By Jeffrey Sachse
July 20, 2012: The Bumper to Bumper IRA Outlaw Sprints made their first appearance of the 2012 at the Dodge County Fairgrounds. The event played out before a standing room only crowd. Those fans were on their feet cheering wildly for 22 of the scheduled 23 laps in the 13th Annual Rick Schmidt Memorial race as hometown pilot, Scott Neitzel drove a flawless race to keep Justin Henderson viewing his rear nerf bar.
However the slightest bobble coming off turn four heading for the white flag was all Henderson needed to make what would be the winning movie. Heading into turn one after taking the white flag Henderson dove deep into the corner working to the inside of Neitzel. As the pair soared down the backstretch Henderson would prove the power of his machine pulling ahead and collecting the victory leaving Neitzel in his wake.
For Henderson, a native of Sioux Falls, SD it was the second major victory of the month having collected a main event win at Knoxville (IA) Speedway on July 7th. The former World of Outlaws competitor has previously won a main event with the Bumper to Bumper IRA Outlaw Sprints having captured the Reichert Memorial in 2005.
While Henderson scored the victory, the partisan hometown crowd was on its feet for hometown driver Neitzel. Neitzel who had won the Rick Schmidt Memorial twice in its 13 years of existence was looking to become the first three-time winner of the event. He seemed destined to do so until Henderson's final lap pass relegated Neitzel to a second place finish.
Following the lead pair to the stripe was Mike Reinke who thrilled the fans with is amazing charge through the field. The defending Rick Schmidt Memorial race winner was besieged by mechanical difficulties. Reinke needed to enter the work area after a opening lap red flag while his crew repaired an ignition issue with the car and he rejoined the race from the tail of the field. With the car now working properly Reinke rocketed through the pack from last place reaching third on the final lap with a pass of Mike Kertscher.
The victory allowed Reinke to close the gap on current point leader Bill Balog who experienced a blown engine after accepting a checkered flag in his heat race. Unable to make the main event Balog's point lead has now shrunk to 58 points, nearly half of the cushion Balog had heading into the night has been erased.
The 23 lap event, run in honor of Rick Schmidt's number 23 machine would see 24 drivers accept the green flag for the contest on the big-half mile clay oval. Before the first lap could be completed Raymond Hensley would lay his car down on its side in turn three bringing out the red flag for the event. Hensley who had won the first annual Rick Schmidt Memorial back during the 2000 racing season was unhurt but unable to continue and was credited with 23rd.
The field lined up for a complete restart with Neitzel getting the jump on pole sitter Scott Young, blasting into the lead. Kertscher would follow the move in to the second spot dropping Young to third.
With just one lap in the books a second slowdown occurred when Michael Decker rolled to a halt on the front stretch. Racing action quickly resumed with Neitzel again pulling away from the pack. Henderson was busy proving his speed sweeping from his fourth place position up to the second spot as he roared past Kertscher going down the backstretch on lap two.
The second caution would appear on lap four when both Ty Bartz and Bill Warren got turned the wrong direction.
With the green flag again waving Neitzel immediately felt the pressure of Henderson. Neitzel was able to fend off the challenges of Henderson on the restart and the pair briefly ran wheel to wheel before Neitzel again surged ahead.
The final caution of the contest would wave on lap nine when Warren lost grip on the racing surface looping his machine between turns three and four.
When racing resumed the final 14 laps would click off without interruption with Neitzel leading Henderson, Kertscher, Steve Meyer, Tommy Sexton and Reinke back to the green flag.
Neitzel would hold fast to the top spot creating a two car length cushion on Henderson while Kertscher fought to keep pace with the lead duo.
Neitzel, weaving through lapped traffic as the race would down, appearing to have the speed to keep Henderson behind him. While the battle out front kept the fans attention Reinke was busy moving forward having worked past Sexton and Meyer into the fourth spot.
Heading for the white flag off turn four Neitzel had to make the slightest correction in his line breaking momentum briefly. It was all Henderson needed to make the winning move leaving Neitzel having to chase Henderson to the checkered flag, settling for second after leading much of the contest.
Kertscher would run out of fuel coming off the final turn allowing Reinke to streak past and take third completing a heroic run from the tail of the field. Kertscher would limp home fourth. Meyer, making his first start in sprint car action after a year and a half absence came home an impressive fifth place after all that time away from the wheel.
Sexton would claim sixth followed by Phillip Mock and Russel Borland who was the last driver on the lead lap in eighth. Robbie Pribnow and Darrell Dodd would complete the top ten finishers.
