There is a lot of racing scheduled to happen at the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway over the next few days, but the fast-paced action doesn’t stop there.
Chuck Deery, the general manager at the Fairgrounds Speedway since 1987, and his staff have been preparing for the 48th version of the Oktoberfest Race Weekend for a year, and pulling off the Midwest’s biggest short-track racing event is a monumental challenge.
Weather, as in rain, can disrupt and drastically change even the best of plans. And that is exactly what happened Thursday night as qualifying for six divisions, including the Super Late Model, Late Model and Sportsmen, took place. Then the rain came. Heavy rain followed by lighter but persistent showers. After waiting nearly four hours, the Thursday night program was canceled around 9 p.m.
“The biggest challenge is the weather. The best way I can describe it is if I was a retailer and somebody decides to cancel Christmas because of the weather,” Deery said. “It changes everything.
“The four weeks prior to the event involve intense planning and making sure everything that is scheduled to be here, is here.
“Once it’s here, there are too many moving parts to look at in more than 6-hour segments. Whatever project or challenge needs to be accomplished in that six hours, you take care of. That you move on to the next six hours.”
Those six-hour segments turned into six-minute segments of watching the weather radar from various internet sources, media sources and every other source possible Thursday afternoon and night. It all showed the same thing — steady, then lighter, then heavier, rain. That forced track officials, including Deery and Motorsports Management Services president Gregg McKarns, into some difficult decisions. Wait and hope? Cancel Thursday night’s action? Attempt to move some of the races to an already jam-packed schedule?
After drying the track and rolling the Sportsmen Division drivers onto the track around 9 p.m., it rained again. This time, Deery and McKarns waived the white flag, canceling the first night’s action.
“There is nothing easy about rain delays and this type of weather for outdoor events that requires drying time,” Deery said about 8:30 p.m. Thursday. “It is a disappointment for the fans and the competitors because they had such high expectations on what could have happened, or could still happen. It is not what we planned, but we are going to try and make the best of it.”
Track officials had dried the track and were attempting to run several preliminary feature races before Thursday night’s the big event, which was the 40-lap, track championship deciding 40-late Late Model feature race. That race, or any feature race, never happened.
With more than 500 cars expected to hit the track in 18 different divisions — weather permitting — there are considerable challenges associated with getting the right cars ready to race (staging), then making certain those cars fall within the rules for that particular class.
That’s only a part of it, Deery said.
“There is the racing side of things, the camping side of things, the after-race parties, the camping activities, the memorabilia show, the racers’ reunion. It is a weekend of 10,000 details. It tell people it is like putting on 15 weddings in one weekend.”
It takes a combined 200 workers and volunteers to pull off the event, compared to about 50 on a regular Saturday night of racing. Despite the tremendous workload, Deery still gets great satisfaction of seeing thousands of race fans turn out each year. Many of them have been coming year after year.
“There are a lot of people rooting for this event. People just like the event, and as I have said many times, it’s a racing reunion for drivers, fans and those who follow racing,” Deery said.
“It is nice to host this event as we have the facility to race a number of different divisions, we have room for camping and it’s a beautiful part of the country.”
MAJESKI STAYS HOT: Ty Majeski, a developmental driver for Roush Fenway Racing, had an Oktoberfest to remember in 2016, winning the Oktoberfest 200 and the JMcK 63 and nearly pulling off a trifecta with the Dick Trickle 99 within grasp before he was disqualified in the first of the three segments. He has carried that momentum into the 2017 Oktoberfest Race Weekend, as he turned in the fastest qualifying time in the Super Late Model Division (18.694 seconds, 120.359 mph) Thursday night before the rain hit.
Majeski’s time edged out Bangor native Skylar Holzhausen, whose time of 18.807 seconds (119.636 mph) was the second fastest in the 35-car field.
LATE MODEL QUALIFYING: Majeski jumped from race car to another Thursday afternoon, and proved once again he is the driver to beat. The Seymour, Wis., driver, who runs a limited regular season schedule at the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway, topped the 27-driver Late Model field with a qualifying lap of 19.800 seconds, or an average speed of 113.636 mph around the five-eighth’s mile track.
Points leader Nick Panitzke of Lonsdale, Minn., was second with a time of 19.900 seconds (113.065 mph), while former track champion Brad Powell was third (19.904 seconds, 113.043 mph). Steve Carlson, the West Salem driver who entered the night 11 points behind Panitzke in the chase for a track championship, qualified seventh (20.031 seconds, 112.326 mph). That meant Panitzke gained four points over Carlson in qualifying, pushing his lead to 15 points entering the feature race.
