Seven champions honored in final season at Manitowoc Speedway
By Jeff Pederson, Pedal Down Promotions
(PEDAL DOWN PROMOTIONS) December 12, 2016 – With its future hanging in limbo, Eastern Wisconsin Stock Car racing officials, drivers, pit crew members, supporters and fans gathered at City Limits Bar and Banquet Hall in Manitowoc to toast a highly competitive 2016 racing season at the Manitowoc Speedway, during the 56th annual EWSC Awards Banquet Saturday, Dec. 10.
While the mood was predominately festive with champions, hard charger and rookie of the year award recipients officially recognized for their standout performances during the 2016 season, there was an underlying feeling of melancholy and uncertainty as expressed by EWSC President Todd Humphrey in his opening remarks.
“Going back to last year around this time we had just wrapped up our 2015 season awards banquet when things took a turn in mid-December,” Humphrey said. “Not long after that, the reality set in that the Expo grounds had been sold and the 2016 would be our last at the Manitowoc Speedway.
“We started the season with a string of rain outs, but once we got through that, our season really got running good,” he said. “I could never have imagined that on our last night at Manitowoc, we would have a field of 173 cars. The success of the 2016 season is a testament to all of you guys gathered here tonight. I want to thank you all for putting on a hell of a show throughout the year.”
Humphrey paid tribute to the EWSC staff members who gave their time to ensure the final season of racing at the Manitowoc Speedway was one to remember.
“I want to recognize our staff of volunteers who gave so much of themselves during the season,” Humphrey said. “From the flagman, to the corner workers to the lineup people, the scorers the concession stand works, the list goes on. It was a true team effort. We couldn’t have asked for a better staff.
“I can’t go without mentioning our track prep crew,” he said. “I think all of us can agree that we had great tracks all season long. I would say we had zero bad tracks all year. Maybe we had a couple of nights that were not quite as good, but not many. No matter what, there was always plenty of racing surface for our drivers to put on an awesome show for the fans.”
After several months of waiting for the official word to come down about the final sale of the track, Humphrey spoke about the efforts of staff volunteers to clear out EWSC’s equipment from the track grounds in advance of the Manitowoc County-mandated Dec. 16 vacancy deadline.
“The last three weeks have been a whirlwind for everyone,” Humphrey said. “Without the help of our members, especially people like last year’s Sport Mod champ Rick Kretschmann, Dale Bauer and this year’s Late Model champion Tim Buhler, I don’t know where we’d be. I also have to thank Dennis Hill and Vetting Transport for all they have done in the past few weeks to help us vacate the track property.”
All seven 2016 EWSC champions were then honored for their stellar seasons.
Brian Bruechert of Kewaunee collected his first ever EWSC championship in the Sport Mod division.
Bruechert, who topped runner-up Travis Arenz of Sheboygan by two points (498-496) in the final standings, finished the season with one A-main victory, seven top-five A main finishes, 11 top-ten A main showings and four heat race victories in 12 events.
“I didn’t set out to run for the championship, but everything fell into place,” Bruechert said. “I had fun all year long and in the end it turned out to be a blast. I remember getting my first win at Manty back in 1990 in a stock car on the half mile. It was really nice to come back to Manitowoc and meet a lot of great people in the process.
“I’ve raced for 27 years at a lot of different tracks and the track prep this year at Manitowoc was second to none,” he said. “It is saying something when you can go out in your heat race and run three and four wide and not worry about sliding into the guard rail. The track was always smooth and really racy.”
John Rothmund of Manitowoc, who finished third in the Sport Mod points standings, picked up the Sport Mod Rookie of the Year Award and Travis Arenz was also honored with the 2016 Sport Mod Hard Charger Award for passing 60 cars in 11 A-main events.
Rounding out the top five in the Sport Mod point standings were Cody Schroeder of Manitowoc in fourth and Jayden Schmidt of Seymour fifth.
Jamie Schmidt of Seymour notched the 2016 Modified championship with five top-five A-main showings, eight top-10 A-main finishes and three heat race triumphs in nine races.
Schmidt topped runner-up Randy Markwardt Jr. of Sheboygan Falls by a 23-point margin (368-345) in the final point standings. Matt Jackson of Sheboygan was third, followed by Kyle Kudick of Two Rivers (fourth) and Eric Scribner of Kiel (fifth).
“I would like to thank everyone at Manitowoc Speedway,” Schmidt said. “It was a great place to race.”
Kyle Kudick was the 2016 EWSC Modified Hard Charger Award winner for passing 25 cars in seven A-main races.
Brad Lubach of Kiel, who recorded two A-main victories, nine top-five and nine top-10 A-main showings to go along with five heat race victories in 11 events, captured the Grand National title by a slim two-point margin over Justin Erickson of Plymouth.
“I want to thank my wife, mom and dad, as well as my great crew and all of my sponsors for a great year,” Lubach said. “I also want to recognize EWSC for all that they did this year. Manitowoc Speedway has been one of my favorite tracks. It sucks that it’s going to be gone.”
Ryan Minster of Sheboygan, who finished third in the final point standings, captured the Grand National Hard Charger Award for passing a division best 56 cars in 11 A-main events.
Steven Weber of Plymouth finished fourth and Tim Simon of Fond du Lac rounded out the top five in the Grand National point standings.
