On a weekend honoring Mid-American Stock Car Series founder Gary Vercauteren and his family, the spirit of the series shone brighter than the afternoon sun at Road America. With assistance from a multitude of MASCS teams, Bill Prietzel was able to capture his third Vercauteren Memorial Sunday at Road America.
“Without all of our friends from Mid-Am, this would have never happened,” Prietzel said. “I told Jan (Prietzel’s wife) last night we’ll take one lap on Sunday and put it away because it was overheating.”
Lyle Nowak started by taking a header off Prietzel’s engine. Then Bret Widdis helped take the transmission out. From that point on, it was a frenzy of Mid-American drivers and teams working to keep Prietzel in contention for Sunday.
“Those guys all helped me beat them,” Prietzel said. “It’s like it has been for years, they want to beat you on the race track and I feel the same way. This is fantastic. What a way to show the friendship of Mid-American racing.”
Prietzel said he knew after two laps in the morning practice session that his racer was ready for the 40-mile affair. It took less than that amount of time in the feature race to prove that his Monte Carlo was the class of the field.
By turn 11 Prietzel had moved from his sixth-place starting spot to second. Charging up the hill toward the start/finish line, Prietzel seized the lead spot from James Swan to register the first lap.
The second circuit got worse for Swan as his racer spewed fluid and spun wildly entering turn three. Travis Rodewald and Dave Marshall were collected in the mayhem, as well.
Fast qualifier Ron Weyer had a front-seat view of the breakdown. “I think Swan lost a radiator hose,” Weyer said. “There was water everywhere and it sprayed all over my windshield. He was sideways, the 27 (Rodewald) was sideways and I went to the outside, just nipping the gravel and the rumble strip, and got around it all.”
An excessive amount of cleanup was required to get the turn three area race ready. The red flag was displayed causing a 15 minute delay.
The delay turned into a fortunate stoppage for 17-year-old Paige Decker, who led the field to green alongside Swan. Decker lost oil pressure entering turn five on the first lap and veered off course. After coming to the attention of her crew, Decker rejoined the field two laps down. Consistently clicking off lap times just off those of the leaders, Decker recovered for an 11th-place finish.
When the field returned to green-flag conditions, road-racing-regular Mike Mulcahy restarted behind Prietzel. Although Prietzel stretched his lead out to over two seconds, he said he still felt the presence of Mulcahy posed a threat.
“You never know what’s going to happen. One mistake, one missed shift, one gravel trap and you’re all done,” Prietzel analyzed. “Staying on the course is paramount. Until the last two laps there was no breathing room, and then I had just a little breathing room from Mike. Not an easy day, but I guess it was worth it.”
In the final two circuits Mulcahy lost ground to Weyer and Mark Pluer. On the final lap Weyer and Pluer, running nose to tail, were able to slip under Mulcahy entering the dreaded turn five.
“The three car was slowing down a little bit and that was our last shot at getting him coming down the hill to turn five,” Pluer said. “He went a little wide, Ron and I ducked under and that was it.”
Mulcahy was credited with fourth, but did not pass post-race inspection. David Verhagen, with a career-best MASCS effort, crossed the line fifth.
For the long-time Mid-American veteran Prietzel, another year with the Harold and Regina Vercauteren traveling trophy in his possession is only sweetened by the venue where it was won.
“In the winter of ’92 Gary started the asphalt part of Mid-American and I saw they were going to Road America,” Prietzel recalled. “I called Larry Richards and said, ‘build me a chassis, I want to go to Road America.’”
Ironically, capturing his second straight win on the twists and turns of Road America has brought the three-time champion’s career full circle. “The first race I ever ran with Mid-Am was here in ’93. This is pretty cool,” Prietzel said.
The current MASCS point leader retains only a three-point lead over second-place Brian Back as 75 points were given to each competitor entered. Points seemed to be the farthest thing from Prietzel’s mind in victory lane while posing with the Vercauteren family.
And what of being the first three-time Vercauteren Memorial winner and the first two-time MASCS Road America winner?
“Not bad,” Prietzel said. “We’ll try it again next year if we get lucky.”
Showing the versatility of the cars and drivers of Mid-American, the series next visits the ½-mile clay oval of Dodge County Fairgrounds Speedway in Beaver Dam, Wis., on Friday, July 2. The Big Clay Clash for Cash is the first MASCS appearance on dirt since the series’ predecessor, the Midwest Grand National Series, ran a schedule of dirt and asphalt races in 1992. Mid-American will join the IRA Sprint Cars and an open division of midget cars for the Sue Thiel Memorial.
Dodge County Fairgrounds Speedway is located on High Point Road, just south of highway 33 in Beaver Dam, Wis. For more information visit www.dodgecountyfairgrounds.com/SpeedwayHome.htm.
For more information about the Mid-American Stock Car Series, including the full 2010 schedule, results, standings and driver information visit www.midamericanracing.com.
Vercauteren Memorial 40-mile Feature: 1. Bill Prietzel, Richfield, Wis.; 2. Ron Weyer, Richfield, Wis.; 3. Mark Pluer, Brookfield, Wis.; 4. David Verhagen, Green Bay, Wis.; 5. Bret Widdis, Manistique, Mich.; 6. Bobby Gutknecht, Oak Creek, Wis.; 7. Butch Mierendorf, Waterloo, Wis.; 8. Ryan Gutknecht, Oak Creek, Wis.; 9. Scott Null, Lake Mills, Wis.; 10. Crystal Wood, Denmark, Wis.
Fast Qualifier: Weyer – 2:33.189 minutes