Checkers and wreckers: Race community comes together to start healing

And so it begins, after one of the most heartbreaking nights in Norway Speedway’s history — the accidental death of Greg Maas — the healing process is now underway.

I thought it was going to be very difficult and almost impossible to repair or ease the pain. But, our membership, our drivers, and our racing family quickly made me believe that we will get through this.

The driver’s meeting was very emotional. I’ve never seen so much sadness in so many people’s eyes, when I usually see optimism and excitement.

Former Escanaba racing standout Peanut Stankowicz ended the driver’s meeting with the racer’s prayer. Shortly after, we had Maas’ family in the safety truck in the memorial parade lap, followed by the national anthem with all the drivers and crew members paying tribute on the back stretch.

For me, I just went about business as usual but it just wasn’t the same. I had spent all last week working out at the racetrack, working on some safety enhancements and doing other track maintenance.

I normally really enjoy my time out there doing these things and giving back to the sport, but I did not enjoy this at all. Something just seemed different out at that track for me. And then something amazing happened that changed everything. I saw 15-year-old Tony Wender hold off season veteran and previous week feature winner Kevin Peterson for a thrilling victory in the fast heat.

Wender was driving a car that he was not familiar with owned by his father, Ryan. It takes above normal skill to be able to jump into someone else’s race car and compete effectively. Every car drives differently, but Tony, a.k.a. “Rocket,” is an above average talent and one of our rising stars solidifying the future of Norway Speedway.

What ensued after the race changed the whole atmosphere of the pit area and my general disposition of the entire sport. Seeing the Victory Lane celebration with all of Wender’s family, pit crew and friends celebrating was uplifting and powerful.

Someday someone is going to ask me about how we got through this difficult ordeal and this win will be the first thing I think of. The remainder of the night featured some of the best racing at the speedway in a long, long time.

The Coca-Cola Late Model feature was some of the best racing I’ve seen in a while, and I had a pretty good seat as I finished 10th.

We have one of the top drivers in the Midwest competing at our track every week in Justin Mondeik. Many have mentioned him as the next Wisconsin NASCAR hopeful and some have even compared him to a young Matt Kenseth.

Mondeik is definitely not your average weekly runner that has his sights set on a factory job somewhere in central Wisconsin. He has ambitions, talent and enough support to make it to the big leagues.

Kingford’s Scott Stanchina has the potential to win his first track championship this year. He looked like he was on his way to win his first feature of the season when a caution came out with ten laps remaining. Then, surprisingly, a new addition to our already talented field of drivers, Braison Bennett of Neenah, Wis., got by Stanchina on the re-start.

Bennett is the son of Wisconsin racing legend, Lowell Bennett. He will be driving the familiar No. 119 owned by Coleman Racing Products and Norway Speedway Hall of Famer Gene Coleman.

The car Bennett will be driving has a couple of interesting features to it. Norway Speedway for 20 years has worked very hard to keep the cost of racing down and try to make it affordable and sustainable for everyone.

Bennett’s Coleman Racing Products car will feature many specific parts that will be a fraction of the cost compared to the conventional parts we see running. The car is the poster child of the NCAL Series, or National Crate Asphalt Latemodels.

This series will hopefully be a low budget series and try to cut the costs of the sport, while maintaining the competitive abilities to race effectively. Bennett’s lead was short lived as Justin Mondeik moved past him on an exciting last lap pass.

Kingsford driver and soon to be Hall of Famer Bruce White had a great run. He finished fourth and Jason Wells was an impressive fifth.

Like I said, it was some of the best late model racing I have seen out at the track in a while and another step in the healing process of the speedway.

The Auto Value Super Stock feature also had some familiar names stepping to the forefront to put on a show.

Three-time track champion Tim Schultz Jr. drove through the field to grab the lead only to relinquish it to Pembine’s Anthony Schiefelbein. Schultz went on to finish second, followed by Wender.

In the 141 Auto Stock Car division, the return of Joe Ostermann of Norway, Preston Weddel of Crivitz and BJ Schoneck of Marion, Wis., are going to make for an extremely tough field as there are seven track championships between the three drivers.

The night, however, belonged to Aurora speedster Gary Thom winning his first feature of the season.

In the MC Signs and Graphics Fab 4 Division-Zach Gazda who has been absent from the speedway for a while, made a triumphant return in the familiar No 8. It was great seeing those guys back.

This week will be another great night of racing at the speedway, as we have the Wisconsin Sport Trucks coming back and a lot of other things going on.

So, see you at the track.


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