TUNDRA TITLE CHASE WILL BE WIDE OPEN IN 2018
PORTAGE, Wis. (May 11, 2018) – The eighth year of the TUNDRA Super Late Model Series Powered by Wisconsin Potatoes begins tomorrow with Kroll’s West Round One at Wisconsin International Raceway. The lid-lifting event of 2018 should tell a lot about a season where the title will be up for grabs.
Earlier this week Dalton Zehr Racing informed TUNDRA officials they will not be present at the opening race. The three-time Champion will leave the throne open for many hungry contenders who are more than capable of ascending to the top.
In the search for a top contender, fans need not look much farther than the driver who claimed TUNDRA gold two seasons ago in Casey Johnson. After a year as a Crew Chief for John Beale, Johnson returns to action as a full-time competitor. Unlike his first season, Johnson now has a good amount of familiarity and some feature wins at the tracks TUNDRA will visit this season. He may not have had the chance to defend last season, but – one-year removed – Johnson is prepared to chase his second series title.
Johnson’s biggest contender could sit one pit stall away. Last year’s Rookie of the Year John Beale had a historic TUNDRA season in 2017. He finished Third in points setting a fast time and securing a trio of Top Five finishes. Unlike last season Beale will now have experience at each track the series visits this season. He proved last season he was a fast learner and can now prove that his career will continue an upswing.
Much like Johnson and Beale, teammates could be the name of the game in 2018. The Brooks and Thiel Motorsports camp had a breakout campaign last summer with both drivers picking up TUNDRA wins. Brooks struck first at Jefferson in Round Three. Thiel scored his first TUNDRA victory in the finale at Dells Raceway Park. Both drivers return with fast machines and plenty of momentum from last season. They will want to find a tad more consistency and luck at the beginning of the year, however. A late-season surge catapulted them both up the points, but good finishes in early races may have made them title contenders.
In the mix as well will be another driver who scored his first win last season – Mike Lichtfeld. The fifth-year TUNDRA racer looked well on his way to two wins in a row to round out the season before a broken shock mount ended a dominating performance at Dells Raceway Park. Much like Brooks and Thiel, Lichtfeld will be looking to jump over a couple early-season hurdles. He hopes to record Top Tens at Wisconsin International Raceway and Marshfield on the way to a mid- and late-season run.
There may be a sibling rivalry brewing as Mike’s brother Steve rejoins TUNDRA on a full-time basis this season. Steve Lichtfeld showed some strength in events last year despite a wild ride at Golden Sands on Labor Day. He’ll be looking to replicate and build on some past successes there and at other familiar tracks such as Dells and State Park Speedway.
Second-year TUNDRA Traveler Colin Reffner may still be seeking his first series win, but a bigger picture looms for him as a title contender, as well. Reffner got off to a hot start last year with top six finishes in the first three races. He cooled off a bit at his two home tracks – Wausau and Golden Sands – before finding a groove again at Dells Raceway Park. The addition of Marshfield this season has Reffner trembling in anticipation. He’s turned many laps at the facility and should be a top contender for the win in the Bev Aschenbrenner Memorial during Round Two.
A host of other second-year drivers will be looking to make noise, as well. Jordan DeVoy spent a lot of last season changing his car back and forth from Super Late Model to a Late Model. This season his ride is dedicated to being a Super Late Model as he put together a fresh Late Model in the offseason. DeVoy nearly picked up an upset win at Jefferson last year and feels Wisconsin’s Action Track in Round Three could be his for the taking.
Grant Griesbach enjoyed a solid TUNDRA rookie campaign as well. Griesbach is seeking a teammate for some TUNDRA events, the 16 year old will be ready to roll at WIR, Jefferson and Dells Raceway Park. Griesbach was just shy of the podium with a Fourth Place finish at Jefferson last season.
Although he will sub in Bobby Kendall for the first race, Justin Mondeik also expects big strides in the 2018 season. Once again part of the Kulwicki Driver Development Program, Mondeik has his sights set on being a title contender. He’ll have yet another ambitious schedule, but it is clear all of the seat time has been paying off as Mondeik grabbed a Third Place finish in the Golden Sands Thaw race.
