SUPERIOR, Wisconsin — The Twin Ports Twin 25s has always been a fun auto racing event featuring twin 25-lap Late Model features.
Part of the fun is that the starting order gets inverted for the second feature, putting the top dogs from the first race a little further back in the pack for the finale. A blind draw determines how many cars get inverted — could be a bunch, or just a few.
Friday, July 22, at Gondik Law Speedway in Superior, it turned out to be a bunch — 14 to be exact, almost the max. That put Darrell Nelson, who had been struggling in his Late Model up until that point, on the pole position after Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wisconsin, won the first feature.
Every race fan and driver from ABC Raceway in Ashland to Grand Rapids Speedway knows Darrell Nelson is the last guy you want on the pole in Superior — that is, if you want to win — and Nelson delivered yet again, leading from start to finish to capture his unprecedented fifth victory in the 18-year history of the Twin Ports Twin 25s.
Afterward, Nelson, “The Hermantown Hammer,” thanked the fans and organizers in his typical fashion.
“This was awesome, just awesome,” Nelson said. “I thank the fans for showing up. It was a good night for racing.”
The hard-charging Jeff Massingill of Keewatin finished second and Travis Budisalovich of Minneapolis was third. Massingill started the feature in the 12th spot but was clearly the fastest car on the track, prompting one person to comment, “Good thing for Darrell it wasn’t a 26-lap feature.”
“I was watching him,” Massingill said of Nelson, while adding, “but I was so focused (on the task at hand).”
Fans and drivers flocked from all over for the annual Twin Ports Twin 25s, part of the Wissota Challenge Series and the final race of the inaugural XR Northern Storm Series.
Nelson didn't even finish his Late Model heat Friday after breaking down. He was ninth in the last-chance qualifier, with only the top two advancing to the feature. The only reason he even made the features was because he was awarded the provisional qualifier for being a past champion of the Wissota Challenge Series, which he won just last year.
In addition to the $2,000 he earned for winning that second feature, Nelson, who won Thursday night in Ashland, earned an additional $2,000 for winning the series.
“I’d like to thank my crew and everyone for helping me, and my sponsors,” Nelson said.
Speedway promoter Joe Stariha estimated the crowd at 2,500 to watch an incredible field of 51 Late Models. Some said it was the largest Wissota Challenge Series field since 2006. Longtime track announcer Mark Fleischer didn’t remember a local Late Model car count like that in about 20 years. The Late Models represented five states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota and Montana) and two Canadian provinces.
In addition, Midwest Modified driver Chad Switzenberg hails from Sheridan, Wyoming.
There was a blind draw to determine the starting order for the first of two 25-lap Late Model features. Mars, who always seems to have great luck at this track, not to mention plenty of speed, got the pole position for the opener and took advantage of it, going on to win his third Twin Ports Twin 25s feature.
“I just moved around a bit to get where I was comfortable and ran my car,” Mars said. “I was pretty pumped to come up here. There’s a lot of good fans and a beautiful track, as always. I could maybe count on my hands where maybe it wasn’t, so it’s always fun to get up here. Anyone who complains about racing in Superior probably should quit.”
There was no filler in this one. In addition to the Wissota Late Models, 14 USRA Late Models made a special appearance, with Dylan Kromschroeder of Cambridge, Minn., holding off Lance Hofer, of Cochrane, Wisconsin, in the 15-lap feature.
“I have to be one of the luckier ones here,” Kromschroeder said afterward in Victory Lane.
There were also 35 Modifieds and 35 Midwest Modifieds, a whopping 135 cars in all, in just four classes, no less.
With so many cars, not to mention cautions and stoppages, it didn’t wrap up until a little after 12:30 a.m. It was a steamy one. Starting temperature was close to 90 degrees and was still muggy and in the high 60s when it finished.
Shane Sabraski of Rice, Minnesota, worked his way up from a 10th starting spot to win the 25-lap Modified feature. Sabraski, dubbed “The Iron Man,” has an incredible 791 career victories — and he’s only 43. No wonder the announcer said whenever he unloads that No. 7A car, he’s a threat to take the checkered flag.
Ryan Gierke of Villard, Minnesota, took second while Clayton Wagamon, of Blaine, Minnesota, finished third while capturing top honors in the XR Northern Storm Series.
“I’ll try everything and see what you come up with,” Sabraski said. “You try to find something that’s working and you go with it.”
Wyatt Boyum of International Falls started on the pole in the 20-lap Midwest Modified feature and quickly made it a race for second. Justin Bassa of Cotton made a late push and finished second, nine-tenths of a second behind, while Ryan Savoy of Superior was third.
Boyum was asked what it was like running out front, with plenty of room to spare.
“I just had to make sure I kept my marks,” Boyum said.
Unofficially, Thunder Bay’s Cole Chernosky, who finished fifth in the Midwest Modified feature, earned an extra $1,000 for winning the XR Northern Storm Series.
