Sunday, March 31, 2013

Nienheiser takes Sprint Invaders opener at 34 Raceway

His first win in the Brockway Mechancial and Roofing Sprint Invaders Series was also Paul Nienheiser's first-ever win in a winged Sprint Car. The 16-year old 360 Sprint pilot topped a field of 30 entries during the series' first event of the season Saturday night at 34 Raceway in Burlington.

Nienheiser won his heat race, then led all eight laps of the Shakeup Dash before drawing the #3 pill to determine the starting lineup for the 25-lap main event. Although he started inside second row, Neinheiser made his way to the front by the completion of the first lap.

While Nienheiser was pulling away early, a pair of drivers battling for second place came together to bring out the red flag on lap two. Brett Triplett was working the low side of John Agan exiting turn four when their two rides came together. The contact resulted in the pair of cars getting upside down, ending the event for both drivers.

On the restart, Nienheiser again paced the field with Scotty Thiel and Josh Schneiderman in tow. The leader encountered lapped traffic on the seventh circuit, allowing Thiel to briefly keep Niehneiser in his sights. Nienheiser did a terrific job working through the back markers to extend his advantage while Matt Krieger was making his way through traffic from a seventh row starting spot.

Riding the top side of the 3/8-mile oval, Krieger entertained the fans as he marched his way toward the front. He swept past Thiel for second with seven laps to go while Nienheiser maintained his sizable advantage.

As Nienheiser raced to the impressive win, Krieger lost control on the top side of turn four on the final lap, ending his night in the wall with a ninth place finish. Thiel crossed the line second ahead of Schniederman, Russ Hall and Alan Ambers.

Season opening track points races for IMCA Modifieds, IMCA Stock Cars and Mod Lites were also part of Saturday's show, including a $1,000 winner's share in the Modified division.

Richie Gustin took the green from outside row one and quickly assumed command in the Modified main. Fellow front row starter Brandon Rothzen settled into the second spot with Dustan Fenton trailing.

Gustin showed the way early while Mike Vangenderen was making his way through the pack. Vangenderen used a nifty move exiting turn two on a lap six restart to sneak between Fenton and Scott Hogan for third. He made his way past Rothzen for second one lap later, just prior to the next caution.

Gustin pulled away from the pack unchallenged, then survived a pair of late restarts to take the big payday in the 20-lapper. Rothzen ran second at the line ahead of Jeff Waterman, Fenton and Andy Krieger. Vangenderen suffered mechanical problems on the final circuit to limp to a ninth place finish.

Arguably the most entertaining event of the night was the 20-lap feature for the IMCA Stock Cars. Front row starter Ray Raker held the early advantage while Chris Wibbell and Jim Lynch gave chase.

As Raker built his lead to a half-straightaway, John Oliver Jr., Tom Bowling Jr. and Jake Wenig entered the battle for second. Although a pair of cautions slowed the event and attrition affected the back-half of the 13-car field, the action out front kept fans on their feet following the final restart on lap 14.

Shortly after he led the field back to green, Raker slowed with mechanical problems, which left the top spot up for grabs. In fact, four different drivers held the lead over the final six laps with Wibbell being the first to take over.

After leading lap 15, Wibbell allowed both Bowling and Oliver to sneak past as those drivers battled (literally) wheel-to-wheel for position. After running second to Bowling on laps 16-18, Oliver shot to the inside of the leader in turn two on the white flag lap. He led at the stripe until Bowling returned the favor in turns one and two on the final lap. Contact sent both drivers off the track, allowing Abe Huls and Wibbell to sneak past.

The new leaders ran within a car-length of each other before Huls lunged ahead at the stripe for the thrilling win. Oliver regrouped to come home third.

In Mod Lite action, Greg Rossell led the entirety of the 15-lapper to take the win ahead of Chase Flatt. The lead pair took the checkers nearly a straightaway ahead of Dan Keltner and Randy Bryan.

Despite the chilly temperatures and occasional mist and sprinkles, the visit to Burlington was a great way to kick off the season. I made my way to town the night before the opener to help Facilities Director Jason Goble put finishing touches on preparations for the event. During (and for a couple weeks prior to) that time, track owner Jeff Laue and his crew were diligently working on the racing surface.

Laue and the gang were able to start track prep a couple weeks ago, however their progress was halted early this past week when a spring storm dumped a couple inches of snow on the grounds. You'd have never guessed it on race night. The track crew did a tremendous job getting the track race-ready despite the adverse conditions!

I also need to give a shout out to Sprinter Matt Krieger. I've never been a huge Sprint Car fan, although I've enjoyed taking in more Sprint races in recent years. Matt, thank you. Your efforts on Saturday night alone made me craving my next Sprint Car race. It got me even more fired up for the Sprint Invaders event at Independence on April 19. That promises to be a great night. Thanks to Sprint Invaders announcers Jeff Broeg and Bill Wright for talking up the series' first-ever visit to Independence. For Jeff's thoughts on last night's show be sure to check out the Back Stretch.

Sunday's season opener at Benton County Speedway in Vinton was canceled, pushing back that track's opener to next Sunday for the final event of the annual Frostbuster swing through Iowa. Frostbuster action gets underway this Thursday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, then moves to Marshalltown on Friday and Boone on Saturday before the finale in Vinton.

The only Frostbuster I know I'll be attending is next Sunday's event in Vinton. Other plans for the upcoming weekend include a return to 34 Raceway on Saturday for the fifth annual Slocum 50, the Deery Brothers Summer Series for IMCA Late Models event that pays tribute to the late Brent Slocum. That race pays $5,555 to the winner, in honor of Slocum's #5.

Aside from those two stops, a visit to Marshalltown may be in the works for Friday unless I head east to Dubuque for the Deery Series opener. Regardless where you go, be sure to get out and support a track near you. Afterall, race season is officially here! Again, to stay current on all special events in the region visit the events calendar at Positively Racing.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sprints, stats and more as Independence season approaches

Monday night, the Independence city council approved street closures for the annual car show to be held in downtown Independence on Saturday, April 20. It will be the fourth straight year for the show on 1st St., which has grown each year since its inception. Along with the car show, the annual test and tune is scheduled at the track that afternoon from 2-5 p.m.