In earlier action the high speed oval would take its toll on equipment. Billy Balog, the four-time and defending IRA series champion would have his engine expire crossing the line to take third in his heat race. Balog's crew was unable to fix his machine and he would watch the event from the sidelines which ended his four race win streak.
Chad Blonde was another driver who expired an engine with his explosion occurring during time tails as his machine went up in smoke after crossing the line for his second qualifying lap. Series regular Brandon Thone lost power during hot laps and he too was done for the evening.
With only 24 of the 27 drivers who had checked in able to answer the call for the main event, the B-feature was not needed.
In heat action, Henderson would dominate the first heat taking the checkered flag well ahead of Corey Weyant, who was making his first start of the season with the Bumper to Bumper IRA Sprints.
The other two heat races would produced the closest finishes of the evening. In the second heat, Kertscher would make a final turn pass on Scott Uttech who had appeared headed for victory, winning the dash to the checkered flag, Kertscher took the win over Uttech by two feet.
Not to be outdone, the third heat would provide the closest finish of the season as Borland worked past Hensley in the final yards to the checkered flag to win by a matter of inches at the stripe, as the pair reached the line in excess of 130 mph.
In qualifying tonight Henderson proved quickest with a blistering lap of 16.579 seconds, well ahead of the second fast qualifying effort set by Balog who turned in a lap of 16.999 seconds. They were the only two drivers to crack the 17 second barrier. Mock turned in the third quickest lap with a 17.057 second effort.
The Bumper to Bumper IRA Outlaw Sprint Series will now head down the road to Wilmot Raceway to complete the double-header weekend.
On Saturday night, July 21st, the "Outlaw Sprintacular" will see the finest driver from both the Bumper to Bumper IRA Outlaw Sprints and the UNOH All-Star Circuit of Champions compete head to head for supremacy. Nearly 40 sprint cars are expected for the contest.
Representing the All-Star Circuit of Champions will be point leaders Tim Schaffer and Dale Blaney along with Paul McMahan, Cap Henry and David Gravel. You can fully expect IRA series regulars Balog, Reinke, Neitzel, Mock, and Borland to defend their home turf as well as defending Wilmot Raceway champion, Tommy Sexton and local hotshoe Scott Uttech.
The Wisconsin-Illinois Mini-Sprints and the track's own Modified class will be joining the program. Additional information can be found at www.wilmotraceway.com
The last of the three consecutive double header weekends in July will take place on Friday Night, July 27th at the St. Croix Speedway and the following night the series heads to ABC Raceway in Ashland, WI for a show on Saturday Night, July 28th.
The IRA Outlaw Sprint Series is proudly supported by Bumper to Bumper Auto Parts & Service Centers, Osborn & Son Trucking, Goodyear, TW Metals, Cummins Onan, DNA Energy Drink& Snacks, MPT Industries, UltraLube, Big Game Treestands, Carriage Auto Body, Otis Gun, Mother's Polishes and Waxes and Polaris DEFENSE. The office of the IRA Sprints can be reached at 815-759-9269 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bumper to Bumper IRA Outlaw Sprints:
A-Main: 1.) Justin Henderson; 2.) Scotty Neitzel; 3.) Mike Reinke; 4.) Mike Kertscher; 5.) Steve Meyer; 6.) Tommy Sexton; 7.) Phillip Mock; 8.) Russel Borland; 9.) Robbie Pribnow; 10.) Darrell Dodd; 11.) Dennis Spitz; 12.) Chad Tessman; 13.) Dave Uttech; 14.) Scott Uttech; 15.) Bill Wirth; 16.) Scott Young; 17.) Kris Spitz; 18.) Corey Weyant; 19.) Bill Warren; 20.) Ty Bartz; 21.) Michael Decker; 22.) Wayne Modjeski; 23.) Raymond Hensley; 24.) Todd King
Heat 1: 1.) Henderson; 2.) Weyant; 3.) Neitzel; 4.) Sexton
Heat 2: 1.) Kertscher; 2.) S. Uttech; 3.) Balog; 4.) Warren
Heat 3: 1.) Borland; 2.) Hensley; 3.) Meyer; 4.) Mock
Qualifying: (Top 10) 1.) Henderson, 16.579 Seconds; 2.) Balog, 16.999 secs; 3.) Mock, 17.057 secs; 4.) Reinke, 17.143; 5.) Kertscher, 17.161; 6.) Meyer, 17.202; 7.) Neitzel, 17.307; 8.) Chad Blonde, 17.382; 9.) Young, 17.415, 10.) Sexton 17.559.