ARCA Fest Finale at Milwaukee Mile

Cheryl Lettow and Children with winner Erik Jones

June 8, 2014

Story and Photos by Fay Hendricks

Sunday was a sunny day at The Milwaukee Mile for the ARCAfest finale. Morning qualifying began with the JEGS All- Stars Tour late models, a diverse field coming from eleven states and Canada, and two women were among the drivers. Georgia’s Anderson Bowen topped the field, but Sterling Marlin had problems and never posted a time. He would join the feature field in the back row later. Marlin is still racing at age 56, Florida’s Garrett Jones is only 14 years old, and Kentucky’s Jeff Berg will turn 60 in September. The invert placed Bowen in the fourth row, but the lineup changed during inspection.

Michigan’s Phil Bozell had a tire go flat and needed to change it, but rules state that the car cannot be touched during the impound process. Since you can’t change a tire without touching the car, Bozell’s car was penalized and had to start at the back instead of on the pole. Thus the inside row moved up for the start of the 100-lap contest. Alabama’s Justin South and Illinois racer Dave Gentile Jr. shared the front row, followed by Canadian teens Tristan and Tristan Van Wieringen, Bowen and John Hunter Nemechek. South pounced at the green flag and survived a lap five restart, but four laps later Nemechek roared past and held on to the checkered flag.

Eric Huenefeld with 16-year old John Hunter Nemechek

It was not an uneventful race, with three more cautions for spins coming before the mandatory halfway break for pit stops. Once the race resumed, the rest of the race sped to conclusion as 16-year old Nemechek notched his first win at Milwaukee. Father Joe Nemechek was happy to join his son, having flown here from Texas after finishing third in the NASCAR trucks. The winner did donuts on the frontstretch to the cheers of the crowd before erupting from his car in victory lane to a shower from his crew. Thanking his crew and father, Nemechek talked about racing a flat track like the Milwaukee Mile. “You’ve got to get around the corners. That’s all we worked on all weekend,” said the happy winner. There was little time to waste as the day’s signature race was to begin and Nemechek had to join them.

The third running of the ARCA Midwest Tour’s Howie Lettow Memorial 150 brought racers from eleven states ranging from California to Florida. The qualifying session began with Nemechek setting a new track record when edging out James Swan, but Georgia’s Anderson Bowen lowered the mark more a few cars later. This all occurred in the first nine qualifiers, and the time held all the way to the end. Travis Rodewald spun during his qualifying and never returned the rest of the day. It was declared there would be three caution periods for tires and setups, during which no one could gain positions no matter what order they returned to the track. This would give those without many crew members an equal chance with well- funded teams. Thus the laps did not count on the scoreboard at some times.

John Hunter Nemechek won at Milwaukee Mile

The die was rolled to set the feature inversion at twelve cars. Illinois veteran Jeremy Miller shared the front row with Wisconsin’s Mark Kraus, followed by Michigan’s Chad Finley and Iowa’s Griffin McGrath. Next were area favorites Chris Weinkauf, Ross Kenseth, Johnny Sauter, who also raced in Texas Friday night, and Nathan Haseleu. The field rolled around the one mile oval four abreast to the cheering crowd before settling back into line. Three dozen cars thundered to a start and Miller leaped into the lead, leaving the pack behind. The first caution came before twenty laps were complete, and on lap 25 it was Weinkauf leading the way. The first competition caution came before forty laps were scored, and Bowen worked his way into the lead before fifty circuits were complete. On lap fifty Weinkauf was back in front, leading the rest through two more cautions.

Just after lap ninety it was 18-year old North Carolina racer Erik Jones who piloted the Kyle Busch mount to the front. Seven more laps were complete when Weinkauf retired with problems, soon followed by Travis Sauter, Jason Weinkauf and Johnny Sauter, whose engine let go just as he was challenging for the lead. Matt Kocourek and Spencer Wauters were the reason for the next caution, and McGrath jumped ahead on the restart. The yellow flag negated that daring move, however, and the next attempt also resulted in the caution flag. Two more laps were complete when Nathan Haseleu and Johnny Van Doorn got into trouble and retired 38 laps from the end.

John Hunter Nemechek swarmed after win

One more competition caution followed before the rest of the race went to the finish. Brent Kirchner and Austin Nason pulled off before the rest crossed under the checkered flag. A jubilant Jones spun donuts before making a complete victory lap in Alan Kulwicki style to mark the occasion. A shower from the winning crew greeted Jones as he came to the stage to accept the trophy from Howie Lettow’s wife Cheryl and children. “It’s awesome to finally win here,” shouted the winner. Jones already had an awesome weekend. His high school graduation ceremony was skipped on Friday for a chance to race Kyle Busch’s NASCAR Craftsman truck in Texas, where track manager Eddie Gossage presented him with his diploma. Flying to Milwaukee Saturday, Jones got some seat time in the Busch machine, the first time in a super late model since winning his second consecutive Snowball Derby in Florida in December.

After his winning photos Jones came to the media room for interviews, stating, “I couldn’t be here Friday. Thanks to Nick Panitzke for dialing it in. I got a little tight for a while, couldn’t run the bottom for a while. I think air was a factor,” explaining how different his car was behind someone. Asked about his hectic weekend, Jones replied, “It’s been a good weekend,” adding, “To win here, it’s pretty big for me. It’s a different place. It does drive different. You have to use your brakes different. We found a spring issue, but once we figured it out we got faster. It’s been a good time since I’ve even been in one of these cars.”

McGrath came so close to stealing the lead on restarts, claiming, “I hated the restarts. It’s tough because you got to figure out what gear to be in. At the beginning of the race there was a lot of stuff on my tires.” This was McGrath’s third time at The Mile, and he nearly made it to winner’s circle. Finley was here for the second time and learned a lot. We had to rush to another venue and bid farewell to our happy race family for the past three days. Thanks to the ARCA Midwest Tour team for another superb show at the historic oval.