WEST SALEM — He grew up in a racing family, probably grabbing a wrench shortly after he took his first few steps. And, those steps, by the way, probably were to his left.
Racing to Johnny Sauter is like breathing to most people, as he lives it, earns a living at it, and carries a passion for it as tightly as Davante Adams holds a football.
So it was no wonder that Sauter, a Necedah, Wis., native, built a Super Late Model race car with the Oktoberfest Race Weekend in mind. In fact, Sauter said he enjoys building race cars as much as winning races in them.
And that’s exactly what Sauter did on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon at the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway. Sauter, driving a once-raced car, dominated the 28-car field — a field that included rising star Ty Majeski of Seymour, Wis. – to win the Oktoberfest 200, the longest race of the 48th annual Oktoberfest Race Weekend.
And he did it in impressive fashion as a standing-room only crowd estimated at 4,500 looked on.
“You’ve got to know when to go and when not to go. You got to go initially on restarts and try to get a little distance on them, then when you get the distance to 10-12 car lengths you just start backing up a little bit,” Sauter said of his race strategy.
“It was pretty important today, as my brother, Tim, was spotting at the time and making sure they were giving me lap times, so I could kind of monitor what kind of lead we had and when you get out there and take care of your stuff, and ultimately it shows up later in the run.
“Experience is the key; I wouldn’t trade it.”
Majeski dogged Sauter for the final 166 miles, but was never a threat to pass him. Sauter earned $5,000 for his first official Oktoberfest 200 victory, while the Majeski settled for second and a $2,250 pay day.
Dan Fredrickson of Lakeville, Minn., made a gallant effort to steal second from Majeski, but couldn’t complete several late-race attempts to get by the No. 91. He reluctantly settled for third and $2,000.
In reality, it was the second Oktoberfest 200 that Sauter won, but his 2011 victory was later stripped of him when his car failed a post-race inspection. It got messy that year, as one sanctioning body recognized his win, and another did not.
Sunday, there was no controversy as Sauter dominated the race — leading 166 of the 200 laps — and his car passed post-race inspection.
“I am not really sure, depending on whose record books you look at, I know I won this race in 2011,” Sauter said. “So we got one (officially), this is cool. It is a lot of work and a lot of great people that helped me.
A lot of great people that help me do this stuff, and it is fun.”
Majeski didn’t have nearly as much fun as Sauter. The Roush Fenway Racing developmental driver won the three-segment, JMcL 63 earlier Sunday, and was looking to take home the biggest prize of the water-logged racing weekend.
Majeski moved into the second place on Lap 34, the same lap Sauter took the lead from Jason Weinkauf, and he never lost the second-place spot. He spent much of the race 10 to 12 car lengths — about 2 seconds — behind Sauter, but simply couldn’t make up any ground, even through lap traffic.
“Johnny was just really good. Our car, overall, was pretty good, not too much to complain about,” Majeski said. “He (Sauter) was just a little bit better driving off (the turns). He could get to the throttle a little harder and carry the momentum down the straightaway.
“That was the slight difference, but a lot of times we would trade off lap times. We were closer to the idle part of the race and overall just a touch short.”
While Sauter’s lead was threatened only a brief time on a restart with eight laps to go, it was Fredrickson who made the last-ditch rush at Sauter. On a restart with nine laps to go, Fredrickson chose the outside lane on the grid. It was a decision he said he had to make — more on that in a bit — and it nearly paid off. Fredrickson got alongside Sauter but simply didn’t have the horsepower to stay even with him, or get ahead, as the cars roared out of Turn 2.
“I tried to get by him there. We were a lot better than he was (Majeski). I wanted to get up there and race with (No.) 5 with eight or nine (laps) to go, but he wouldn’t give me any room and I wouldn’t expect him to. It was a great race; I hope the fans liked it. If I get by him early, then get up and race with the 5 some, but we were just not fast enough to clear the deal when he was running the defense,” Fredrickson said.
“I don’t blame him for doing that as I would have done the same thing. It was good short-track racing and raced the (expletive) out of each other and I hope the fans liked it.
The stuff on TV is boring, so somebody has to do something cool.”
And why did Fredrickson roll the dice and take the outside groove? Was he rolling the dice?
“I’ve got a wife to go home to. I was in like third or fourth (place) and I took outside. She would lock the door on me if I didn’t try it out there and try to win,” Fredrickson said.
“I am not really sure, depending on whose record books you look at, I know I won this race in 2011. “So we got one (officially), this is cool. It is a lot of work and a lot of great people that helped me.” Johnny Sauter, who won Sunday’s Oktoferfest 200