It was a night of record highs Friday evening at St. Croix Valley Raceway. Records were set in amount of purse money paid, car counts, and most certainly people counts as the grandstands and tailgating sections were crammed full of fans for the first annual Open Wheel Nationals presented by Jack Links. “Fender Free Friday” included two Modified divisions and two Sprint car divisions, headlined by the UMSS Sprint cars racing in the prestigious 20th annual Kouba Memorial event.
After sixteen qualifying races, the Sterling Bank UMSS Traditional Sprint cars were the first to take to the quarter-mile with their record tying 12-car field, paced by Johnny Parsons III and Ryan Olson. Parsons was the early leader but was quickly challenged by Jeff Pellersels, Lucas Milz and Kevin Bradwell. After a caution for the spinning Tom Porter, Parsons stretched his lead on the restart, leaving Rob Caho Jr., Denny Stordahl, Milz, Bradwell and Pellersels in a slicing and dicing free-for-all tussle for second. After a few more late race cautions, no one had an answer for Parsons who cruised to his series best fourth feature win of the summer. Caho edged Bradwell by a whisker at the line for second, with Pellersels and Milz rounding out the top five.
The largest field of cars for the first annual Open Wheel Nationals belonged to the WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds, as a hearty 36 of the beasts checked in to vie for the $750 winner’s check. Four qualifying heat races and a pair of B-features whittled the field down to 24 cars for their main event with Justin Oestreich and Jake Stai leading the way to flagman Shaun Cimfl’s green flag. Fourth starting Josh Bazey quickly squirted to the front in a five car scramble for lead involving Bazey, Stai, Oestreich, Grant Southworth and Jason VandeKamp. Behind the lead group, the action was equally frenzied in a battle for position between Jeremy Houle, Ryan Olson, Ryan Viltz, Dustin Scott and Mike Truscott. The close action involved frequent contact, which in turn lead to multiple caution flags. After starting fifth, Jason VandeKamp took only a handful of laps to work around Bazey and take over the point. Despite the cautions, on each restart, VandeKamp was able to hold off any challenger, whether it be Oestreich, Stai, Bazey or Southworth who supplied the pressure. At the final double checkers VandeKamp claimed his third feature win of 2012 at The Valley in front of Oestreich, Southworth, Truscott and Stai.
Modifieds, making their first appearance at the raceway in several years, thrilled the over capacity crowd in what could only be described as a triumphant return. The twenty-three car field was over flowing with talent, over half of the competitors could lay claim to at least one track championship and a handful boasted a national title. Heat race winners Scott Miller and Dave Cain rumbled the thundering herd to the start of their finale, with Rick Kobs and Dave Mass quickly challenging the front row for the lead. Cain eventually got comfortable using a low groove but was feeling constant pressure from Kobs who was running high off the cushion at full throttle. Mass, Miller and Scott Duval were swapping lines and positions behind the leaders while Kobs managed to steal the lead for a lap before relinquishing the position back to Cain one lap later. The final caution appeared with five laps remaining, and on the restart, Cain surprisingly changed lines and strategies, climbing to the top of the racing groove where Kobs had been running. The #2c of Cain liked the high groove even better as he pulled away in the waning laps, leaving Kobs to battle Mass and Duval for second. Claiming the trophy and $1500 in prize money was Cain in front of Kobs, Mass, Duval and Curt Myers.
The Thunder in the Valley hit its crescendo with the 360 winged sprint cars. Lou Kennedy, Jr. made the long trek south from Winnipeg in search the $2,000 top prize in the 20th Annual Earl Kouba Memorial on Friday June 29 at the St. Croix Valley Raceway. Mission accomplished, as Kennedy drove to his second career Upper Midwest Sprintcar Series (UMSS) feature win. Racing before the largest crowd in track history, the veteran Canadian driver took the lead from Cody Hahn on lap two of the twenty lap main event and kept Aussie racer Brooke Tatnell at bay enroute to the victory. Kennedy became the 19th different winner of this prestigious event, as Jimmy Kouba remains the only two-time champion in its 20 year history
Pole sitter Cody Hahn led the opening lap before fellow front row starter Kennedy powered by on the high side exiting turn four to grab the lead on lap two. The race was under caution for a spin on the next lap. Tatnell, who started third in the 20 car grid, was up to second by lap six and was right behind Kennedy for what ended up being the final restart with seven laps scored when Jared Goerges and Tom Nicholl got together. With the track curfew approaching, the race was reduced to 20 laps from the scheduled 25 at this time.