Prior to the busy Saturday, however, the first race of the season at Independence Motor Speedway will be held the night before on Friday, April 19. The track's first-ever Open Wheel Shootout will feature the Brockway Mechanical & Roofing Sprint Invaders Series, along with Modifieds and SportMods. The Mods and SportMods will run regular track rules, however will NOT be IMCA sanctioned. Consider it an early practice with purse money at stake.

Details of the entire weekend's events are available at

The last couple weeks I've been researching (well, trying) the last time Sprint Cars competed in Independence. Unfortunately, I was unable to find results or even the race date. I remember attending the event in the 1990s when Jerry Blue promoted the race track, however the details of the event continue to escape me. If any readers have any information or knowledge on that event, please let me know by e-mailing

The weekly wars in Independence are set to begin the following Saturday, April 27. The six classes that competed with us last season - IMCA-sanctioned Late Models, Modifieds, Stock Cars, SportMods, Hobby Stocks and Sport Compacts - will again comprise the weekly program in 2013.

Every spring, it's an uncertainty what tracks will see as far as car counts and crowds. I think tracks will be pleasantly surprised with the number of fans that make their way through the gates and, ironically, I think the long-lasting winter weather will benefit everyone.

I don't know about anyone else, but I've become motivated to get out and enjoy time outdoors this year even more than in recent years. I think a lot of that has to do with the mild winters we've experienced recently. Last year, for instance, we experienced spring and summer-like temperatures as early as February and March. By the time racing season came around, the enthusiasm was there, but I don't believe it was to the same degree as it is this year. Let's hope we all cure our spring fever with visits to area race tracks.

As far as car counts are concerned, I remain very optimistic about the outlook at Independence this season. Not only do I have a dozen more driver registrations in hand this year than I did on this date last year, but the names on those registration forms make me even more anxious for the season to start. Based on the drivers who have indicated plans to join us weekly, I think our field of cars will be nothing short of stellar in 2013.

As of today, 20 IMCA Late Model drivers and 20 IMCA Modifieds have pre-registered, which is a pretty hefty number for those divisions at this time of year. Big numbers in the remaining four divisions have also already registered for the upcoming season.

FYI - All pit stalls in the front two rows are already reserved. Those are rows A and B, which are the rows next to staging and the row containing the concession stand and parts trailer. If you still need a pit stall, get in touch with me ASAP to make arrangements.

By the way, we are also still searching for a track photographer for 2013. A few folks have expressed interest, but we have yet to find someone able to join us for the upcoming season. If you or someone you know is interested, please e-mail me at

With the points opener just over a month away, below are a few trends, statistics and other things to watch as the season approaches. Like my preview for Benton County Speedway, I'll break it down by division to make it easier for you to navigate to your favorite divisions.

Keep in mind, all information below includes opening night points races and does not include special/non-points events. They also include Independence stats only. When referring to first-time winners, it indicates first-time winners at Independence without regard to possible earlier wins at other tracks.

My records for the Late Model division date back to the start of the 1967 season, a couple of years after the track opened for stock car racing. The division has been IMCA sanctioned every year since 1987, expect one. For inquiring minds, the division was unsanctioned in 1997 when the spec engine was introduced. Promoter Jerry Blue opted to sit out a year to see how the new engine rule would affect the class. He signed back on in 1998 and the division has remained sanctioned since that time.

In the last 46 years, 21 different drivers have won opening night features. The all-time leader is Curt Martin, who has won an astounding 14 opening night features (1984, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2012). Ed Sanger is second on that list with four opening night wins (1971, 1974, 1978, 1981).

Glen Martin, Bill Barthelmes and Rick Wendling have each earned three opening night wins. Gary Crawford, Greg Hunter and Greg Kastli have earned two apiece.

One-time opening night winners include Red Droste, Chub Liebe, Dave Trower, Tom Fitzpatrick, Doc Mayner, Gary Henderson, Jeff Aikey, Red Dralle, Dean Wagner, Darren Ackerman, Rob Toland, Travis Smock and Tyler Bruening.

Twelve times a driver has won the opening night feature the year after winning the season championship feature the year before. Curt Martin has done it six times and Ed Sanger four times. Red Droste, Rick Wendling, Darren Ackerman and Tyler Bruening have each done it once. If you recall, last year's championship night was rained out and rescheduled after the points season ended for the Late Models, meaning there was no championship night winner last year. That means this list will remain unchanged in 2013.

In the last 46 years, only 11 times has the opening night Late Model feature winner gone on to win the track championship. Those 11 times consist of only four drivers. Curt Martin has won seven opening night features on his way to track title honors (1984, 1985, 1986, 1990, 1991, 1999, 2006), while Rick Wendling did it twice (1995, 1996). Red Droste (1968) and Ed Sanger (1971) are the other two.

The Modified division has competed every year since 1983 and has been IMCA sanctioned every season. This season will be the 31st consecutive with IMCA Modifieds in Independence, the longest-running sanctioned division at any track in the country.

In its 30 years, the IMCA Modifieds have produced an amazing 27 different opening night winners in Independence. Only Vern Jackson (2001, 2003, 2008) and Steve Droste (1995, 1996) have won multiple opening night features in track history. In chronological order, the other 25 are Jack Mitchell, Mike Krall, Tom Fitzpatrick, Greg Kastli, Todd Jensen, Craig Haupt, Kevin Pittman, John Irwin, Larry Schmidt, Deon Turner, Tim Donlinger, Duane Van Deest, Travis Heyer, Jerry Luloff, Garry Stuber, Troy Cordes, Jerry King, Scott Hogan, Joey Schaefer, Jason Snyder, J.D. Auringer, Max Corporon, Richie Gustin, Mike Burbridge and Mark Schulte. How's that for a who's who of Modified talent?

Dating back to 2003, there have been nine straight different opening night winners. Jackson (2003, 2008) was the most recent to repeat and is the only driver with more than one opening night win in the last 17 years.

Of the drivers listed above, only Droste, Hogan and Jackson won opening night features the year after winning on season championship night the year before. That's only 1 in 10 odds for last year's championship night winner, Darin Duffy. Surprisingly, Duffy, who is the all-time leading feature winner in Modified division history at Independence, has never won on opening night.

