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Bickle Delivers on Earlier Promise and Wins Round One of the Miller Lite Nationals!

July 22, 2003; Slinger, WI - In a pre-race interview, Rich Bickle told the many fans that packed the Slinger Super Speedway Tuesday night for the 24th annual Miller Lite Nationals that he was ready to “stick it to” the competition and he lived up to his words with a popular win in the 225-lap feature event.

Photo Highlights

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The stars turned out in large numbers to compete in the prestigious Slinger Nationals, one of short track racing's premier events.

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Former Slinger Speedway champion Rich Bickle Jr. (#45) used his knowledge of the high-banked quarter-mile to add another Nationals title to his collection.
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Rich Bickle Jr. (center) and crew celebrate a hard fought victory in the 24th Annual Miller Lite Nationals.
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Rich Bickle Jr. (#45) reaches the finish line first after 225 laps, taking the checkered in front of a standing room only crowd!
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Defending track champion Lowell Bennett (#2) tries to work past Rich Bickle Jr. (#45) late in the main event.  Bennett would settle for second.
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Al Schill (#14) paced the main event during the mid portions of the race, having worked past Rich Bickle Jr. (#45) and Lowell Bennett (#2).
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NASCAR Winston Cup Star Kurt Busch (#16) fought hard for the lead, trying to work under Rich Bickle Jr. (#45) during the main event.
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Kurt Busch (#16) had a solid showing until this spectacular crash late in the race.
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Eric Fransen (#16) outqualified over 60 Late Models to earn fast time, but encountered problems during the main event.
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Dave Feiler (#93) was one of few drivers who could match the pace set by Rich Bickle Jr. (#45).
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Current NASCAR Winston Cup point leader and defending Slinger Nationals champion Matt Kenseth (#17) ran wheel to wheel with Eric Fransen (#16) during the early portions of the main event.
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Kurt Busch (#16) gets ready to test Slinger Speedway's high banks.
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Kurt Busch (left) and Matt Kenseth (right) discuss race strategy before the evenings activities.
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Former Midwest Modified champion Dennis Prunty (#42) came home with a win in the Semi-Feature this evening.
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Race McComb (#11) captured the consolation event for the Late Models.
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Josh Bauer (#71) captured the Midwest Sportsman feature this evening.

Driving the outside groove around the high-banked mile oval, Bickle fought hard to maintain his lead as competitor after competitor mounted hard charges on the inside line, but each time, the two-time Nationals champion was able to prevail en route to his three car-length victory over Lowell Bennett.

“Everybody tried the inside, but this car was real good on the top,” Bickle explained from victory lane. “It was loose and I couldn’t get in the corner very hard, but it was real good from the middle off. The people tonight got their money’s worth because I’ve never had to drive a race that hard here in my life.”

Bickle led a total of 192 of the 225 laps which netted him the CARQUEST Auto Parts $400 bonus for leading the most laps and he also claimed the Badgerland Motorsports Halfway Challenge $500 bonus for leading at lap 113.

Bickle’s main challenges came from Al Schill and visiting NASCAR Winston Cup star Kurt Busch, whose first ever race at Slinger produced a highly competitive run with him leading the early laps but unfortunately ended with a spectacular crash in turn three on lap 163. A few laps earlier, while in third placed, Busch began to lose positions when he became caught on the outside and made slight contact with one of the cars going by, causing him to ride the backstretch wall before crashing into the billboards in turn three.

“Guys were going by me and I was fading gracefully when one guy who may not have had that big of a hole, had to throw it in there. He caught me in the left rear and the rest is history,” Busch stated in an interview after being credited with a 19th place finish. “I don’t think I was supposed to run like that my first time here,” Busch continued alluding to his strong race. “This is a great track. It’s the place to grow up at if you want to be a race driver.”

Schill kept Bickle honest during the middle stages of the race as he was the only driver to pass him under green flag conditions, accomplishing the feat twice to lead 19 laps before apparent handling problems caused him to slip back in the late-going before rebounding to finish fourth.

Bennett had the best comeback story of the night, as a hard crash in practice that nearly forced him to resort to a back-up car, made his second place finish astounding.

“I’ve really got to tip my hat to the crew who put this car back together,” Bennett stated. “We’ve got a frame that’s bent in four inches and we borrowed parts and shoved spacers into the suspension. It’s just amazing as bent up as this car was that we had enough at the end.”

2001 Miller Lite Nationals winner David Prunty was consistent all night long and raced his way to a third place finish while 1999 Nationals champ Conrad Morgan drove to a fifth place finish.

