Bark River International Off-Road Raceway is hosting Round 5 and 6 of the Sportsman Off-Road Series. This is the third weekend of racing the MORR racers as 103 competitors signed up for two days worth of racing. The points battle in all but three classes are very close and after the completion of Round 5, the championship in seven classes are far from being determined. The weather for the first of two days of competition started out with a light shower during the morning practice session. The rain watered the track better than any work truck, and most of the competitors didn’t mind the slight inconvenience. Soon after the sun came out as temperatures hovered in the low 90s for the remainder of the day.
The first race of the day was Light Buggy. This weekend saw the return of the two wide rolling start, which had the top twelve in points, inverted. Points leader Greg Stingle would start from the sixth row as a former class champion Derek Tilkens would line-up on the front row. The start had Tilkens open up a big lead and held it all the way to the halfway caution. On the restart, Stingle had worked his way into second place and now really pressuring. The pressure worked as Stingle capitalized on one miscue to take the lead with less than three laps to go. At the finish it was Stingle closely followed by Tilkens as Matt Mullen charged hard to finish in third.
The Classix group saw a familiar truck, the blue Bronco of Dale Chestnut lead every lap to take the win. What was different about the truck was back-up driver Nick Byng was behind the wheel. With just two laps of practice, Byng was looked very comfortable the wheel of the high horsepower short wheel base hot rod.
At the same time the ten trucks of the Stock Truck class took the green flag as well. Early on Dylan Sharkey was at the head of the field, then Nick Visser assumed the position, but a hard charging Cory Marquardt came from the back of the pack to overtake all the competition and take the win in first start of the season. Visser hung on to second and Sharkey completed the podium.
Twelve 1600 Buggy took the green flag with Natalie Schampers leading the way. Schampers was out front when on lap two Bruce Manicke attempted to make a pass for the lead when he made contact with a few other cars sending himself and Bruce Fraley into a vicious roll. The contact spun Schampers putting her last in the running order. The incident also put Rob Kinner in the lead with Jeff Bechinski and Dave Luger running second and third respectively,
The second half of the race saw Kinner opened up a solid lead as Bechinski, Luger, and Mark Steinhardt were fighting for second. Steinhardt moved up to second with a lap and a half to go and began pressuring Kinner. The final lap saw a wheel to wheel battle between the very close friends. At the finish it was Kinner for the win as Steinhardt finished about three feet back with Dave Luger taking third place. This was Rob Kinner’s first win of his career.
Next up was the combined Limited 4 and Formula 4×4 race. The Formula 4×4 group saw Ryan Rebman take the win. Meanwhile the Limited 4 race saw Dan Baudoux victorious for the second this year. Milan Mazenec finished second after some tough battles with Dan Baudoux and Jerry Conrad. The Conrad confrontation ended with Conrad crashing after coming over the big hill. Just trailing all the side-by-side racing was Brad Lamarche taking the checkered flag in third.
Twelve Kids Karts lined up next for a land rush start. Easton Sleaper grabbed the early lead and never let up to take the win. Second went to a hard charging Braden Beauchamp. Gage Garvin ran in the top three for the entire race to complete the podium.
The Super Buggy race had Scott Schwalbe take the early lead, but a broken front shock ended his day after two laps. This put Rodney VanEpren in the lead, as he wasn’t seriously challenged all the way to the checkered flag. Second place went to Ryan Schwalbe and Herman Barnum finished third. New for this weekend was addition of stock UTVs. The handful that lined up for eight laps on an shortened version of the classic Bark River course saw Cody Kleiman slingshot into the lead on the opening lap. After the pass he cruised the rest of the way to victory.
Super Stock Truck had its largest number of entries of the year with twenty trucks. The opening lap saw Danny Beauchamp roll while in the middle of the pack which then caused Roger Schaden and Matt Siorek to get tangled. When the dust settled, Siorek was on top Schaden. After a twenty minute delay there was a complete restart as only Siorek was able to return to the race. The restart saw Troy Schaden take the lead as the rest of the field was really shuffling itself back and forth. A second half charge by Mitch Dorr put the reigning class champion right on the bumper of Schaden as the two headed into the final lap. Schaden held his own to become the second first time winner of the day. Dorr finished second as Joey Maciocek finished a close third.
The final race of the day was another close contest between four drivers. From the start Jimmy Ridderbush held the top spot for two laps until another mechanical issue ended his day. Now Jerry Edgerton was in the lead, then just after the mandatory caution Tim Nelson and Mark Peterson made passes to move into the top two spots. The finish saw a determined Eric Ruppel pass Edgerton for third and nearly caught Peterson for second, but when the checkered flag waved it was Nelson for the win, Peterson second, and Ruppel completing the podium. Then during post race inspection Peterson was disqualified for a rules weight distribution violation, which put Ruppel in second place with Edgerton in third.