To get way off course and take that a step further, of the 16 different drivers who have won IMCA Modified track titles in Independence, five never won an opening night event in their careers. Joining Duffy on that list are Mark Noble, Owen Grube, Adam Johnson and Tom Bartholomew. Duffy and Johnson have the chance to remove their names from that list in 2013.

It's crazy to think, but Bartholomew, who was the track champion for four consecutive years from 1989-1992, never won an opening night feature in his career despite the fact that 17 of his 22 wins in Independence came during that four year span. During his four year run as track champ, Bartholomew won only one feature before the sixth week of any of those seasons. That win came during the second week of the 1990 season. His first win in 1989 came in week six, his first of 1991 came in week seven and his first of 1992 came in week 11. As dominant as Bartholomew was, he never led a season's standings from beginning to end.

Six drivers earned track titles the same season they won on opening night and Steve Droste (1995, 1996) is the only one to do it twice. Others include Jack Mitchell (1983), Greg Kastli (1986), Craig Haupt (1988), J.D. Auringer (2007) and Mark Schulte (2012).

If you're a Modified driver with lofty goals, only six times in track history has a Modified driver gone on to win the track title the same year as his first win in weekly points racing in the division. The first five drivers on that list include Jack Mitchell (1983, the first year anyone won a weekly Modified points race in Independence), Duane Van Deest (1985), Greg Kastli (1986), Mark Noble (1987) and Craig Haupt (1988).

After a 24 year break, the trend was broken when Mark Schulte earned the track title in 2012 after earning his first Modified win in weekly racing in Independence the same season. Schulte won an Indee Open Modified feature at the speedway on August 2, 2006, but his win on May 5, 2012, was his first weekly points win in track history. To take that a step further, Mitchell, Kastli, Haupt and Schulte are the only Modified drivers in track history to earn their first-ever wins on opening night and earn track championship honors the same season.

All-time, Modified drivers who earned their first Independence wins on opening night include Mitchell, Kastli, Haupt, Irwin, Donlinger, Heyer, Gustin, Burbridge and Schulte. Those odds say there is a 30% chance that this year's opening night Mod winner will be a first-time visitor to victory lane.

The Stock Cars have competed in Independence since 1993. They ran unsanctioned that first season, but have been IMCA sanctioned every year since 1994, marking 2013 as the 20th season for IMCA sanctioned Stock Cars in Independence.

In the previous 20 seasons, 12 different Stock Car drivers made it to victory lane on opening night. Leading the way is Dan Trimble, who earned five opening night wins (1994, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2006). Brian Irvine has won three times (2005, 2007, 2009), while Larry Portis (1995, 1996) and Tom Schmitt (2003, 2004) have each won twice. Other opening night Stock Car winners include Lon Gadow, Ken Irvine, Jarod Weepie, Fabian Seitz, Norman Chesmore, Justin Temeyer, Sean Johnson and Phil Holtz.

Only five times has a driver won on opening night after a season championship feature win the year before. Dan Trimble did it three times, while Larry Portis and Brian Irvine each did it once. Sean Johnson has the opportunity to add his name to that exclusive list this spring.

Compared to other divisions, the odds are fairly decent for the opening night Stock Car winner to go on and win the track title. Although only five drivers have done it, they did it a total of nine times in 20 years. Dan Trimble again tops the list as he won both the opening night feature and points title in 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2006, meaning every time he won on opening night he won the points. Lon Gadow (1993), Larry Portis (1995), Brian Irvine (2009) and Sean Johnson (2011) are the others to do it.

Only five times has a driver earned his first career Stock Car win during opening night action. They include Lon Gadow (1993), Dan Trimble (1994), Larry Portis (1995), Fabian Seitz (2002) and Brian Irvine (2005). Only three of those drivers (Gadow, Trimble and Portis) went on to record track titles the same season.

The Hobby Stocks have been competing in Independence since 1989. They were IMCA sanctioned for separate one-year stints in 1990 and again in 1994. The division has been sanctioned every year since 2002. In 2013, the speedway will crown its 25th Hobby Stock champion.

Much like the Modifieds, the Hobby Stocks have seen a variety of winners on opening night. In 24 seasons, 22 different drivers have taken the checkered flag on the first night of action and only Lon Gadow (1990, 1991) and Chris Wessner (1995, 1996) have done it twice. One-time season opener winners, in chronological order, include Ken Irvine, Forrest Frost, Rick Johnson, Kevin Hoehne, Jason Rohde, Danny Dvorak, Doug Otto, Jeff Roete, Patrick Stansbery, John Meyer, J.R. Kahler, Brian Irvine, Josh Steere, Rod Grother, Micheal Smith, Chris Luloff, Josh Irvine, August Bach, Scott Pippert and Nathan Ballard. Dating back to 1996, we have seen 17 straight different opening night winners in the division.

Of those opening night winners, nine went on to win track title honors the same season. They include Gadow (1990), Frost (1992), Hoehne (1994), Wessner (1995), Otto (1999), Roete (2000), Brian Irvine (2004), Luloff (2008) and Josh Irvine (2009).

Of the 22 opening night winners listed above, six enjoyed their first-ever trips to Independence victory lane on opening night. They were Ken Irvine (1989), Rohde (1997), Dvorak (1998), Otto (1999), Steere (2005) and Smith (2007). That leaves Doug Otto as the only Hobby Stock driver in track history to earn his first career win in Independence on opening night and go on to win the track title the same season.

Only four times has the previous year's season championship feature winner gone on to win the opening night event that next year. Chris Wessner did it twice, while Patrick Stansbery and Brian Irvine each did it once. Justin Stander has the opportunity to join that list in 2013.

The IMCA SportMods joined the weekly program in 2008. This season will be the division's sixth in Independence.

Despite its short history, the SportMods have produced four different opening night winners in five seasons. Josh Sherbon (2008, 2009) leads the way with two, while Austin Lucas, Tyler Droste and Austin Kaplan have earned one each. For Sherbon (2008) and Lucas (2010), those wins were also their first wins in Independence.

Only Tyler Droste (2011) has won the track title after making his way to victory lane on opening night. His opening night win in 2011 also marked the only time in division history that a driver's opening night win followed a season championship feature win the previous year. Danny Dvorak can become the second on that list this spring.

Steve Miedke was the track's first-ever feature winner last season. After winning on June 23 during a trial run for the division, Miedke won the first official track points race for the division on July 7. Merv Chandler was the track champion and Brad Chandler won on season championship night. In short, the division's history is far too short to have established any trends... yet. 

