Among TUNDRA Super Late Model Series drivers there is a polarizing portion of every race-day schedule. Some love the quick opportunity to get into the feature. Some hate how frantic it can be. Some just hate the name. It is the first opportunity of the last chance. It is the Gong Show.
The Gong Show is a six-car mad dash for two coveted spots in the TUNDRA feature. It may see anywhere from no inversion to a full-field inversion and lasts between six and 11 laps. The inversion and the number of laps run are based on a roll of the dice as the cars roll onto the track.
After a successful season as the Alive for Five in 2011, and rebranded as TUNDRA for 2012, the series looked to make some changes to the race day format to add some spice. One of the first aspects to see adjustment was how drivers punched their tickets to the features.
"Originally, we were only going to take drivers who made it on time," said TUNDRA representative Matt Panure. "Sometimes drivers just miss it during qualifying and deserve chance to race their way into the feature, so we figured we needed something."
Recognizing that last chance races can be some of the most exciting events of the evening, TUNDRA devised a new plan. Instead of a drawn out last chance race where the fastest car missing the cut was given a front-row starting spot, TUNDRA decided to go with a dash format.
The field of the Gong Show consists of the first three qualifiers to miss the cut for the feature, two TUNDRA provisionals and one promoters' choice (which is typically filled by a top driver at the track TUNDRA is visiting). Drivers roll onto the front stretch in order by how they qualified, with the fastest leading a single-file parade to the start/finish line where drivers await the inversion.
"We've had some pretty hectic races when that six was rolled and we put the fastest car in the back," Panure recalls. "This year I seemed to roll 3 quite a bit, which can be interesting because you take the fastest car that missed the cut in qualifying and pull him or her out of a transfer spot. The roll can be just as dramatic as the race."
The first Gong Shows were six laps regardless of the inversion. That changed midway through the 2012 season when a provision was put in to add laps when the field was inverted. The results stayed the same - exciting racing for two final spots.
Perhaps one of the most exciting Gong Shows came at Dells Raceway Park in Round Four of 2012. After an inversion Mark Kissinger was given the pole. He held off furious charges throughout the 11-lap race from Josh Wallace and Steve Rubeck, who started sixth. Rubeck, the fastest driver to miss the qualifying cut, came up just a car-length shy of a transfer spot as Wallace pulled to the door of Kissinger coming to the checkered. Corey Jankowski, who was the point leader entering the race finished fourth at the door of Rubeck.
When TUNDRA took its show on the road in 2013 the series saw another mutation to the race procedures with the addition of a last-chance race. In speaking with drivers, TUNDRA officials recognized the importance of having another chance to race in for drivers who are unfamiliar with new facilities. With larger car counts, officials deemed it was also important to give every driver a chance to race his or her way into the main.
Even though the last chance race was added, the Gong Show remained in-tact as a first option to transfer into the main. The advantage of transferring through the Gong Show is that a driver will have fewer laps on his or her tires and will start closer to the front.
Adding the last chance race gave the drivers a life line, but it hasn't taken anything away from how exciting the Gong Shows have been. Round Four at Golden Sands proved that in July.
Jordan Ives had the Gong Show well in hand as Jordan Thiel tried to hold on desperately for a transfer spot. With Jeff Weinfurter and Steve Lichtfeld ready to pounce, Thiel held the bottom. Coming through three and four on the final lap Weinfurter gave Thiel and unceremonious bump, sending him up the track. Weinfurter transferred as Thiel and Lichtfeld made spectacular saves. Those two would later meet in the last chance race where Lichtfeld gave Thiel another bump and run.
"That will be a hard one to forget," Panure recalled. "It certainly gave the fans something to talk about."
The Gong Show continues to be one of the most talked about portions of the TUNDRA race day. Perhaps one of the most interesting discussions comes from the name.
"When I was a kid watching in the stands my dad would always refer to the last chance race as the gong show," Panure said. "It was the first thing that came to my head when we came up with this concept, and it just stuck."
With over 40 cars pre-entered for the first TUNDRA event of the season, fans at Wisconsin International Raceway will get their first look at the Gong Show on May 10. TUNDRA Round One, "Powered by Wisconsin Potatoes," will have a 2 p.m. start time.
WIR is located at W1460 County Road KK just outside of Kaukauna, Wis. For more information visit www.wirmotorsports.com
The Unified Northern Drivers Racing Association (TUNDRA) Super Late Model Series was formed in 2011 as the Alive For Five Super Late Model Series at Dells Raceway Park. TUNDRA's business plan is based on a sustainable program for promoters and race teams alike, while still providing high-quality Super Late Model entertainment to fans.
For more information on TUNDRA including news, results and the final 2013 standings, archived results and standings, and more visit www.tundrasuperlates.com. Also, interact with us on Facebook (facebook.com/TundraSuperLateModels) or Twitter (@TUNDRAslms).