September 5, 2003; Plover, WI - There was plenty to celebrate at the conclusion of the season's final event in the Wisconsin Challenge Series. A solid late season showing of fans filled the stands of an amazing 100 lap feature contest, which saw the final 97 laps of the event run without a single caution period, with all 22 starters still racing for position on the track as the checkered flag fell.
In victory lane was Golden Sands Speedway regular Jeff Weinfurter of Wisconsin Rapids, who turned in one of the most dominating runs in WCS history. Weinfurter managed to lap all but the top five finishers, putting many of the top ten runners down a lap over the final quarter of the race. His nearest rival, veteran racer Steve Holzhausen, finished nearly a quarter-lap behind.
The victory gave Weinfurter his third career WCS victory, tying him with newly crowned 2003 point champion Erik Darnell, for the most victories in WCS history. Weinfurter, has collected all three wins at his HOME track, where he lives just minutes from the high-banked third mile oval. The win also extends Weinfurter's string of wins in WCS competition at Golden Sands Speedway to three straight victories.
Darnell, entered the evening fresh off a win in the previous WCS race at Lake Geneva Raceway. The victory in that race sealed the 2003 series title heading into the season finale. While Darnell was able to celebrate and enjoy the title, he was unable to run among the leaders on the evening.
He managed a win in one of the qualifying races to make the main event, but was only able to climb as high as 13th at the checkered flag. Still, his accumulation of 1,017 points on the year was more than enough to seal the title over his nearest rivals.
While Weinfurter was dominating the race, some hotly contested point battles were taking place. Jeff Kendall of Montello and Chris Weinkauf of Merrill, were separated by a mere five points heading into the contest this evening. In WCS competition a drivers best eight performances on the season are tabulated to determine the standings, and both drivers needed to better their worst performances in order to earn points and continue their battle.
Kendall, would set fast time over a field of 38 cars, setting himself up to defend his runner-up point spot, but Weinkauf would have a solid early showing in the main event. Even leading the race. He would eventually finish fifth, going a lap down in the closing laps of the race.
Kendall meanwhile was unable to move forward much from his 11th place starting spot. However, he drove a solid race and finished ninth at the checkered.
When the results were tallied both drivers gained an additional 40 points, but as the result was a tie in additional accumulated points Kendall would end the season five points ahead of Weinkauf for the runner-up in the final standings. The end result was Kendall with 921 markers to Weinkauf's 916. Interestingly enough, the week prior, both drivers competed in the Season Championship event at Golden Sands, and there too, they would tie on the overall points for the night becoming co-champions of that race.
A field of 22 starters would take the green flag which was delayed slightly when Frank Kreyer suffered a flat tire during warm up laps. He was able to return and take the opening green flag. When action began polesitter Rory Melbinger, the 2002 Marshfield Super Speedway champion, and Jesse Haase making his first appearance of the season in a newly built race car squared off for the initial lead. Haase would get the initial jump using the outside line to pace the opening lap before Melbinger surged ahead on the inside.
The first and only slowdown of the contest occurred on lap three when the machines of John Zimmerman and Mark Eswein got together and collected Keith Bohmsach in the process. All three were able to rejoin the race, which would go non-stop the final 97 laps, setting a series record for the most consecutive laps of green flag racing. Previously the record stood at 80 laps which was established during the most recent race at Lake Geneva just three weeks ago.
With the green flag again flying, Melbinger began to pull away from Haase, with Dean Lapointe, Ken Reiser and Chris Weinkauf in the top five spots. Haase would pressure Melbinger over the next several laps but was unable to wrestle away the lead. Chris Weinkauf meanwhile opted for the outside line and quickly surpass both Reiser and Lapointe to reach the third spot. Weinfurter meanwhile, opted to follow in Weinkauf's tire tracks and soon found himself in fourth before the completion of the tenth lap.
With Melbinger in control of the pace, Weinkauf began to work the outer groove in effort to surpass Haase. After a couple laps of side by side racing Weinkauf managed to work his way into the runner-up spot. Weinfuter was quick to follow the move and secured the third spot on lap 16 at the expense of Haase.
Out front Weinkauf closed on Melbinger and with a smooth outside pass he managed to become the third leader of the race on lap 17. The following lap, Weinfurter again copied almost exactly the moves of Weinkauf to grab second from Melbinger who now found himself in third.
The showdown for the lead began to shape up as Weinfurter began to pressure Weinkauf for the lead. Third place meanwhile would change hands again as Holzhausen, the current point leader at the LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway took the position on lap 32.
The lead pair of Weinkauf and Weinfurter continued to set a blistering pace with Weinkauf holding the spot until lap 35, when Weinfurter made the low groove work to his advantage taking the top spot, a position he would hold until the checkered flag. Weinkauf would now find himself defending the second spot as Holzhausen began to make his presence felt at the front of the field. In his only other WCS start earlier this season at Golden Sands, Holzhausen had become a threat for the win late in the race before finishing fourth. In this event, he clearly was making his move earlier. On lap 46, Holzhausen would slip by Weinfurter for the runner-up spot.
At the race reached the halfway point, lapped traffic began to factor in to the battles for position. Weinfurter, driving as if his car were glued to the track passed cars both high and low, slowly building his lead to a dozen car lengths over Holzhausen who was also having to maneuver through lapped cars.
