After the Michigan Swing for ISMA had fallen by the wayside, the decision was made to go to Toledo Speedway on Friday night and Berlin Raceway on Saturday. The need for speed and bragging rights about which was fastest among the sprint cars and the supermodifieds is nothing new and has always been something that the Toledo show promoted as “The Fastest Short Track Show in the World.” After meeting with then AVSS president and owner Jack Calabrase, I don’t think this show would have ever happened had it not been for his foresight and promotional skills. He understood that pairing the two fasttest open wheel divisions together was something that the fans couldn’t miss. This Wing Side Up Archive column was written after the 2001 Midwest Madness, (our terminology), and originally appeared in MARC Times Racing News on June 6, 2011 as well as on the original Wing Side Up website at the same time. We have crossed through the old address, website and phone number. BG
Wing Side Up
By Bob Gangwer
Goshen, IN 6/11/01… The combination of weather, high car counts, fast and first rates racing venues, and packed grandstands are enough to make any race fan grin. Augment that with reasonable prices, beautiful racecars, and heart stopping, highly competitive racing action and you have a fan that will be left with a smile the rest of the racing season.
All of that came together at one time for one weekend in the Midwest and it’s going to be awfully hard to top all that alignment of stars by the end of the year. It’s like Woodstock with wheels, and you know how long it took for Woodstock to come around again for the second time.
It all started when we rolled into Toledo and saw a line of racecar trailers stretching from the pit gate, the length of the entrance road and it was only 10 am. Instantly memories of earlier times at Kalamazoo Speedway came rushing back.
The whole time enthusiasm and anticipation was running rampant through the campground. Who would be fastest? Could the Auto Value Sprints actually bust the supermodified fan’s bubble?
That question was quickly and decisively answered by Gary Fedewa when he bested 29 sprinters and 35 supermodifieds with a new sprint car track record. The Michigan speedster that is on his way to legendary status, screamed around the Toledo high banks with a 13.57-second lap.
Remember the Sprint commercial where the pin is bouncing around? If you could have calmed the crowd enough, you would have heard that pin drop in the supermodified pits and it was almost as loud as their jaws hitting the ground.
Never mind. There’s bragging rights on the line here and the super crews did all they could to re-claim that title within the confines of a restrictive tire rule. Not only did the supers have to have a tire that would last from the heats through the 75-lap feature; they also had to time trial on that same tire. Most race fans know that a harder tire lasts longer, and with all that time on a tire, you better have a hard one, the likes of which would rival John Holmes. Hence the addition of rocks to the rear end of the roadsters, where the sprinters had softer tires for their time trial runs. Soft means sticky, which translates to blazingly fast lap times.
The super fans waited and waited. It got down to the last 5 cars then Chris Perley took to the track. The “Rowley Rocket” didn’t disappoint and clicked off a 13.60-second lap. Obviously fast, but still not NTR material. The chances were slim that Fedewa’s time would be broken and AVSS leader Jack Calabrase and his whole clan stood smiling a “told ya so” smirk.
It looked fast and it sounded fast. It was fast. As fast as Perley’s time. Still Dave Shullick, Jr. didn’t have enough in the Kovacs #38 to better the time that tied Perley’s and the sprinters went home with bragging rights until the Canadian Swing in July.
Shullick told us later that he only qualified on 7 cylinders said to us, “If we’d had all eight, we would have been in the 1’s or 0’s, I was flat-out all the way around and the car was handling awesome, but there just wasn’t any motor left.”
Time trials were over and it was time for us to hide. We watched Timmy Jedrzejek take his heat first ISMA heat win of the year in the Kovacs #7. The second heat lined up and it was sure to be a great one, as there were some heavy hitters in this one. Those heavy hitters included Shullick, Jr. who had taken over the #33 team car from his father after time trials due to the engine woes on the #38. This would move “Shoe 2” to the last row of the heat with a lot of chasing to do. The youngster went hammer down right away and was passing cars on the bottom, and the top of the track at a rate of 1 per lap. He had moved into the top five and had earned a transfer spot when all hell broke loose.
