BEMIDJI -- The 41st annual Paul Bunyan Stampede was held at Bemidji Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 26 and Sunday, Sept. 27. Weather conditions were not the best with a steady drizzle and rain soaking the track and the many campers who came early on Friday for the cornhole tournament and party held each year prior to the Stampede.
A total of 139 racers filled the pits with trailers and haulers of all sizes and styles in anticipation of the weekend of racing in nine classes. As Saturday morning approached, the rains let up and track prep ensued, making for a fast and smooth racing surface for the first day of the Stampede.
The opening ceremonies, with lots of flags for the national anthem and a pre-race prayer, set the tone for the races to come. The heats started, and with just four remaining, the skies once again opened up and drenched the track to end the first day of racing. That forced track management to be creative and make the two full race shows into one with the last four heats and all the features to be run on Sunday.
Under cloudy and cool conditions Sunday, the fans returned and the drivers were ready to finish the heat races and Stampede features.
Wissota Pure Stock Feature
The first feature of the 2020 Paul Bunyan Stampede was the Wissota Pure Stocks. Twenty-one pures drove on track led by Chad Tabaka and Michael Roth. Tabaka on the inside grabbed the first lead with Roth, Austin Carlson, Kade Leeper and Kevin Baumgarner trailing in the top five before the first of nine cautions slowed the racing.
Once the green flag waved, Baumgarner raced up into fourth and then ran side by side with Carlson for third. Caution after caution again slowed the racing. The race was called after completing just five laps and the leader Roth, of Deerwood, was declared the winner. Carlson, Baumgarner, Tabaka and Josh Berg finished in the top five.
Northern Renegade Wingless Sprints Feature
Joining the regulars at Bemidji Speedway for the Stampede, the Northern Renegade Wingless Sprints were next on track led by Teal Arnason and Zach Olson in row one.
Fourteen sprints powered down the front straight to the green flag with Olson taking the initial lead with Josh Braford second, Arnason third, Caley Emerson fourth and Zach Wilde fifth. Braford cut inside and took the lead with Arnason following into second and Emerson racing into third before a yellow flag waved for an incident. A couple of more cautions slowed the action.
Renegades newcomer Chad Wulff of Bemidji raced too high and went up and over the high banked first turn. He was unhurt but out of the race.
When racing resumed, it was Braford out front challenged by Jake Barsness and Paul Schultz who had to restart from the rear of the field and made a great comeback in third. Wilde found the front wall unforgiving, bringing one more caution flag out.
The green flag waved for the last time and Braford held off the hard-charging Barsness to win the feature and drive to victory lane where he said, “This is incredible. I never win at Bemidji.”
Well, this year he did, and he was followed by Barsness, Schultz, Arnason and Brad Larsen.
Wissota Mod Four Feature
A 20-car field filled the track for the Wissota Mod Four feature led by Skyler Smith and Garrett Masurka in row one. The first caution waved quickly with Brian Feda connecting with the front wall coming out of turn four. He was unhurt but out of the race.
Racing resumed with Smith cutting inside to take the lead with Robert Holtquist racing up into second followed by Blake Erickson, Chad Funt and Masurka. Smith pulled out to a good size lead as the field behind him bunched up.
Following a caution, Smith held his line and the lead as Tyler Larson raced high around Masurka for fifth, but Masurka fought back and retook the spot. Following another caution, this time for debris on the track, it was Conrad Schwinn on the move passing both Larson and Masurka for fifth.
Smith won the race with Holtquist, Funt, Erickson and Schwinn trailing.
Wissota Midwest Modifieds Feature
With 26 entries, the largest field of cars in any class was the Wissota Midwest Modifieds led by pole sitter Jeff Reed and Brandon Hines outside. Reed powered his No. 2 machine to the front followed by Hines, Aaron Blacklance, Rick Jacobson and Bret Schmidt.
The caution flag waved for an incident in turn two sending several cars to the pits. The restart gave Blacklance, last week's Prelude to the Stampede feature winner from Thief River Falls, a chance to move up once again, passing Hines for second. Schmidt raced to the top in turn four and passed both Jacobson and Hines for third.