With 35 laps to go, Weinfurter had lapped up to the tenth position and stretched his lead to a quarter-lap. Holzhausen maintained the second spot, with Weinkauf, Haase and Gary Back in the top five spots.
Haase, seeking to match his career high WCS finish got past Weinkauf for third with 32 laps remaining. That position would prove especially important to Weinkauf, as in the final point tally, the spot was the one which would have assured him a runner-up point finish. Weinkauf however was unable to rally, with Haase now pulling ahead in third. At the same time however, Kendall, Weinkauf's chief rival in point chase, was going a lap down to Weinfurter in ninth place.
Weinkauf's point battle took another hit with 22 laps to go when Back, surged past for fourth dropping Weinkauf to the fifth position.
Out front Weinfurter continued to put some extremely fast cars a lap down, having lapped up to the sixth spot with 15 laps to go. Holzhausen, was having little success in closing the gap on the leader in traffic and still found himself a quarter-lap behind Weinfurter with time running out. Haase was still holding third, but Back was now challenging for the spot as the race reached ten laps to go.
The final laps clicked off without anything to slow Weinfurter's pace, scoring a popular win in front of a supportive crowd. Holzhausen earned a solid second behind the wheel of Pete Kempf's car. Haase, tied his career best WCS effort, which he accomplished in the inaugural WCS event at Golden Sands back in July of 2001 with his third place run. Back, the 2002 Wisconsin Challenge Series champion fell just short of a podium finish with a fourth place effort, and Weinkauf would reach the checkered in fifth, the final car on the lead lap at the finish.
Sixth would go to Melbinger who lost a lap to Weinfurter in the closing stages of the race. Travis Sauter, in his first career WCS start would claim seventh. Jason Weinkauf would take eighth after having climbed as high as third earlier in the contest. Kendall would take ninth, and M.G. Gajewski turned in a strong showing recording a tenth place finish in spite of some sheet metal damage to his car acquired during the contest.
In earlier action, Darnell, who had qualified 26th in time trials, secured his spot in the main event with a win in a hard fought battle with Keith Bohmsach and Terry Baldry during the first qualifying race. The trio tested each other thoughout the contest in a thrilling race for the fans. Frank Nitzke would finish fourth just missing the show with Wayne Cottrell completing the top five.
In the second qualifier it would be John Zimmerman taking the race comfortably ahead of four-time Golden Sands Speedway champion Mark Eswein. The final transfer spot was held by Rocky Breezer until the final lap when he spun after contact with Brian Back who was challenging for position. As a result the race finished under a yellow checkered situation, with the third and final transfer spot being awarded to Terry Van Roy. Monte Gress and Andy Monday, both making their first career WCS starts earned fourth and fifth respectively.
Plans are already in the works for the 2004 season as the Wisconsin Challenge Series has seen three consecutive years of growth in the number of participants, attendance and number of venues and events. Since it's inception the series has averages nearly 36 cars per event, and held a total of 20 events, half of which made up the 2003 schedule. This past season seven different tracks participated by hosting a WCS event, taking the series to every corner of Wisconsin.
An awards banquet to honor the best of the 2003 series will be held during the off-season. A formal announcement will be made shortly as to the location.
The 2004 season opener is tentatively set for Dells Motor Speedway on Saturday, April 10th.
Additional Wisconsin Challenge Series information can be found by calling (920) 731-6804 or by logging onto the series website at www.wisconsinchallenge.com
Championship 100 - Results
100 Lap Feature: 1.) Jeff Weinfurter, Wisconsin Rapids; 2.) Steve Holzhausen, Bangor; 3.) Jesse Haase, Wausau; 4.) Gary Back, Vesper; 5.) Chris Weinkauf, Merrill; 6.) Rory Melbinger, Marshfield; 7.) Travis Sauter, Necedah; 8.) Jason Weinkauf, Merrill; 9.) Jeff Kendall, Montello; 10.) M.G. Gajewski, Wausau; 11.) Adam Royle, Farmington, MN; 12.) Mark Eswein, Wisconsin Rapids; 13.) Erik Darnell, Beach Park, IL; 14.) Terry Baldry, Omro; 15.) Mark Mackesy, Wausau; 16.) Keith Bohmsach, Wisconsin Rapids; 17.) John Zimmerman, Markesan; 18.) Chad Devine, Mackville; 19.) Ken Reiser, Waukon, IA; 20.) Dean Lapointe, Marshfield; 21.) Terry Van Roy, Darboy; 20.) Frank Kreyer, Cottage Grove.
First 30 Qualifying Race: 1.) Darnell; 2.) Bohmsach; 3.) Baldry; 4.) Frank Nitzke, Berlin; 5.) Wayne Cottrell, Mosinee; 6.) Mark Van, Wautoma; 7.) Jeff Falbe, Beaver Dam; 8.) Mike Witberler, Rib Falls; 9.) Kyle Waush, Black Creek; 10.) Mike Schneider, Appleton
Second 30 Lap Qualifying Race: 1.) Zimmerman; 2.) Eswein; 3.) Van Roy; 4.) Monte Gress, Neilsville; 5.) Andy Monday, Appleton; 6.) Kevin Baldry, Omro; 7.) Wayne Mackesy, Wausau; 8.) Joel Schulz, Marshfield; 9.) Rocky Breezer, Portage; 10.) Brian Back, Vesper