THREE LAKES - Just about anything that could happen on a race night happened at Three Lakes TNT Speedway Saturday, June 23.
In one wild night of racing, fans saw a feature winner cross the line sideways, two defending track champions have major problems that knocked them out of features, a one-car rollover, two cars catch fire, crashes galore, tempers flaring among crew members and rain.
There was no dust to settle following a one hour, 42 minute rain delay, but once things finally sorted themselves out Duane Dunbar of Marenisco, Mich. won the feature in the WISSOTA AMSOIL Dirt Track Series Midwest Modifieds, Tomahawk's Derek Eberl won the WADTS Street Stock feature, John Johnson Sr. of Lac du Flambeau won his second consecutive TNT Pure Stock feature, Gleason's Brandon Langbecker took first in the TNT Stinger feature and Birnamwood's Sean Thayer continued his dominance in the TNT Trucks.
The finish in the WADTS Midwest Modified was the wildest of the night. Dunbar pushed up the track in turns three and four on the final lap, allowing Tomahawk's C.J. Hedges, Jr. to charge to the inside. The two came off turn four side-by-side, leaning against one another. Hedges hooked Dunbar down the front stretch, sending Dunbar's car skidding backward across the finish line, but still in the No. 1 position.
The finish summed up a crazy race that more closely resembled a Pure Stock main event. Six cautions flew over the duration of the 25-lap scheduled distance, which was cut to 23 laps after the 25-minute time limit elapsed.
Of the 14 cars that started the Midwest Modified feature, only six made it to the finish, leading to several minor altercations in the pits. The disputes were quickly resolved and required no further disciplinary action from track officials.
One of the big losers on the night was defending track champ Bruce Belland, who fell out of the race following an incident on lap two. The 14th place finish dropped him from second to fourth in the points, and from one point to 10 points behind Hedges.
Hedges opened up a six-point lead in the standings with the runner-up showing. Three Lakes' Stan Rychlock moved into a tie for second in the standings with a third place finish.
Eagle River's Terry Stebbeds and Hurley's John Kallas rounded out the top five.
Jordan Kurtti was the other defending track champion to have problems. His nine-race winning streak at TNT was snapped when Eagle River's Jason Jensen won the feature in the WADTS Street Stocks June 9. Now Kurtti is on a three-race losing streak. After a runner-up finish in Saturday's heat, Kurtti pitted with a flat tire during after a lap one caution. He worked his way back to third place by lap 10, before suddenly pulling off the track with mechanical problems. Meanwhile, Jensen had the lead and his sights set on slicing into Kurtti's 17-point advantage. Jensen changed his number from 01 to 711 for the race, but rolled snake eyes as a mechanical failure knocked him from the lead and out of the race on lap 18.
Eberl inherited the lead thanks to Jensen's misfortune and cruised the final seven laps to victory. Argonne's Jeff Mullins scored a career-best second place finish in the feature, backing up a heat race victory. Sugar Camp's Ben Pitlik, Laona's Jake Terry and Eagle River's Ron Van Dusen rounded out the top five.
By the night's standards, the TNT Stingers were staging a pretty mundane race, until two laps to go. Merrill's Zach Degner lost his right rear wheel while cornering turn four, causing the suspension to dig into the race track. That served as a catapult for his No. 77 automobile. The car flipped one and a half times before coming to rest on its roof. Degner climbed out of the car unharmed. Meanwhile, under the red flag to check on Degner, a fire broke out in Richard Barlowski's No. 31 car on the other end of the track. The fire appeared to begin underneath the hood on the right side of the automobile. Barlowski quickly exited the race car, unharmed, and track official extinguished the blaze. It was the second fire of the evening. Tomahawk's Travis Friske had a fire under his No. 97 Midwest Modified after a wreck in the middle stages of that class's feature.
Only three cars remained in the Stingers once racing resumed. Langbecker held off Tomahawk's Rory Radtke on a green-white-checkered finish, padding his point led over Degner and Eric LaFreinere, who was black flagged while leading early in the race after his window net came unfastened. Gleason's Charlie Gross finished third.
The TNT Pure Stocks flirted with their 20-minute time limit Saturday but were able to complete the scheduled 20-lap distance. Johnson Sr. held of a late charge from Rhinelander's Dan Schultz. Schultz moved to Johnson's inside in turns one an two on the final lap, but Johnson came down the track to block, forcing Schultz to get out of the throttle. Jesse Dettman, Rick England and Ron Resse rounded out the top five. Johnson vaulted into a tie for the point lead in the class with Rhinelander's Brit Bromann, who finished ninth after losing three laps in the pits while replacing a flat tire.
It looked like Thayer was going to have a difficult time scoring his sixth feature victory in the trucks. Birnamwood's Forrest Crandall opened a full straightaway advantage as Thayer tried to work his way from fifth starting spot. Crandall's lead, and his chance to win, quickly disappeared on lap four when his right front tire exploded entering turn one. As the field worked by Crandall's crippled truck, Thayer passed Ed Androschko for the lead and cruised to yet another feature victory.
Saturday's heat races turned up some surprize winners. Larry Gasperini from Iron River, Mich. took the second heat in the WADTS Midwest Modifieds, his first career heat victory. Mullins and Van Dusen scored WATDS Street Stock heat wins. TNT Pure Stock rookie Austin Henricks from Rhinelander won the second heat in the Pure Stocks.
Plenty of hearty race fans stuck around Saturday, despite Mother Nature's best effort to spoil their evenings. On and off light rain fell most of the afternoon, but the track was in good shape until shortly after 6:30 p.m., when a half-hour rain shower soaked the track. The rain subsided shortly after 7 p.m. and thanks to the work of track officials and the entire field of 53 cars and trucks, the track was ready for hot laps shortly after 8:30. The first race started just before 9 p.m.
Racing continues Saturday, June 30 at Three Lakes TNT Speedway. The night will feature a special for the TNT Pure Stock class, with increased pay for the top five finishers. All five classes will be on hand for the show, which begins at 6:30 p.m. with hot laps. Racing will begin at 7:15 p.m.
Jeremy Mayo is the track announcer at TNT Speedway. He may be reached at
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