That will take care of the division-by-division breakdown for Independence, but there are also a few all-inclusive numbers worth a mention.

Since 1981, there have been 111 opening night feature events for the Late Model, Modified, Stock Car, Hobby Stock and SportMod divisions. Of the 111 winners of those events, 36 went on to win track titles that same year. That means there's a 32.4% chance that someone who stands in victory lane on opening night will also be giving a speech at the awards banquet this fall.

At the end of last season, I included the rainout trends for the upcoming season at Independence. All of that info was based on calendar date patterns through the years. While it probably felt like an eternity in waiting back then, we're now just one month away from the new season. Rather than looking back, here is what I wrote last September concerning what may be in store weather-wise for 2013.

Since 1967, there have been a total of 831 weekly events scheduled in Independence from the last Saturday in April through the final Saturday in August. Of those 831 race nights, 176 were canceled. The monthly breakdown is as follows:
April: 13 rainouts in 27 events for a 51.9% success rate
May: 67 rainouts in 204 events for a 67.2% success rate
June: 37 rainouts in 197 events for an 81.2% success rate
July: 28 rainouts in 204 events for an 86.3% success rate
August: 31 events in 199 events for an 84.4% success rate

April: 7.4% of all rainouts
May: 38.1% of all rainouts
June: 21.0% of all rainouts
July: 15.9% of all rainouts
August: 17.6% of all rainouts

When considering the season in separate halves, where May and June comprise the first half of the season and July and August are the second half (I omitted April and September since they account for so few of the overall events), there have been 104 rainouts in 401 events scheduled for the first half of the season, whereas there have only been 59 rainouts in 403 events scheduled for the second half of the season. That means, historically, 63.8% of all rainouts have come during the first half of the season, nearly twice as many as in the second half.

When you consider the date range mentioned above, three to seven races have been scheduled at the speedway on each calendar date over the past 46 years. The most rainouts for a single date in the last 46 years is four - only May 7, May 17, May 22 and June 2 hold that dubious distinction. While no date has rained out every year, there are 30 dates that have never rained out at all and six of them are on this year's schedule.

Below are the dates for scheduled weekly racing events in Independence in 2013. Listed with those dates are their rainout trends over the last 46 years:
April 27: 2 successful shows in 3 attempts (66.6% success rate)
May 4: 5 for 6 (83.3%)
May 11: 4 for 6 (66.6%)
May 18: 4 for 6 (66.6%)
May 25: 4 for 6 (66.6%)
June 1: 5 for 6 (83.3%)
June 8: 5 for 6 (83.3%)
June 15: 6 for 6 (100%)
June 22: 6 for 6 (100%)
June 29: 5 for 6 (83.3%)
July 6: 6 for 6 (100%)
July 13: 5 for 6 (83.3%)
July 20: 6 for 6 (100%)
July 27: 4 for 6 (66.6%)
August 3: 5 for 6 (83.3%)
August 10: 5 for 6 (83.3%)
August 17: 6 for 6 (100%)
August 24: 6 for 6 (100%)

Years when the above dates have fallen on the schedule, the track averages 2.3 rainouts for the season, meaning 2013 could be a dryer than average season. Afterall, the average number of weekly races completed per season over the last 46 years is 14.63 out of an average of 18.1 scheduled. That means the dates that fall on the schedule in 2013 result in one fewer rainout than an average season.

There are 130 dates included on the range from April 24 through August 31. Of those, 24 have a success rate of less than 66.6%. Remarkably, none of those dates fall on the weekly racing schedule for 2013. That should bode well for the upcoming season, shouldn't it? Can you tell I'm trying to convince myself that the lingering winter weather will step aside for an excellent racing season? I sure hope that's the case because six of those historically rainy dates are on the projected schedule for 2014.

That will take care of the statistical preview for Independence. With those numbers out of the way, it's time to go racing. I plan to be at Benton County Speedway in Vinton on Sunday for the season-opening Spring Shakedown. Weather permitting, I may also make the trip to 34 Raceway in Burlington for the first Sprint Invaders show of the season on Saturday. The season opener is also planned for Friday night at Lee County Speedway in Donnellson, so who knows? If Mother Nature is forgiving, it may be a full weekend for racing in eastern Iowa. To stay current on racing events in the Midwest this season, be sure to bookmark the Positively Racing events calendar.

Regardless where or when you're able to go, be sure to get out and support a track near you. I'll see you at the races!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Benton County Speedway / 2013 Preview / By the Numbers

Despite the fresh blanket of snow, the frigid winds and the weather-related announcements scrolling across the bottom of the TV, I figured now was as good a time as any to put together a preview of the 2013 racing season.

Since Benton County Speedway in Vinton opens a few weeks ahead of Independence Motor Speedway, the focus of this column will be on the approaching season on the Benton County quarter-mile.

Before I get to that, I will remind Independence drivers that I am accepting driver and pit stall registrations. Drivers had until March 15 to lock in their pit stalls from last season and I can tell you now that if you haven't reserved a front row stall (along the staging area), all of those stalls are gone. A handful remain in row two (concession and parts trailer row), although they, too, are going fast.

As always, the Benton County season will begin with the annual car show, which will once again be held in downtown Vinton. It is scheduled for Saturday, March 30, the day before the first event of the season on Sunday, March 31.

Last year's winners of the Spring Shakedown included Richie Gustin (Modified), Damon Murty (Stock Car), Danny Dvorak (SportMod), Scott Pippert (Hobby Stock) and Nathan Chandler (Sport Compact)

The following Sunday, April 7, the annual five day Frostbuster swing comes to a close in Vinton following events at Southern Iowa Speedway, Iowa State Fairgrounds Speedway, Marshalltown Speedway and Boone Speedway. All of those events will be IMCA sanctioned.

In the spirit of March Madness, here's a look at Frostbuster success stories at BCS if you want to keep an eye on the favorites entering 2013.

Dating back to 2010, three different IMCA Modified drivers have made their way to victory lane. Richie Gustin was victorious two years ago and J.D. Auringer won last season's installment. The 2011 Frostbuster Modified winner at BCS remains the only out-of-stater to win a Frostbuster feature in Vinton. That year, Dan Ratajczak of Frog Station, Wis., beat Troy Cordes to the checkers on his way to victory.

