By the final laps of the Gandrud Auto Group 250 on Tuesday night, Paul Shafer Jr.’s vocabulary had been reduced to about two words:
He’d put his two fresh tires significantly earlier than the two youngsters behind him. Shafer’s not completely sure how, but he held off Sammy Smith and Luke Fenhaus in what became a three-man, 31-lap shootout at half-mile Wisconsin International Raceway in the state’s longest Super Late Model race.
“From about 85 to go, all I could do was run. Just run,” Shafer said. “They’ve got better tires. Run, 110%. Just go, go, go.
“All that kept running through my mind was, like, one of those ‘Planet Earth’ things and they’re chasing a little antelope down through the woods. I’m the antelope, just running, running, running … yeah, they’re gonna catch me for sure.
“They didn’t catch me. I don’t know how they didn’t catch me, but we were running and here we are.”
Smith, who closed the gap to within about a car length at one point, finished second and Fenhaus was third. Austin Nason took fourth, and John DeAngelis Jr., who dominated the early going, hung on for sixth despite a broken rear end.
The Midwest Tour uses controlled pit stops and will have a competition caution anywhere between 50 and 65 laps after the previous caution.
Shafer took tires before the restart with 154 laps to go, in the earliest group. Smith and Fenhaus had just 95 laps to run to the end on theirs, although their stops helped cycle Shafer to the front.
Then there still would be a one more guaranteed caution. Shafer chose the outside line with Gabe Sommers to his inside and Smith on his rear bumper with 31 laps remaining.
“We were a little nervous,” Shafer said of the strategy. “I’d done that before and it didn’t pan out. All I knew is we just had to do. We put it on kill and just went. They got underneath me and kind of rubbed doors a little bit and kept going. Gained some distance and then it kind of leveled out and it worked out.”
Smith took a different view of their battle.
“I almost had him off (Turn) 2 and then he jacked me up going into 3,” Smith said. “I lost 15, 20 car lengths. I wanted to make it all back up, but when I did that I feel like I probably heated my stuff up too much.”
As the laps wound down, Shafer wanted to know at all times where Smith was.
“I kept hearing on the radio, ‘clear by five,’ then the radio would cut out and it’d say ‘half’ and I’m like, oh, God, he’s back by half. I gotta go,” Shafer said. “Then I’d hear ‘seven’ and ‘4 1/2’ and I’m just like, I just gotta go. Just go.
“It seemed like it took forever. It just too forever, and finally, checkers went, we’re still leading it, and now we’re sitting here.”
Fenhaus, the 17-year-old who won the Slinger Nationals and ran second in the SRX race at Slinger Speedway, was just happy to get out of WIR with a third-place finish. He’d finished 12th and 17th in his previous attempts in the race formerly known as the Dixieland 250.
“It was a good points night for sure,” said Fenhaus, who is still looking for his first Midwest Tour victory. “Paul was fast and he took tires early so I was surprised on how he finished off on the run. Overall it was a really good run.”
As happy as Fenhaus was, DeAngelis was just as crestfallen.
“I started 11th, drove up the front, led a bunch of laps and like I said earlier in the day, some days you’re the bug and others you’re the windshield and we were definitely the bug today,” he said.
“The rear end let go come one of those restarts. I even radioed to the crew; said something broke. Just held on, did the best we could and pulled a sixth-place finish out of it. It really sucks, leading almost 100 laps of one of the biggest races of the year for us. I finished second here two years ago, and it’s been on my bucket list to win this thing. I definitely thought tonight was the night.”
Not that’s it’s any consolation to DeAngelis, but he was far from the only driver to have trouble.
Derek Kraus battled DeAngelis hard early but ran out of fuel, dropped out and took 20th. Ty Majeski, the two-time defending winner, pulled off after a slow leak in a tire took him out of contention. Jesse Love had the right front wheel and hub break.
Seventeen of 30 starters finished, 12 on the lead lap.
Two NASCAR Cup driver competed: Aric Almirola, who estimated he hadn’t been in a super late model in a half-dozen years, finished 11th, and William Byron fell out just past the midpoint.
But the night belonged to the Midwest Tour regular from Portage, Indiana.
“This race is awesome,” Shafer said. “I’ve been coming here since 2015, and in 2015 I was a senior in high school, I was a kid with a dream. I wanted to win this race. It’s 250 laps, $10,000 to win, one of the biggest races in the Midwest.
“Now we’ve won it. I’m kinda … the man who did it. That’s awesome.”
|1||7S||Paul Shafer Jr.||250|
|14||45B||Rich Bickle Jr.||246|
|23||45V||Jeff Van Oudenhoven||130|