(Hartford, WI) by Fay Hendricks - The blustery winter night was warmed by a racing family reunion during Slinger Speedway’s Awards Banquet Saturday. Capping off Slinger’s 66th year of operation, Todd Thelen and Rodney Erickson celebrated their first season at the helm of the quarter-mile oval. After a wonderful meal and beverages, the awards portion of the program was interspersed with door prizes and finished with the eagerly-awaited drawings for valuable race equipment.
Slinger Bees champion Nick Schmidt was the first to thank Slinger’s new leaders, telling the audience, “I race three nights a week. I look forward to Sunday the most. At most tracks we’re just a show-filler. Todd and Rodney listen to us.” Schmidt thanked fellow teams for their help, adding, “Hopefully I can come back some more. I love four-cylinder racing.” Rookie of the year was young Dale Kiley-Schaefer, who began by thanking his father, claiming, “He got me into it. I learned a lof from other drivers, especially Nick (Schmidt) and Brandon (Tackes). It was a good year.”
Area Sportsman champion Kyle Chwala celebrated his first crown at Slinger Speedway and teammate Kody Hubred was runner-up. Hubred spoke first, saying, “This is by far the most fun I ever had in sportsmen. I thank Kyle for being a good teammate.” Chwala began, “If somebody would have told me I would be standing here as the champion, I would have told them they were nuts.” Talking about his bad crash early in the season, Chwala added, “Going to the wall didn’t help. Team 16 helped get us back out there,” referring to assistance from the super late model crew of Steve Apel. Chwala finished, “We had an amazing year. We ran clean, we ran hard. If anyone needs help, call me.” Chwala also earned rookie of the year honors in the first season of this division.
Scott Goetzke earned his sixth Figure 8 championship at Slinger, the taciturn racer coaxed into taking the microphone. “Rodney and Todd want me to talk, but I’m not going to. Thanks.” Personally, we believe others should try this at many of the televised awards shows.
The Midwest Sportsman title was handily won by Kenny Joosten, who raced every week despite being hours away from Slinger. Joosten had many thanks, stating, “Thanks to Todd and Rodney for putting on a good show, (late model driver) Ryan Farrell for spotting, Ryan Gutnecht and the (late model team) DeStefano guys.” Third in points, Ryan Gutnecht was the rookie of the year, claiming, “If it wasn’t for my old man and my crew, I wouldn’t even show up.”
The Late Model, or limited late model, championship was won by Ryan DeStefano. DeStefano told the crowd, “You have to surround yourself with good people and good things will happen. It’s been a long hard-fought battle. We’re going to enjoy it.” Telling about the long hours of devotion, DeStefano added, “My father and Booty (Scott Apel) work in the shop all the time,” and told of the team building a new super late model for the upcoming season. Rookie of the year, Mike Lichtfeld, finished second in the point standings and had a very positive experience at Slinger. “If it wasn’t for Todd and Rodney, we probably wouldn’t have come down here every week,” began Lichtfeld, adding, “I appreciate all the guys and friendships this year.”
The Super Late Model drivers took center stage with many funny moments as the top five in the points took turns speaking. Dennis Prunty led off, “I wonder if there’s an award for most crew guys. Team 16 should win that.” Conrad Morgan quipped, “Thanks to my pit crew, not for working on the car and making it go fast -- because I do that -- for putting up with me. It’s been a year. It’s been 47 years.” Morgan overcame a serious health problem and was installed into Southeastern Wisconsin Racing Hall of Fame in 2013. Lowell Bennett, who owns seven championships at Slinger, stated, “We weren’t planning on coming back, but when we saw Todd and Rodney take over, we’re glad we did. We’re on 38 years of racing. It makes me a proud Dad to see my son (Braison) racing with me. Rob Braun quipped, “I set a goal to not get put out by Dennis Prunty this year and we achieved our goal. Half my crew’s not even old enough to drink if you put them all together.”
Steve Apel celebrated his first Super Late Model championship with Team 16 owners Sonya and Danny DelCamp, beginning, “Thanks to my parents, my brother, Dad spotting for me, Dan and Sonya starting me in four-cylinders at fourteen years old. We have a big group, have a lot of fun, and drink a lot of beer. Dan and Sonya were probably trying for a championship for thirty years. This year’s been crazy. I got married, got a new job, Rob’s (Braun) my boss.” Referring to a sour feeling after the previous season, Apel claimed, “We didn’t want to race every week, we wanted to win the (Miller Lite Slinger) Nationals. We regrouped and came back. It’s been a great year.” Having been sent to Japan for business, Apel returned just in time for the awards banquet, something he would not miss for anything, finishing with, “This trophy’s not just for me. It’s for the team and best car owners anyone could ask for.” Apel also earned the Pepsi Challenge championship along the way to add to their hardware. Illinois driver Michael Bilderback was rookie of the year.
The 2014 Slinger Speedway race season gets under way Saturday April 26 with the annual test and tune practice day from noon to 4 pm and the Miller Lite Spring Opener is Sunday afternoon April 27, with GA gates opening at Noon and the first race at 2 pm.
This article was posted to the website on January 25th, 2014