Scooter Dulin survived a wild feature to take the IMCA Stock Car win in 2010. Damon Murty was the winner in 2011 and Jason Deshaw earned his first feature win in the Dominator Chassis house car at last year's event.

Danny Dvorak put his IMCA SportMod in victory lane in 2010 and 2011 and Austin Kaplan was the winner last season. Justin Wacha (2010), Brad Chandler (2011) and eventual Super Nationals champion Jacob Ellithorpe (2012) have earned wins in the Sport Compact division.

The only sweep over the last three years was in the IMCA Hobby Stock division. Scott Pippert  dominated the division in recent years and picked up three Frostbuster wins in as many seasons. The word is that Pippert will be in an IMCA Stock Car this season so a new winner will be celebrating this season.

After two weeks of special events, the 2013 points season is scheduled to get underway on Sunday, April 14. Twenty-two Sunday night programs are on the schedule, along with a couple of other special events. Traditionally, some classes run for points during mid-week special events (such as the county fair races), but points racing for those nights has yet to be confirmed for 2013.

While special events are a nice way to kick off the season (which tentatively includes the return of the JR Motorsports Hawkeye Dirt tour for IMCA Modifieds on Tuesday, May 7), the bread and butter for any track that runs a weekly program IS the weekly program. With that, I'll delve into a statistical view of what you may (or may not) expect in 2013. Print off the rest of the this column and look informed to your friends on April 14...

This season will mark the 29th year Modifieds have been a part of the weekly program in Vinton. It will be the 21st season the division has been IMCA sanctioned and the 13th straight.

Perhaps the biggest news relating to the Modified division this year is that eight-time track champion Scott Hogan plans to take his focus off the weekly points battles. While he has said he'll race in Vinton throughout the season, he doesn't plan to race weekly. Instead, Hogan hopes to visit new tracks and take a few nights off here and there. That's well-deserved for Hogan, who has spent much of his career chasing track championships. If he wants to put the fun back in racing and step away from the weekly pressure of points racing, more power to him.

If Scott doesn't get spring fever or get swept up in the early season anticipation, it means the door will be wide open as the battle for a new champion begins. Not only has Hogan won eight Modified track titles in Vinton, he has won the last three. Not since Troy Cordes in 2009 has the Modified division in Vinton crowned someone other than Hogan. 

The list of other potential names to consider for 2013, depending on their desire to chase points, is led by Joe Docekal. Docekal, who led the points throughout most of 2012, fell just eight points short of his first Modified title last season. While he didn't make it to victory lane last year, Docekal's consistency kept him in contention all season. His seven wins since 2010 is also among the best in the division.

Jerry Luloff returned to the weekly battles in Vinton last season. The 2001 Modified champion, Luloff has been a consistent front-runner in Vinton throughout his career, dating back to his dominance in the Hobby Stock division in 1991. Along with that, Luloff is tied for seventh all-time in weekly Modified wins in Vinton. A track championship for Luloff in 2013 would be the longest span between titles (12 years) by any driver in track history.

Patrick Flannagan has also been a consistent Modified driver through the years in Vinton. Tied for 10th among all-time Modified feature winners in Vinton, Flannagan has earned at least one win in seven of the last 10 seasons. He has also had more consistent runs at the front of the pack in recent seasons.

Should Cordes opt to run the full season in Vinton, he, too, would be considered a favorite. After all, Cordes has piloted the #71 to four Modified titles in Vinton, second only to Hogan. Cordes has done more traveling in recent years and hasn't focused on track points, so time will tell what his intentions are for 2013. With Hogan cutting back this year, a commitment to weekly racing in Vinton may inch Cordes closer to Hogan's all-time leading 43 Modified wins. Cordes sits second on that list with 38.

If you're not interested in looking at the stats of the opening night Modified feature winners, skip ahead to the Stock Car preview. Otherwise, consider this: There have been 21 different opening night Modified feature winners in the division's 28 year history at the track. Only Timm Jensen (1992, 1997, 2003) and Scott Hogan (1996, 2009, 2011) have won three opening night features in the division. Jack Mitchell (1982, 1983), Arlo Becker (1994, 2001) and Troy Cordes (2004, 2005) are the only other drivers with multiple opening night Modified wins.

Only two drivers in track history have won on opening night after winning the season championship feature the year before. Hogan and Cordes are the only two to do that and they have each done it twice. Hogan won the 1995 finale and opened the weekly points season with a win in 1996. He did it again in 2010-2011. Cordes accomplished that feat from 2003-2004 and again from 2004-2005, making him the only driver to do it in consecutive years.

If you're wondering, Ronn Lauritzen was the season championship feature winner a year ago. He will have the opportunity to add his name to a very short list with a win on April 14.

Although all of the drivers listed above have won multiple features in Vinton, none of them earned their first Vinton Modified win on opening night. Despite that, a dozen drivers earned their first Vinton win on a season's opening points night. Among them, Rick Brinkema (who won the first-ever IMCA Modified feature on June 2, 1979), Bernie Juliar (1980), Kevin Pittman (1990), Larry Schmidt (1991), Jeff Mathes (1993), Dan Kohls (1999), Darin Duffy (2000), Joey Schaefer (2002), Richie Gustin (2010) and Shawn Ryan (2012). Keep in mind, those weren't necessarily first career wins in the division, but they were each driver's first career wins in weekly points racing in Vinton.

On the flip side, eight drivers have earned their last (most recent?) Modified win on the Vinton oval during an opening night event. Among those drivers, Rick Brinkema (1979; yep, the first-ever was his only-ever), Larry Druschel (1981), Jeff Mathes (1993), Dan Kohls (1999), Arlo Becker (2001; it's amazing that it's been 12 years since Arlo won in Vinton), Timm Jensen (2003) and Shawn Ryan (2012). Of course, a couple of those drivers are still active (Jensen and Ryan) and can remove their names from that list. Arlo? Want to give it a go?

If you really want to jump the gun, what are the odds that the season opening winner goes on to earn track title honors? In the Modified division in Vinton, it's more likely than you may assume. Of 28 Modified track champions in BCS history, seven of them (25%) won the first points race of the year. Those drivers include, Jack Mitchell (1982, 1983), Scott Hogan (1996, 2011), Kevin Pittman (1990), Troy Cordes (2005) and J.D. Auringer (2007).