A trio other teams could pose some major threats to the top of the points as well. Steve Apel and Corey Jankowski will once again team up for action. Apel won the opener at WIR last season. Unfortunately, Jankowski was not racing at 100% health as he was wheeling with a broken wrist. This season, however, Jankowski is back to 100% and is seeking his first TUNDRA win since the finale of the 2011 season.
What could be an intriguing pair is the duo of Brent Strelka and Mark Mackesy. Strelka will lead off at his home track and the second race at Marshfield. He has plenty of experience and success at both. He’ll hope Mackesy can duplicate his success of two season ago when he pulled off back-to-back wins at State Park Speedway and Golden Sands.
Original TUNDRA racers Mike Egan and Frank Nitzke will make a formidable duo, as well. The pair were connected through a Facebook post and decided to give the season a shot. Egan will lead off at Kaukauna and pick up State Park Speedway in Round Three and Dells Raceway Park in Round Six. Nitzke gets his home tracks of Marshfield, Golden Sands in Round Five, and ventures outside his home area for Jefferson in Round Four.
A host of rookies could also make the title race interesting. One who already has some TUNDRA success is Collin Slife. Slife set fast time at Golden Sands last year and led laps in the finale at Dells Raceway Park. With Crew Chief Andrew Morrissey at the helm, Slife expects to show some might this season.
He’ll be contended in the rookie battle by Chad Butz, Gabe Sommers, Sydney Wonderling, and Jake Zellmer. Of the rookie Butz has the most Super Late Model experience with two years of Norway Speedway and one year of WIR experience under his belt. Wonderling would be next with a full year of Grundy County Speedway experience to boot. However, Sommers and Zellmer have shown to be quick learners with early success at the Dells Raceway Park Icebreaker this year.
Sportsman Tour – Who Will Challenge Trute?
It hasn’t been easy for Dave Trute the last two seasons with Greg Back and Jason Stark trying to chase him down at the top of the TUNDRA Sportsman Tour standings. This season Stark will try to surpass his de facto teammate, and he won’t be the only one.
Trute is the heavy favorite, but his plans are uncertain at this time. If he is to pursue a third straight Sportsman Tour title, Trute would have a strong path and plenty of experience at the five stops of the Tour.
Stark has already proven to be quick this season, crossing the line first at Dells Raceway Park and at the Golden Sands Thaw. He nearly held off Trute last year in one of the twin 20s at WIR and will be looking to keep a hot start alive in Round One and all the way through the summer.
Two other challengers with track Championships at WIR will be hounding the top drivers of the Sportsman as well. Dylan Wenzel has been the class of the field over the past half-decade in the Street Stocks at WIR. However, he is ready to mix things up with drivers from across the state and prove how strong his program is.
Andy Casavant is a former co-Champion at WIR and has proved to be fast at tracks all across the state. He joined the tour in limited action last year but plans to be much more visible this season.
Another contender could be 2017 Fourth Place finisher John Zuch. Zuch has become very familiar with all of the stops on the tour and kept pace with the hot shoes of the division last season.
Late Model Triple Crown Contenders
The Late Model Triple Crown will join TUNDRA at two stops this season – Round One at WIR and Round Three at State Park Speedway. The third will be part of the Marshfield Speedway Fall Shootout in September.
With a field that looks to be mostly composed of WIR regulars, it will be anyone’s guess who comes out on top.
Due to how competitive the class was last season it took months to get a repeat winner in Thursday night action at WIR. Three drivers had a chance at the title going into the final night. Eventual Champion Travis Rodewald inched past Jesse Bernhagen in the final standings with Bryan Monday not too far behind. All three have stated their intentions to run the entire Triple Crown.
They won’t be the only ones with Championship pedigree. Former TUNDRA Rookie of the Year Braison Bennett and Mike Meyerhofer are WIR Late Model Champions and plan to make their presence known, as well. Nate Van Wychen, Kyle Bauknecht, and Joey Pontbriand are drivers who also know how to find Victory Lane. Young Will Timmers will be competing in the Late Model for the first time, and looks to gain experience at all three tracks.