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AUTO RACING: Racers flock to 40th Paul Bunyan Stampede

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The Wissota Midwest Modified cars of Tyler McClellan (No. 41), Brandon Copp (No. 22) and Gary James Nelson (No. 74) race in turns one and two. (Dennis Peterson | Special to the Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- It’s a tradition. In the fall racers, crews and fans descend on Bemidji Speedway for the annual Paul Bunyan Stampede. This year marked the 40th time the event has been held with drivers from throughout the Midwest coming together in eight classes to battle on the 3/8-mile oval.

The event kicked off Friday, Sept. 20, with the cornhole tournament and pre-race party. Racing began on Saturday, Sept. 21, with the threat of rain in the forecast.

Big winners on the weekend were Shane Sabraski of Rice, Minn., with three clean sweeps in the Wissota Super Stocks and Modifieds; Jeff Reed picked up two heat wins and a feature win in the Wissota Midwest Modifieds; Kevin Baumgarner also won two heat races and a feature in the Wissota Pure Stocks; Conrad Schwinn picked up two heat wins and a feature win and in the Bemidji Mini Stocks.

The end of the year awards banquet will be held Nov. 16 at the Bemidji Eagles Club with a social hour starting at 5 p.m. and dinner from 6-7:30 p.m. with awards to follow.

Day 1 (Saturday, Sept. 21)

Northern Renegade Sprints Feature

Caley Emerson started outside on the front row and powered to the front where he stayed to pick up the win in the first of 16 feature races on the weekend. He was followed across the finish line by Troy Gessner and Lance Solem in the top three.

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Wissota Pure Stocks Feature

The Wissota Pure Stocks roared on track 17 strong for the next feature led by Chad Tabaka and Josh Berg.

Several spins and crashes slowed the start of the racing, sending several drivers tailback for restarts. When the green flag stayed out, it was Tabaka out front with third-row outside starter Kevin Baumgarner chasing him. Deryk Weleski, Jared Miller and Bonnie Farrington were also in contention in the top five.

Tabaka pushed up high and Baumgarner made the pass for the lead as Berg charged back into the top five from the rear of the field. Tabaka chased down the leader and retook the lead only to get a little too close to an infield tire, sending him on his hood. The race was red-flagged while track personnel attended to Tabaka. He was unhurt but done for the race.

When racing resumed it was Baumgarner out front with Jared Akervik, Miller, Berg and Farrington still in contention. With the white flag waving Miller drove high around both Akervik and Baumgarner to take the checkered flag. Akervik was second with Baumgarner third. Berg and Dawson Kimble followed.

At this point the skies to the west were dark and flashing streaks of lightning. The races were halted for the safety of all. The skies opened up and heavy rain and wind pummeled the area, postponing the remaining events until Sunday with an early start.

Sunday, Sept. 22 (Day 1 make-up features)

Bemidji Mini Stock Feature

Corry Nelson and Shannon George led the mini stocks on track for the opening feature on Sunday with George powering to the lead over Connor Drewry with Conrad Schwinn, Nelson and John Current trailing.

Schwinn passed Drewry for second but George fought off the challenges by Schwinn to win the race. Jake Geschwill was third with Drewry and Nick Jacobson in the top five.

Wissota Midwest Modified Feature

Fourteen Wissota Midwest Mods roared on track for their feature led by Tanner Williamson of Ft. Francis, Ont., and Brent Foster of Hackensack.

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Williamson took the initial lead with Gary James Nelson charging up into second followed by Brandon Copp of Brule, Wis. Foster and Dean Eggebraaten rounded out the top five.

Eggebraaten was on the gas and raced up into third from his fourth-row starting spot. The race track was fast and the laps clicked off with Williamson out front until the final lap.

Following a caution for a spin, Nelson raced inside and beat Williamson to the checkered flag to pick up the win by a nose over Williamson. Copp, Eggebraaten and Tyler McClellan finished in the top five.

Wissota Mod Four Feature

Fran Hauber and Conrad Schwinn filled the front row for the start of the Wissota Mod Four feature with Schwinn racing to the lead followed by Blake Erickson, Trevor Voss, Dean Shaver and Nick Jacobson.

Schwinn stayed out front the entire race to claim the victory over Erickson. Shaver finished third but was disqualified for a tech infraction, moving Voss to third with Jacobson and Hauber in the top five.

Wissota Super Stock Feature

Butch Butcher of Carlton, and Mikey Vajdl of Chisholm, led the field of Wissota Super Stocks to the green flag with Butcher taking the lead over Vajdl, Al Sadek Jr., and Matt Sparby.

A quick caution sent Sparby tailback for a restart. On the restart the big mover was Dylan Nelson of Merryfield, Minn., powering up from deep in the pack to take second behind Butcher.

Starting in the fourth-row inside, Shane Sabraski was waiting and watching for his chance. He used a high low pass in turn three and four and raced into third as the top three of Butcher, Nelson and Sabraski ran bumper to bumper.

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A spin on the back straight created a restart situation and Sabraski took advantage, racing into second. He them used the top side to pass for the lead after a door to door battle with Butcher.

It was a clean sweep for Sabraski. Butcher was second with Nelson, Dalton Carlson and Harley Kroening in the top five.

Wissota Hornet Feature

The Wissota Horner feature was next with Jordan Thayer on the pole and Cody Krueth of Becker, to his right.

Krueth powered to the lead and never looked back, claiming the flag-to-flag victory over second-place Travis Olafson. Brennan Schmidt was third with Thayer fourth.

Wissota Modified Feature

The final race of the day one features was the Wissota Modifieds. Led on track on the pole was Danny Vang of Deerwood, and to his right Shane Sabraski. Sabraski raced to the lead followed by Bob Broking, Vang and Johnny Broking.

