- Two weeks ago, it did not look like two-time defending WISSOTA AMSOIL Dirt Track Series Midwest Modified track champion Bruce Belland was going to be in contention for the midseason championship at Three Lakes TNT Speedway.
But the Eagle River driver erased a 10-point deficit with his second feature win in as many weeks to claim the midseason crown by one point.
Belland’s win highlighted Saturday’s action, sponsored by Miller Beer of the Northwoods. Sugar Camp’s Ben Pitlik held off midseason champ Jordan Krutti in the WADTS Street Stocks. Mike Bukovic of Hiles won his second consecutive TNT Pure Stock feature. Gleason’s Kasey Gross notched his fourth win of the season in the TNT Stingers and Rhinelander’s Jeff McDonald did something no one else has done this season, beat Sean Thayer for a TNT Truck feature victory.
Tomahawk’s C.J. Hedges Jr. had a comfortable six-point lead over Jeff Klopstein Jr. and a seven-point advantage over Belland entering the night, but a flat tire and a seventh place finish for Hedges in his heat race trimmed the gap to two points over both of his rivals entering the feature.
Belland survived a big pileup on lap four, one of six yellows that flew during the course of a feature that was cut to 12 of a scheduled 25 laps after the 25-minute time limit elapsed.
Following a restart, Stand Rychlock stuck his No. 19R between Belland and Dan Melton in turn three. There was not enough room for them to make it out of turn four. Rychlock and Melton touched, triggering a multi-car accident. Belland got tagged by Rychlock’s car but sustained minimal damage and was able to continue. The cars of Rychlock, Melton and Jason Zdroik became intertwined during the wreck, causing a five-minute delay as track officials worked to separate the vehicles. All three were able to continue.
Belland showed no ill-effects from the contact, passing Cory Dickman for the lead on the following restart. Klopstein moved to second and by the time the caution flew on lap seven for Larry Gasperini’s stalled automobile, Hedges had moved from 14th starting spot up to third. Hedges needed to finish second to clinch a share of the midseason title, while Belland or Rychlock could clinch a piece of the midseason crown with a victory.
The battle never picked up a lot of momentum, cautions on laps nine and 11 slowed the field again and prompted a green-white-checkered finish.
Belland tried to distance himself from Klopstein on the final two-lap dash, but could not. Klopstein put a wheel alongside Belland on the final lap, but Belland held on to claim the win and the midseason championship by one point over Hedges, who finished third and by two over Klopstein. Zdroik rebounded to finish fourth in his tuneup for next week’s Midwest Modified special. Dennis Mikkelson finished fifth.
The midseason points battle in the TNT Stingers also came down to the wire. Merrill’s Zach Degner and Gleason’s Brandon Langbecker entered the feature tied for the points lead. Degner started third and Langbecker started sixth, but a poor start for Degner and a strong start for Langbecker gave Langbecker the advantage on the race track.
Rhinelander’s Richard Barlowski led the first seven laps of the race, but Gross moved past on lap eight and led the rest of the way in the caution-free main event. Barlowski finished second and Langbecker finished third to secure the midseason title by three points over Degner, who finished sixth. Louis Malluege and Eric LaFreniere rounded out the top five.
Kurtti had the midseason title in the Street Stocks all but wrapped up, but he had not visited victory lane at TNT since June 9. He appeared to be well on his way to changing that, opening up a big lead until lap 11 when the caution flew, bunching the field. That allowed Pitlik to restart right behind Kurtti. After stalking for a few laps, Pitlik pulled his No. 190 to the inside on lap 15 and took the lead on lap 17 following a spirited side-by-side battle. The caution slowed the field again with five laps to go.
Kurtti made a run at Pitlik on the restart, but before he could make a pass, the yellow flag flew again for an incident involving Jeff Mullins, setting up a three-lap shootout. Jeff Walters joined the battle for the win on the final restart, mixing it up with Pitlik and Kurtti, but he slid up the track in turn one on the final lap, leaving Pitlik and Kurtti to battle for the win. With Pitlik protecting the inside, Kurtti’s only choice was to take the high line through turns three and four. Kurtti got a fender alongside Pitlik but ran out of time as Pitlik grabbed the win. Kurtti, Walters, Jake Terry and Ron Van Dusen were the rest of the top five.
Thayer had been a perfect 7-for-7 in truck features at TNT this season, but McDonald, a longtime modified driver, showed in the heat race his truck was up to the task as he held off Thayer for the win. The 15-lap main event proved to be an instant replay of the heat. McDonald took the lead. Thayer quickly moved to second but was stuck three truck lengths behind McDonald’s No. 4. McDonald got the checkered flag, but Thayer got a nice consolation prize, the midseason championship trophy. Erik Kessen, Larry Roper Jr. and Forrest Crandall rounded out the field.
Bukovic took the lead on the second of 20 laps in the Pure Stock feature and cruised to his second win in a row in the class. Rhinelander’s Brit Bromann easily wrapped up the midseason title with a runner-up showing. John Johnson Sr., Dan Schultz and Jesse Dettman rounded out the top five.
This Saturday’s racing program will be highlighted by a special for the WATDS Midwest Modifieds. The 25-lap main event will pay at least $400 to the winner, with increased pay to the top five finishers. All five classes will be in action with hot laps at 6:30 p.m. and racing at 7:15.
|Story By: TNT Speedway Public Relations