Plenty of excitement surrounded the ASA Midwest Tour opener Sunday at Madison International Speedway, but it didn't overshadow some of the emotion as drivers and fans remembered the late Joe Shear, one of the greatest short track drivers of all time - who was remembered with the running of the Joe Shear Classic.
“He was such a neat guy,” says ASAMT driver Chris Wimmer, “My brother raced against him a lot and he was definitely one of the guys I looked up to; the kind of racer I wanted to be.”
As stories and memories of Shear were shared throughout the night, ASA Midwest Tour drivers got set for a 136 lap race. With a break at 100 laps, it made for a 36 lap shootout to the checkered flag, in honor of Shear's number, 36.
Jeremy Lepak set the mark for qualifying with Dan Lensing, Jeff Storm, Chris Wimmer, and Jonathan Eilen rounding out the top-five. With the invert, Jocob Goede and Nathan Haseleu began the Joe Shear Classic 136 from the front row, and it didn't take long for Hasuleu to take the lead. It also didn't take long for the caution flag to fly either.
Just two laps in to the race, Dan Fredrickson and Goede made some contact while jockeying for the second position. The contact caused some of the field stack up, taking four of the top thirteen fastest qualifying cars out of the race, and sending Fredrickson and Goede to the rear of the field.
“I was on the outside of Goede going through one and two and we got together a little,” says Fredrickson, “I was fine, but he got a little out of shape and never totally regained control and started to spin, I'm not totally sure how it worked out. I was on the outside of the guy, so I guess I wasn't sure why I got sent to the back.”
Meanwhile, Haseleu had his work cut out for him up front. Tim Schendel's car was good all weekend and on lap 19 he went to the inside of Haseleu to take the lead and Steve Carlson followed right behind to take over the second spot.
But Schendel and Carlson's breakaway was short lived. By lap 61 Haseleu moved back in to the second position and three laps later, after a restart, took the lead back and held it until the break.
“I wasn't sure if we should change anything at the break or not,” said Haseleu, “We were leading, so we didn't really change anything.”
Schendel's #21 and Carlson's #66 began to slide back in the field and by lap 100 fell out of the top five. But a few different drivers were making their march to the front. Steve Rubeck and Travis Sauter both needed the qualifying race to make the big show and at the break Rubeck had moved all the way up in to the third position, while Sauter eyed the top-five.
Fast qualifier Jeremy Lepak also worked his way up from his tenth starting position and in to second.
The final 36 laps were nothing short of exciting, just the way Joe Shear would have liked. With 22 laps to go Lepak got to the front to battle Haseleu's #87 for the lead. Lepak looked in the inside, then the outside, and each time Haseleu shut the door.
“The car just wasn't quite as good when we came out from the break,” says Lepak, “We were good for about 20 laps and then it just started getting too free on me. Nate was actually just as free as I was, but he was still a little better than I was.”
The #87 began to pull away again and held on to take the first ASAMT checkered flag of the season, with Lepak finishing second.
“I didn't know how good our car was going to be at the beginning,” says Haseleu, “We got the lead and then Steve and Tim got out there and Jeremy was really fast. Those last ten laps I was just holding on for dear life, but when I began to pull away my knees were about shaking because I wanted to win so bad and I just thought if I don't screw up and spin it out or something I'm going to win. I'm really proud to win this race, it's really cool.”
“To finish second to Nate, he's awesome here, gets around here the best of anybody,” says Lepak, “So to finish second to him, I have no problem with that.”
Behind Haseleu though, things still got interesting. Carlson, driving in the top ten, pulled off the track with 22 laps to go with a tire issue and just two laps later Rubeck, who was in the top-five, broke an axel and was also forced to retire from the race.
Travis Sauter's car continued to show strength. From his starting position of 22nd, he drive his #5 Chevy to a 3rd place finish.
“It's typical for us,” says Sauter, “I don't know why we can't qualify any better. I knew the car would be good after that last chance race so we hardly made any changes. There was that wreck and some good cars fell out, but we passed a lot of. The car wasn't perfect, but it was good enough for third this weekend.”
For race winner Haseleu, who considers Madison his home track, winning the Joe Shear Memorial at a place where Shear made a name for himself is something very special.
“It's pretty cool and hopefully they'll keep in going on for many years to come and it's really neat that I'm the first one to ever win it,” says Haseleu.
The ASAMT now enjoys a weekend off before heading to Iowa Speedway May 16th for the Pride of Iowa 100.