A decision on what will happen with the 40-lap Late Model feature was not available as of Tribune press time.
RESCHEDULING: With more rain forecast today, Deery and his team were already thinking of what, and how, to make the best of the situation.
“We will try and do the best we can with rescheduling some of the divisions,” Deery said. “But typically when you reschedule a division, it creates problems for that division because competitors are not expecting to compete on a (different) day and may have other commitments.
“It is not just ‘go ahead and move it,’ as there are a lot of other factors that go into making it happen.”
Players from both the Holmen and Aquinas high school volleyball teams were shaking their heads after Thursday’s five-set MVC thriller.
The Blugolds celebrated with elation, while the Vikings huddled together with tears in their eyes as they tried to figure out how an early lead got away from them.
The match certainly had a postseason feel to it, and Aquinas came through with its back to the wall.
Holmen took quick control with 25-18 and 25-20 wins in the first two sets, but the Blugolds took the last three 25-22, 25-23 and 15-9 in front of about 1,000 fans at Reinhart Athletic Complex.
“I knew we needed to make adjustments, not with personnel, but what we were doing out on the floor,” said Blugolds coach Danielle George, whose team took sole possession of first place in the MVC and completed a season sweep of Holmen. “I knew we had it in us. I think we were nervous, and we put too much pressure on us in the first two sets.”
Aquinas led the fifth and final set 10-1 at one point, and it started out the deciding stanza with a 3-0 lead.
In that 10-1 scurry, the Blugolds got aces from Ellie Copps and Megan Scheidt. Scheidt’s ace put Aquinas up 6-1.
“In the beginning … it was hard to have positive emotions,” said Scheidt, Aquinas’ libero. “I just had a whole new mindset in the third set. It was really, really fun to play.”
Sophomore Lexi Donarski had two kills in the run, and Kyah Steiner also had a kill.
Donarski led the Blugolds with 20 kills, and she also had 16 digs with an assist for good measure.
“We were able to pull it together at the end,” Donarski said. “It was a lot of fun, the atmosphere was great. We were talking in the huddle, and we were talking about how we needed to focus on what we could control, which was to eliminate our errors.”
The Blugolds couldn’t put their finger on where the actual turning point was in the match. They started out the third set with a 7-4 lead, but the Vikings tied it at 10. From that point on, it was a neck-and-neck set — and match.
Set No. 3 ended with an ace from Blugolds sophomore Kayla Bahr. Bahr had five aces in the match.
Late in set No. 4, the Blugolds went on a 5-1 run that included junior setter Claire Dolan’s touch in four of the five scoring plays.
In that run, Dolan and three assists and a kill. In all, the Blugolds junior had 36 assists.
The Vikings had three girls with double-digit kills. Junior Emily Wall led with 21, Kenzie Winker had 17 and Abby Fell had 11. Winker also had two aces.
Sam Millard led the Vikings with 30 assists, and Lizzy Porath had 20. Claire Eade had 21 digs.
With the win, the Blugolds now control their destiny in the MVC standings.
Aquinas is 9-1 in conference play, while the Vikings are 8-2 with a heart-crushing loss.
“Toward the end of the game, the girls didn’t play like themselves,” Vikings coach Sammi Maier said. “In that aspect, I’m a little disappointed. We had a lot of energy to start off the bat, and we couldn’t that same type of energy to the other sets. We dug ourselves in set 5.
“I kept talking to them about having a sense of urgency,” Maier added. “It just didn’t seem to set in.”
GREEN BAY — Out of all the talented receiving options on the Green Bay Packers, one stands above the rest inside the 20-yard line.
Few wideouts in the NFL have been as productive inside the red zone as Jordy Nelson.
Four of his league-best five scoring catches have come inside the 20, including two in the second half last week against the Chicago Bears. Last season, 11 of Nelson’s NFL-high 15 touchdown catches were in the red zone.
This is in part because of the volume of scoring opportunities on the Packers’ potent offense. The running game also hasn’t been consistently productive since the start of the 2016 season.
But with quarterback Aaron Rodgers behind center, there is always a chance to score.
“Definitely on the same page with Aaron,” coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday about Nelson.
Rodgers-to-Nelson — a combination that has been playing pitch-and-catch together since 2008, which was Rodgers first season as starter and Nelson’s rookie year. The rapport has built up over years of practices.