Shoe 2 Loses a Shoe-
As Shullick barreled down the long backstretch, little did he know that the left rear tire was about to go completely flat in an instant. Just as Shullick made his approach to the turn, it happened. The chassis dropped to the ground and the young speedster started a 140 mph backwards slide towards the third turn wall that would culminate with a vicious hit on the right rear. The first hit was hard enough but that spun the car around in the air and the second hit removed the entire front end of the car. As the axle was left to find it’s home in front of the rest of the drastically dodging field, Shullick made yet more contact to the wall and was now between 3 and 4. Finally, enough inertia had been spent and the battered car sat half way down the banks as the emergency vehicles approached a slowly moving Shullick.
This was our view of the incident:
He exited the car under his own power and took some time to collect his thoughts then rode back to the pits. When we caught up to him later, he said that he had no idea that the tire was going flat. “It was a little loose, but it just went flat instantly, ” he said. “I’m very sore, my brand new $700 helmet is broke in two places, my ankle, knees, head and neck is beat up,” added Shullick. Then he added quickly, “But the car is fixable. Jim Bodnar is great and he will get it back together.”
Cicconi took that heat win and Joey Payne bested Chris Perley in the third heat. Howie Lane won the 13-car consi.
The sprinters put on a great 30 lap feature in which Dorman Snyder in the Tracy Rice #9 nearly won but got caught in traffic allowing a third place running Gary Fedewa to steal the win from Snyder’s grasp with only 2 laps remaining.
The three heats went to Jay Rohrback, Charlie Shultz and Kevin Feeney. John Hotchkiss won the B-main. The top ten in the feature were Fedewa, Snyder, Tyler, Tim Cox, Jeff Bloom, Jason Blonde, Hank Lower, Curt Shumaker, Feeney and Mike Ling.
While the sprinters were fun to watch, they just didn’t compare to the hearing Pat Shullick and Joe Petro bring 24 big block, fire-breathing monsters to the green flag.
Shullick immediately grabbed the lead and started to pull away while the rest of the field played slice and dice. There was action all over the track. Joey Payne was on the move as well as Joe Gosek, Russ Wood, Chris Perley, and Dave McKnight. Petro had started to slide back somewhat as Scotty Martel held second and Cicconi was moving up quickly from his eighth place starting place.
The raced slowed somewhat for a spinning Mark Buonomo on lap 8. Shullick would be slowed again on lap 16 when Petro bounced off the back-chute wall.
On the restart, Gosek went to work immediately on Shullick but Shullick was fast and pulled away leaving Gosek to fend off Wood, Cicconi, Joey Payne, and Wood for second. Shullick met heavy traffic and masterfully played it to his advantage. But Shullick couldn’t hold off the pack and Cicconi saw an opportunity and pounced taking the lead on lap 29.
The Big One-
The racing was fast and tense as Cicconi started to pull away. The race stayed green until a horrible crash on the backstretch involving Doug Saunier, Wood, Payne, and Martel. Saunier had spun and hit the wall after a left rear wheel broke, leaving him sitting in the middle of the track facing the wrong way. When Cicconi came out of turn 2 he slowed dramatically and most thought he had jumped out of gear or broke and was headed to the pits. In actuality he had seen Saunier sitting on the track and was anticipating a yellow. While Cicconi frantically waved his hand to warn the others, Gosek, Payne, Wood and Martel were involved in a fierce battle, running nose to tail, side by side.
They flew past Cicconi. Gosek apparently saw Saunier and swerved leaving Joey Payne with the dreadful site of Saunier watching him come. Payne hit Saunier head on with such a force that both would later say that they had never felt an impact ever before in their lives like that. Payne ended up in the air and came to a grinding halt only after Wood had driven under him loosing his injection in the process. Martel then hit Wood and shades of 1995 came back to haunt him.