“We put a lot of work into the car and it’s paid off,” Chernosky said.
Racing was fast and furious from the start, with plenty of two-wide and even three-wide racing action.
The Late Models set the tone from the start, with a little tussling on the backstretch in qualifying leading to Kyle Peterlin going over the wall on Turn 3, bringing out a 15-minute red flag. First responders were on the scene, and when it was announced “the driver is OK,” the crown erupted in applause.
And while that was just Friday’s first Late Model heat, it sure felt more like the final feature as this one was shaping up to be a night to remember.
As tough as that will be to top, Gondik Law Speedway plans to do just that in two weeks with XR Super Series Superior Showcase Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 8 and 9.
The Showcase features two $20,000-to-win and $2,000-to-start XR Super Late Model features, part of a complete show each night. Total purse for the two-day show is more than $200,000, easily the largest in the history of the track.
Twin Ports Twin 25s
At Gondik Law Speedway, Superior
1. John Kaanta, Elk Mound, Wis.; 2. Jon Tollakson, Montevideo, Minn.; 3. Ryan Mikkelson, Alexandria, Minn.; 4. Cole Searing, Huron, S.D.; 5. Hank Berry, Sidney, Montana; 6. Rick Niemi Rick Niemi, Eveleth; 7. Rick Hanestad, Boyceville, Wis.; 8. Mike Prochnow, Menomonie, Wis.; 9. Marcus Simonson, Milltown, Wis.. DNF: Larry Fitzsimmons, East Bethel, Minn.; Kyle Peterlin, Hibbing.
1. Dan Ebert, Lake Shore, Minn.; 2. Pat Doar, New Richmond, Wis.; 3. Sam Mars, Menomonie, Wis.; 4. Skeeter Estey, Kelly Lake; 5. Deven VanHouse, Silver Bay; 6. Shane Edginton, East St. Paul, Manitoba; 7. Kevin Carlson, Hermantown; 8. Bryce Sward, Nelson, Minn.; 9. Michael Bruggeman, Gem Lake, Minn. DNF: Jared Zimpel, Braham, Minn.
1. Travis Budisalovich, Minneapolis; 2. Mike Bellefeuille, Duluth; 3. Dave Mass, East Bethel, Minn.; 4. Jake Redetzke, Menomonie, Wis.; 5. Danny Vang, Deerwood, Minn.; 6. Derek Vesel, Hibbing; 7. Gunner Frank, Montrose, Iowa; 8. Tim McMann, Duluth; 9. Trevor Wilson, Superior. DNS: Ronnie Malecki, Duluth.
1. Jimmy Mars , Menomonie, Wis.; 2. Kevin Eder, Ashland; 3. Jeff Massingill, Keewatin; 4. Jody Bellefeuille, Duluth; 5. Josh Zimpel , Braham; 6. Jeff Provinzino, Hibbing; 7. T.J. Adams, Springbrook, Wis.; 8. Trent Follmer, Brainerd, Minn.; DNF: Buddy Hanestad, Boyceville; Darrell Nelson Hermantown.
1. James Giossi, Hudson, Wis.; 2. Jayme Lautigar, Gilbert; 3. Kevin Burdick, Proctor; 4. Aaron Lillo, Proctor; 5. Jordan Tollakson, Montevideo, Minn.; 6. Dave Flynn, Superior; 7. Terry Lillo, Duluth; 8. Harry Hanson, Eveleth. DNF: Robbie Cooper, South Range, Wis.; Max Nelson, Milaca, Minn.
1. Kennedy Swan, Chippewa Falls, Wis.; 2. Cole Chernosky, Thunder Bay, Ontario; 3. Shane Howell, Buffalo, Minn.; 4. Jimmy Latvala, Solon Springs; 5. Taylor Madrinich, Duluth; 6. David Simpson, Thunder Bay, Ontario; 7. Darrin Lawler, Grand Rapids; 8. Paul Ripley Duluth. DNF: Matt Tollers, Superior.
1. Justin Jones, Bemidji, Minn.; 2. Ryan Savoy, Superior; 3. Jason VandeKamp, Scandia, Minn.; 4. William Moelter, Elk Mound, Wis.; 5. Zach Benson, Princeton, Minn.; 6. Garrett Paull, Fort Frances, Ontario; 7. Austin Zdroik, Eagle River, Wis.; 8. Kalan Wagner, International Falls; 9. Scott Thompson, International Falls.
1. Wyatt Boyum, International Falls; 2. Brady Uotinen, Superior; 3. Mitch Weiss, Scandia, Minn.; 4. Chad Switzenberg, Sheridan, Wyo.; 5. James Vendela, South Range; 6. Jesse Polson, Superior; 7. John Carpenter, Hibbing; 8. Bob Hammond, Fort Frances, Ontario.
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.
After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.
Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.
Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.