Story By: Dan Margetta
Slinger, Wis., July 13—Austin Nason drove to his first career Big 8 Late Model Series victory after a hard fought battle with Casey Johnson and Jon Reynolds Jr. in the King of the High Banks 68 Sunday night at the Slinger Super Speedway.
“This is amazing!” an obviously excited Nason exclaimed from victory lane, “Especially to win here and with Jonny (Reynolds) and Casey (Johnson), we might have ran a little rough but it all comes down to who is going to win.”
Casey Johnson and Kevin Knuese led the field to the green flag and Johnson worked the low groove to charge out to the early lead as Knuese tried to ward off Jesse Bernhagen, John DeAngelis Jr., and Gregg Pawelski in second. Beyond the top five, Dale Nottestad, Jon Reynolds Jr. and Steve Dobbratz began to move their way forward. The caution flag waved early when Ricky Heinan clipped the front stretch wall on lap five and spun backwards into the turn one barrier. Johnson led on the restart over Bernhagen and Pawelski with DeAngelis and Austin Nason in tow while Nottestad, Dan Church, and Reynolds battled three wide for position behind them. With Johnson and Bernhagen out front, Nason and DeAngelis began to pressure Pawelski for third as they began to encounter lapped traffic. Pawelski was able to use a lapped machine to maintain the position while Nason muscled his way between the lapped car and DeAngelis to grab the fourth spot. Lapped traffic came into the mix a few circuits later when J. Herbst’s car looped around in turn two on lap 30 following slight contact with the third place running Pawelski. The incident sent Pawelski to the rear of the field and eventually off the track leaving Johnson leading over Bernhagen, Nason, DeAngelis, Nottestad, and Reynolds.
Johnson eased out to the lead once again as racing resumed while Nason took to the outside to take second away from Bernhagen while Reynolds shot forward to battle with DeAngelis over fourth. Reynolds took the position just before the caution flag waved again on lap 31 for Tyler Schley’s spun car on the frontstretch. With Johnson leading, Bernhagen chose the outside lane for the restart and it proved detrimental as both Nason and Reynolds were able to race by on the inside and into second and third respectively. Within a few circuits, Nason was able to edge to the inside of Johnson for the lead and the two raced side by side for the lead as Reynolds closed in from third. Nason and Johnson swapped the top spot for five laps before they drifted high off turn four, allowing Reynolds to sneak into second from the inside, door to door with Nason as Johnson dove to the bottom to make a three wide attempt to pass both of them off turn two. Johnson was forced to back off as the trio entered turn three, leaving Reynolds and Nason side by side out front and after several hard fought laps, Nason was able to turn back Reynolds to keep the lead.
With the lead momentarily sorted out, Bernhagen went to work on Johnson for third just before the caution appeared on lap 54 for Mike Meyerhofer’s stalled car. Nason maintained the lead over Reynolds on the restart but the field was quickly placed back under the yellow flag when hard racing in the middle of the pack sent Alex Prunty’s car around in between turns three and four which stacked the field as cars scattered behind them. Once the incident was cleaned up and racing resumed, Reynolds appeared poised to challenge Nason for the lead but two laps into the run he suddenly slowed and exited the speedway with mechanical issues. That left Nason to fend off Johnson in the closing laps and he did just that en route to his first career Big 8 Late Model Series victory.
Johnson finished a strong second followed by Jesse Bernhagen, Dale Nottestad, and Jerry Eckhardt in third through fifth respectively. John DeAngelis finished sixth ahead of Jeff Holtz in seventh and Dave Edwards in eighth. Tyler Schley rebounded from his earlier spin to finish ninth and Grant Griesbach took the checkered flag in tenth after earlier becoming the youngest driver to start a Big 8 Series event at 12 years old.
Jerry Eckhardt and Wayne Freimund each won Big 8 Series qualifying heats and Casey Johnson and Kevin Knuese were the winners of the Big 8 Fast Dashes. J. Herbst was the winner of the Big 8 Last Chance race and Jon Reynolds Jr. set fast time with a lap of 12.375 seconds, establishing a new Big 8 Series track record in the process.