“Time and communication. I put communication on it more than anything. In practice. In games. In meetings. Walking down the hall. Seeing something on film” Nelson said. “Constantly communicating.”
Nelson, 32, is two years removed from a right knee injury that knocked him out for the 2015 season. The timing, route-running and savvy are still there.
While Nelson is still a threat to catch the deep ball, his yards-per-catch average has dipped over the past couple of seasons. After averaging 15.5 yards in 2014, Nelson was at 13.0 yards in 2016. He is averaging 12.1 yards a catch through four games this season.
Keep in mind that the Packers have also had to adjust their offense early this season to account for injuries on the offensive line. Rodgers has handled teams with short, quick passes, though there is always the threat for a big-play strike.
Going into Sunday’s game at Dallas, the Packers led the NFL by scoring touchdowns on 78 percent of trips into the red zone. All five touchdowns in last week’s win over Chicago came from inside the 10.
“I think some of the throws down there, just some of the route-running with the time clocks have been right on the money. That’s a big part of it,” McCarthy said.
“He’s got some good matchups. Jordy’s the type of guy, if you give him an inch, he’s going to take full advantage of it and he can turn it into a yard.”
The trouble for opposing defenders is that if they focus on Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb can get open in the end zone. And pass-catching tight end Martellus Bennett hasn’t scored a touchdown yet this season.
Rodgers said getting Bennett and Adams targets early in games helps to spark the offense.
“Obviously, I’d like to get Marty more involved a little bit earlier in the game and would like to get Davante some more touches in the red zone. Jordy’s been fantastic this year, Randall, when he’s been out there, has been fantastic,” Rodgers said. “We’ve got to keep finding ways to get those guys the ball — and early.”
Adams has practiced each day so far this week, a good sign that he might be able to clear the concussion protocol for the Cowboys game after absorbing the helmet-to-helmet hit from Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan last week.
Whether Ty Montgomery can play with broken ribs is in question, though it appears that the Packers might have their full complement of rookie backups at running back available in Jamaal Williams (knee), Aaron Jones and Devante Mays.
And if handing the ball off in the red zone doesn’t work, there is always Nelson.
“Just does a great job with recognizing coverage, beating leverage and he’s just very technically sound,” McCarthy aid. “And, obviously, Aaron has a ton of faith in him.”
CB Davon House (quad) and LB Nick Perry (right hand), both starters, were upgraded from limited to full participants on Thursday, which is the most extensive practice of the week for Green Bay. ... Adams and Montgomery were limited for a second straight day, as were starting offensive tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, along with defensive tackle Mike Daniels.
Onalaska High School is one of several Coulee Region football teams that have scored points in bunches this season.
Tonight, however, the focus is on its defense and how to stop Central senior Johnny Davis.
Davis, the Red Raiders’ quarterback, enters a game that kicks off at 7 p.m. in Onalaska as the Coulee Region’s top passer.
“A mobile quarterback like Davis always gives defenses fits,” Onalaska coach Tom Yashinsky said. “He keeps the play alive for awhile, and the receivers never stop running. He’ll find someone 40 or 50 yards downfield, and puts the ball on a rope.”
Davis has 1,846 passing yards and has tossed 17 TD passes, which is second to Caledonia’s Owen King (20) and one more than Onalaska’s Noah Skifton (16).
Davis is second to Black River Falls’ Elliot Bird (122) in completions with 120.
Yashinsky has had a few options to try to emulate what Davis has.
Hilltoppers offensive coordinator Andy Sires — a former UW-La Crosse and Houston High School quarterback — has the arm strength to imitate what Davis could show tonight.
“He’s got a rocket of an arm,” Yashinsky said of Sires, who led the Huurricanes to an MSHSL championship as a senior. But the Hilltoppers have had a more difficult time finding a member to match Davis’s speed.
“It’s hard to simulate that,” Yashinsky said.
Meanwhile, Bangor’s defense will have a challenge in containing Brookwood running back Ben DeWitt.
DeWitt is the area’s No. 2 rusher with 1,168 yards. He does, however, have the lead in touchdowns with 19, and that includes a seven-touchdown game earlier this season.
“It’s going to be a tall task,” Bangor coach Rick Muellenberg said of containing DeWitt. “It’s one of those (things) where we just can’t over-pursue. If it’s not there initially, he does a really nice job of cutting back. We have to take away the cut-back lanes as well.”
Cardinals senior Luke Reader could join the 1,000-rushing yard club tonight. Reader has 945 yards on 104 carries. Reader has 18 rushing touchdowns.