Best of 2019: Upper Peninsula International Raceway
Author’s Note: The Best of 2019 series is based upon a few things for each category, but ultimately boils down to my opinion from the events I attended at each track. If you have a moment that you remember fondly from this summer, feel free to leave a comment! There are numerous other categories I could have gone with as well, so if you have something that doesn't fit in these, feel free to comment as well!
Additional Note: As I was announcing at UPIR, I don't have quite as many pictures in this piece as others.
Best Event: The Border Battle
It goes without saying, in my opinion, that the best events happen when tracks come together to put on one big show. In the case of the Upper Peninsula International Raceway and The Hill Speedway, located in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, a joint effort led to two great events to begin and end the racing season, titled the Border Battle.
Round one of the Border Battle, hosted by The Hill, was one that I was unable to attend, an event I was unable to attend due to its postponement from weather. The event, which was originally scheduled for May 18, was scrubbed to May 26 which unfortunately conflicted with an already planned family trip.
The second round of the Border Battle was held in Escanaba at the Upper Peninsula International Raceway in mid-September, and what a battle it was. With a total of eight divisions of racing, including a special appearance of the IMCA Stock Cars, there was plenty of racing to go around for all the fans in attendance.
The racing in each of the divisions was great all night. Two major crashes brought things to a halt on two occasions, however. First, the Getchell Builders 600 Micro Sprint division saw a massive pile-up on the start of the race that collected most of the field in some fashion. Bradley Seppanen went sailing through the air, tumbling onto the wall. His car came to a stop perched on the concrete. Thankfully everyone climbed out of their cars under their own power. In the IMCA Stock Cars, Brett Wenzel tumbled side over side in turn one on an early race restart. After he clipped an infield tire, his car barrel rolled several times, landing on another car at one point, before coming to rest. He, too, would climb out uninjured.
While I could go on and on about what happened that night, I think the Border Battle stands for more than what happened on the track. While the racing is exciting, the most exciting thing about this joint effort from two great tracks is the fact that two tracks, in two states, are coming together to help keep racing alive and healthy in our area. This is something, I think, everyone should applaud these tracks and their leaders for.
Best Race: Getchell Builders 600 Micro Sprint Feature (Bob Iverson Memorial)
The Bob Iverson Memorial event served as both the stage for the best race for the year and the conclusion for all of the divisions’ championship battles. In front of a packed house on the final day of the UP State Fair, the Getchell Builders 600 Micro Sprints put on a show that will be talked about for years to come.
The storyline coming into the day was the fight for the title between Kyle Getchell and Matt Peterson. If Getchell finished ahead of Peterson, he would be the champion. If the roles were reversed, Peterson would take home the title. The two contenders started mid pack, with Getchell starting ahead of Peterson. As the race went on, and the track continued to slick up, Getchell struggled to find grip while Peterson excelled in the tricky conditions. It wouldn’t take long before Peterson was ahead of Getchell and on his way to the 2019 Championship.
Up front, Jerimiah Roberts held the lead for the majority of the race. A race which ran green flag for its entirety. In the closing laps, Josh Bartel was on the prowl, lurking behind Roberts waiting to make his move. That move came in the final corner of the final lap as Bartel rode mere inches off the wall to edge out Roberts at the line in one of the closest finishes in recent memory.
The most entertaining thing in this race may have been the track itself. As the surface dried and became more and more slick with every passing lap, drivers began to search all over the place for grip. This allowed for multi-lane racing and action throughout the field.
Best Championship Battle: A&L Iron and Metal Street Stocks
Only two drivers managed to win a race in the A&L Iron and Metal Street Stock division during the championship season at UPIR. As one could guess, those two drivers would battle every week down to the last for the track championship. While it wasn’t the only championship decided on the final night of racing, the battle between Billy Bowden and Paul Wagner was the most entertaining points battle on a weekly basis.
In the final rounds of the 2019 season, each driver experienced issues that would even the points battle. One week, Bowden would fall out of contention early in the race with mechanical issues following a spin. The next week, contact between Wagner and Bowden while racing for the lead sent Wagner around and out of that race. Heading into the last race, it would be winner take all.
In the mid stages of the race, Billy Bowden would use the same move he used on Wagner the week prior to take the lead of the race away from Ben Buckland. The next lap, a small hole opened up for Wagner to try to follow Bowden around Buckland, that hole would close quickly though. That contact sent Buckland spinning, resulting in Wagner being ordered to the rear of the field for causing the accident.
While Bowden would go on to win the race and championship with no further issue, the move by Wagner showed how far each driver was willing to go to win the title. In the words of the late Aryton Senna, "If you no longer go for a gap which exists you are no longer a racing driver.” Wagner went for the hole because he, like Bowden and many others, is a true racer.
Scariest Moment: Terry Royer and Jake Valiquette Take a Terrifying Ride
Contact between Terry Royer and Jake Valiquette sent Royer tumbling into turn one as Valiquette rode atop of the flipping number seven. The cars would come to rest against the turn one wall as fans held their breaths. Thankfully, both drivers were uninjured in the frightening crash.
Slide Job! (The Bink’s Coca-Cola Sport Modified Category)
As with every track, I try to incorporate every division in some way or form into the Best of 2019 piece, and UPIR is no different. The Bink’s Coca-Cola Sport Modified Division had many stories to tell this year, like history repeating itself with names like Richer, Iverson, Valiquette, among others dicing it up for wins. There were awesome drivers like Matt Maki, who at the start of the year struggled to keep his new modified under him. By season’s end, he was battling with some of UPIR’s best.
Honestly, there is so much I could say about the Sport Mods, and every division at UPIR. It has truly been an honor to cover these racers for the past several years. It has been even more of a privilege to meet and become friends with so many of the drivers in all of the divisions. It is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Tougher Than Dirt: Matt Adams
Matt Adams is the perfect example of perseverance in the racing world. When something would go wrong in a heat race, he'd be back on the track to contend for the feature. His perseverance isn't the only reason he' so tough, either.
You would be hard pressed to find another driver as aggressive as Matt Adams on track. If he wants a spot, he is going to go after it, and most likely get it. He won multiple times this year, even when the odds were stacked against him. When the dust settled, he was the 2019 UPIR Sport Compact Champion, despite his tough breaks.
For all of his struggle and redemption and his full throttle attitude, Matt Adams is tougher than dirt.
Keep an Eye on Them: Riverside Auto Group Youth Micro Sprints & Sportsman Micro Sprints
To end this Best of 2019 series, I think it is appropriate to look to the future of racing with the Riverside Auto Group Youth Micro Sprints and Sportsman Micro Sprints. One of the greatest pleasures of announcing racing at UPIR for the last seven years has been the opportunity to see so many young drivers improve their skill and move up divisions.
When you talk to a young driver like an Ethan Manninen or Brennan Swanson, or any of the young drivers at UPIR, it reminds you why we love this sport, something I also mentioned in a spotlight piece I did on Swanson earlier this year.
With these two divisions, UPIR gives kids a place to learn the ropes of racing and then expand their knowledge before climbing further up the racing ladder. So remember the names like Brett and Luke Labre, Tyler Demars, Trever Denome, and all of the other drivers of these two divisions I have failed to name here. In the years ahead, they will take the places of legends like the Valiquettes, Iversons, and Richers that came before them. The future of racing is in good hands with these young drivers.
By Todd Rose