WEST SALEM — While most eyes were locked onto Jacob Goede’s rocket-fast car as it led the 23-car Late Model field around the final laps of Saturday night’s feature race, there was something equally significant happening.
And a La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway crowd estimated at 3,000 was buzzing.
Nick Panitzke, who entered the race night eight points behind Steve Carlson in the battle for the Tobacco Outlet Plus Late Model track championship, swiped sixth place from Carlson with three laps remaining. The next lap, he took fifth away from Brent Kirchner, then fourth from Cole Howland.
While passing Carlson may not have seemed significant in a race neither won, it gave the Lonsdale, Minn., driver three more points on the night.
When the dust settled, Panitzke had taken over the Late Model points lead from Carlson — 644 to 643 — entering Saturday night’s regular-season finale, which will be two, 20-lap features.
None of this mattered to Goede, the race winner, who was happy with his first Late Model feature win at the Fairgrounds Speedway this season in just his third attempt.
Goede, who is the Late Model points leader at the Elko, Minn., Speedway, had a night off from that track, so he decided to make the trek to La Crosse.
“I enjoy this place. They run the show really well. The people, the officials, are accommodating and make you feel welcome, so it is enjoyable to come down here,” said the 32-year-old Goede.
“I enjoy coming down here. Just the drive, that’s the only bad part.”
The return trip was likely pretty enjoyable as Goede was able to use lap traffic to his advantage in the middle stages of the race. In fact, it was Carlson who got caught up in lap traffic on Lap 15, and Goede pounced.
Goede was able to catch Carlson, then sneak his car in the low groove coming out of Turn 2. He then powered past Carlson and officially took the lead the backstretch of Lap 16 and held it the rest of the way.
“Lap traffic helped me out. They were not as kind to him (Mike Carlson) and he had to check up a little bit for them and that let me make up a bunch of ground on him,” Goede said. “Then I was able to make the move out of Turn 2, get along side of him, and set sail from there.”
Carlson, the night’s fast qualifier, appeared poised to earn his second feature win of the season until he became snarled in lap traffic.
“I’ve got to keep gaining because these guys coming from out of town, they are really quick,” said Mike Carlson of his car, which he and his crew made numerous changes to over the past several weeks.
“I need to step up my game. I felt fast, but it did start getting a little loose. I think the stagger grew and lap cars played a terrible factor in it.”
POWELL SETTLES FOR THIRD: Former track champion Brad Powell of La Crosse started the feature in the fifth spot, moved up to fourth by Lap 9, then to third by Lap 10.
Powell said he had a strong car, but just not strong enough to run down Mike Carlson or Goede.
“My car was good. It was just one of those deals. Mike had a good car tonight, I had a good car and Jacob had a good car. It is part of racing,” Powell said. “I will take a third-place finish.”
While Powell, too, had to battle lap traffic and may have been helped if there would have been a yellow flag, he wasn’t disappointed to see a caution-free feature race for the second straight week.
“It is nice to go green, white, checkers, too,” Powell said.