There is a saying that “close” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. After a few near misses during his TUNDRA Super Late Model Series career, Mike Lichtfeld doesn’t have to worry about being “close” to his first TUNDRA win any longer.
Lichtfeld capitalized on Wyatt Brooks’ misfortune and held off Brooks’ teammate, Jordan Thiel, with just eight laps remaining in the Wegner Motorsports 75 as part of TUNDRA Round Five Powered by Wisconsin Potatoes. The win came in Lichtfeld’s 26th series start and is now the fifth time he’s been in a top-three finishing spot.
With Lichtfeld’s trip to Victory Lane, all five TUNDRA Super Late Model Series events so far in 2017 have seen first-time winners.
“This means so much to me,” said Lichtfeld, who has never missed a TUNDRA event either as a competitor or worker for the series. “I don’t think we had the best car today. I think the 25 (Brooks) had the best car today. I didn’t know where our chances stood coming into today, but we threw some changes at it for the feature and we held on – literally.”
Before any challenge materialized on the track, Lichtfeld had to overcome some emotion in the cockpit of his race car. An early-race incident sent his brother Steve head-on into the tire barriers off turn two. Steve was sore, but was able to walk away under his own power.
“I don’t know if you know this, but if you see your brother up there taking a pretty hard hit, it shakes you up quite a bit,” Lichtfeld said. “It took me a little while to get going again.”
The incident ignited when title contenders Cole Anderson and Dalton Zehr were jockeying for position entering turn one on lap two. Anderson attempted to dive to the bottom, but space was limited. As the two hooked, several others were collected, including fellow title contender Colin Reffner. All were able to make repairs and rejoin – with the exception of Steve Lichtfeld.
Once the field returned to green, the remaining 73 laps went off uninterrupted. Brooks reassumed the lead and began to stretch out his advantage. Unfortunately, just past halfway, smoke started to spill from his machine. Faulty power steering soon claimed Brooks’ chances as he slowed and was chased down by Lichtfeld, Thiel, and others.
Once in the lead, Lichtfeld’s advantage over Thiel started to shrink. Thiel – who transferred through a qualifying race and charged from 15th on the starting grid – ran down Lichtfeld and provided a stunning challenge on lap 67. Thiel found an opening after Lichtfeld drifted slightly out of turn four. Both drivers tried to secure the bottom line which resulted in Lichtfeld slamming the door and Thiel sliding through the grass sideways. He made a remarkable save, but would not challenge Lichtfeld again.
“It was a little sketchy,” Thiel said with a smile after the race. “I thought the door was open, so I went. Honestly, I have no idea how I pulled out of that. I wasn’t going to give up.”
The Second Place finish surpasses Thiel’s Third Place result in last year’s season finale at Jefferson as his career-best with the series. “This is almost as good as a win for all of us,” Thiel said. “Wyatt has been doing a hell of a job this year, so it was time to step up and show what I could do too.”
Thiel wasn’t the only driver to mount a massive charge through the feature. Zehr picked his way back through the field after the lap-two incident to finish Third.
“I was fortunate the car was still in 100% condition otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to come through the field,” Zehr said. “By the end of the race, if we would have had the track position, I think we would have been the car to beat.”
Behind Zehr, rookie John Beale enjoyed another solid run with a Fourth Place finish. Collin Slife, who earlier in the day became the youngest ever TUNDRA Super Late Model fast qualifier, capped off an impressive debut with a Fifth Place finish.
The result helped Zehr pad his point lead with one event remaining at Dells Raceway Park. Beale now sits in Second 39 points back. Anderson’s 13th Place finish dropped him to Third, 46 points behind Zehr. Lichtfeld jumped past Colin Reffner and now sits Fourth in the standings. If all things are equal heading into the feature during Round Six, Zehr can secure the title with a 12th Place finish.
BACK HOME AGAIN AT PLOVER Greg Back did well to defend his home territory in the TUNDRA Sportsman twin 20-lap feature events. Back handily won the first 20-lap feature and secured the overall win with a Fourth Place finish in the second feature event.
As the green fell on the first 20-lap feature, Wisconsin International Raceway Champion Dylan Wenzel took the lead. Back quickly sliced through the field by capitalizing on open lines to the inside and outside. Near the halfway point, he went to the outside of Wenzel and took the lead. In the final laps, a fight for Second between Brian Weinfurter and fast qualifier Jason Stark erupted. Stark was able to take the spot by sliding to the bottom.
This would later turn out to be a fateful move to help seal Back’s win, as Weinfurter finished Second in the second feature. Had he held onto Second in the first feature, Weinfurter’s two Second Place finishes would have been good enough for the overall win.
In the second feature, Rachel Kallas and Wenzel battled for the early lead. Kallas eventually took the top spot and was challenged by Dave Trute. Trute initially tried the outside line, but could not find a way past Kallas. Behind him, Back, Stark, Travis Volm, and Weinfurter scrapped for position.
Trute eventually found his way past Kallas in the final five laps. Weinfurter moved into Second and Volm to Third. Back was able to slide past Kallas, as well. The Fourth Place finish gave him an overall score of five, the same as Weinfurter. Back was awarded the overall win as having a feature win secured the tiebreaker. Trute was Third in the overall standings.
UP NEXT… The TUNDRA Super Late Model Series rounds out its 2017 season at its birthplace, Dells Raceway Park, on Sunday afternoon September 24. Qualifying is scheduled for 1 P.M. with racing to follow at 2 P.M. TUNDRA will be joined by the Midwest Truck Series and Sportsman.
Dells Raceway Park is located at N1070 Smith Road just north of Wisconsin Dells. For more information visit www.dellsracewaypark.com