Hall Of Famer Stars At Thunderhill
STURGEON BAY, Wis. — Saturday night the Thunderhill Raceway inducted its first Hall of Fame class – and in a surprise turn of events, a future Hall of Famer took home the night’s top prize.
Todd Dart etched his name in The Hill record books again by winning for the 51st time in the IMCA Modified headliner when a late crash sidelined Benji LaCrosse just two laps from the checker.
Sharing the spotlight with Dart on the night were Bret Koehler in the IMCA Stock Cars, Jarred VanLaanen in the IMCA Sport Mods, Shawn Haydon in the Street Stocks and Jeremy Jauquet in the IMCA Hobby Stocks.
There are times when racers find themselves in front of the cameras holding a trophy when it appeared unlikely that they wouldn’t be. And on the other side of the coin – there are times when the opposite happens.
Unfortunately for LaCrosse, he qualified for the latter Saturday night.
Dart had used an inside pass on Greg Gretz to take the Modified feature lead on the third lap. LaCrosse was close behind, and just four laps later, he swung to the outside of Dart to take control of the point.
LaCrosse eased away to a comfortable margin, matched by Dart’s command of second. Focus shifted to the battle for third as the laps ticked away, with Gretz, James Tebon, Brad Lautenbach and Jared Siefert all in the hunt for what appeared to be the final podium spot.
But things changed dramatically just as the white flag was about to fly signaling the final lap. LaCrosse caught a couple cars at the back of the field as he entered the third turn. Tyler Wilson had moved outside with the leader approaching, but lost the handle heading into the fourth turn. LaCrosse’s attention was on a car to his immediate right and his approach to the front stretch, meaning he never saw the sliding Wilson coming down in front of him – until the split second before contact.
LaCrosse blasted into the side of Wilson, and while both drivers emerged unhurt, their night was over. Dart took command immediately on the restart, leading the final two laps unchallenged.
The victory was his fourth in a row in the Modifieds, and broke a tie with Charlie Kroll for the most feature wins at Thunderhill since the track reopened in 1993.
Late race dramatics played out in the Stock Cars as well as Koehler used a late pass on Mike Pierrard to secure his second feature win of the season.
Pierrard took the lead at the drop of the green with Koehler quickly moving in to challenge. Pierrard took command of the low groove with Koehler following in his tracks waiting for a mistake. At the half way mark, Rod Snellenberger advanced to third and closed on the lead trio.
Now it was three cars bumper to bumper waiting for a slip – which happened with two to go. Koehler was able to dive to the inside of Pierrard through the first and second corner, working the inside to get by. Snellenberger hitched his wagon to Koehler and followed him into second.
With no time left to wait for a mistake, Snellenberger moved outside to try his luck there, but he was unable to pull even, eventually surrendering second back to Pierrard at the line as the duo crossed side by side just behind Koehler.
No such dramatics in the Sport Mods where VanLaanen held court for all 20 laps of the feature. He jumped to the lead from his second row starting spot, putting himself safely in front of title contenders Ryan LeMieux and Chris Budzban.
The only delay on his march to the checker was a red flag stoppage for Martin Kelsey’s flip in the third turn.
After that, it was clear sailing en route to his first feature win of the season. LeMieux finished second, a position ahead of Budzban, to draw even atop the season standings.
New faces were again on hand in the Street Stock class, in part to chase down the bounty on four-time winner Billy LeMieux. But after dropping out the previous week, issues again hit the LeMieux team before the race even started. The point leader’s car simply refused to start when the class was called to the line, and they were forced to miss the feature entirely.
In his first run ever at The Hill, Haydon used a restart with six laps to go to gain the advantage on leader Justin Lindner, then walked away to the feature win. In his second Sturgeon Bay run of the year, Paul Diefenthaler ended up second chasing Haydon to the stripe, just as he had done earlier this year behind LeMieux.
A potential photo finish in the Hobby Stocks never materialized as a caution prematurely ended the division’s feature after the white flag had been displayed.
Jauquet was the point man, with Scott Boulanger running second and Marcus Moede third. With laps ticking down and no hope of passing two cars locked down on the bottom groove, Moede moved to the middle line, found something there, and began to edge forward toward the lead.
He was scored second ahead of Boulanger as the trio flashed across the line and under the white flag, and it appeared that he may have had enough momentum to continue the pace and potentially get by Jauquet as well.
But as Brandon Peterson, subbing for Dave Schmidt, passed the flagstand, his engine let go in a cloud of smoke, dumping a long line of fluid into the racing groove. With the back of the field sliding through debris, the front stretch became a hazard, forcing the caution.
Per track rules, once the white is displayed the race will end whether it’s under yellow or green – and if it’s the former, the official finish will be the last scored lap. That meant Jauquet would be the winner for the third time in 2014 – with Moede left to settle for second.
Earlier in the night, The Hill inducted its inaugural Hall of Fame class. The group included the pre-announced seven inductees, all with ties back to the days of the Door County Speedway era: Clyde LeMieux, Sr, Irv Ettien, Joe Haferkorn, Les Sternard, Dale Knudson, Butch Georgenson, Fritz “Van” VanDuyse, as well as surprise eighth inductee Tom Wagner.