LaCrosse Wisconsin Oktoberfest Vintage Race – October 9, 2011



LaCrosse Speedway

The Oktoberfest Race Weekend at La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway has been a “happening” since its inception in 1970.  A four day event (five if you include Wednesday night practice), it attracts the best racers from the Midwest, and fans from all over.  I heard that there were twelve divisions competing over the four days, but I honestly don’t know for sure.


Infield Pit Area

We arrived at the track early Thursday; quickly registered and found the pit area we were assigned.  While the Vintage Division wasn’t racing until Sunday, I wanted to get there early to provide Tony with some well-earned “seat time”.   He’s been doing a terrific job driving the car, but there’s no substitute for experience, and he needs that.  I also enjoy simply walking through the pits and looking at the race cars.  Race cars manage to combine outstanding engineering, exemplary craftsmanship, and a dose of artistry, resulting in eye candy that’s just plain hard to beat.  If they weren’t so large they’d earn a spot in the finest living rooms as “art”.


First Turn

LaCrosse is a fast track and fairly challenging to drive.  To enter turn one you have to make a concentrated effort to keep it “high” on the track and arc it into the corner.  Just before the middle of the corner you get back on the gas, not hard, but gently squeezing it down.  You come off of turn two working the throttle in an effort to get up close to the wall, but not too close.  If you get it just right, you’ll be heading down the back straight, right up against the wall, setting it up for turn three. 


The third and fourth turn are pretty much like most tracks and relatively easy to drive.  Gently tap the brakes going into three, before the middle of the corner start working the throttle, then slide the car off of four up to main straight wall.  Pass the start finish line and do it all over again. 


ASA Truck & RE/MAX Synergy CamaroIt took three practice sessions to get the car handling properly, but by Friday afternoon I was comfortable enough to give it to Tony.  Friday afternoons practice session was with the ASA Trucks, a fast and competitive group.  Of course the big advantage to that is that Tony could follow some fast trucks, observe the “groove” they were running, and experience what worked and what didn’t.  Quick learner that he is, by the end of the session Tony had the correct line through the corner and was pretty fast. 


When we started the motor Saturday morning, the sound of it told us something was obviously wrong.  We quickly discovered that the left side header had broken.    Fortunately, our neighbor knew of DCA Racefab, a local race shop owned by Dan Navrestad.  Dan is not only a fabricator par excellence; as it turns out he’s also a Vintage Stock Car competitor and builder of Kenny Hutchin’s Gatorade car.  Dan quickly repaired our header and had us ready for the afternoon practice session. 


Vintage Cars in turn one

Sunday was “race day” for us.  A short practice session revealed that the track had changed quite a bit and while we had fought a “push” the last couple of days, all of sudden the car was loose (the car wants to spin out).  I made a couple of chassis adjustments and hoped it would be better for the heat race where Tony would be driving.


Pat Echlin

The RE/MAX Synergy Camaro lined up last in the second heat race, behind Pat Echlin.  Pat’s a good friend, a RE/MAX agent, AND, a four time Raceway Park Late Model Champion.  Pat was driving a 66’ Chevelle with a chassis very similar to the RE/MAX Synergy Camaro and is very fast.  Pat easily qualifies for the “best of the best” and I knew Tony would have his work cut out for him in the heat race.


Turn FourWhen the green flag came out, Tony wisely followed Pat as he worked his way up through the pack.  Ken Lewis has a fast Mustang and passing him is difficult.  Coming off the fourth turn, Ken was leading, Pat was second, and Tony third.  Just as Tony was coming around the outside of Pat in an effort to pass him, Pat moved to the outside of Ken to pass him.  Three wide won’t work, but Tony did the smart thing and backed off, leaving racing room for Pat and tucked in behind him. 


Tony Mitidiero in Victory Lane

Once the two them cleared Ken Lewis, Tony took off after Pat.  Having the advantage of several days of practice to get the car just right, Tony was able to pass Pat Echlin and win the heat race.  While I’m sure that winning the race is what impressed a lot of people about Tony, it was the wisdom of knowing when to back off and avoid a problem that impressed me.  Tony has demonstrated his ability to drive the car fast several times.  But racing is different, and Sunday Tony proved he can “race” with the best of them.  Congratulations Tony!


Start of FeatureThe Feature was my turn to race and once again the RE/MAX Synergy Camaro lined up last.  The Feature has all the Vintage Cars in it and some are not quite as fast as the rest.  That can present some unique challenges when you’re racing for a position and come up on a slower car.  It can frustrate you to be in the middle of a pass and have to back off and start all over because a slower car is blocking you, but that’s racing.  I truly believe that part of the popularity of Vintage Racing is that the fast cars start at the back and have to work their way to the front.  What is my problem on the race track is the source of the fans entertainment.  And that’s the way it should be. 


Passing EchlinWhen the race started I followed Pat Echlin as he worked his way past a few cars.  Using his years of experience, Pat had made some changes to his car between the heat and the feature and I knew he’d be hard to beat.  Early on we had a lap or two where there were no other cars around and I could see that Pat was fast – real fast.   Fortunately for me, at one point I caught Pat in traffic and was able to get past him. 


Gary Mitidiero in Victory Lane

After passing Pat I was now in fifth.  Slowly but surely I worked my way up to second, behind Bob Heine.  Bob is another of those guys with years of experience and is really a great racer.  Just as I caught him the caution came out.  When the green flag came back we had a clear race track.  Bob’s car takes a few laps to get back up to speed and I used that opportunity to pass him for the lead and the eventual victory.


A couple of quick “Thank You’s”.   RE/MAX Synergy for their support, Kerry Angle for the videography, Tony Mitidiero for towing and crewing, and the officials at LaCrosse Speedway for their outstanding organization.



Pictures at Hi-Tech Digitals



1. Heat Race.

2. Feature Race

LaCrosse’s Oktoberfest concludes the 2011 Vintage Racing season and once again I feel privileged to have been part of it.  Auto racers have always been my hero’s, and being a member of this group is an honor.  These men are true sportsmen, understanding and demonstrating competition, camaraderie and friendship every day. 


See you at the races,