Okay, that's enough of the Modified overload. Let's move on to the other classes, starting with the longest-running divisions and working through to the most recent additions to the racing program...

The Hobby Stocks have been a part of the weekly program at BCS since 1990. While this will be the 24th year for the division in Vinton, it will be its 13th under the IMCA banner.

As I mentioned earlier, there has also been big off-season news concerning a driver in this division. Scott Pippert, who has earned five track championships in the division at BCS, including the last four in-a-row, is said to be piloting an IMCA Stock Car this season. That would bring to an end one of the most dominant runs in any division in track history. In the last four years, there have been 84 weekly points races for the Hobby Stock division in Vinton. Pippert has won 37 of them. That winning percentage of 44% is the second highest in track history, over a minimum of four years. It is second only to (do you remember this?) Scott McLaughlin's domination of the Compact Modified division from 1995-1998. During that four-year stretch, McLaughlin also earned four track titles, winning 35 of 64 features (54.6%). Keep in mind, McLaughlin made it a habit of taking championship night off when he already had the points wrapped up. If not for his late-season family vacations, it's likely his winning percentage would have been even higher.

Anyway, back to the Hobby Stocks. Along with Pippert's apparent move out of the division, there are a number of other changes in the works. If you listen to the off-season rumors, at least (which I try desperately to avoid).

Here's a run-down of the rest of the top Hobby Stock drivers last season.

Matt Brown: A strong competitor for years in Vinton, Brown is the heir-apparent to Pippert's throne.
Brown had 12 top-five finishes, second only to Pippert, on his way to a second place finish in the standings. He is arguably the most consistent driver in the division and will undoubtedly be a contender if he decides to run weekly again in 2013.

Jacob Keiser: With 17 top-10s, Keiser tied with Brown for second-most in the division. Keiser has steadily become more consistent and picked up a pair of feature wins in the process last year. If committed to weekly racing, Keiser will challenge for the title.

Justin Wacha: Wacha has the least amount of seat time in a Hobby Stock among last year's top-10, but he may be poised to pose a threat this year. He has consistently made more runs at the front of the pack and picked up a handful of top-fives last season.

Justin Stander: Last year's track champion at Independence, Stander cut back on his Sunday race nights to focus on his title at Indee. During the off-season, Stander indicated he had no intention to run for points anywhere in 2013, but maybe that will change by the time the season begins. With a track title now under his belt, Stander could be a good candidate to rise to the top in Vinton.

Chris Luloff: When committed to racing Vinton weekly, Luloff has been one of the more successful Hobby Stock drivers in recent years. Even when making only occasional visits to BCS, he has been known to end the night in victory lane. His 17 wins in Vinton put him fourth all-time in the division. Since 2005, only Pippert has more Hobby Stock wins.

Brian Happel: After taking some time off, Brian Happel returned to form right away in 2012. Just a couple of weeks after his years-long hiatus, Happel made his way to victory lane. Despite his mid-season start, Happel collected eight top-fives. Again, if his plans are to pursue points, Happel will almost certainly be in the mix.

Vince Buchholz: Buchholz ran a limited schedule in 2013. He split time between Vinton and Dubuque and didn't run for points in Vinton. Although the six-time Hobby Stock track champion (most all-time) wasn't a regular, he remains competitive each night out. A return to Vinton could propel him to his seventh title at BCS. Buchholz is also the all-time leader in Hobby Stock wins. His 48 victories leads Scott Pippert by one in that category.

Cale Petersen: Petersen was another hit and miss driver in 2012. Although he was a weekly runner for the first half of the season, Petersen missed four weeks during the second half of the season. Petersen has steadily improved during his short career and a full-season on the track would likely lead to increased success. He earned eight top-fives last year in his shortened season.

Notable names missing from the above list are Doug Laughridge and Rod Grother. Laughridge is cutting back on his race nights this year and plans to visit the track in the role of a fan this season. He and his wife Julia welcomed baby Hayden last fall and Doug plans to focus his attention on being a dad. As for Grother, word was going around in the off-season that he sold out and was done racing. Of course, that was in the middle of winter, so you never know, he may have changed his mind and could plan a return in 2013.

And now, for the stats...

In 23 years, fifteen different drivers have visited victory lane on opening night in the Hobby Stock division. The all-time leaders, with three opening night wins apiece, are Vince Buchholz (1997, 1999, 2003) and Chris Luloff (2005, 2006, 2008). Others with multiple opening night wins include Forrest Frost (1991, 1992), David Rice (1993, 1995), Scooter Dulin (2000, 2001) and Scott Pippert (2011, 2012).

Only two drivers have won on opening night after winning on championship night the year before. They include Vince Buchholz (2002-2003) and Scott Pippert (2011-2012). Since Pippert won last season's championship feature, it doesn't appear this short list will get any longer.

The list of first-time Vinton Hobby Stock winners on opening night is a relatively short one. Only six drivers earned their first Hobby Stock wins in Vinton on opening night. Again, these are first Hobby Stock wins in weekly racing in Vinton, not necessarily first career wins. They are, Craig Coventry (1990, the track's first Hobby Stock feature winner), Forrest Frost (1991), Alvin Larsen (2002), Chris Luloff (2005), Todd Reitzler (2007) and Wes Stanek Jr. (2010).

Hobby Stock drivers whose final/most recent Vinton win came on opening night is also a short list. In fact, the three drivers who fall in that category are also listed above. They include the opening night wins of Larsen, Reitzler and Stanek.

And, since we did it for the Modifieds, we also might as well look ahead to see who went on to win a Hobby Stock track title the same year they won the opening night points feature. In 23 years, five different drivers have done that a total of seven times. The odds are even better for a Hobby Stock driver to do it than a Modified driver (30.4%). Opening night winners/track champions include, Vince Buchholz (1997, 2003), Scott Pippert (2011, 2012), Curtis Roster (1994), Scooter Dulin (2001) and Chris Luloff (2008).

The Stock Car division was added to the program in 2001 and has been IMCA sanctioned since its inception.

The highly competitive division has been the least predictable when it comes to track championship contenders. In fact, there have been four straight different titlists, including five in the last six years and seven different winners in the division's 12-year history.