The Light Buggy class saw Derek Tilkens once again take the lead right from the green flag. This time he has a flawless run as he led flag to flag and for the first time this year someone other than Greg Stingle took the top spot in the class. Tilkens’ teammate Matt Mullin kept the winner honest and finished a very close second. Jaden Lemke ran in the top five all ran race and the fourteen year old rallied to finish third. Current points leader Greg Stingle spun right at the start and later had a issue with a berm putting the 2015 five time winner well back in the pack.
Next up was the Classix as well as the Stock Truck group racing together with each class scored separately. Nick Byng in the Dale Chestnut Bronco started at the back of the pack, but methodically worked his way to the front of the field by the second lap. Behind Byng the race saw Paul Posbrig and Tyler Plamann fight it out for the final to podium spots. At the checkered flag, Byng won his second race of the weekend followed by Plamann with Posbrig finishing third.
The Stock Truck class seemed to have a different running order every lap. The final lap saw a few trucks overheat, but in the end Nick Visser crossed the finish in first with the pole sitter TJ Struck finishing second as a late charging Katelin Wierzba completed the podium.
The 1600 Buggy racers hit the track and Craig Holtger grabbed the hole shot and the lead. Behind Holtger there was a big scramble and it wasn’t until the end of the second lap did all the usual suspects get to the front of the pack. Holtger was the leader at the break, but on the restart Kinner made a slingshot move to take the lead and the win sweeping the weekend.
Next in line a real battle between Bruce Fraley and Mark Steinhardt broke out. The two champion racers swapped positions a couple of times and with just fifty yards to the finish, Fraley made the final pass of the race to bring home second as a disappointed Steinhardt landed on the final spot on the podium. After the huge crash Fraley suffered on Saturday, several racers pitched in to give him a hand as well as parts to get the single seater back on the track.
Next up were the Limited 4 and Formula 4×4 bunch. After a wild crash coming over the “Big Hill” yesterday somehow Jerry Conrad was able to make the necessary repairs to make the start of Round 6. The race itself saw Dan Baudoux cruise to his third win of the season with Milan Mazenec taking second. Conrad completed all required laps to finish third. The Formula 4×4 saw only two entries as Ryan Rebman took the win.
The best race at every Sportsman weekend is the Kids Kart. The land rush start went off with out a hitch. Owen VanEpren grabbed the early lead and held to the checkered flag. Carter Vanden Heuvel crossed the line in second as a hard charging Kennedy Marquardt completed the podium finished.
The ten lap UTV exhibition saw a great race between Pete Johnson and Cody Kleiman with Johnson taking the win.
The Super Buggy saw Rodney VanEpren coming back from a first lap confrontation with a concrete wall to keep his perfect season alive with his sixth win of the season. Second place had four different drivers occupy the position during the nine-lap affair. In the end it was Jaime Kliekamp taking second with Ryan Schwalbe third. This was the first weekend for Kliekamp in the Super Buggy division after spending several seasons in Light Buggy.
Twenty Super Stock Truck took the green flag and before the field cleared the first corner, two trucks, Scott Heikkila and Danny Beauchamp collected each other, which resulted in a first lap exit for Beauchamp, as Heikkila need to be pulled from the creek. Then a few moments later Bill Wilson and Ty Erneson found themselves on the guardrail that heads up the hill. The second incident caused a red flag situation and a complete restart.
The restart saw Tom Graff take the early lead with Mitch Dorr right on his bumper. On lap three Dorr made clean pass for the lead. The second half the race saw Graff still running strong until lap seven when front-end issues slowed the pace of the truck. Dorr continued on to take the win, but a real battle broke out between Jeff Fannin and Matt Siorek. Somehow Fannin hung on to second place at the flag as Siorek finished about one tire length behind in third.
The final race of the day had nine Super Trucks head into the first turn. Early on, first year Super Truck competitor Scott Mueller had the lead. As the laps continued Eric Ruppel made a couple of great passes to take the lead just before the mandatory caution. On the restart the North West Wisconsin racer continued his dominance to take the win. Mark Peterson held off Jerry Edgerton for second and third respectively as Saturday’s winner Tim Nelson finished fourth.
The weekend was complete the crowds both days were very respectable and it was really cool to see several big name PRO racers in attendance, just hanging out watching the Sportsman racers do their thing.
The next race on the Sportsman Off-Road Series schedule will be one month from now right back in Bark River when the PRO and Sportsman short-course racers will be entertaining the off-road racing fans in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Words and photos from Mike Reusche