Blacklance, following a caution, raced up high and around the leader Reed to take control of the race, speeding away from the field. Reed and Schmidt dueled for the second spot with Reed holding on to take second as Blacklance completed the clean sweep in the B-mods. Reed, Schmidt, Hines and Jacobson held the top five spots.
Wissota Hornets Feature
A field of 16 Wissota Hornets were next on track with Ryder Gangl and Justin Barsness in the front row. Following a first-lap mishap and restart, John Current raced up from his second-row start and took the lead followed by Ross Magnuson, Brady Albertson, Travis Olafson and Jason Bush.
Current quickly pulled away to a five-car length lead with Magnuson also creating space between himself in second and Albertson in third. A couple cautions created restarts, tightening the field, but not changing the outcome as Current pulled into victory lane with the win. Magnuson was second with Olafson moving up to third. Stephen Boyd and Bush made up the top five.
Bemidji Mini Stock Feature
Having just watched his dad claim the Hornet crown, now it was Waylon Current’s turn for the Mini Stock feature. He sat on the pole with Donahue Wittner to his right for the start of the race. Current raced to the lead with Wittner, Shannon George, Cory Nelson and Conrad Schwinn trailing.
Following a restart, George raced up into second ahead of Nelson with Schwinn moving into fourth and John Current fifth. Lots of great side-by-side racing thrilled the fans with contact sending Schwinn up and over the top of turn one, creating a restart once again and sending John Current tailback for the restart.
The green flag waved and Schwinn raced inside of George to take second and look for the leader Current. Current held his line and picked up his second feature win in two weeks. Schwinn, George, Wittner and Nelson claimed top-five honors.
Wissota Super Stocks Feature
A field of 22 Wissota Super Stocks drove to the green flag with Matt Sparby taking the lead over Mikey Vajdl, Karter Reents, Dan Nissalke and John Farrington.
Reents slid up high in turn two and gave room for Tristan LaBarge to race low into fourth. Sparby quickly caught up to slower cars being lapped and cruised around them without incident with Vajdl following closely behind him.
A caution for debris created a restart with Sparby in the lead spot followed by Vajdl, Nissalke, LaBarge and Reents. The green flag again waved and Sparby pulled out to a two-car length lead over Vajdl as Tim Carlson raced up from his fifth-row start into fifth.
Sparby took the checkered flag and drove to victory lane for the winner’s trophy. Vajdl, Nissalke, LaBarge and Carlson trailed in the top five.
Northern Renegade Winged Sprints Feature
Making their first-ever appearance at Bemidji Speedway, the Northern Renegade Winged Sprints were next on track with Tyler Hass on the pole and Zach Olson outside. Olson raced to the lead with Zach Wilde second followed by Mark Chevalier, Hass and Dave Braford in the top five.
The top three pulled away from the field as Chevalier raced inside to pass Olson for second and Wilde powered up into the lead. The laps were flying by as the winged sprints tore around the track.
Late in the race, several of the sprints slowed into the infield, including Emerson, Braford and Barsness, moving Chris Lewis up into third and Josh Braford up into fourth followed by Brad Larson in fifth as Wilde took the checkered flag for the win.
Wissota Modified Feature
The final race of the 2020 season and of the 41st Stampede was the Wissota Modifieds.
In a touching and special tribute, the modifieds came on track with the stars and stripes waving and with a special flag of former Bemidji racer Larry Mills who died this past year. His son, Davey Mills, current season points champion at Bemidji Speedway, carried the flag in honor of his father.
Fireworks flew from the infield and the modifieds drove around the track in tribute to the much-loved Mills, who was a many-time champion at Bemidji over the years he raced in the No. 40 modified. He will be missed by all race fans in Bemidji and the surrounding area.
When the flags were collected and the race went green, it was Danny Vang of Deerwood taking the lead over Nathan Sletto. Behind them were Erick Thiesse, Doyle Erickson and Josh Beaulieu.