Last year's champion, Phil Holtz, earned his first track title after a highly contested battle with Jay Schmidt and Norman Chesmore. Look for all of those drivers to contend again in 2013 if they choose to be a part of the weekly battles in Vinton. For veterans Schmidt and Chesmore, they are each seeking their first career track titles. Don't be surprised if one of them gets the job done this season.

If Jason Deshaw returns in the Dominator Chassis house car, look for him to pose a challenge. Deshaw recorded a pair of wins last year and nine top-five finishes.

John Emerson was a surprise contender last season. Emerson, who has had great success in go-kart racing, focused on the dirt tracks last year and that paid off in a good way.  Emerson raced to six top-fives in Vinton last year, picking up his first win on the Vinton oval in the process.

Curtis Roster and Damon Murty have also enjoyed their time out front in the Stock Car division. Murty ranks at the top in career Stock Car wins in Vinton (55) and track championships (3), while Roster is third on the wins list (27) and is tied for second in track titles (2). Both drivers enjoy time away from the track with their families which has kept them out of the title chase in recent years.

It will be interesting to see Scott Pippert's transition to the Stock Cars. Will his domination in the Hobby Stocks carry with him or will a learning curve force his Stock Car success to be delayed?

Statistically speaking, 12 opening night events have produced six different feature winners. The all-time leader, with six wins, is Damon Murty (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012). Cliff Gray is the only other driver on that list with multiple wins (2001, 2004).

Only one driver has won the opening night feature after winning the season championship feature the season before... and he has done it three times. Murty turned the hat trick from 2005-2006, 2009-2010 and 2011-2012. Only one time has he failed to win the opening night feature after winning championship night the year before. Paul Shepherd, stand up. Shepherd won the 2011 opener after Murty's 2010 championship night win. Oh, and for what it's worth, Murty won last year's season championship feature...

The list of first-time BCS Stock Car winners on opening night is a short and rather unique one. Cliff Gray earned his first BCS Stock Car win on opening night in 2001, the first weekly Stock Car feature in track history. The only other person on that list? Pulaski, Wisconsin's Rod Snellenberger, who was passing through and picked up the opening night win in 2009, his only career Stock Car win in Vinton.

Aside from Snellenberger's 2009 opening night win, two other names are on the list of Stock Car drivers whose final/most recent wins came on opening night. In a bit of irony, Gray's final Vinton win was the victory he earned on opening night of the 2004 season. I had to look up the other name on that list again, just to be certain, because it doesn't seem like it's been that long since this driver won a points race in Vinton. Sean Johnson's last points race win in Vinton came on opening night of the 2008 season.

Only two drivers have earned opening night Stock Car wins and eventually went on to earn a track title the same year. Damon Murty has done it twice (2005 and 2006) and Curtis Roster did it in 2002. The odds are the same as the Modifieds... three times in 12 seasons = 25%.

The IMCA SportMod division was added to the weekly program at the beginning of the 2005 season, making 2013 its ninth year in action at BCS.

In its first eight years, the division has seen only three different track champions. Danny Dvorak won the first two and most recent two track titles, Tony Olson won the championship in 2007 and Austin Kaplan won three titles in as many years from 2008-2010.

Dvorak had eight wins in weekly racing in 2012, bringing his all-time total to a division-best 46 at BCS. That likely makes Dvorak the odds-on favorite to add another championship to his name in 2013, however a number of veterans hope to challenge Dvorak for the title.

Kyle Olson finished 2012 in the runner-up position in the final standings. He has as much experience as anyone in the division and is likely to be one of the biggest threats to Dvorak's chance at three straight titles. Their intense rivalry in recent years has added even more to that battle.

Dave Schulze and Jim Buhlman have been consistent front-runners. Schulze earned 16 and Buhlman picked up 15 top-10 finishes in 2012 as both are a threat to win on any given night. Bad luck generally thwarts their chances at competing for a title so they're both due for a break.

Curt Hilmer made the biggest strides in 2012. Despite having just a couple years of experience in the division, Hilmer was one of only three drivers to earn multiple wins in the division last year. His three wins (all in a 14-day span) were second only to Dvorak.

Although they've only been a part of the program in Vinton for eight seasons, the SportMods have produced six different opening night winners. The only driver to win multiple features on the opening points night is Austin Kaplan (2008, 2009, 2010). Frankie Dulin, Bob Ebaugh, Jim Buhlman, Kyle Olson and Danny Dvorak are the other opening night winners.

The wins by Dulin (2005), Buhlman (2007) and Kaplan (2008) comprise the list of drivers who have earned their first Vinton SportMod win during opening night. Ebaugh's opening night win in 2006 was his last in the division, the only driver whose final win in the division came on opening night.

Kaplan and Dvorak have gone on to win track championships the same year they won an opening night feature. Kaplan did it three times, every year he won the opener (2008, 2009, 2010) and Dvorak did it in 2012.

The IMCA Sport Compacts made their BCS debut in 2006 and will be entering their eighth season as a weekly division in 2013.

Despite his 11 wins in 2012, Nathan Chandler came up nine points short to his father, Merv, in the final standings. It was Merv Chandler's second straight title in the division. Only Gary Peiffer (2008, 2009, 2010) has won more championships.

Merv, Nathan and Steve Miedke made it a three-horse race for the title last season. The top three were rarely separated by more than a handful of points. If their schedules include weekly trips to Vinton, expect more of the same in 2013.

In seven seasons, six different drivers have won on opening night. Nathan Chandler (2009, 2012) has won twice while Will Kirk (the division's first-ever feature winner), Dallas Chandler, Doug Laughridge, Zach Holerud and Gary Peiffer have each collected the first checkers of a season.

The opening night wins for Kirk (2006), Holerud (2008) and Dallas Chandler (2010) were the first of their careers in Vinton. Those wins also marked the final/most recent wins of their careers on the BCS oval.

No driver has won the first weekly points feature of the season after winning on championship night the season before. Gary Peiffer, last year's season championship feature winner, has the opportunity to become the first name on that list this season.

Also, no opening night feature winner has ever gone on to win the track championship the same season.