All drivers were ok, but Saunier and Payne were very sore and heavily bruised all over. The same could not be said for the cars of Payne and Saunier as both were severely damaged and will have to be cut off at some points and rebuilt.
The race resumed with 15 of the 24 starters and Gosek got past Shullick for second on lap 38. McKnight moved into third past Shullick on lap 42 then stole second from Gosek on lap 60.
Even with McKnight charging hard and lapped traffic coming into serious play, Cicconi had the field covered. He led the rest of the race under a green flag to take his first win of the year and become the 4th different driver in as many races to sit in ISMA victory lane.
McKnight held on for second with a broken wing and Gosek, Chris Perley, Timmy J. and Ken Bell crossed the line in the top five.
On to Where It All Began-
With the carnage from the night before coming into play, the field was dropped to 28 cars for Berlin. Even so they were 28 good cars and everyone anticipated another good night of racing.
No one could have predicted the way the evening would go. It was a night of firsts as well as familiarity.
The first heat took to the track in front of a capacity crowd and that crowd would be screaming with all their might at the end of the heat. Jennifer Chesbro took her first ever ISMA win after staving off the hard challenges of Johnny Payne and Russ Wood. In so doing she became the first woman to ever win an ISMA race and the crowd went berserk. What a joy to see Jennifer’s father Ray, (himself a former super driver) shaking with pride and wiping tears from his eyes as his elated daughter jumped from her cockpit amid the cheers of the fans.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, the second heat moved out. Willie Stutzman started on the pole with Joey Hawksby to his right. “Wild Willie” looked took the green flag in wild style as he was every which way but straight, but saved the sideways car as the rest of the field backed off to avert a replay of Toledo.
Once Willie got squared away, he was gone. No one could touch him. He was the Willie of old that had raced Berlin so many years before and had enamored himself with the fans of the Midwest as their hero.
The crowd again roared their approval as Willie shook his hands in the air and waved to the fans like the consummate showman that he has always been. He told us afterwards, “whew, I’m worn out!”
Next up was the third heat and again the fans were on their feet watching “Liquid Lou” Cicconi slice through the field from next to last place starting place. The Toledo winner took another checkered flag in impressive style and the tone was set for the 50 lap feature, but not before the crowd could continue their cheers as Ray Graham, Jr. in the Jaycox #91 won his first ever ISMA race by winning the 12 lap consi.
The field was introduced and Willie Stutzman was on the pole with Jon Henes to the outside. This time Willie brought the field to the green flag in fine style and began what would be one of the finest Berlin ISMA shows to date.
For 18 exhilarating laps, Willie held the lead and a big lead at that. But as he approached lapped traffic he also met the screaming #75 of Lou Cicconi. Cicconi never looked back. He weaved in and out of traffic like a master as the rest of the field sliced and diced for place. The whole time the race never saw the yellow wave until lap 40 when Scotty Martel, who was having another great run, got into a slowing Mark Sammut.
Still, the Ashton, PA driver won in commanding style again to take home the $5000 winner’s share of the record ISMA purse paid out at Berlin. As always the Dunigan cars were very fast at Berlin and Joe Gosek came home second followed by his teammate and Berlin master, Russ Wood. Fourth place went to Dave McKnight, while Timmy Jedrzejek brought home his second top five of the weekend.
ISMA returns to action July 6th and 7th for their first trip to the Kawartha Downs Speedway and Cayuga 2000 Speedway.
Again, we just can’t stress enough what a great weekend this was. The crowds were huge both nights and the racing was absolutely spine tingling. We saw a lot of personal bests and some real improvements among many of the teams. There wasn’t a piece of junk to be found and ISMA outdid themselves with class and style that the fans ate up. Yes, there’s still work to be done, but if ISMA can take this weekend, learn from it and capitalize on it, good things aren’t too far off.
