By: Kevin Ramsell
After a long hiatus, the engines roared back to life at Madison International Speedway in Oregon, WI on Sunday afternoon. The fans returned in full force and witnessed a member of the Speedway’s Hall of Fame hold off a late challenge from a teenage future star to win the Joe Shear Classic 200.
Rich Bickle Jr. emerged from his car, which was a tribute to the legendary driver, in victory lane to a loud cheer from a nearly full stands and put his head down on the roof of his car to collect his thoughts in pulling off an emotional victory on Sunday afternoon.
“We have been on working on this deal for a long time. We have bad ass fast at a lot of places,” an emotional Bickle said in victory lane. “The car wasn’t that good, I just think we had some help.”
Bickle ran his classic style of race where he carefully drove through the first half of the race and saved his car for a run in the second half of the event.
By lap 100, he was running in the ninth position. The caution flew on lap 104 when leader Dan Fredrickson lost an oil line causing Jonathan Eilen and Luke Fenhaus to spin in turn four to bring out a caution. Fredrickson’s team was able to get the oil line repaired and re-joined the event. ARCAMT officials made the call that Fredrickson was the cause of the caution, thus giving Eilen and Fredrickson their spot back.
During that caution, everyone except Casey Johnson, made their pit stop and put three fresh tires on their cars.
The restart on lap 115 had Johnson in the lead, but a big puff of smoke came out of Eilen’s car and he went to the pits done for the day. With Johnson on older tires, he faded back in the pack while Dennis Prunty took the lead on lap 117. Fenhaus followed Prunty to move into the second spot.
Four-time ARCAMT champion Ty Majeski, who fell back to 11th after making contact with Fredrickson earlier in the race, came back through to take over the third spot by lap 119. He would pass Prunty for second on lap 130.
On lap 134, Bickle would get by Prunty for the third spot while ahead of him, Majeski was trying to chase down Fenhaus for the top spot. On lap 145, the top three were nose to tail going around “Wisconsin’s Fastest Half-Mile Oval.”
Two laps later, Bickle would get around Majeski for the second spot, causing some fans to jump to their feet.
On lap 150, more fans jumped up from their seats as Bickle would get on the inside of Fenhaus for the lead. He would take over the top spot on lap 151.
Dalton Zehr started making his charge to get a podium finish as he got by Majeski for third on lap 165. A lap later the caution came out for a competition caution.
Johnson took advantage of that caution to come in and get fresh tires. On the ensuing restart on lap 172, Johnson’s car came to a stop on the front stretch to bring the caution back out. Johnson would retire with rear suspension issues.
The field restarted on lap 177 Fenhaus battling Bickle for the lead and would have the lead by a nose when the caution flew on lap 180 for Kody Swanson’s spin in turn two.
Bickle would continue to lead with Fenhaus in tow until the final caution flew on lap 192 as Prunty came to a stop in turns one and two.
The final eight laps will be one for fans to remember for a long time as the veteran and the rising star battled for the victory.
Bickle would get in front of Fenhaus for the final few laps and hold off the challenges to win the Joe Shear Classic.
“The four kid (Fenhaus) is really good and they have a lot going on behind their program,” Bickle said after the race. “He made the old man work today. It just feels good to win.”
“He was me and I was Joe Shear all over again,” Bickle said.
Fenhaus, even though he finished second, didn’t mind with who beat him on Sunday.
“It was a good run, I can’t complain finishing second to Rich Bickle,” Fenhaus said after the race. “He got by me and he was the better car. But those cautions helped me a ton and I tried to get a good finish out of it at the end, but again I can’t complain.”
Zehr came home with a strong third place finish, but was hoping for a no cautions near the end of the race.
“Please, no yellow,” Zehr said. “Every time it would take four or five laps to come in, and for the other guys it would take four or five laps to fall off, and it was like all of a sudden I could roll through the center better than anyone. We had a great race car.”
Paul Shafer Jr., fresh off his victory at Grundy County Speedway on Saturday night, came home to finish fourth while Jeff Storm rounded out the top five.
Fredrickson recovered to finish sixth, while Majeski came home seventh. Travis Sauter was eighth. Gabe Sommers and Kody Swanson rounded out the top ten.
Two qualifier heats helped set the field for the Joe Shear Classic, with the top three from each advancing to the main event. Justin Mondeik, Ryan Farrell and John Beale advanced in the first with Nick Murgic, Bobby Kendall and Austin Nason making the field from the second.
Dennis Prunty won the odd fast heat, while Gabe Sommers won the even race.
John DeAngelis, LeVon VanDerGeest and Max Kahler advanced to the main event from the last chance race. Kahler held off a late charge from Dale Nottestad in a spirited battle.
Fenhaus set a fast time of 17.288 seconds, but came up short of setting a new track record which is still currently held by Chris Wimmer. Wimmer set the record in 2012 with a time of 17.245 seconds.
Tristan Swanson held off James Swan to win the Midwest Truck Series 36-lap feature.
Bobby Wilberg won the 36-lap 602 Crate Model feature in a Joe Shear tribute car.
The next points event for the ARCA Midwest Tour will be on Saturday, May 29th with the Salute the Troops 100 at Jefferson Speedway located between Cambridge and Jefferson, Wisconsin.
Many of the ARCA Midwest Tour competitors will be heading to Winchester Speedway in Winchester, Indiana on Tuesday, May 18th for Fly Over States 150.