As Kennedy hammered a heavy cushion up top, Tatnell stayed closed for several laps but was not able to get overtake him. With the leaders working lapped traffic on the 1/4 mile bullring during the last several laps, Kennedy masterfully maneuvered through the lapped cars and went on to record the win. Commenting after the race, Kennedy jokingly told Tatnell that, "I beat you with an Aussie motor and car. How ironic is that?" Indeed, Kennedy had Moyle power under the hood of his Eagle Chassis. Kennedy continued, "The fast way around for me was up top, but the cushion in turns 3 & 4 was tall and you had to be careful not to get over it. Thanks to everyone involved and the Kouba family for putting on this event. It's an honor to become the 19th different winner. That's pretty amazing."
Finishing behind Kennedy and Tatnell in the top five was Scott Winters in the Valentine sprinter, Lou's son Thomas Kennedy, and 2010 UMSS Champion Cody Hahn now from Grand Forks, ND. Rounding out the top ten finishers were Scotty Thiel making the long haul over from Sheboygan, Mark Toews from Iowa, Andy Jones, UMSS point leader Scott Broty, and Jason Tostenson. All 20 starters finished the feature. Two cars, Tony Norem and Tori Knutson, were unable to start the main event from the 22 cars on hand. Chris Graf earned the Raleigh Sandberg Memorial Hard Charger and Hard Luck Awards, as Graf was busy making repairs following a Challenge race crash and advanced seven positions in the feature from his back row starting spot.
Following the usual double round of qualifying races utilized by the UMSS, Cody Hahn found himself atop the standings. Hahn drew the zero pill, so the feature race would see a straight-up start based on the points earned during the heats and challenge races. Tony Norem, Scott Broty, and Tatnell won the Ultimate Sprint Heats. The two Ethel Kouba Memorial Challenge races sponsored by Gillund Enterprises and JB Distributing saw Mark Toews and Scotty Thiel take home $100 for their wins. Each Challenge race paid the top four finishers some bonus money.
On behalf of the Kouba family, Joe Kouba thanked St. Croix Valley Raceway for hosting the event for the first time. In addition to St. Croix Valley Raceway and the Kouba family, GRP Motorsports, D&D Motorsports, Proto-Fab Engineering, Bev-Lor Utilities, Precision Tool Technologies, Gillund Enterprises/JB Distributing, Mastell Brothers Trailer Service, and Rik & Sandy Sandberg all added money to the purse to make a great payout for the 20th running of this annual event. In all, the total purse exceeded $11,000.
On tap next for The Valley, Friday night July 6, is Kids’ Night. There will be prizes and activities for young fans, free admission for everyone under 15 years of age and an on-track autograph session with the drivers. The Northern Vintage Stockcar Racers will also be on hand. Additional details for these or any other future events at St. Croix Valley Raceway can be found on the track’s website, www.scvraceway.com.
UMSS Traditional Sprints – feature: Johnny Parsons III, Rob Caho Jr., Kevin Bradwell, Jeff Pellersels, Lucas Milz, Denny Stordahl, Tom Porter, Katrina Sautbine, Travis Jehlicka, Jack Clark, Adam Taubert, Ryan Olson.
WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds – feature: Jason VandeKamp, Justin Oestreich, Grant Southworth, Mike Truscott, Jake Stai, Jeremy Houle, Dustin Scott, Ryan Viltz, Ryan Olson, John Kallas, Corey Fogleson, Scott Splittstoesser, Jori Hughes, Ross Fuhrman, Doug Toepper, John Remmington, Tony Schill, Jeff Lien, Joseph Voigt, Corey Eystad, Eric Gadach, Josh Bazey, Lance Leu, Vince Corbin.
Modifieds – feature: Dave Cain, Rick Kobs, Dave Mass, Scott Duval, Curt Myers, Doug Gustafson, Jason Miller, Brandon Jensen, JB Stortz, Scott Miller, Mike Nutzmann, Jason Gross, Jason Voigt, Jake Miller, Steve Lavasseur, Dan Wheeler, Adam Hensel, Dagan Heim, Shaun Kreyer, Dano Ostrander, Kevin Viebrock, Shawn Kelley, Kevin Adams.
UMSS Sprints – feature: Lou Kennedy Jr., Brooke Tatnell, Scott Winters, Thomas Kennedy, Cody Hahn, Scotty Thiel, Mark Toews, Andy Jones, Scott Broty, Jason Tostenson, Jerry Richert Jr., Chris Graf, Sye Anderson, Tony Kaus, Anna Kouba, Troy Maneufel, Chad Patterson, Jennifer Eriksen, Jared Georges, Tom Nicholl, Tony Norem (DNS), Tori Knutson (DNS)