When all was said and done on Saturday night at Jefferson Speedway, it was an elated Paul Shafer Jr. holding the trophy for his first victory in the ARCA Midwest Tour. Shafer beat 2016 Midwest Tour Rookie of the Year Casey Johnson to the stripe by 3.324 seconds to earn the win in his 32nd start in the series.
“We’ve won races in the last couple of years but never a Midwest Tour race, so now that the first one is out of the way maybe we can get a couple more,” Shafer said with a huge grin.
“It’s awesome to get the first win here (at Jefferson) for a lot of reasons. One, it’s probably the best short track in the whole state of Wisconsin with just the racing and the way they run it every week. Second, my crew chief Chris (Purdy) grew up in the Janesville/Milton area, so he ran here a lot and I think he won eight out of nine features one year and went on a tear, so it means a lot, especially to me and Chris. We all want to win here because we’re all from around here.”
Shafer’s No. 7 machine was the fastest car throughout the event, pacing both practice sessions and setting quick time in qualifying. After playing it safe in his 10-lap dash, the teenage driver rolled off from the 13th position in the 21-car field for the night’s feature.
The early stages of the race made up for the last Midwest Tour race at State Park Speedway going caution free as the first thirteen laps saw five yellow flags, including a brief red flag period to clear fluid from the track in Turn No. 3 after an accident involving Mikie Breiner and Derek Doerr.
“We were just hanging on. We really weren’t sure if the top or the bottom was better, we just wanted to be in the shorter of the two and hope for the best and keep it in once piece, just sort of snake our way through there,” Shafer said of the chaotic opening laps. “We went three-wide once. You can do that here, really. Of all the tracks, the big wide tracks, this is the only one you can go three-wide in my opinion. It was a lot of fun.”
Less than 20 laps in to the 100-lap race, Shafer had gained seven positions and ran solidly inside the top-five. By the halfway point, Shafer was in the second position and tracking down race-leader Dalton Zehr. Zehr had led 17 laps in his No. 119 machine when he slowed on the track, yielding the lead to Shafer and bringing out the sixth and final caution flag of the night. Shafer didn’t look back after taking the point at Lap 56 and ran the balance of the race without a challenge for the lead.
The cause of Zehr’s issue was determined to be the alternator which drained the battery and resulted in a disappointing 17th-place result.
“We had a really good car, that’s for sure. We had a fast one,” Zehr said. “Paulie seemed to better in traffic than I was, so a restart would have been interesting. I think I might have had a little bit more open track speed, but I know that it would have been an interesting race with Paulie. They had a fast car… but next time.
“I’m happy that he got it. I’d liked to have raced him for it, but Paulie’s a good guy and his crew did a great job.
As for Shafer’s take on what might have happened had Zehr not had the mechanical issue?
“I think we had a better car, it was just a matter of when he (Zehr) got around Casey (Johnson) I was just sort of biding my time, waiting. I knew he was going to get Casey but it was just a matter of saving tires and not trying to run in there on the bottom and burning up with them. He got a way a little bit. If it would have stayed green we wouldn’t have caught him, but if there was a yellow I think we had a lot for him.”
Casey Johnson led 21 laps in his No. 5 car before yielding the lead to Zehr at Lap 39.
“I could feel the pedal start fading, so I don’t know if I boiled the fluid or was running it too hard or what, but I think one may have got away from us,” Johnson said of his second-place result at what is considered to be his home track. “In reality we actually lucked into second, the car was terrible once I cooked the brakes, so we salvaged one I would say.”
Three races in to the 2018 season, the Midwest Tour has seen three different drivers in victory lane with Austin Nason winning the season-opening Joe Shear Classic for his first Tour victory and Andrew Morrissey leading 94 laps up at State Park Speedway en route to his fourth Tour victory.
The ARCA Midwest Tour has a month-long break before returning to action on Saturday, June 30th at Rockford Speedway in Loves Park, Illinois for the Kar Korner All-Star 100.
The complete results from Jefferson can be found below.
- Paul Shafer Jr.
- Casey Johnson
- Billy Mohn
- Austin Nason
- Andrew Morrissey
- Ryan Farrell
- Rich Bickle
- Justin Mondeik
- Jonathan Eilen
- John Beale
- Ricky Baker
- John DeAngelis Jr.
- Dillon Hammond
- Scott Patrick
- Derek Kraus
- Mike Ostdiek
- Dalton Zehr
- Jeff Holmgren
- Mikie Breiner
- Derek Doerr
- Curt Tillman