McMullen prevails in PDTR 360 Sprint Car action
By Jeff Pederson – Pedal Down Promotions
(PEDAL DOWN PROMOTIONS, Plymouth, Wis.) September 1, 2018 – Eight-time Interstate Racing Association champion Bill Balog of Hartland and three-time NASCAR Cup Series champ Tony Stewart of Columbus, Ind. have had their share of spirited duels on dirt tracks throughout the Midwest over the years with the Interstate Racing Association 410 Sprint Car Series event held during 2018 Sheboygan County Fair Night all-Winged Sprint Car program at The Plymouth Dirt Track providing the back drop for another intriguing chapter in this ongoing racing saga on Saturday, Sept. 1.
Reminiscent of their exciting duel at The Plymouth Dirt Track on June 15, 2013, which saw Stewart edge Balog by half a car length, Balog turned the tables this time executing a final corner slide job and holding off Stewart by just .004 of a second at the finish to notch his third IRA Series A-main victory of the 2018 campaign before a capacity crowd at the third-mile Sheboygan County Fairgrounds facility in Plymouth, Wis.
In the companion, Plymouth Dirt Track Racing Richard’s of Dunbar 360 Sprint Car A-main, 2017 PDTR 360 Sprint Car champion Brandon McMullen of Oshkosh collected his third Sprint Car A-main triumph of the season at Plymouth.
Stewart drew the pole position for the 30-lap IRA A-main with Cory Eliason of Kingsburg, Calif. in the Thone Motorsports No. 59 entry starting on the outside of the front row.
Stewart got the jump on the drop of the green flag and bolted out to a half-straightaway lead over Eliason in the early going on the wide, smooth and fast racing surface.
Just as Stewart began to catch up to the back of the 24-car field, a red flag was displayed when Todd King of Sheboygan Falls hit the turn four wall and flipped his machine. King was uninjured, but his car was done in the night.
When the race resumed, fifth starter Ben Schmidt of Howards Grove dove low to work his way past Eliason into second while Balog, who started seventh, rode the high groove past IRA point leader Scotty Thiel of Sheboygan, who started fourth, into third place on lap 12.
By lap 9, the leaders began to encounter slower traffic, which Stewart negotiated expertly to build up a half-lap cushion over Schmidt on lap 10. Four laps later, Eliason spun on the frontstretch after contact with Schmidt, which slowed the pace and forced Eliason to restart the race 17th on lap 14.
Prior to the restart, Schmidt made contact with Stewart in turn four just as the green flag was to be displayed causing him to spin his car. After repairing a flat right rear tire, Schmidt restarted 17th, while the contact resulted in damage to the top wing of Stewart’s machine.
Another caution appeared on lap 16 when Mike Reinke of Howards Grove dropped off the pace significantly along the backstretch. On the restart, Thiel dove low to attempt a three-wide pass for the lead in turn two. However, Stewart battled back to maintain the lead along the high groove and Balog retained second place.
Balog hounded Stewart on the preferred outside groove through the final half of the race as the leaders had to negotiate heavy lapped traffic beginning on lap 22. On lap 25, Balog pulled even with Stewart in turn two, but Stewart successfully fended off the challenge and pulled away briefly.
With two laps to go, Balog raced back up to within striking distance and on the final circuit the North Pole, Alaska native unleashed an epic slide job entering turn three to sweep past Stewart in turn four. Stewart turned under Balog and the two drag raced to the finish line with Balog notching his third IRA victory of the season by just .004 of a second, which is the closest margin of victory since the IRA incorporated electronic scoring.
After leading 29 laps, Stewart had to settle for second, Thiel was third, eighth starter and fast qualifier Jake Blackhurst of Hanna City, Ill. was fourth and Brandon McMullen placed fifth after starting sixth.
Balog was happy that he had a chance on the final lap, after missing on an opportunity to take the lead a few laps earlier.
“The car was working good all night and I was hoping to be close enough to make a move at the end,” Balog said in victory lane. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen because I thought I threw it away when I had a chance a few laps from the end. It was an awesome race. Tony’s one of the best ever and everyone’s gunning for him when he shows up. We were just a little better at the end tonight.”
Despite coming in second, Stewart was upbeat following the race.
“I love coming up here to race,” Stewart said. “This is a really cool part of the country with great fans. Lapped traffic was tough and being the leader, you don’t know what is going on behind you. I was just trying not to make a mistake over the final few laps. Bill is an awesome driver. I love racing with him. It was a fun night and I hope all the fans had a good time.”
Thiel maintained his IRA points lead with a solid third-place run.
“We gave it all we could and we had a run there on one of the restarts,” Thiel said. “I don’t think we were good enough to win tonight. 17 [Balog] drove a really good race. We will take third and try to get a little better for the next race.”
Tony Wondra of Campbellsport lead the opening laps of the 25-lap PDTR 360 Sprint Car A-main from the pole with third starter Scott Conger of Eagle trailing in second. On lap 7, two-time PDTR 360 Sprint Car champ Danny Schlafer of Sussex, who started fifth, used the high groove to power past Conger into second.
One lap later, Schlafer bolted past the low-riding Wondra into the lead in turn three, while seventh starter Brandon McMullen followed in Schlafer’s tire tracks to assume second on lap 9.
The first of four caution flags appeared on lap 10 for an infield tire that had been moved onto the track in turn four. On the restart, the caution flag flew again when Plymouth’s Justin Miller spun in turn one.
On the restart, McMullen used the low groove to pressure Schlafer for the top spot and the two championship-winning drivers dueled side by side before the third caution was displayed on lap 12 for Chris Larson, who spun in turn two.
The battle between McMullen and Schlafer raged on over the ensuing seven laps with the two drivers exchanging the lead before McMullen surged ahead for good along the low groove in turn one on lap 19.
On lap 22, the fourth caution appeared when Schlafer spun his machine in turn four. McMullen controlled the final three laps en route to his 15th career PDTR 360 Sprint Car A-main victory and 21st overall Midwest Sprint Car Association main event triumph.
Josh Walter of Plymouth finished second after starting eighth, Tim Haddy of Waupun used a late charge along the high groove to place third after starting ninth, Conger wound up fourth and second starter Shane Wenninger of Kewaskum rounded out the top five.
Scotty Neitzel of Beaver Dam won the IRA B main. Jake Blackhurst topped the IRA field in qualifying with a fast lap of 12.043.
The all-Winged Sprint Car program included 27 IRA 410 Sprint Car entries and 24 PDTR 360 Sprint Car machines.
The next Plymouth Dirt Track Racing program on Saturday, Sept. 8 will feature the final points event of the 2018 season for the B Mod, Grand National and Micro Sprint divisions, as well as a special appearance by the Dirt Kings Late Model Series in addition to the PDTR 360 Sprint Cars. Hot laps begin at 5:30 p.m. with racing at 6 p.m.