CRESCO, Iowa – Zack VanderBeek scored his first USMTS Casey’s General Stores National Tour win of the season Thursday night at the Cresco Speedway in the first race of the season in the ultra-competitive Yeager Machine Upper Midwest Region.
The 24-year-old from New Sharon, Iowa, started third in the 35-lap Sunoco "A" Main, and was no match for polesitter Steve Wetzstein in the early stages of the race.
Wetzstein was untouchable in the early going, at times extending his lead to nearly a full straight-away over the rest of the field. Three caution flags during the first dozen laps provided optimism for his chasers, but each time Wetzstein would run off and hide when the green flag waved.
VanderBeek grabbed second place away from Ron Konkel on the first lap and settled in behind Wetzstein while AFCO Pole winner Dan Bohr snagged the third spot following the first caution on lap 2. At the same time, defending USMTS National Champion Tim Donlinger moved into the fifth position after starting eighth.
The second yellow flag waved on lap 10 and Donlinger used the ensuing restart to edge past Bohr for third. The third and final caution flew two laps later, which helped Donlinger scoot underneath VanderBeek for second and set his sights on Wetzstein.
Wetzstein was too strong for his fellow Gopher State ace, however, and again built a huge advantage as the race wore on.
VanderBeek began reeling in Donlinger on lap 20, making the pass for second on lap 25. From there, the distance between himself and Wetzstein began to evaporate and VanderBeek found himself on Wetzstein's bumper with six laps to go.
The pair completed lap 30 and entered the first turn nose to tail with Wetzstein hugging the bottom of the racetrack and VanderBeek moving to the middle groove. As they exited the second turn, Wetzstein's Modified crept to the right just enough to allow VanderBeek to execute a "crossover" move and slingshot past Wetzstein on the inside.
From there, the 'Z-Man' set his Skyrocket Chassis on cruise control and sailed to his first victory since claiming the USMTS Southern Series finale last December.
While VanderBeek earned the $2,000 top prize, Wetzstein hung on for a runner-up finish with Donlinger third, Konkel fourth and Bohr in fifth. Jon Tesch, Darrin Walch, Dereck Ramirez, Al Hejna and Kelly Shryock rounded out the top-10 at the finish line.
Walch, the defending Cresco Speedway USRA Modified track champion, started 18th and earned the PBM Racing Products Hard Charger Award.
Although Shryock could only muster a tenth-place finish, it was a successful night for the eight-time USMTS National Champion's company as seven of the top ten were Skyrocket Chassis pilots, including all of the top five finishers. It was also the first win of the season for the 'Skyrocket Nation.'
In the powerplant category, Sput's Racing Engines was even more dominant as every driver in the top eight spots were propelled by motors from the defending COMP Cams Engine Builder of the Year.