Sheboygan’s Thiel earns IRA Sprint win

by Jeff Pederson
Special to The Review

SCOTTY THIEL (64) of Sheboygan passes Muskego’s Bill Wirth en route to winning the IRA 410 Sprint Car feature Saturday night at the Plymouth Dirt Track. – Photo by RC Custom Design SCOTTY THIEL (64) of Sheboygan passes Muskego’s Bill Wirth en route to winning the IRA 410 Sprint Car feature Saturday night at the Plymouth Dirt Track. – Photo by RC Custom Design PLYMOUTH – Over the past month of the Interstate Racing Association 410 Sprint Car season, no driver has been hotter than Sheboygan racer Scotty Thiel.

Considering his performance in the 21st annual Frank Filskov Memorial A-main at The Plymouth Dirt Track at the Sheboygan County Fair Park Saturday night, it doesn’t appear that Thiel will be cooling off anytime soon.

Thiel, who came into the event second in the IRA point standings behind seven-time series champ Bill Balog of Hartland, claimed a wire-to-wire victory in the 27-lap Sprint Car A-main.

In the 27-lap Plymouth Dirt Track Racing’s 360 Sprint Car A- main, Jim Melis of Glenbleulah earned the win, while Zach Boden of Cambridge notched the PDTR Micro Sprint A-main win.

Thiel bolted out to the lead of the IRA A-main from his outside front-row starting spot on the opening lap, while polesitter Dave Uttech of Kenosha settled into second in the early going.

Meanwhile, the evening’s fast qualifier Bill Balog worked his way into third from his fifth starting spot on lap two. At the front of the field, Thiel quickly stretched out a half straightaway cushion over Uttech before he encountered lapped traffic starting on lap five.

On the same lap, Balog bolted past Uttech to assume the runner-up spot on lap five. As the leaders worked through dense lapped traffic, Balog closed the gap on Thiel on lap 11 along the low groove.

However, Balog was briefly bottled up behind two lapped cars racing side by side which allowed Thiel to build up a halfstraightaway cushion by lap 18. Thiel’s advantage was erased on lap 18 when two-time IRA champion Scotty Neitzel of Beaver Dam spun to a stop between turns three and four.

With Balog on his rear bumper, Thiel flexed his muscle on the restart to fend off Balog’s attempt to duck low and wrestle away the lead. By lap 21, Thiel had carved out a half-straightaway lead over Balog who is the winningest driver in IRA history.

In the final six laps, Balog came to life, pushing his Rhine Auto machine the limit to reel in Thiel along the treacherous outside groove. Using a big run on the final lap, Balog dove low to pull nearly even with Thiel heading to the checkered flag. However, Thiel was just too strong as he held off Balog by just over a car length at the finish line.

The A-main victory was Thiel’s fourth IRA main event win of the season and eighth overall in his IRA career. Thiel has now won four of the last seven IRA A-main events, including three of the last four.

Balog had to settle for second, third starter Wayne Modjeski of Oak Creek placed third, Blake Nimee of Oswego, Ill., placed fourth after starting ninth and Uttech rounded out the top five.

“The track was really different than what it normally is here,” Thiel said. “Usually it slicks off and has a curb.

“My crew guys worked their tails off to give me a great car tonight. We’ve been on a hot streak lately and I just want to keep riding it as long as we can.”

Balog, who came into the event with a 104-point lead over Thiel in the IRA point standings, put together a solid night to remain in control of the IRA point lead.

“We were fast all night on a very fast track,” Balog said. “I was trying to go for the win in the last few laps but I couldn’t quite get to him.”

Modjeski was pleased after posting his best A-main finish of the IRA season.

“It felt good to have a good car all night,’ Modjeski said. “I can’t say enough about everyone that helps me out. They have done an incredible job to help me get out here with these guys in the top three tonight.”

In the 27-lap 360 Sprint Car A- main, 40-year veteran Al Schlafer of Sussex grabbed the lead on the opening lap from the pole. On lap 2, 2010 PDTR Sprint Car champion Kurt Davis drove low to pass outside frontrow starter Tim Haddy of Waupun for second.

Davis quickly moved in to challenge Schlafer and on lap 11 the Midwest Sprint Car Association career A-main victory leader swept past Schlafer to assume the top spot. Two laps later, Davis spun in turn two as Slinger’s Dannon Tessmer suffered a steering malfunction directly in front of him in turn two on lap 13.

After Davis restarted at the rear of the field, Schlafer inherited the lead back with fourth starter Will Gerrits of Waupun second and seventh starter Jim Melis running third.

On lap 16, a four-car incident in turn one sent the cars of Doug Wondra of Oakfield and 2008 PDTR Sprint Car champion Lance Fassbender of Burnett flipping. Wayne Modjeski and Anthony Knierim of Franksville were also involved in the melee. Both Wondra’s and Fassbender’s cars were heavily damaged and both drivers were done for the night.

On the restart, Melis worked his way into second and wasted no time closing in on Schlafer for the lead. On lap 21, Melis used the low line to power past Schlafer in turn three. Four laps later, 12th starter Justin Miller of Plymouth worked past Schlafer to gain the runner-up spot.

Out in front, Melis cruised over the final six laps to notch his second A-main victory of the season, 16th career PDTR A-main win and 19th overall Midwest Sprint Car Association main event triumph.

Miller was second, Schlafer took third, Gerrits claimed fourth and point leader and 10th starter Brandon McMullen of Oshkosh posted a fifth-place showing after his team executed an engine change between his heat race and the A-main.

Rookie Preston Ruh of Elkhart Lake led the first seven laps of the 20-lap PDTR Micro Sprint A-main from the fourth starting spot. On lap eight, 2016 PDTR Micro Sprint champ Boden, who started sixth, used the low groove to pass Ruh for the lead.

From there, Boden pulled out to a half-lap victory over the final 12 laps en route to his fifth career PDTR Micro Sprint A-main triumph. Tenth starter Dave Collins of Madison was second, fifth starter Jack Vanderboom of Dousman placed third, Ruh wound up fourth and third starter Tyler Davis of South Milwaukee claimed fifth.

B-main victories went to Bill Wirth of Cudahy (IRA 410 Sprint Car) and Lance Fassbender (PDTR 360 Sprint Car).

The racing program, which honored longtime IRA competitor Frank Filskov, who died in a racing accident in October 1996, was delayed for over any hour by rain. After quick work by the track crew, the night went on as scheduled on a lightning-fast track surface which yielded trackrecord times in heat-race action.

This Saturday’s PDTR program will honor all past champions at the Plymouth track. Racing will begin at 6 p.m.

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