A spin brought out the caution flag and created a restart. Sabraski held his line and led with Bob Broking, Vang, Butch Butcher and Johnny Broking trailing.

Sabraski pulled away and cruised to his modified sweep and his second sweep of the day after having won the super stock feature as well. Vang was second with Johnny Broking moving a spot for third, followed by Bob Broking and Lance Schilling.

Day Two (Sunday, Sept. 22)

Northern Renegade Sprints Feature

Cool temperatures and mostly clear skies greeted drivers and fans on Sunday for the second day of the Paul Bunyan Stampede.

The first feature of the official second day of racing was the Northern Renegade Sprints. Troy Gessner led the field of sprints to the green flag and powered to the lead, followed by Dave Brafford and Regan Johnson.

In a flag-to-flag victory, his first ever, Gessner was in control and celebrated in victory lane with family and friends. Brafford, Emerson, Solem and Josh Braford took top-five honors.

Wissota Pure Stock Feature

Sixteen Wissota Pure Stocks rolled down the front straight to the green flag with Kevin Baumgarner taking the lead, followed by Josh Berg, Jaren Akervik, Deryk Weleski and Jamie Chlebecek.

Following a restart, Akervik raced low to pass Berg for second. Jared Miller raced up on the inside into fourth from his fourth-row starting position. The top three of Baumgarner, Akervik and Berg pulled away from the pack and the field raced single file for several laps.

Akervik raced up to challenge for the lead door to door with the leader. Contact was the result, sending Akervik tailback and moving Berg into second and Miller third. Berg and Miller flip flopped positions a couple of times, but Baumgarner picked up the feature win. Berg, Miller, Austin Carlson and Margo Butcher filled the top five spots.

Bemidji Mini Stock Feature

In a race that featured many lead changes, the Bemidji Mini Stocks were next on track with Nick Jacobson starting on the pole and Jake Geschwill to his right. Jacobson was the first leader, but lost his bumper and was forced to pit, moving Geschwill to the lead.

Conrad Schwinn raced up through the middle of the pack to take third and then second. John Current was on the move after trailing Geschwill, passing Geschwill for the lead before pitting for a tire change, putting Geschwill back out front once again.

But another restart was all Schwinn needed as he charged to the front and proceeded to win the race with Current, Shannon George, Cory Nelson and Brandon Puschinsky in the top five.

Wissota Midwest Modifieds Feature

A field of 20 Wissota Midwest Modifieds drove on track next led by Jeff Reed and Austin McClellan. Reed drove the front at the green flag with Brandon Copp, Tanner Williamson, Gary James Nelson and Dean Eggebraaten in the top five.

A three-car incident slowed the racing for a restart. On the restart it was Copp moving up into second as McClellan slid up over the top of turn one. At this point, several cautions slowed the racing with many cars pitting.

Reed never looked back and proceeded to win the race in impressive fashion. Copp was second with Skyler Smith racing all the way from his eighth-row starting spot into third. Nelson was fourth with Cole Searing fifth.

Wissota Mod Four Feature

The Wissota Mod Fours polesitter was Trevor Voss. To his right was Brian Feda.

Voss took the lead with Nick Jacobson, Feda, Blake Erickson and Conrad Schwinn in the top five. Schwinn raced into fourth as Erickson passed Feda and Jacobson for second. He continued his assault on the lead, passing Voss down the back straight on the inside.

The 17-year-old Erickson cruised to the stampede victory with Schwinn, Dean Shaver, Voss and Fran Hauber in the top five.

Wissota Super Stock Feature

Dalton Carlson and Cole Searing, of Huron, S.D., brought the field of 16 Wissota Super Stocks down the front straight and into turn one with Searing taking the lead followed by Carlson, Butch Butcher, Tim Carlson and Shane Sabraski.

Sabraski raced inside to pass Carlson for fourth. Searing and Carlson, the top two cars, pulled away from the field, leaving the pack to fight for third. Sabraski battled with Butcher for third and down the back straight, racing inside to take the position where he finished the race.

In a flag-to-flag race which took just minutes to finish, Searing picked up the victory lane trophy with Dalton Carlson second, Sabraski third and Butcher and Tim Carlson in the top five.

Wissota Hornets Feature

Paul Ripley and Hunter McDougall, both of Duluth, battled each other for the lead of the Wissota Hornet feature. Ripley took the lead on the inside in side-by-side, lap-after-lap action.

Charging up on the inside was Justin Schelitzche of Cologne, with Grayson Pratt of Dayton, also joining in on the fierce fight for the lead. In an incredible four-minute flag-to-flag race, Schelitzche took the checkered ahead of Pratt, Ripley, Travis Olafson and McDougall.

Wissota Modified Feature

In the final race of 30 held on Sunday, the Wissota Modifieds drove on track with Scott Engholm and Johnny Broking on the front row. Broking powered to the lead with Engholm, Dan Ebert, Shane Sabraski and Tim Jackson trailing.

The caution flag waved for Doyle Erickson, who found the front wall very unforgiving. The restart was controlled by Broking out front while Jackson and Ebert drove high and low to pass Engholm with Ebert second behind Broking.

Making a strong move was Ricky Jacobson racing inside down the back straight by several cars to take third before another caution flag was waved in turn three. The restart was led by Broking with Ebert, Jacobson, Jackson and Sabraski in the top five.

Sabraski once again drove inside on the back straight to regain third as Ebert drove up to Broking’s rear bumper as Sabraski raced high and Ebert went low. Sabraski made the pass for the lead and quickly drove to a comfortable win with Broking, Ebert, Jacobson and Jackson filling the top five spots, ending an incredible two days of racing at the 40th annual Paul Bunyan Stampede.

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