Checkers or Wreckers: Local speedway kicks off 2023 season with 1 driver quickly making history

Coca-Cola Late Model feature winner Ryan Manthei is all smiles after racing at Norway Speedway. (Photo courtesy Lia Olson)

NORWAY — The season opener last Friday at Norway Speedway is in the books.

The train is running down the tracks at full speed. There is so much hype and anticipation and planning that goes into a season opener that they rarely live up to their billing, but I can honestly say this one did.

Our Super Late Model field I believe had the most cars in the region and I haven’t really looked closely, but our Auto Value Super Stocks also had the largest count they’ve had in years. Add in about 45 141 Auto Stock cars and Fab 4s, and it was a huge night.

For the first time in probably 15 years, we had “B” features in both divisions. What is a “B” feature?

Every night we open the night with qualifying. The top 14 fastest cars get into the feature event or what has come to be known as the “A” main.

I am old school and I’ve referred to it as the feature for the last 40 years and I will continue to do so. Of the 14 cars that don’t get into the “A” feature race, the rest go into what was known as the semi-feature in which the top two finishers can transfer to the feature event.

Over the years, the semi-feature has come to be known as the “B” feature or the “B” main and, in some instances, the qualifying race. I’m really encouraged by what has transpired over the years with our rules that has allowed us to have semi-features in both divisions on opening night.

The Coca-Cola field of Late Models was extremely talented with an influx of drivers from Wisconsin, including Chad Butz; our 2021 Champion top runners from WIR Andy Monday and Lowell Bennett; and Greg Haese from Manitowoc. Then, add in locals Jason Wells, Scott Stanchina, Joey Pontbriand, Adam Faull, Robbie Iverson and our two solid rookies Anthony Schiefelbein and Travis Walker. This is going to be quite a summer.

I was running in the “B” main, unfortunately. However, this gave me an opportunity to watch the “A” main and I could just not get over how hard every driver was driving.

The saying in sports goes, “Go hard or go home.” Every one of those Late Model drivers were up on the steering wheel going as hard as they could. The entertainment level and the skill level by the drivers was off the charts.

Another reason it was exciting opening night is history was made by one of our local drivers did something that had never been done at any other speedway in Upper Michigan that I know of.

Norway’s Joey Pontbriand won the feature event in both the Coca-Cola Late Model and Auto Value Super Stocks. There are many reasons that it hasn’t been done before, mainly because it was against the rules in the 1980s and 90s.

It just recently became a thing on asphalt. I believe it was stemmed by NASCAR having several different drivers compete in the various levels throughout the summer. Adding to the television appeal or basic fan appeal in what can be called a “feeder division,” or basically any level but NASCAR’s pinnacle Cup Series with Xfinity being second.

Doing this gives the average race fan a top tier driver more than once on a weekend, which is great for the sport of auto racing.

Back in the 70s my friend and Norway Speedway Hall of Famer Joe Haferkorn ran in both divisions in a modified and a late model on the same night, but I don’t remember him ever winning both features in the same night.

Pontbriand has etched his name in the record books for which could be a very long time. Congratulations to his team, family and sponsors.

In the 141 Auto Stock Car division, Brian Massicotte and Joe Ostermann picked up where they left off last year finishing first and second.

In the MC Signs & Graphics Fab 4s, Brent Ayotte from Hermansville also won his heat race and his feature.

Some other notes of interest from the season opener including racing veterans returning to the speedway, including Dickie Coleman in the Coca-Cola Late Model No. 14 and Nick Anderson’s win in the Auto Value Super Stocks No. 33, Ryan Manthei returning to get a win in the semi-feature in his Coca-Cola Late Model after being out a car for many years.

It was great to see them and their families having a great time out at the Speedway.

There were some things that didn’t go off as I had liked as there were some problems with the scoring system, which caused a little delay in our program.

The board of directors has a goal to try and get our fans home as early as possible and we would like to get all of our shows done in 2.5 to 3 hours. This a pretty lofty goal considering all of the cars, but I can assure you we are going to work at getting our kids home at a decent hour.


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