Local driver shows great potential

Checkers or Wreckers ...

Justin Mondeik of Gleason, Wis., is all smiles while crouched in front of his No. 44 2022 Coca-Cola Late Model track champion race car at Norway Speedway in Norway.

For the uninitiated or those new to the sport of racing, we have four divisions at Norway Speedway.

Our premier division is what is commonly known throughout the country as a Late Model Stock Car. This car is completely fabricated and basically there’s nothing stock about it.

The chassis is completely made of steel tubing and designed in a way that will enable it to turn left at a very high rate of speed. It has a roll cage and bars emphasizing driver protection, but yet it’s built in a manner where it would be considered extremely lightweight. The bodies are predominately fiberglass and not made by any of the manufacturers — General Motors, Ford or Chrysler.

There are several different engine packages ranging from $10,000 to about $50,000. If you are looking to win the championship in the Coca-Cola Late Model division, you are looking at about a $50,000 to $60,000 car, which to me is somewhat disheartening. But you can’t stop evolution and technology.

Fortunately, for those of us at Norway Speedway, we’ve spent the last 20 years trying to cut costs on engines, tires and everything else involved in the sport.

This is the 20th anniversary of our General Motors Crate Engine Program, where you can go to your local Chevy garage and order an Auto Value Super Stock motor for $3,000 and a Coca-Cola Late Model motor for $5,000. Those prices are from 2002, but in all actuality the Crate Motor Program is the best bang for your buck at our track.

There are many critics of the Crate Motor Program. However, as far as Late Model Stock Car racing goes across the Midwest, the car counts are being decimated by the rising costs.

Our Late Model average car count increased to an average 17 per week, which is up four from 2021. Our friendly neighbors to the south at Wisconsin International Raceway averaged around 18 per week.

So, you’d have to believe we’re on the right track, as far as cutting costs and getting our car count up to where it once was 20 years ago. The most Late Models we’ve ever had at the speedway was 53 in the year 2000.

Our goal is an average car count of 24-26 a week. I believe that is realistic and attainable, if we keep doing what we’re doing, even though the economy is not suited for these numbers.

They say only the strong survive. So, when you only have 16 or 17 Late Models a night, as you can imagine, those are going to be predominately higher budgeted and more talented teams. And winning a championship requires a summer long commitment that can be very financially and physically demanding.

Justin Mondeik of Gleason, Wis., has become one of the Midwest’s brightest and most talked about upcoming stars. The 26-year-old speedster started racing about seven years ago, but really made a splash in 2020 winning an ARCA Midwest Tour race at State Park Speedway in Wausau, Wis., where he was racing against some of the best competition in the country.

From there he went on to win three straight Stateline Challenges at Norway Speedway and has won seven track championships total in the last two years at State Park Speedway Wausau, Wis.; Golden Sands Speedway two-time champion; a TUNDRA Series championship; and in 2022 he is the Norway Speedway Coca-Cola Late Model track champion.

In the last two years, I can’t imagine anybody in the sport that has accomplished more at such a young age. Not included on his resume is his trip to Florida last winter where once again he shined racing against some of the best in the country.

Though Mondeik is 26, he could very easily pass as a 16- or 17-year-old high school senior. He is well spoken, has a great smile and always has a positive word about our speedway and his competitors.

Mondeik was a standout athlete in high school in baseball and wrestling and, not surprisingly like many of the other standout racers in the Midwest, he has an engineering degree from Michigan Tech University.

With all this being said, possibly his greatest quality, I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with him where he didn’t thank the Speedway or myself for our efforts in supporting the Speedway and the sport of racing.

Like Anthony Schiefelbein’s track championship being spearheaded by his family, Mondeik is no different, as his mother and father are at every event, as well as his talented pit crew that shows up in big numbers weekly.

I am not sure where Justin’s career is headed, but if there’s anyone who deserves a shot at the “Big Time” — as in NASCAR — in my 45 years of racing experience, it’s him. Hopefully he’ll get that opportunity.

But until that time our fans, his competitors,and everyone else involved in the sport appreciate his efforts in supporting our speedway.


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