That will take care of the preview for Benton County Speedway. Like last year, I plan to recap every event right here at Positively Racing. I will also update season and career statistics, along with statistical trends, following each race night. Prior to the start of the season, be sure to check out the special events calendar on the site. Jeff Broeg has done a tremendous job collecting special events schedules during the off-season and web mistress Sue McDaniel has been at the ready to keep it updated on the site.

My next column will include the preview for Independence Motor Speedway. Since the weekly wars don't open there until the end of April, don't look for that for another week or two.

Although the points racing doesn't begin in Indee until April 27, the season opening event will include the Brockway Mechanical & Roofing Sprint Invaders on FRIDAY, April 19. It is the first time since the 1990s that Sprint Cars will invade the 3/8-mile oval. The annual car show and test and tune is scheduled for the following day. After I finalize car show details with the city next week, I will post and send out a press release detailing the opening weekend at Independence.

Have a great week!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hawkeyes show promise; fans blinded by blame

While I wasn’t anywhere near race-ready mode the past couple of months, the last few days have helped me gear up for the 2013 racing season. The weather has been improving and the calendar has us in the second half of March. In just a couple short weeks, we should be making our way back to the dirt track ovals in eastern Iowa.

With the new season on the horizon, I’ve noticed a number of fellow race fans already in mid-season form. Unfortunately, most of those observations have come in the form of negative facebook and twitter posts concerning college basketball’s March Madness.

Huh? What do those have in common, you ask?

Truthfully, there’s plenty.

As I’ve mentioned previously, social media definitely has its advantages in our “information now” society. At the same time, it allows many to shine by playing the role of the victim every time they log on. Most notably, Iowa Hawkeye basketball fans.

Don’t get me wrong, I was born and raised an Iowa fan - one of those Iowa fans who doesn’t hold the hatred for Iowa State. I’m an Iowa fan through and through, but only cheer against the Cyclones when the two schools meet.

Actually, there are quite a few ISU “victims” on social media, as well, but Hawkeyes fans tend to outdo themselves in an embarrassing manner.

Rather than commend Fran McCaffery’s rebuilding job in Iowa City, Hawkeye fans have been a gruesome lot at times. When the Hawks come up on the short end of the stick, the progress the program has made is an afterthought to the Iowa "faithful" and the focus has shifted to “not being able to close” or, my personal favorite, “getting jobbed by the refs.”

Being able to close is a painful part of the rebuilding process. Remember, just a few short years ago Iowa fans were playing desperately just to stay out of the cellar of the B1G. They weren’t even in the position to approach the lead in a ballgame, let alone hold a lead at the end of one. McCaffery is taking them in the right direction.

It’s the other complaint that leads me to shake my head. Getting jobbed by the refs… being forced to play six, seven or eight on five… the calls not going both ways… and on and on and on. Those arguments, at best, are weak.

We live in an imperfect world where we not only strive for, but are somehow wired to expect, perfection. Yes, there are bad calls in every basketball game. It’s likely there is at least a bad call or two in every officiated sporting event. The bottom line is officials mess up. It’s human nature, but it works both ways.

Players make mistakes.

Coaches make mistakes.

Somewhere along the way, our favorite teams became immune to imperfections that could cost them a game. As fans, we expect the best out of our team every night out and anything short of a win is imperfection. We don’t accept our own imperfections. Imperfection doesn’t lie in us or our favorites, it lies in others. It lies in the opposition or those who control the whistle.

Officiating, whether it’s in basketball, football, auto racing or any other sport, involves judgment calls. They all include the human element. We tend to forget that coaching and playing involve that same human element. Sometimes things go our way and sometimes they don’t. Of course, at some point in time that's become lost on our society because when something goes wrong, there always has to be someone else to blame. That’s just plain scary.

Yes, Iowa lost, but played well Friday night against Michigan State in the quarterfinals of the B1G men’s basketball tournament. They played well for most of the game, only to let it slip away at the end, as they have done a few times this season. So many close calls in so many big games somehow led an abundance of fans to cite poor officiating as the culprit.

While I agree that there were a few bad calls in Friday night’s game, I’m sure we could also point out a few miscues on the part of the team and coaching staff. But that doesn’t mean anyone is to blame. It’s a process and everyone involved will learn and grow from it. That doesn't make it someone's fault. To place the blame on the officials lacks sportsmanship and common sense. If the blame game was a well, Iowa fans would run it dry.

Iowa put themselves in position to advance to the semifinals, but the officials did not take that opportunity away from them. To the fans who cried that the officials cost them the game, I ask them if there were any other times in the game, officiating aside, when Iowa could have produced three more points (the difference in the final score)?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not coming down on the team. I think they have had a terrific season that is likely not over. I anticipate a high seed in the NIT, which may actually work better for the Hawkeyes. Playing in the NIT may offer them more opportunity to advance, grow, learn and continue building toward a stronger future.

I feel bad for Eric May. Not because the team “got jobbed” by the refs in his final B1G game, but because his career as a Hawkeye will be coming to an end just before the program turns the corner.

I admit I often cringed during the season watching Adam Woodbury lumber down the lane with little control and maturity. I can tell you, though, I enjoyed watching him get better as the season progressed, making numerous plays in the final games of the regular season and B1G tournament.

Watching Mike Gessel lead the Hawks up the court has been a great sign for the program. He didn’t play like a freshman at all this year and will quickly become one of the best point guards in the conference, if not the region.

Marble, Basabe and the other veterans continue to learn and grow. The underclassmen have had increased playing time. They will all work toward reaping the rewards of the rebuilding process.

There are plenty of positives to take away from Iowa’s season. Ignoring them by emphasizing what you may consider poor officiating detracts from their accomplishments which, in turn, is an insult to the program. The fans need to accept the process for what it is and use their own energy to support the team along the way rather than blame others for any struggles.

Whether you’re an Iowa fan, an Iowa State fan or a race fan, it all comes down to cheering on your favorites during the good times and supporting them during the not-so-good times. You can sit and blame someone else for your misfortune all day long, but that doesn’t support your passion for the sport or the love of your team.

The future is bright in Iowa City and springtime at the race track is right around the corner. Don’t hang your heads too long or you may just miss it.

I’ll be back in a week or two with previews of the 2013 season at Independence Motor Speedway and Benton County Speedway. I’ll get an early jump on number crunching by sharing some stats for both tracks with season openers only a few weeks away.

Enjoy March Madness and I’ll see you at the races.