Randy Ritskes was impressive in the Lane #97 at Berlin. Randy was ready to leave after the Miller 16 bent a valve in practice. Just in the nick of time he was reeled into the Howie Lane car when Howie felt that Randy could do a better job on this night as Howie wasn’t feeling well. Ritskes ended up 13th.
Jimmy Shirey worked hard all weekend on a sick engine, finally getting it to iron out at Berlin. He was one of several drivers complaining of a sick engine. Jimmy says that he is going to pull the engine to try to figure things out and may miss the next 2 MSA shows.
If Johnny Payne could catch a break, we think he would be a top 5 car. The Team PMS driver continues to show moments of greatness, but something always jumps up to bite him and it’s not the good luck fairy.
Dion Parish brought out the Redline Racing #62 for Berlin. The car was beautifully painted and was admired by many. Dion is another driver that can’t seem to get any good luck. He battled with an engine miss all day long after having no problems during a test session at Kalamazoo four days before. Then he picked up a screw in his left rear tire and had to struggle to find one because there was no tire dealer there for the supers. Dion is hoping to get things sorted out and ready for this weekend’s second MSA show of the year at Sandusky.
Supermodified legend Duane Knoll was in the Berlin crowd and received a huge round of applause when introduced by Artie Rousseau.
Berlin had a fantastic fireworks show that kept everyone around and chomping at the bit to get into the pits to see the ISMA supers. The teams had been told to leave the cars out of the trailers so that the fans could get up and personal with the drivers and the rare beasts. We were pleased to see so many first time fans drooling over the supers. This is how you make die-hard super fans. When they can ask questions, touch and interact with the cars. Even the shy fan smiles when a driver says hello. There’s not a better feeling in the world than to see a young fan beaming ear to ear as they slide into the seat of a super. We remember the feeling as a kid and so do many other friends. This is something that leaves a lasting impression and encourages more families to come out. When the kid and the wife are happy there is harmony in the home, and these two shows definitely made for some happy families. ISMA would do well to work with promoters to speed shows along and work the show so that the fans get a chance to see the cars in the pits afterwards when it’s not too late and past the kiddies bedtime.
Greg Furlong won at Oswego. But that’s all we have for now.
The SRL runs at Pikes Peak International this weekend and CAM is at Mesa Marin.
We received the sad news about Davey Hamilton’s crash at Texas while in the pits at Berlin. We are praying for Davey and hoping for a full recovery to his lower extremities. Get well soon Davey.
Todd and Brenda Gibson were in the Toledo pits roaming around. We asked them were their eldest son was and why he wasn’t driving the Kovacs car at one of his best tracks. Todd said that Gene Lee had to work and with the economy slowing in their neck of the woods felt it was prudent to be at the job.
We took some serious ribbing from Jeff Bloom over our last column. Hey, we gotta get those sprint car people to read about real racecars somehow Jeff! Somehow we think Jeff just misses sitting in a supermod, why else would he spend so much time in the super pits afterwards?
We enjoyed meeting many new people this weekend that we had become acquainted with one way or another over the winter and early spring. We hope to meet up with Rob Vermaire and Clancy Ward again soon. We always feel like we slight people when we don’t have a chance to say hello, and we never seem to have enough time to spend with everyone. We think that this is a good thing in some ways because it means that we are lucky enough to have that many friends. We also think that this only happens within the auto racing community.
The ISMA Midwest Madness is over and so is this week’s column. While this column could never compare to the excitement we had in Ohio and Michigan, we hope that you will let us know what you think by dropping us a line. Send it to
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Father’s day is this weekend and we just want to say “thanks pa.” We appreciate all that you have done for us and it was especially fun to get to hang out on this weekend in the cushy confines of the new road hog. You got us there and back in comfort. All the time rolling down the road all these years, you’ve managed to “Keep It Wing Side Up and Wheels to the Ground.”
Were you at this race? Leave a comment below and let us know what you enjoyed about it!