ST. CROIX FALLS, Wisc. – Two UMSS victories in the same week in two different cars is nothing unusual for veteran racer Brooke Tatnell.
The thrilling manner in which his 27th career UMSS win came on Friday night July 11 at the Open Wheel Nationals certainly was not something race fans have the privilege of watching every night though. Back in the familiar white No. 14 Nelson sprinter, Tatnell put on a show for the fans coming from the 18th starting position to sit in the Anderson’s Pure Maple Syrup/Rock Auto Victory Lane at the 1/4 mile St. Croix Valley Raceway when the final checkers waved.
When Tatnell forgot to scale following his heat race, it meant that the “Awesome Aussie” who now resides in Forest Lake would have to come from the back in both his Challenge race and the main event.
Tatnell tuned up for the feature by racing from 10th to 4th in the Challenge, then started 18th in the feature. The three heats for the 20 cars on hand were won by 2013 UMSS Champion Chris Graf, Altoona, Iowa driver Carson McCarl, and Cam Schafer, who was doing double duty for the weekend in both sprint car divisions. Following Challenge race victories by young Gunner Cummings and versatile racer from nearby Deer Park, Rick Kobs, Graf ended up the high point earner. Graf drew the five pill for the feature race invert. This meant that Schafer and Kobs would occupy the front row.
At the drop of the green, many fans were watching Tatnell figuring he was going to be one motivated driver coming through the field. Kobs led the first ten laps, as the race was slowed once under caution with six laps in. Tatnell was up to seventh in just six laps! McCarl challenged Kobs for the lead following the restart and took the top spot on lap 11. Two laps later contact on the front stretch between Kobs and the lapped car of Dave Becker saw Becker slide sideways. Rookie racer Jamey Ogston got collected in the accident, causing heavy damage to his car and Becker’s sprinter. Kobs also limped into the infield area, as all three cars were out of action. Tatnell was now sitting in fifth place. Two laps later he advanced to fourth with the leaders in sight.
The third and final caution blinked on with 19 laps scored for a spin in turn four. This set the stage for a six lap shootout to the checkers between McCarl and Tatnell. On lap 21, Tatnell edged by McCarl for the lead. McCarl battled hard to regain the top spot, but Tatnell was just too strong. McCarl had to settle for second.
With the IRA 410 Outlaw Sprints rained out at Rice Lake, Scotty Thiel and his team decided to head over to the St. Croix Valley Raceway on Saturday July 12 and pull their 360 sprint car out of the hauler in an attempt to repeat his Open Wheel Nationals title from last year. At the end of the night, the young Sheboygan racer once again was “The Real Deal” at the 1/4 mile bullring winning in his second appearance of the season with the UMSS. Thiel celebrated with his crew following his eighth career UMSS victory in Anderson’s Pure Maple Syrup/Rock Auto Victory Lane to conclude the 2014 edition of this popular event.
Commenting after winning, Thiel stated, “We are racing with the IRA full-time this season and running wherever we can when they don’t race. With Rice Lake raining out early, it was an easy decision to head over here and race with the UMSS at a track where we have had success at in the past. The UMSS always thanks us for racing with them, and that is something we don’t always see over on the other side of the state. I have to thank my parents, my awesome crew and all of our sponsors for giving me the opportunity to drive a sprint car. It’s a blast!”
With the field pared down a few cars from the opening night due to three drivers heading to Knoxville and four cars out of action on account of crash damage or mechanical issues, the fourteen cars on hand ran two heats and two Challenge races to set the lineup for their 25 lap main event. 2013 UMSS Champion Chris Graf of Glencoe won the first heat while 2011-2012 UMSS Champion Jerry Richert, Jr. of Forest Lake topped the second heat.
Challenge race victories went to Thiel and rookie Ryan “Showtime” Bowers of Ham Lake. Bowers continues to impress in his first year behind the wheel of a winged sprint car, and he was the high point driver following the usual double round of qualifiers. Bowers found the pill draw to his liking when he pulled the zero pill for a straight-up start based on passing and finishing points from the heats and challenge races. Thiel would line up outside Bowers on the front row.
Thiel left little doubt in anyone’s mind that he would be the car to beat, as he blasted to the early lead on the second start attempt following a caution on the opening lap when Cam Schafer spun in turn four. Schafer would restart tail-end and make an impressive charge through the field though. A stretch of 22 laps of green flag racing saw Thiel pull out to a commanding lead while Graf garnered the runner-up spot on lap 8 from Bowers. With Schafer coming all the way from the tail to battle Graf for second, his bid for a victory came to an end up when he sat sideways in turn four with steam coming from under the hood with 22 laps scored. Thiel’s big lead was erased with Graf and Bowers now right behind him. Thiel was able to hold off Graf over the final three circuits for the win. Graf, Bowers, 12th starter Cody Hahn, and Chad Patterson completed the top five. For Patterson, the 2011 UMSS Co-Rookie of the Year, it was his best career finish in a winged sprint and he and his dad wore big smiles on their faces after the races.