JAMES KRAUSE La Crosse Tribune
WEST SALEM — The final night of NASCAR Weekly Late Model Series racing at La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway before Oktoberfest produced three different feature winners.
Brent Kirchner, Michael Haggar and Mike Carlson — all entering the day in the top four in the points — all won feature races.
Series point’s leader Kirchner opened Saturday night by winning the continuation of the Aug. 6 rain postponed feature after restarting fifth as he had been running last week with 19 laps remaining. The No. 8K car found its way to the point with Steve Bachman, Carlson and Adam Degenhardt nose-to-tail in the closing laps before Kirchner took the checkered flag.
Kirchner had been the leader in the standings for most of the season, but a win was missing from the resume of the driver still seeking his first title in the division.
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“It’s kind of the one piece of the puzzle that’s been missing for us,” Kirchner said. “Every night we’ve been here we’ve been probably the most consistent because our here. We were just missing that win and finally got that tonight.”
Haggar ended last week’s event with a wrecked No. 19 car wondering how he’d fair in the NASCAR national and Wisconsin state points. In what was officially the first of twin 20-lap features, Haggar started on pole and never relinquished the lead for his second win of the season.
“Every single night, the minute we got off work, we would just work away at it trying to get something put together,” Haggar said. “I took the day off Friday and spent the whole day working on it. We take really good notes and it’s great to come out and see the success we had tonight. It was overdue.”
Haggar had pulled away from most of field by several seconds until Degenhardt and Michael Beamish caught up to him with five lapses to go. Degenhardt had to settle for second place after never getting an opportunity to get close to Haggar. Haggar said 59 total laps of racing Saturday has helped him get comfortable in a car that’s a mix of new and old parts.
“I’m a lot more comfortable with it,” Haggar said. “I know we have a lot of work to do with it. It’s not rolling in the center quite like we want it, way too snug, but we’ll get it back home and figure out what we can do to loosen it up without losing the drive on exit.”
After winning the first late model feature of the season in his dad Steve Carlson’s car, Mike Carlson has been consistent all season in his No. 50 late model without finding his way back to victory lane. Mike Carlson took the lead with 10 laps to go in the final feature of the night and carried his dad in tow before winning his second feature of the season.
After a suspension issue led to him switching cars in the season opener, the Carlson family has been taking input from around the country to try things to find speed.
“From the beginning of the year we’ve been changing a lot of stuff,” Mike Carlson said. “I’ve been talking to a friend down south kind of getting some ideas and it’s been working. Dad and I have been trying some stuff and it’s a different battle every week. You always have to keep changing stuff as you go.”
ECKELBERG FAMILY RACING SENDOFF
The emotions of the final races for Eckelberg Family Racing at La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway started early for Curt Eckelberg, who co-founded the team in 1988 with his wife Kim.
“It was up and down a lot,” Curt Eckelberg said. “I was actually holding back tears when we unloaded the cars tonight.”
After starting the day overwhelmed with sadness, the Eckelberg Family Racing would finish the night and their 35-year racing tenure at the track with a run to remember as Justin Mullikin took home third place after leading the opening 10 laps.
“By the end of the second feature when Justin was leading and finished third, I was all smiles,” Curt Eckelberg said. “I was thinking that this is what we work towards for 35 years, nights like tonight.”
Mullikin said in a post-race interview that his car started getting loose as the caution free feature went on, leading Mike and Steve Carlson to pass him before he recovered balance and held on for a podium spot.
After the races, fans and crews from around the pits came to congratulate the team and family on a 35-year racing career where they amassed 99 team wins. The family thanked the fans back with cake, cookies and refreshments.
Curt Eckelberg — who had retired from racing himself in 2015 — got to step into a car one more time pre-race and enjoy the support of the fans. With his son Jonathan Eckelberg piloting the No. 86 car and Mullikin driving the No. 51, Eckelberg hopped in one of the Sportsmen vehicles to drive alongside his two cars to hold flags during the national anthem.
“It makes the world of different when you know you have a great fan base,” Eckelberg said. “I got to go out for the national anthem in a sportsmen car, like one I started out with. When I came back, the owner said ‘You should hear the fans cheer for you.’ And I said ‘Really? People care about me?’ I had no idea I had this many fans out here.”
It was an equally emotional night for the family of the late Jason Schaller, who saw Jason’s No. 24 car in victory lane after Jamie Dummer won the first of two 15-lap Sportsmen features by a large margin.
It was the first ever feature win for the #RacingforJason team, driving to honor the owner Schaller who passed away on May 1 at the age of 42 following a battle with ALS. It’s the best feature finish for the team since a second-place finish on opening weekend, which came on the same day as a special gathering to honor Schaller.
Dummer would drive the No. 24 to a runner-up finish in the closing Sportsmen feature. Randy Humfeld — who was involved in an accident on turn one of the opening lap — survived a caution filled feature to win his second feature of the season.
La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway is off for the next two weekends until Sept. 3 when they host the 200 lap Big Cheese Enduro race.
IN PHOTOS: Mississippi Thunder Speedway Racing
MTS Micro Sprints
Micro-Sprints Feature Winner Joe Snow from Zimmerman, MN
USRA B-Mods Feature Race Winner Joe Chisholm from Osage, IA
Mississippi Thunder Speedway “Smoke”
USRA Late Models Feature Winner Ryan Olson from Strum, WI
Mississippi Thunder Speedway Track Announcer Dan Bailey
USRA Modifieds Feature Winner Jim Chisholm from Osage, IA
Micro Sprints – LT Construction Night at MTS
Ryan Olson – Strum, WI
JT Wasmund – Pine Island, MN
USRA Hobby Stocks Feature Winner Chris Hovden
Smokin’ Around Turn Two
Presentation of the Flag
Like Father, Like Son
John Doelle – Arcadia, WI
Micro Sprint Racing
Chris Hovden – Cresco, IA
Landon Volkman – Rushford, MN
Mississippi Thunder Speedway Racing
Flat Tire Exit
Chris Hovden – Cresco, IA
USRA B-Mods Feature Winner Joe Chisholm
James Krause can be reached by email at James.KrauseJr@lee.net or on Twitter @jkrausepro.