WEST SALEM — Entering Saturday night’s race program at the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway, there were two Late Model races remaining in the regular season.
That fact isn’t lost on Nick Panitzke, a Lonsdale, Minn., driver who has pushed four-time defending track champion Steve Carlson from the very start. Panitzke, in fact, entered the night just eight points behind the short-track legend in the season points standings.
Panitzke, who qualified third while Carlson was 11th, gained three points before the first race began Saturday night. Panitzke further sliced into Carlson’s points lead with a second-place dash finish, making the feature race of critical importance.
The 25-lap Tobacco Outlet Plus Late Model feature race was not finished as of Tribune press time.
The Late Model points race, it seems, will likely be decided at the final race of the season, which is during the Oktoberfest Race Weekend on Oct. 5-8.
SPORTSMEN FEATURE: Randy Humfeld, who started ninth in the Dean’s Satellite Sportsmen Division, made his way to the front to win the 15-lap feature race, his fourth feature win of the season. Humfeld, who took the lead with five laps to go, passed Brad Warthan for the lead, then held it. Warthan was second, while Steve Bachman was third.
7-UP: Adam Moore of Sparta is having a standout season in the Auto Value Thunderstox Division at the Fairgrounds Speedway. Moore beat Joey Johnson across the finish line, earning his division-best seventh feature win of the season.
That solidified Moore’s position atop the points standings. Johnson settled for second, while Kaleb Hardy was third.
SCARY MOMENT: The Ants Pest Control Hornets feature race featured a frightening moment just one lap into the scheduled 15-lap event when a multi-car crash on the backstretch left Sparta’s Shawn McCarthy injured. Track safety officials had to remove McCarthy from his car, then wheeled him to an ambulance on a stretcher. He was transported by ambulance to a local hospital. According to track officials, McCarthy suffered a leg injury.
HORNET WINNER: Brandon LaMoine of West Salem won the Ants Pest Control Hornets feature, beating another West Salem driver, Mark Bornitz, across the finish line.
MAKING NOISE: Carter Christenson, who had a rough-and-tumble start to his Late Model season, is finishing the regular season on a high note. Christenson won his third heat race of the season Saturday night, edging Cole Howland for the checkered flag.
WHAT RETIREMENT? Don “Thunder” Turner, a La Crosse driver who has never missed an Oktoberfest Race Weekend, won his first race of the season when he captured a heat race.
6-FOR-6: Brent Kirchner, a longtime area Late Model racer, held off a hard-charging Nick Panitzke to win the 6-For-6 dash, which is a race for the six fastest qualifiers. Panitzke, who is in the hunt for the track championship, picked up four points for his second-place finish.
Steve Carlson, the Late Model points leader, qualified 11th in missed the 6-For-6. He was in different heat race.
CARLSON TOP QUALIFIER: Mike Carlson, who is having a late-season surge, turned in the fastest qualifying time in the 22-car Tobacco Outlet Plus Late Model Division Saturday night.
Carlson stopped the clock at 19.763 seconds, or an average speed of 99.276 mph around the five-eighth’s mile oval track. Former track champion Brad Powell had the second-fastest lap (19.868 seconds, 98.752 mph).
CHAMP’S STRUGGLING: Steve Carlson, the four-time defending Late Model track champion, has struggled during qualifying the last two weeks. Steve Carlson, who qualified 11th last week, had the seventh-fastest qualifying time Saturday night (20.063 seconds, 97.792 mph).
SPORTSMEN: Brad Warthan topped the 14-driver Dean’s Satellite Sportsmen Division qualifying field when he turned a lap of 21.600 seconds, or 90.833 mph.
Points leader Randy Humfeld was second (21.625 seconds, 90.728 mph).