Nathan Haseleu took the checkered flag in sixth place followed by Chris Petersen who had a career night, making the field on time and wrapping it up with an impressive seventh place finish. ASA star Mike Garvey battled brake problems en route to eighth place while Brad Mueller and Andrew Morrissey completed the top ten finishers.

Of the remaining visiting NASCAR drivers, Dick Trickle fared the best with a 16th place finish after experiencing handling problems while current NASCAR Winston Cup points leader Matt Kenseth looked strong early on but was credited with a 22nd place finish after a power steering line failure dumped fluid on his rear tires and caused him to spin on lap 57.

“I wish we could have run the whole race,” the 1994 and defending Nationals champion stated. “We were up to fifth and were just biding our time.”

Engine related problems relegated both Scott and Chris Wimmer to 23rd and 24th place finishes respectively as both were forced to retire from competition in the early laps.

The 225-lap feature comprised the first round of the Miller Lite Nationals and set the stage for the second and championship round scheduled to take place at the Madison International Speedway in Oregon, Wisconsin on August 19th.

A crowd of 9,200 spectators, the most to view the Miller Nationals at Slinger since Dale Earnhardt made an appearance in 1987, watched a stellar field of 61 late models vie for one of the 24 starting spots in the main event through time trials and a pair of qualifying races.

Ryan Mathews scored his first Slinger win by capturing the victory in the first qualifying race over Bennett and Dave Feiler. Dennis Prunty and Chad Barker completed the top five. Jeremy Lepak took the checkered flag first in the second qualifying race ahead of Haseleu but was later disqualified after failing post-race technical inspection. Andrew Morrissey finished third in that event followed by Austin Konetski and Scott Schoeni. Dennis Prunty returned to win the 40-lap semi-feature by holding off John Mueller and Troy Nelson. Chad Barker was fourth and Fred Winn finished fifth. Race McComb charged to the win in the 15-lap consolation race ahead of Kirby Kurth and Rick Corso. Eric Fransen was the fastest qualifier on the night after turning in a lap of 11.342 seconds to claim the Ellison Machinery $500 qualifying bonus.

Josh Bauer battled Bobby Gutknecht throughout the 40-lap Midwest Sportsman feature, taking the checkered flag first to nail down the victory.

Mike Graczkowski and Shawn Utphall paced the early laps while Gutknecht battled Gary Lamonte for third ahead of James Swan and Bauer. Utphall’s race came to a halt on lap nine when he pulled off the track and moments later, the caution flag flew as his drive shaft was located on the frontstretch. Gutknecht took to the outside for the restart and two laps later, drove around Graczkowski for the lead. Lamonte also got around Graczkowski to take second place on lap 11 as Gutknecht maintained the lead. Bauer and fast qualifier Jake Ryan entered the top five soon thereafter and began to track down the top three as the second caution appeared on lap 16 for a Scott Ascher spin in turn two.

Bauer went to work on Lamonte for second on the restart as Gutknecht continued to lead. Bauer made the pass for second on lap 20 and set after Gutknecht. Bauer gradually caught the leader and began to challenge for the top spot, taking the position on lap 30 after a side-by-side battle. While Bauer and Gutknecht fought for the lead, Ryan advanced forward to grab third place, dropping Lamonte into a tussle for fourth with Nick Schumacher. Once in front, Bauer was never headed and he drove to the victory over Gutknecht and Ryan. Lamonte was able to hold off Schumacher for fourth. Earlier, Ryan paced qualifying by lapping the speedway in 12.418 seconds.

For Complete results from the RACESTAT computer CLICK HERE

Lighthouse Entertainment Center presents Racing Action at Slinger!

Slinger, WI (Spl.) – This Sunday night, Lighthouse Entertainment Center presents a full night of racing action at the Slinger Super Speedway. The night will be highlighted by a 60-lap Late Model feature and FREE bowling pin sipper mugs to the first adults through the door.

Lighthouse Entertainment Center, located in West Bend, is currently holding fall bowling league sign up. For more information or to sign up for league play at Lighthouse Lanes, visit www.lighthousebowling.com or call 262.334.3071.

Sunday night racing action at Slinger Super Speedway continues through September 21st. In 2003, Children 11 & under receive free admission to the track when accompanied by an adult. Advance discount tickets to Slinger events are available at B & S Liquor in Hartford, Pioneer Plaza in Richfield and at Lighthouse Entertainment Center in West Bend.