, Minocqua; Cory Casari, Montreal; Aaron Mashlan, Ashland; Greg Kuklinski, Ironwood, MI.
Heat 1: Deragon; Klopstein; Oreskovich; Lawrence; Muzzy; Kuklinski; Elliott.
Heat 2: Kisling; Spacek; Eder; Casari; McFadden; Mashlan.
WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds
Feature: 1-10: Jesse Aho, Toivola, MI; Tanner Hicks, Ashland; Marcus Dunbar, Wakefield, MI; Ross Fuhrman, Ashland; Tyler Hudack, Ashland; Brandon Copp, Brule; Dalton Mains, Foxboro; Ryan Barningham, Bayfield; Dan Kingsley, Superior; Steve Altman, Mercer.
11-18: Chris Bretting, Washburn; Jack Rivord, Superior; Paul Suzik, Ironwood, MI; Clay Passuello, Ironwood, MI; Justin Weinberger, Park Falls; Jimmy Latvala, Solon Springs; Jake Kruzan, Mellen; Cole Spacek, Altoona, IA.
Heat 1: Rivord; Hicks; Dunbar; Copp; Aho; Barningham; Spacek; Kruzan; Latvala.
Heat 2: Passuello; Hudack; Altman; Mains; Bretting; Suzik; Kingsley; Fuhrman; Weinberger.
Feature: 1-10: Randy Graham, Trego; Tiffany Hudack, Ashland; DeJay Jarecki, Ashland; Steve Stuart, Ashland; Bubba Anderson, Trego; Jonathan Popp, Iron River; Jake Nevala, Ashland; Jordan Pearce, Ashland; Joshua Saunders, Spooner; Forrest Schultz, Ashland.
11-12: Devin Dalbec, Ashland; Aaron Mashlan, Ashland.
Heat 1: Jarecki; Nevala; Popp; Schultz; Saunders; Dalbec.
Heat 2: Stuart; Graham; Pearce; Anderson; Mashlan; Hudack.
WISSOTA Pure Stocks
Feature: 1-8: Randy Graham, Trego; Don Livingston, Washburn; Cory Jorgensen, Hermantown, MN; Andrew Hanson, Iron River; Justin Weinberger, Park Falls; Aaron Bernick, Duluth, MN; Darren Dudley, Ashland; Kyle Copp, Brule.
Heat: Hanson; Graham; Copp; Livingston; Bernick; Dudley; Weinberger.
by Nick Gima