SLINGER, Wis. – With the race seemingly out of reach, Chris Wimmer was settling for second. However, he had a different problem on his hands.
Well, on his feet.
“My leg fell asleep so bad I couldn’t feel the gas pedal,” he said.
Then he had a new problem: the leader pulled off the race track with only 23 laps to go in Tuesday’s 199-lap super late model feature, the 35th Superseal Slinger Nationals presented by Miller Lite at Slinger Super Speedway.
Now, he was the leader with a hard-charging Matt Kenseth rapidly closing in.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Wimmer said. “I honestly thought a caution was out and the light didn’t come on yet.”
Wimmer held off Kenseth, the two-time Daytona 500 and six-time Slinger Nationals champion, for one of the biggest triumphs of a career he admitted is nearing the end.
“It’s just cool to win this race,” Wimmer said.
Wimmer took the lead from Dennis Prunty after Prunty’s car came slowly off of Turn 2 with a commanding lead and the victory within his grasp. He was the car to beat from the drop of the green flag.
Prunty hit the invert after qualifying 12th quickest and started on the front row. Casey Johnson led the first six laps of the race. Prunty then took over from there and led the next 170 laps and appeared to be well on his way to the victory as he had close to a straightaway lead with the laps winding down.
So what happened? The engine just stopped running.
“Something with the ignition just shut off,” Prunty said. “It never missed; it never broke up. It was like I just turned the switch off. I don’t know.
“It’s a shame. We definitely had a good car today.”
Prunty went on to finish 17th.
“He definitely had the car to beat,” Wimmer said. “It’s tough to lose them like that.”
To make the matter even more frustrating, Prunty lost an estimated $10,000 in prize money. The race paid $999 for making the feature, then $9,999 for winning the feature and additional money was available through lap bonuses. It is estimated Prunty would’ve won more than $14,000 if he had held on for the victory, a record payout for a Wisconsin asphalt short-track racing event.
Last year’s winner, Rich Bickle Jr., won more than $12,000, which is a record.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Prunty said. “It’s unbelievable to be that close.”
Kenseth finished second, followed by Johnson, Conrad Morgan and Dalton Zehr to round out the top five.
“I didn’t think we had a chance to win tonight,” said Kenseth, who was seventh-fastest in qualifying and started the 24-car feature on the third row. “We were just a little bit off.”
Steve Apel, last year’s initial race winner but was later disqualified for failing post-race inspection, was sixth. The night’s fast qualifier, Andrew Morrissey, was seventh. Morrissey’s best lap in qualifying earlier in the evening was 11.257 seconds.
Wimmer said he was trying to catch Prunty, but it was going be to no avail.
“He was just too good,” Wimmer said. “He pretty much had it sealed up in the bag.”
A veteran of more than 20 years of racing on Wisconsin’s short tracks, which included a track championship in the super late model division at Slinger in 2012, Prunty watched in agony after he climbed out of his car, leaned against a safety truck in the infield and watch Wimmer drive away with a victory just about everyone thought was his, including himself.
“The way I see it in a race like this, you only get one chance,” Prunty said. “Last year, Steve Apel had a chance and had problems in tech. He had his chance last year. You don’t get a chance to win every year. You get one chance to win this thing and I believe this was my chance. But I will come back and try again.”