By: Eric Huenefeld
Fireworks and a grand finale are all part of the scene on Fourth of July across this country.
The scene for Friday night’s Big 8 Late Model Series ‘North American Cup 68’ at Dells Raceway Park was much the same. A thrilling feature race with twenty-four of the best Late Model racers in the Midwest provided the fireworks during the balance of the event and on the last lap, an unpredictable grand finale took place thanks to Nick Nolden and Jon Reynolds Jr.
Nolden, the defending Dells Raceway Park track champion, led most of Friday night’s feature race, with Reynolds, winner of last Friday’s Big 8 event at Madison International Speedway, working feverishly to try and catch Nolden in the race’s final laps. Both drivers would go three wide through lap traffic on the final lap, with Nolden opening the door for Reynolds to make a bold move for the lead in the race’s final corner.
Nolden started the event from the outside front row, alongside defending Big 8 Series champion Casey Johnson, who inherited the pole position thanks to his win in the 8 lap ‘Odd’ Dash. Johnson and Nolden battled for the lead from the get-go, with Nolden edging Johnson for the lead on the first circuit, then clearing the pole sitter Johnson for the lead on lap three.
After falling from the pole, Johnson fell into a battle for second position with current Jefferson Speedway point leader Dale Nottestad. The two racers traded punches for the runner up position for the next several laps, before Johnson finally fell to third. Behind the top three, Reynolds began to make his move. The 2005 Big 8 Series champion, who started the race from seventh, climbed into the top five by lap 10.
The first yellow flag of the race appeared on lap 16, as Minnesota teenager Michael Ostdiek spun in turn three. The stoppage bunched up the field for the first restart of the night, which provided a little chaos. As the field tip-toed to green, the middle of the field began to resemble an accordion, with many cars becoming entangled in turn three. The green flag was pulled back and all cars involved in the melee were able to continue.
Following the double file restart, Nolden was able to set sail as the pack battled behind him. Nottestad and Johnson resumed their second place battle, while Reynolds slipped to fourth. Behind the top four, fast qualifier Tim Sargent was on the move. Sargent, who started the race in ninth place, was contending for a top five position when his car suddenly spun in turn four, bringing out the race’s next yellow flag. Sargent rejoined the field at the tail on the restart, then charged back to eleventh place by race’s end.
On the ensuing restart, Reynolds powered past Johnson for third. Johnson meanwhile, struggled to get back in line after choosing the high side of the track on the double file restart. Johnson eventually fell to eighth position during the green flag run. Over the next several laps, Nottestad challenged Nolden for the lead, closing the gap multiple times during the mid stages of the 68 lap affair. As the race ran into its final paces, Reynolds caught the lead battle and with ten laps to go, and quickly made a move on Nottestad for second.
While Reynolds and Nottestad wrestled for second, Nolden was able to build a comfortable lead over the balance of the field. After Reynolds made his move to second, Nolden began to reach lapped traffic. It seemed as if the lap cars would be Nolden’s best friend, forcing single file racing and keeping Reynolds at bay. However, in the race’s final lap, the cars that appeared to be in Nolden’s favor ended up helping Reynolds.
When the white flag waved, Nolden and Reynolds approached side-by-side lapped traffic in turn one. As the two leaders closed up, the two lapped cars split high and low on the backstretch, allowing both Nolden and Reynolds to go three-wide past the lapped cars. As Nolden made his move, he approached turn three, coasting to the second groove. Reynolds meanwhile, was able to put his car to the bottom of the track, increasing his closing speed on Nolden. The two cars were door-to-door in the middle of turns three and four, with paint being traded in the final corner.
As the two racers entered the front stretch, Reynolds was able to win the drag race back to line, nipping Nolden at the finish by the smallest of margins. The win was Reynolds’ second consecutive in Big 8 action and his third straight overall, following his win last Saturday night at his home track Rockford Speedway. Nolden’s runner up finish was his second top five in three Big 8 outings this year.
Nottestad was able to hold onto third and assumed the Big 8 Late Model Series points lead thanks to his efforts. Austin Nason finished the race in fourth and was the Powersource ‘Power Mover of the Race,’ advancing seven spots in the feature. Dan Lensing rounded out the top five.