With just a few laps in the books, the first caution waved for a spin and set up a restart. With the green flag once again waving, Erickson drove up and around Thiesse for third as Rick Jacobson battled forward from his fourth-row start into fourth with Scott Engholm fifth. Vang raced out to a big lead as the field spread out around the track.
Another caution flag waved due to contact and a spin, sending Sletto to the rear of the field for the restart. Engholm slowed into the infield, moving Scotty Messner into fifth. Erickson slid up high and Thiesse once again reclaimed the third spot with Jacobson battling his way around several cars into second. Erickson’s night ended with a flat rear tire, moving Davey Mills into fourth.
Vang never let up on the gas and powered his No. 47 mod into victory lane where he was joined by crew members and family for the celebration. Jacobson, Thiesse, Messner and Mills took home top-five honors to end the 41st Paul Bunyan Stampede.
Paul Bunyan Stampede results
Wissota Pure Stock Feature – Michael Roth, Austin Carlson, Kevin Baumgarner, Chad TAbaka, Josh Berg, Dusty Caspers, Devyn Weleski, Joey LaValley, Travis Olafson, Mark Gangl, Nick Shumansky, Deryk Weleski, Kade Leeper, Nick Carvelli, Haley Jones
Heat one winner – Jared Akervik,
Heat two winner – Michael Roth
Heat three winner – Devyn Weleski
Northern Renegade Wingless Sprints Feature – Josh Braford, Jake Barsness, Paul Schultz, Teal Arneson, Brad Larson, Brian Trenbath, Dave Braford, Dan Wait
Heat 1 – Lance Solem
Heat 2 – Paul Schultz
Wissota Mod Four Feature – Skyler Smith, Robert Holtquist, Chad Funt, Blake Erickson, Conrad Schwinn, Tyler Larson, Patrick Specht, Dean Larson, Jonathon Feda, Dean Thell
Heat 1 – Skyler Smith
Heat 2 – Conrad Schwinn
Heat 3 – Tommy Bawdon
Wissota Midwest Modifieds Feature – Aaron Blacklance, Jeff Reed, Bret Schmidt, Brandon Hines, Rick Jacobson, Alan Olafson, Blake Higginbotham, Skyler Smith, Dano Ostrander, Jeff Nelson, Adam Prieve, Tyler McClellan, Doug VanMill, Butch Butcher, Cody Krueth, Conner Drewry, Alex Johnson, Justin Feltus, Richard Reed.
Heat 1 – Aaron Blacklance
Heat 2 – Jeff Reed,
Heat 3 – Rick Jacobson
Heat 4 – Brandon Hines
Wissota Hornet Feature – John Current, Ross Magnusson, Travis Olafson, Stephen Boyd, Jason Bush, Brady Albertson, Justin Barsness, Jordan Thayer, Lucy LaValley, Ryder Gangl
Heat 1 – Travis Olafson
Heat 2 – John Current
Heat 3 – Ross Magnuson
Bemidji Mini Stock Feature – Waylon Current, Conrad Schwinn, Shannon George, Donahue Wittner, Cory Nelson, Ashton Schwinn, John Current, Brandon Puschinsky, Gordon Hunter
Heat 1 – Donahue Wittner
Heat 2 – Shannon George
Wissota Super Stocks Feature – Matt Sparby, Mikey Vajdl, Dan Nissalke, Tristan LaBArge, Tim Carlson, Harley Kroening, Butch Butcher, Nic Jacobson, Dylan Nelson, Jeff Frey, Austin Niemeyer, Jake Froemke, Austin Carlson, Tyler Kroening, Trista Pankratz
Heat 1 – Mikey Vajdl
Heat 2 – Bob Schumacher
Heat 3 – Dustin Nelson
Heat 4 – Dan Nissalke
Northern Renegade Winged Sprints feature – Zach Wilde, Mark Chevalier, Chris Lewis, Josh Braford, Brad Larson, Tyler Hass
Heat 1 – Mark Chevalier,
Heat 2 – Josh Braford
Wissota Modified Feature – Danny Vang, Rick Jacobson, Erick Thiesse, Scotty Messner, Davey Mills, Adam Johnson
Heat 1 – Danny Vang
Heat 2 – Rick Jacobson