A total of four championships couldn’t cause Tyler Bauknecht to flinch. The Mid-American Stock Car Series rookie picked up his first series win at Dells Raceway Park Saturday night by holding off Bill Prietzel and Mark Pluer on a late restart.
Before Bauknecht had the opportunity to fend off Prietzel and Pluer, he was locked in an early side-by-side battle with the defending DRP winner. The second-generation MASCS driver gave Pluer the dreaded outside line, where the 1996 champ was unable to capitalize.
“I saw him in my rearview mirror. He was going to the outside, and I just told myself that I wasn’t going to let him get around me on the outside,” Bauknecht said. “I just kept running as hard as I could. I left nothing out there.”
The duel began after Bauknecht took advantage of the pole position to dispose of Chris Ratajczyk. With the door open, Pluer immediately slid into the runner-up spot. Pluer took only four circuits before he jumped to the high line.
In search of his second consecutive win at the Dells, and third in four starts, Pluer slowly pulled even with Bauknecht. On lap six Pluer put his nose ahead and was scored as the leader. Bauknecht had a rebuttal in store and stormed back on the inside line. After creeping back on the low line for three circuits, Bauknecht forced Pluer to tuck back in line behind him.
“I had to get him early if I could get him,” Pluer said. “I actually had the position once, but I couldn’t take it away. He charged back and took it back. I had nothing for him after that.”
As Pluer started to lose ground to Bauknecht, and with Ratajczyk riding in third, a frantic battle ensued for the chance to challenge the top three. Prietzel, Adam Bendzick and Mike Lichtfeld swapped the high and low lines in a four-lap dispute. Clinging to the bottom, Prietzel would not allow either Bendzick or Lichtfeld to swipe the spot down low. Bendzick won the battle with Lichtfeld and continued to pressure Prietzel.
Another three-car battle deeper in the field erupted with an incredible three-wide pass by Jeremy Bloomberg. Exiting the second turn on lap 15 Lyle Nowak and Jeremy Spoonmore made slight contact. As the two washed up the track, Bloomberg seized the opportunity to dive low. Bloomberg moved to ninth, but was unable to shake Nowak who moved past just a few laps later.
With the three-wide display causing a distraction to fans, Brian Back, who set a new track record in qualifying, was moving through the field undetected. Displaying the number 61 to honor his grandfather Jim Back, Back raced side-by-side with Kevin Kulka for a multitude of circuits. Riding the high side Back was unable to clear Kulka for the seventh spot. The battle broke down on lap 26 as Back was sent into the spin cycle. Both competitors were sent to the tail of the field.
The lap-26 restart was short lived as Ryan Gutknecht looped his racer in turn two on lap 27. However, Prietzel was able to clear Ratajczyk and move into third, setting up a nervous moment for the leader Bauknecht.
With only 13 laps remaining on the scoreboard, Bauknecht saw the two former champs dangling in his rearview mirror, prepared to pounce at the display of the green.
“My heart was pounding. It was unbelievable,” Bauknecht said of the moment.
Leading the field back to action, Bauknecht jumped out to a car-length over the veteran duo. Prietzel and Pluer locked into a battle for second, allowing Bauknecht to break away even further over the next three trips around the third-mile.
Proving its worth once again, the low line was to the advantage of Pluer, who secured second with ten laps to go. Pluer began to chop away at Bauknecht’s now seven car-length lead, and Prietzel again fell into the clutches of Bendzick. The Apple Valley, Minn., driver took several looks at Prietzel entering the turns, but his challenges were halted with a final caution on lap 32 when Bret Widdis and Tom McClintock made contact.
A single-file restart allowed Bauknecht to once again jump out to a healthy advantage over Pluer. Over the final eight laps Bauknecht ran the same consistent line that had kept him up front throughout the race. Pluer settled for second, Prietzel claimed third, Bendzick recorded his best MASCS finish in fourth, and Ratajcyzk, making his Mid-Am debut, finished fifth.
His father Dave and his brother Kyle both being Mid-American graduates, Bauknecht was all smiles in carrying on the family tradition with a win.
“This is great. I love it,” Bauknecht said. “I could get used to this.”
With his win Bauknecht moved to fifth in points, 69 back of Prietzel and all but locked up rookie of the year honors. Prietzel made up the points he lost to Back and Nowak in qualifying with his third-place finish. Prietzel now leads Nowak by 23 markers. Pluer moved to third in standings 36 points back, and Back sits fourth 47 points out of the lead.
Mid-American will take a month-long break and spring back into action on Saturday, Aug. 28 at Marshfield Motor Speedway. The Heart of Wisconsin 40 is rescheduled from the original July 17 date.
Marshfield Motor Speedway is located on County Road H, just west of Highway 13 in Marshfield, Wis. For more information visit www.marshfieldspeedway.com