The first 42 laps of Round One Powered by Wisconsin Potatoes were smooth sailing for Dalton Zehr Saturday afternoon at Wisconsin International Raceway. However, a caution with eight laps remaining brought some instability, and some hearty challenges.
Zehr was able to escape on three separate restarts and hold on for victory in the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series opener for the second season in a row. The win was Zehr's sixth career TUNDRA victory in 16 starts.
Although the inside line is the preferred groove during green flag conditions, Zehr selected the outside line each time the Barricade Flasher Service TUNDRA barrel was placed. Zehr was able to jump away from Tommy Gee Jr. on the first two restarts with eight laps to go. The third restart brought a tough test in fast-qualifier Bobby Kendall.
"That was a lot like work right there," Zehr commented of the restart with seven laps remaining. "He definitely gave me a hard run. I'm glad it wasn't any longer."
As the duo dashed into turn one on lap 43, Zehr charged the outside and washed up, hoping for a momentum run off turn two. Kendall was able to stay side-by-side with Zehr until they exited the second turn, where Zehr found his run and pulled ahead of Kendall.
"He had a really good run and I was able to get him off the corner," Zehr said. "He was good to me. I know that."
Kendall, who has two years of experience racing weekly at WIR, battled from the 13th-starting spot. He felt as though he gave everything he had left on the final display of the green flag.
"I thought I needed to get him on the restart," Kendall said. "[Our car] was fast all day. We just didn't have enough tires at the end. We had some good runs off of two, but he was strong on the outside."
A fortunate inversion placed Zehr on the pole after a 14th-place qualifying effort. He and TUNDRA Dean's Satellite Rookie Travis Rodewald paced the 28-car feature field to the first green of 2014. A quick move by Zehr allowed him to slip past Rodewald and grab the point position by the time the field hit the back stretch.
As Zehr paced the field through the first ten laps of the main, the top five began to see a change in complexion. Gee made a move on Rodewald and grabbed second on lap 11. Six laps later defending WIR Champion Jeff VanOudenhoven made the move past Rodewald to third.
By the halfway point of the feature a trio of hard-charging contenders worked their way into the top ten. Michael Bilderback, Kendall and Eugene Gregorich Jr. lined up behind defending TUNDRA Champ Nick Panitzke and readied themselves to run toward the top five.
With a lot of track space to make up, it was clear that the hard chargers needed some help to have the opportunity to challenge for the win. That help came on lap 42 when Morgan Rasmussen spun exiting turn four.
The field realigned with Gee and Zehr in the front row. VanOudenhoven and Ty Majeski set up in the second row. Behind them were the duos of Bilderback and Rodewald and Kendall and Gregorich.
Zehr broke away from Gee at the drop of the green, but the restart was short-lived. Majeski and Bilderback came together, sending Majeski into a spin. The field was able to avoid Majeski as only he and Bilderback were deemed involved. Unfortunately for Bilderback, some damage was sustained to the rack and he was unable to continue.
The ensuing restart saw the same front row, but aligned VanOudenhoven with Kendall in the second row. As Zehr jumped away again, Kendall followed in his tire tracks and stole second from Gee. An axle on the race track brought out the final caution which set up the Zehr versus Kendall restart.
Driving for WIR-based Chase Motorsports, a win for Zehr was doubly sweet to start the season. It set the tone not only for another run at a TUNDRA title, but potentially for a weekly title at the facility, as well.
"It was a team effort. We put in a lot of effort here and it paid off," he said. "[Winning both titles] can be done, but that's a tall order. We started off on the right foot here and for [the TUNDRA] season."
Chase Motorsports also utilize power plants from B&B Race Engines. Sadly, B&B owner Bruce Mueller passed away Saturday morning. The win was a fitting tribute to a local racing icon.
Another B&B powered machine, that of Tom Gee, completed the podium. It was a strong showing for the WIR local who will be chasing the Rookie of the Year title.
"We'll go home with a third place and a clean car. That's what it's all about," Gee said. "Overall the car was great."
The best showing by a WIR local who will not be chasing the TUNDRA title this season was Kyle Calmes, who made a late charge to finish fourth. Travis Dassow rounded out the top five.
Austin Nason outlasted Dan Lindsley in a dazzling side-by-side display to claim the 25-lap Country Plumber Shootout.
Due to passing points, and bonus points from qualifying, Kendall secured the TUNDRA point lead after Round One. His 125 point output is the largest by a TUNDRA driver under the current point format. Calmes' passing points propelled him into second in standings, and a charge from Joey Garjoni from 22nd to 10th placed him tied for third in standings with Gregorich, who finished seventh after starting 18th. Zehr is fifth in standings.
The next event for the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series is Round Two Powered by Wisconsin Potatoes at Golden Sands Speedway on Memorial Day, Monday, May 26. Zehr is the defending winner of that event. Paige Decker picked up a win in the last TUNDRA appearance at GSS last July.
Golden Sands Speedway is located on Highway 54 just outside of Plover, Wis. For more information visit www.gssraces.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 2014 standings, archived results and standings, and more visit www.tundrasuperlates.com. Also, interact with us on Facebook (facebook.com/TundraSuperLateModels) or Twitter (@TUNDRAslms).