The 2016 EWSC Late Model championship hardware went to Tim Buhler of Glenbeulah for the second consecutive year. Buhler, who also picked up the Late Model Hard Charger Award for passing 30 cars in A-main action, posted two A-main victories, four top-five A-main finishes, seven top-10 A-main showings and two heat race wins in eight nights of competition.
“I’ve been to a lot of different tracks in my career and one of the main things I learned from racing at Manitowoc is that the track crew for EWSC is pretty darn good,” Buhler said.
Rounding out the top five in the 2016 EWSC Late Model point standings were Jim Schmidt of Cleveland (second), Justin Schmidt of Cleveland (third), Turk Letizia of Milwaukee (fourth) and Taylor Scheffler of Waukesha (fifth).
Brandon McMullen of Plymouth picked up the 2016 Sprint Car championship, topping West Bend’s Paul Pokorski by four points (247-243) in the final point standings.
McMullen claimed one A-main victory, three top-five A main finishes, six top-ten showings and three heat race victories in six races in 2016.
“My family has been racing with EWSC for a long time,” McMullen said. “Eastern has had its ups and downs over the years, but it has definitely been on the upswing in the past couple years with this group of board members and staff. Manitowoc is definitely one of the best tracks I’ve ever been on.
“I have to thank my family for all of their support,” he said. “It means a lot to have them be there every night for me. It was fun racing with Paul [Pokorski] for the championship. It was fitting with our EWSC backgrounds that Paul and I were racing for the championship right down to the final night of the season. Paul raced me clean all year. He is a great guy on and off the track.”
Rounding out the top five in the final Sprint Car point standings were Kurt Davis of West Allis (third), Danny Schlafer of Sussex (fourth) and Doug Wondra of Oakfield (fifth).
Danny Schlafer was recognized with the Sprint Car Hard Charger Award for passing 24 cars in six A-main events and Tyler Brabant of Waupun earned the Sprint Car Rookie of the Year Award.
Shaun Bangart of Chilton claimed six A-main victories, 10 top-five and top-ten A-main showings and five heat race wins in 11 races en route to the Sport 4 title. Bangart also claimed the Sport 4 Hard Charger Award by passing a total of 43 cars in 10 A-main races.
Mitchell Meier of Chilton, who placed second in the Sport 4 point standings, earned the 2016 Sport 4 Rookie of the Award. Mike Meier of Chilton (third), Matt DeWilde (fourth) and Jason Dondlinger (fifth) completed the top five.
Walker Bergene of Whitelaw claimed the Thunder Truck track title and Rooke of the Year Award on the strength of eight A-main victories, 10 top-five and top-10 A-main finishes and six heat race triumphs in 10 events.
Humphrey assured those in attendance that EWSC leaders plan to keep the club alive in hopes of finding a new home track.
“Our future is up in the air at this point,” Humphrey said. “I strongly believe that we will continue somewhere in the future. We will be holding our Bowling Bash at Odyssey Fun Center in Sheboygan Falls on February 4th, so we encourage everyone to come out on that day and celebrate Eastern. Maybe we will have some good news to share at that point.”
Founding EWSC member Kermit Schulz of Manitowoc closed the award ceremony with some final words on the longstanding racing organization.
“I was around in 1960 when Eastern first formed,” Schulz said. “I don’t think there are too many original members still around from back then. I think Jerry McMullen is one of them, but not many others are still here. I want to take this time to thank Eastern for keeping racing going in this area for 56 years. I hope it goes on, but right now one never knows.”
The 2016 EWSC Board of Directors includes Todd Humphrey (president), Mark Petrie (vice president), Rick Minster (treasurer), John Tienor (secretary), Andra Humphrey (director), Jonathan Otte (director) and Sheila Leamer (director).
EWSC sponsors for the 2016 season included A&W of Manitowoc, Affordable Auto Rental, Associate Insurance/Secura Insurance, Baleigh Industrial, Bank First National, Best Western Stanton Inn, Brixius Manufacturing, Budweiser/Larry’s Distributing, Buffalo Wild Wings, Calbre, City Limits, Custom Craft Trophies of Plymouth, Fastenal, Fricke Ready Mix Concrete, Gibbsville Cheese, Hager’s Half-Pounder Cookies, Harbor Town HD/Polaris, Hoban Cycle, Hubbartt Electric, J.Johnson and Associates, Just Orthodontics, Kaeden Services, Lakeside Pepsi, Manitowoc Automotive Supply, Manitowoc Pattern and Machine, Mark Petrie Fabrication, Masonic Lodge 65, MMPA, MX Megastore, Nelson Truck and Equipment, Odyssey Fun Center, O’Reilly Auto Parts, PDQ Car Wash, Pietroske Auto, Pizza Ranch, Pomps Tire, Professional Plating Inc., Reinbold Pfeffer & Jens, Rick’s Auto Doctors, Riverside Landscaping, Rummele Jewelers, Satori Automotive, Smiling Moose, Spielvogel Excavating, Suburban Drywall, TA Motorsports, Terry’s Whitelaw Auto, Vetting Transport, Vogel Auto Body/John’s Auto Sales, Wild Inc. and Zabel Monuments.
To stay up to date on all news related to EWSC, visit www.manitowocspeedway.com or the Manitowoc Speedway Facebook and Twitter pages.