FRANSEN COPS $5,000 MADISON SUPER LM OPENER By Dean Strom
Great Opening at MIS For New Owners Despite Threat of Rain
As Carlson drove away from the field, Eric Fransen, Ron Breese, Jr, Ryan Hanson and Donavan Morgan thrilled the crowd in a great battle for the runner-up spot. Hanson's night ended early, however, the victim of a broken trailing arm mount.
The field was put under caution on lap 93 when 1996 MIS Late Model Track Champion Travis Kvapil was involved in a solo spin in turn two. Kvapil, now a budding young star on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, was running sixth at the time, behind the wheel of the Pathfinder house-car.
The latest chapter of the Madison (Wis) International Speedway got off to a great start Friday night as 56 Super Late Models came through the back gate and roughly 3,000 racing starved fans braved the cold and two brief rain delays.
From there, the final seven laps got wild. Just two laps back to green, Morgan made a bid for the third spot under Breese as the pair headed up the back chute. Breese appeared to drive Morgan low in an attempt to protect his spot. Morgan then got into turn three at an awkward angle and drifted up the track in the middle of the corner into another car. The contact set off a wild chain reaction incident which saw Morgan make hard contact with the inside wall and also collected Dave Feiler, Tony Strupp, Steve Rubeck and Nottestad.
The field was stopped on the back stretch so the carnage from the incident could be cleaned up. It was at that time that track safety workers noticed a large amount of rear end fluid leaving Carlson's lead machine. After reviewing the situation, Carlson was asked to take his racer to the pits.
"At first I was a little upset with the decision," said Carlson. "But when I got it back to the pits I saw that it was leaking pretty bad."
Carlson claimed to have the "New Car Blues."
"When you build a brand new car, what you like to do is go to your local track, shake it down and bring it back to the shop and go over it. I worked on this thing all night on Thursday, so we didn't have the time to give it a test run. The rear end cover just worked itself loose."
New owner Terry Kunes and general manager Roy Kenseth ushered in the much anticipated "new" MIS. And judging by the great field of cars and enthusiastic fan response, the speedway appears to be in good hands for several years to come.
Local favorite Dale Nottestad set fast time at 17.682 seconds (101.798 mph). The quick mark was just a tick off of Travis Kvapil's long-standing track record.
The rain delays, and the threat of more rain, forced track officials to alter the racing format somewhat. Twenty drivers automatically advanced to the main event from qualifying. Heat races were replaced by twin 25-lap qualifying races. Jim Sauter, Jr and Dan Topel transferred out of the first while Jeff Van OudenHoven and Jamie Wallace made it out of the second.
After a 16-car invert, Erik Darnell and Lowell Bennett started the Miller Lite 100 from the front row while Steve Carlson and Tim Schendel lined up in row two.
Bennett got the jump on the field and led the first 15 circuits before Carlson shot around him. Once out front, Carlson appeared to have his brand new racer set on cruise control.
That gave Fransen the lead and moved Breese to second. With just five laps remaining, many in the crowd were reminded of the same situation, just five days earlier, for the opener of the NASCAR International Truck and Engine Corporation Midwest Series at the Rockford Speedway. At the Midwest Series opener Fransen led the first 253 circuits and led the field to the white flag with Breese running second. The pair made contact on the last lap and neither one ended up in victory lane.
On this night, however, there was no denying Fransen as he was able to hold off Breese, take the $5,000 payday and, arguably, the biggest win of his career.
When asked if he was thinking about the Midwest Series opener, Fransen replied, "Oh yeah, I won't ever forget about that one. I want to thank Ron for running me clean tonight and not dialing me. I had it in my mind that I was either coming home with the trophy or nothing but the steering wheel."
Breese, meanwhile, was happy to finish second.
"I didn't have anything for him. Eric had a better car than I did all night long. I'll take it, it's not a bad second."