Sterling Heights, MI (Tuesday, July 7, 2020) - After a slow start due to the ongoing pandemic, the Lane Automotive Allstar Performance Tri-City / Merritt Speedway Late Model Challenge Series Supported by American Ethanol is now in full swing. After three events, race fans have witnessed some of the best racing in the state. Back in early June, Merritt hosted the first Challenge Series event. Dona Marcoullier, a two-time American Ethanol Late Model Tour Champion and a multi-time winner of the Woodtic at Merritt, would power his way to victory and pick up his first win in the new Series.
The opener did not disappoint, as race fans were treated to spectacular racing. The Series moved to Tri-City for Round Two one week later; multiple leaders, side by side racing, and a battle to the finish was the order of the day, with Rusty Schlenk holding off Jeep Van Wormer in exciting fashion to claim his first Series win. Then came Round Three at Merritt over the Independence Day weekend.
The Series ran 50 laps with $10,000 up for grabs for the victor. Schlenk proved early in the event that he had the car to beat, by taking the lead on lap three and never looking back. The victory for Schlenk was reminiscent of his Woodtic win in 2019, where he led every circuit of the green to checkered 74 lap event and lapped all but three other cars to pocket a $10,000 payday. The McClure, Ohio native bested Ionia, Michigan’s Travis Stemler, and St. John’s Michigan’s Chad Finley for the Saturday night win.
The Challenge Series championship points standings have now started to take shape after the first three events. Stemler, in his new Anklam Racing no. 4 machine, sits atop the current standings. But the former AELMT runner-up can’t feel too comfortable, as he has Schlenk, a very strong Finley, and Marcoullier ready to pounce. The only thing keeping Stemler leading the standings is his impressive qualifying efforts and Schlenk’s misfortune in qualifying.
Schlenk, who has won two out of three, is concerned the points structure may keep him from winning the overall championship. He told Horsepower Happenings he’s not a huge fan of the points system.
“It’s the dang qualifying,” Schlenk said when asked about the difference between him and Stemler in the points. “I think Stemler, I think I beat him every night, but he still gets more points than me because he out qualifies me … I could win every feature in this deal and still lose the points,” Schlenk finished.
The points structure does favor a good qualifying effort, as Schlenk suggested. The fast qualifier is awarded 30 Championship points while winning the feature is only worth 50 points. The points structure is sure to keep the hunt for the $10,000-year-end prize entertaining all season.
Brandon Thirlby currently sits 5th in the standings, but with his injuries (two broken wrists) that occurred on Saturday in a late-race incident at Merritt, his championship hopes are most likely gone for 2020. Logan Nickerson, David Mielke, Kyle Roberts, Eric Spangler, and Cody Bauer currently round out the top 10.
The next Challenge Series race has yet to be announced, as most racing in Michigan has been week-to-week. But fans can stay in tune with all the action by following Tri-City and Merritt Speedways on Facebook. Find their websites at www.tricityracetrack.com and www.merrittspeedwaymi.com.
For more stories like this and continued updates on tracks plan through COVID-19, visit horsepowerhappenings.com. Tune in to the weekly podcast premiering every Monday evening or listen anytime on-demand. Follow Horsepower Happenings on Facebook and on Twitter @HPHpodcast.
Story by - Rich Frantz, Motor City Racing Promotions
Photo - STLRacing